Here are some questions that have come in this morning, as well as from other night shooters.
Do I need a tripod?
The short answer is yes. Image stabilization might be terrific for single shots, but to combine a series of shots means, your PLATFORM CANNOT move. You have to shoot multiple shots from exactly the same spot and camera position. Blending them, or layering them in post shooting processes will produce a finished shot.
Do I need a flashlight?
Yes, you do. Working with a piece of equipment after sunset presents a series of intellectual challenges for all night shooters. This is not just present in basic or midlevel shooters. To streamline your efforts of being able to get around a site safely, and to get around your camera quickly, you need to bring a light.
I tend to operate with multiple lights including a headlamp, and also a small handheld flashlight. I like to use red filters or lenses to mitigate night blindness for myself as well as others who might also be shooting in the same area. When the red filter is not necessary, you use plain old white light to get around safely.
What do I wear?
Not a silly question, as was asked by a couple of photogs locally. This time of year it can get cold, and based on the last two winters in Spokane, we are quite familiar with all of that stuff. Comfortable clothing, usually several light layers. Visibility at night can be important, especially if you are in and around traffic, so a lighter colored or reflective outer layer might be recommended.
Shoes? Yep, bring them along. Sturdy shoes or boots are a must for shooting after dark. Kinda silly? No, not really, since falls with expensive equipment can ruin anyone’s evening. Falls on ice, can cause more than just injury to equipment, so good sturdy shoes are a must.
How many shots do I need?
Interesting question, well, sorta interesting. Some shooters have written me and advised that they can get what they want in only one shot. I think that is outstanding, if it is really what is happening. I have never really had much success with one shot night shooting efforts. On some night shoots I average 400 images at one site, and add them together (not all of them) after they are reviewed on the computer.
At the least I need three shots at a location, which will produce a final outcome. In determining a start point, you can use the viewfinder to determine a start point (or rear screen display). A start point will allow you to view much of the detail of the image, especially in the darkest (shadow) spots. This same view will also show you that your lights (highlights) are almost always totally blown out, but the details look good. Once you have reached the start point, then I shoot one series at this point. Following that I INCREASE the shutter speed, normally quite a bit. This almost always takes away the detail you saw before, but what you also see is that the highlights (ambient lighting) is now very visible without being blown out at all. After being satisfied with the fastest shutter speed shot, you do the opposite, which means you now slow down the shutter speed, and go beyond the spot you found earlier which showed much of the detail. This will really be blown out as far as highlights go, but you will lack very little in detail that is hiding in the shadows. I shoot totally in MANUAL, so I can determine what it is the camera is doing. This type of workflow may be a little different than some other photogs, but it works for me.
What is important now is that in ALL of these different shots, you have NOT MOVED THE TRIPOD OR CAMERA. Combining the three views of your shot are now the editing challenge, but it is likely to reveal a great view of a location after darkness. A wireless shutter release, or tethered shutter release are helpful. It is also helpful to have setup the basics of the camera before you got to the site, so you do not have to worry about adjusting ISO levels or FStops. Determine those in advance and then leave them alone...you only need to adjust shutter speed after that.
Sound simple? Well, it sorta is. Each location has its issues though, but if you go to these sites with some basic tools to work with, you can make the site and camera modifications required. In most cases you only need to adjust a shutter speed.