Learn the trade: Aisha Nazar shares her secrets to mastering night photography
by Aisha Nazar
Unbeknownst to most, Aisha Nazar’s success as a professional photographer was born out of a whim.
“I stumbled upon a mirrorless camera and without giving it any thought, I purchased it,” she shared.
“I immediately regretted my decision and after many failed attempts at selling the camera, I finally decided to give it a go and found ways to improve my photography skills.”
Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 82mm*| 1/250 sec | f/1.8 | ISO 1600
Her impulse proved to be propitious. Just last year, the Kuala Lumpur native bested hundreds of applicants in Sony’s ThroughTheLens competition. Her win granted an all-access pass to Sony’s coveted technology lab, alongside a one-year apprenticeship with the tech giant.
Through Her Eyes
With this experience, Aisha divulged that she is definitely on the way to realizing her dream to be a travel and documentary photographer, a considerable leap from her past work life as a corporate underling.
Her photography style? Visuals that are able to tell a story. She strongly advocates putting depth into captured moments, as opposed to simply getting nice shots that remain as what they are—nice.
“Just knowing a little about something you’re photographing changes your perception of how you view things,” she advised earnestly. “This way, it will ignite your thought process to give you something to write about.”
Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 82mm*| 1/125 sec | f/1.8 | ISO 1600
Having had her brain picked on the storytelling element of photography, Aisha moves on to explore the technicality and creative process of night shoots with Sony’s Full Frame camera.
One unique aspect she gushed about is the manipulation of light in night shots. From psychedelic light trails to hauntingly beautiful street portraits, a mix of imagery can be achieved by locating the right light sources and toggling the settings on the camera.
“There is no right or wrong way of shooting in the dark,” she offered in conclusion.
Read on to find out how Aisha masters the art of night photography.
Aisha’s go-to photography gear
Why use Sony’s Full Frame camera for night shots?
Sony’s Full Frame camera is perfect for night shots because of its full size sensor, which lets more light in as compared to a cropped sensor. It also possesses a high ISO to retain high details and produce low noise images.
Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/200 sec | f/1.8 | ISO 160
What are your commonly used night photography settings?
For night photography, especially for street, my cameras’ typical settings are:
F-stop: Shoot wide open with an aperture value of f2.8 or lower where possible
ISO: Shoot between an ISO of 800 – 1600, depending on the lighting situation and what I would like my final image to look like. I’m never worried about getting a terribly noisy image with Sony’s Alpha 7 III. It holds up tremendously well in low light situations.
Shutter speed: 1/80 – 1/160 sec
Shoot in RAW to get the most out of the details in post-production.
Tackling Street Photography
What is your experience with focusing during night shots? For street photography, how crucial is autofocus to capture that perfect moment?
Even in low light, Real-time Eye AF tracks almost immediately and locks on to my subject. Fast AF is definitely important in shooting street scenes because once a moment is missed, there's no going back. You need a fast lens for this so that it doesn't take too long to hunt and lock focus on the subject. A camera with a good sensor, like the Sony Full Frames, does so well in that aspect because of its superior low light performance and that, in turn, allows better tracking.
Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/125 sec | f/1.8 | ISO 1250
Share some of your tips for street photography at night.
Keeping a low profile is a must! The best way to go unnoticed is to not look out of place when photographing. Dress more casually so you blend in with the crowd. Consider using a considerably less bulky lens, like Sony’s 35mm or 55mm F1.8. You will be able to perform lightning fast autofocus and capture dynamic street shots with high corner-to-corner resolution from a wide aperture, along with a smooth bokeh.
I also highly recommend shooting on silent mode—it doesn’t draw attention when the shutter goes off and allows you to capture genuine emotions. Limit the use of your Sony camera’s Electronic Viewfinder (EVF) and shoot at waist or chest height so people don’t get conscious about themselves being photographed.
For shooting street portraits in the dark, make use of the available light around you. For instance, you can use the headlights of a passing car as a backlight for your subject. This creates an illuminating effect that outlines their figure. Or, you can even find light panels on the exteriors of most shops or restaurants as a light source for your subject.
Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/125 sec | f/1.8 | ISO 500
How does one tackle the high image noise in photos taken at night?
Testing out your camera’s ability in holding up with high ISO is important. This way, you will know the limitations of your camera and you’ll know the best ISO to use for final images that are cleaner and sharper. Another way is to take advantage of a tripod, so that you can use a lower ISO and compensate for it with a lower shutter speed.
It is also useful to utilize a wide aperture lens to get the maximum amount of light. Sony’s G Master lens is the perfect solution for this, where photos will remain crystal clear even at the widest aperture. Furthermore, the lens boasts a special coating to reduce the flares that usually happen at night.
The right way to flash
How do you maximize a flash for an outdoor night shoot?
A flash such as Sony’s HVL-F60RM can be utilized as a light source to brighten up your subject in night portraits. I usually find on-camera flash to be a bit too flat and harsh on the subject, so you can play around with reflectors to bounce off light from the sides and toward your subject to get a more dramatic effect of highlights and shadows.
Achieving Light Trails
What makes a great light trail photo?
A great light trail photo is scoring a pin sharp and smooth trail that suggests something which is out of this world. Personally, I find the smooth transitioning of light trails across the frame against a dark background sophisticated and sexy.
Alpha 7 III | FE 16-35mm F4 ZA OSS | 35mm | 5 sec | f/13 | ISO 50
What is your best advice to achieve a beautiful composition in light trail photos?
First, visualize how you want your final photos to be. Then plan out your composition and framing, before finding an ideal spot with a tripod. Set your camera to manual mode by using these settings as a general baseline: lowest ISO, aperture of f11-f18, shutter speed of 10-30 seconds. Play around with these settings until you settle on a combination that satisfies you.
What are some mistakes photographers may make when it comes to light trail photos at night?
Not having the right timing set. To get a light trail, it’s all about setting the right shutter speed to capture the motion of a moving subject with a light source. You will also need to practice before a good shot is nailed.
What is your trick to get a perfect shot of the cityscape at night?
You’ll typically want to find a good, high spot that eliminates obstructions from the view you’re planning to get. It’s all about exploring and also asking other photographers for suggested points.
Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 25 sec | f/18 | ISO 100
Expanding Your Creativity
Suggest some ways to elevate the creativity in night photography.
One of the best things about taking photos at night is that you can get creative with lights, where you bend the reality of how it really looks to the naked eye. It gets really interesting when you dial down the shutter speed and see the different outcomes. One of which is creating light trails from moving objects, where your camera takes advantage of, say, a panning motion to depict the speed of a moving object against a lit background.
Alpha 7 III | FE 55mm F1.8 ZA | 55mm | 1/10 sec | f/4 | ISO 125
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of Sony.
* Equivalent to 82mm in APS-C mode