Editor’s preface: Craig uses a Nikon camera; other cameras have slightly different settings and menu choices.
“Smile, stand still, don’t move even after the flash goes off.” These are the words you usually hear when a Disney Photopass Photographer takes your family or group picture at night. That’s because they are using a very nice setting on the camera which is designed to give great results at night. Isn’t it great to have a nice picture of your family standing in front of the castle at night with the castle still visible, and without that harsh “flash” look? The reason for that harsh look is that the camera defaults to a shutter speed of 1/60th second when using the flash (Ed. note: Nikons do this, Canons default to the regular exposure). This is an average shutter speed designed to have your subject properly exposed. But, this is not a long enough speed to allow the background ambient light into the photo.
Most of our cameras have different scenes settings: landscape, portrait, sports. One of the best is called “night portrait”. It is usually marked by a symbol of a personal with a moon over their head. First, I’ll share how this setting works, then we’ll look at how you can get even better results on your own!
The “Night Portrait” setting combines two ways to take a picture. It combines a long shutter speed to expose the background and all the ambient light of your photo, and the flash to expose the foreground (your family). The flash on ANY camera is not powerful to light the entire photo (Ed. note: turn the flash off when photographing the Castle!). When you use the night portrait setting, the camera combines a long shutter speed for background ambient light with firing the flash to illuminate the foreground. My Nikon D80 uses an iso of 200. This results in 1-2 second exposures. So, this method will get you great results.
However, I find exposures of 1-2 seconds too long for portraits. There are easy ways to manually use different settings to achieve the same results. My favorite, is setting the flash to “slow” setting. This does not create a long, slow, flash of light, but rather a longer shutter speed. You can find this setting in the same menu as your other flash options, like flash power settings or the red eye reduction setting. Now, you can achieve the same results as the auto “night portrait” setting, except you are in control. My favorite settings when using this method are to use “A” mode (aperture mode) using a large (smaller number, f2.8 or f3.5) aperture and a higher iso (800-1600). This allows the camera to choose the shutter speed and use as fast as shutter as possible. By raising your iso, you can usually cut that 1-2 second shutter speed down to a handheld shutter speed. You need to test your camera and find out how high its iso can go while still looking good.
To review, “night portrait” setting fires the flash while keeping the shutter open for a longer time to allow all available light to properly expose.
Setting the different settings yourself gives you more control over the photo. Try these settings:
-“slow” flash setting
Also, your camera may fire the flash twice when doing this. It actually always fires the flash twice, but now you can see it because you are holding the shutter open longer than normal. The reason it fires twice is the first flash is the camera setting the power and distance settings, and the second flash is the actual flash during the exposure.
Now go out and experiment before your next trip. Try taking pictures with just the regular flash setting, and then try the “night portrait” settings. You’ll love the results!
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