Night Photography Without Tripods

craig-bendeleTaking night photographs at Disney without a tripod can be a lot of fun and very rewarding.  While nothing can take the place of using a tripod at night, but there are many times when you don’t want to carry a tripod or take the time to use a tripod.  Fortunately, Disney also has MANY opportunities to shoot handheld.  They use a lot of lighting to help you achieve good results!

You can get great results right as the sun is setting or before. That is when Disney turns on their lighting effects. So, now you are not shooting in complete darkness, but still get the benefit of ambient lighting. Try to photograph subjects that have lighting, like buildings or props. This method won’t work in complete darkness.

The first step is to know some basics of photography, and then know your camera.  Handheld night shooting is a combination of high ISO, fast shutter speed, and wide-open aperture. See Tim’s article for a great explanation of these terms.

You need to know how to make adjustments to your camera and know what your camera’s high iso abilities are.  Digital cameras have iso capabilities far beyond what we had with film! You need to experiment with your camera at home and find out how high you can go before you lose too much image quality (excessive noise). For some cameras, it may be 800, although most can now go easily to 1600. Some newer pro cameras can go even higher!

So, the next step is to put your camera in Aperture Mode (A, AV). Aperture Mode allows you to tell the camera what Aperture (f stop) you want. The camera will then choose the shutter speed for you. Always choose the largest/biggest aperture. It will usually be f3.5, f3.3, f4 or maybe even f2.8.  Using a large aperture will allow as much light to enter the camera as possible!

The next step is to shoot wide. If you are using a zoom lens, leave it at its widest setting. It is very difficult to handhold a telescopic lens at night.  Most zoom lenses also increase the f-stop as you zoom out, slowing down your shutter speed. You can always crop your composition on your computer later.

nightnotripod1There is one more setting that will make this whole process much easier! If your camera has an exposure compensation button, use it! This will allow you to tweak the brightness of your pictures as you take them. Usually, setting it to + works the best as it will overexposure the image a bit, capturing more light in the process.  This will slow down your shutter speed so be careful.  Also be careful not to overexpose too much, as “blown” highlights are impossible to recover.

Now, it is time to take the picture.  This is where you, the photographer, must do your part to make this work. Put your shopping bags down, do not rush, take your time and relax.  You have to hold your camera right. You need to support the camera with your left hand underneath the lens barrel. You need to stand very steady, with your feet apart and your elbows tucked in. Hold the camera firmly, but not over tight. Press the camera to your face to help stabilize it – be sure to note the shutter speed in your viewfinder so you have an idea how long the exposure will last. Now compose the photo and gently press the shutter. When you press the shutter, do so in a smooth movement, and do not release the shutter until the picture has taken. If you press the shutter with a jerky, stabbing motion, you will probably blur your photo.

Again, TAKE YOUR TIME.  Take the picture as many times as you want to get a sharp image. Odds are eventually one will be sharp. Sometimes, it can take four shots to get a sharp one. Eventually everything will come together once for you.

If your camera or lens has Vibration Control, make sure it is turned on. This kind of shooting is exactly what it is designed for, to help eliminate camera shake!

So, to recap, here are the steps:
1-Camera in A mode as large as possible (smallest f/number)
2-ISO as high as necessary
3-Shoot wide angle for sharper images, crop later
4-Use your exposure compensation button to make pictures brighter if needed
5-Take your time, hold steady, don’t rush!

Have Fun! Practice at home, once you get the hang of it, it’s FUN and rewarding!





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Ed. note:  Craig Bendele is a major contributor to the TMIP Message Forums; he also has his own websites, and

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