Westminster fountain at sunset

by Jorge Córdoba

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I was shooting the lighting of the city that is visible at the top of the trees if you shoot landscape.

No matter what I do, the image is blurry. What have i done:

  1. ISO 100
  2. Manual focus towards infinity
  3. Using a tripod
  4. Using really sharp prime & good camera

Basically, everything I could. The only example i have is here, but it is not good, because image is underexposed:

http://www.shrani.si/f/46/b5/1lrphe8A/dsc04702.jpg

The main question: Why can't night photographs be as sharp as daily photographs (with approperiate exposure times of course)?

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Thanks everyone. You provided very fine answers, a lot of different ideas, but It'll take a while to try them out. +1 everyone! –  Rok Kralj Oct 6 '11 at 21:02

5 Answers 5

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Firstly I notice your aperture is set at 1.8. This will make DOF very narrow, making focusing very difficult. Also your camera is very good at higher iso, so try using 1600 / 3200 initially. Try setting the following.

  • Use auto focus to focus on something with a defined edge (the tops of the trees?), then switch to manual to keep the focus.
  • Use a higher iso, such as 1600+
  • Use a narrower aperture to increase dof, try f8 to start
  • Try aperture priority to get a close to correct exposure. try this initially. note these settings and switch to manual exposure and adjust the settings from those noted as you see fit.
  • Use Dof Calculator to get the hyperfocal distance. You will note that focussing at infinty means everything within approx 100ft is out of focus. At f8, the hyperfocal distance is approx 25 ft, so try focussing on something at approx that distance.

Let me know how you get on.

PS. I also note that from the metadata that you have a brightness value of -4 dialled in, is this intentional?

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For -4 brightness I believe it is a camera estimate because i was shootin at M mode. –  Rok Kralj Oct 3 '11 at 18:16
    
that makes sense as i haven't seen exposure compensation in manual mode before. –  rapscalli Oct 3 '11 at 22:30
    
On some cameras, exposure compensation in M mode applies to the meter in the viewfinder -- dial in +1 compensation, and it'll tell you you're properly exposed when you're actually 1 stop above what the meter thinks. –  Evan Krall Oct 4 '11 at 8:08

Many lenses allow you to focus beyond infinity, as varying temperatures can cause physical changes in the lens dimensions. Turning the lens as far as it will go will not be the answer, as there is no guarantee you are focused on infinity.

You will need to find a way to focus on infinity in these conditions - if there is a bright moon, you could focus on that using AF, then switch to MF to ensure the lens stays focused correctly.

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2  
The example photo definitely looks out of focus. Getting the right focus at night is often a problem if there are no easy things around to get a lock on. The other way to ensure it is to use the hyperfocal distance (or further) with a small aperture –  Dreamager Oct 3 '11 at 14:55
2  
Other ways of checking focus include using Live View, if your camera offers that feature, or reviewing the first shot on the LCD, tweaking focus, taking another shot, reviewing, etc. But make sure you're not making the same mistake I have: Turning the focus to the close limit instead of infinity! flickr.com/photos/coneslayer/2598633731 –  coneslayer Oct 3 '11 at 15:06
    
I bring a high-powered flashlight, or a laser pointer. Easier then trying to use ambient light. –  Fake Name Oct 3 '11 at 22:29

They certainly can be as sharp as daytime photographs, but you've got a lot working against you:

  1. With the longer exposure times, your tripod needs to be rock solid and you need to be using every trick to eliminate motion: mirror lock-up, remote shutter release, tripod weighed down, etc.
  2. Without a lot of light around, your camera will have trouble auto-focusing properly
  3. With the long exposure, you're at the mercy of the wind tossing things around and making them blurry.

So, yeah, not easy to get a sharp photograph.

I can't be sure, but the sample you posted looks like you missed focus. One thing that still trips me up me sometimes is that I focus manually to infinity, but then shut down the camera, which would change the point of focus to something else when it powered back up. Annoying. Perhaps that's happening here? Depending on the camera brand, leaving everything set on Manual Focus can help avoid that, but not always.

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and set up the tripod in a location that's shielded from the wind, can help too. –  jwenting Oct 4 '11 at 8:58

Infinity is probably too far. You need to focus manually at the right distance. Either use the scale on the lens or focus on a bright point. No bright point? Add one using a laser pointer. The camera may even be able to autofocus on it if you hold it steady.

You are doing most things right but I would add:

  • Use a good tripod (any tripod won't do it) and make sure everything is tight.
  • Use the self-timer or remote trigger (outside of focus, this is the worst culprit).
  • Use mirror lockup.
  • Disable stabilization if applicable.
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The lense is 35mm and the trees are about 2 kilometers away. –  Rok Kralj Oct 3 '11 at 14:59
1  
Wow! Those trees are HUGE then. Check with your aperture on a depth-of-field calculator to see if it should be in focus. Otherwise, try the 4 recommended changes to your procedure. –  Itai Oct 3 '11 at 15:04
1  
Haha, maybe I overestimated the distance! :) –  Rok Kralj Oct 3 '11 at 15:11
    
Probably unnecessary, but a note about laser pointers: do not shine them at the moon (pointless) or aircraft (dangerous, and a felony in the US). –  khedron Oct 3 '11 at 19:43
1  
I completely agree with this answer. Another option for focusing is to use live view if the camera supports it, and focus using that - remember to zoom in using the live view. –  Pete Oct 4 '11 at 11:37

Assuming that the focus is correct, and the camera is well stabilized:

  • Wind: you are presumably using a fairly long exposure, especially at ISO 100, and any movement of the trees will cause a loss of sharpness
  • Haze: again, long exposure, so any dust/bugs/etc. in the air that catches the light can reduce the clarity of the image.
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