The Problem: Govind Shahi of Pinole, Calif., writes, “No matter what I try, my long exposure night shots—like this one of the Golden Gate Bridge—just aren’t sharp. Can you help me?”
The Tip: It appears that you have run into the perfect storm of problems making stills at night. You are apparently trying to use a flimsy tripod and triggering your single lens reflex (SLR) camera by pressing the shutter release button with your hand.
First, let’s discuss camera mechanics. When you trigger most SLR type cameras, one of the first things that happens is the internal mirror moves out of the light path. The operative word here is “moves.” Usually there is a setting that allows you to move the mirror before triggering the shutter. Use it.
For the type of long exposure shots you are attempting, you should be using the sturdiest tripod you can afford. Be certain it is sitting on a solid surface and people moving around the tripod are not shaking the floor.
Avoid touching the camera by using the “selfie delay” or a remote control to actually start the exposure.
Recording the largest file size your camera allows will give you more detail and permit more postproduction editing.
You might find that using a higher f-stop will give you more depth of field and result in a sharper image. Be careful, though: if you make the hole too small, specular bright lights will turn into stars. Which can be a good or bad thing.
If anyone has more suggestions for Govind, you’ll earn a Tipster Tool Tote by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Video Night Cheat
The Problem: You want to make a video shot of a night scene but your equipment will not allow a proper exposure without unacceptable noise in the picture.
The Tip: If there is little or no movement in the shot, use the techniques in the Night Shakes tip to make a good looking time exposure still, then add it to your video during postproduction editing. I have used this cheat several times when the client wanted a nighttime beauty shot of a corporate headquarters building.
Proving that a good tip never dies, here is a reprint of one we shared in 1999.
If you have the opportunity to shoot multiple takes of a scene, sound tech Andrew Jones of Manteca, Calif., suggests that you put a white band of tape around the tip of the boom microphone’s windscreen. The tape will help the camera operator see if the mic dips into the picture even through a dim viewfinder. Otherwise it might go unnoticed until later, during editing.
In the past month, readers have sent in several methods of getting a white balance when you don’t have much time or are shooting under mixed light.
Paul Wilson of Denver suggests a “room white.” Go to the proper filter, in or outdoors, and zoom wide. Do an auto white balance. Most of the time the camera will average the light sources and give you a nice useable mix.
Outdoors on a clear day, tilting the white card at a 45-degree angle to the sky will produce a better white balance than pointing it directly at the camera. On a cloudy day, tilting the white card at 45 degrees to the ground will produce a more accurate reading. The white coming off the ground softens the gray white of the clouds, according to Ron Blakley of Chicago, who will also receive a Tipster Tool Tote.
When shooting in an office or other facility with fluorescent lighting, a useable balance can be had by pointing the camera directly into the fluorescent fixture. Be sure the iris is set to auto or that you manually avoid overexposure.
Successful Sample Reel
A group of video executives came up with these guidelines for more effective sample reels.
1.Keep it short—no more than five or six minutes—but give each segment time to develop and show your skills in getting an idea across.
2.Anyone can make exciting video of exciting events. Show how well you can do interviews and talking heads, the bread and butter of industrial video.
3.Indicate truthfully what you actually did on each production: writer, lighting, producer, camera, etc.
4.Put your best work at the front of the reel; the reviewer might not watch to the end.
5.There is usually no need for bars and tone at the beginning; it just uses up time.
6.Have several reels that show different skills. Your ability to shoot sports is probably of little interest to someone who wants to make a training tape.
7.Show your initiative and creativity by using your computer to print impressive packaging for the tape. Perhaps use a frame captured from the video as a background for the box label.
8.Be sure the tape, label and cover letter all include information about how you can be contacted. The most impressive reel is useless if they can’t get back to you.