Tips for having sharp focus in night photos

One area where digital cameras have make some nice strides in recent years is in the performance of their autofocus systems. While some photographers, especially advanced photographers, prefer to use manual focus, today’s autofocus systems are so accurate that you’ll have plenty of success using them in everyday photography.

However, there are a few types of scenes where achieving a sharp image with autofocus is difficult. If you’re shooting an extreme close-up image, for example, you may end up outside the camera’s autofocus range by moving too close to the subject. (A camera’s autofocus range typically is listed inside of its specifications.)

Another tricky autofocus situation occurs in night photography. Because of the lack of light in the scene, the autofocus mechanism may have some problems finding the desired subject in the scene and ensuring it’s in sharp focus. Continue reading to find some tips for having sharp focus in night photos!

Increase the f-stop setting.

By shooting with a high f-stop number (small aperture opening), a larger slice of the scene (from front to back) will be in focus. This will give you a better chance of having the portion of the scene you want in focus, even if the autofocus system isn’t quite as accurate as you’d like at night. Of course, it can be difficult to record a useable image when you increase the f-stop setting, because a smaller aperture opening allows less light to enter through the lens, making it tougher to record an image at night. You’ll probably have to greatly increase the ISO setting to use this technique.

Bring extra light.

One way to help the autofocus system achieve an accurate result at night is to bring some additional light to the scene. If you’re carrying a laser pointer or even a simple flashlight with a directional beam, you can illuminate the subject matter before you shoot the photo. You then can lock in the autofocus by holding down the shutter button halfway. Turn off the light beam while keeping the shutter pressed halfway, and the autofocus should remain accurate so you can shoot the photo.

Move closer.

Most digital cameras include an autofocus assist lamp on the front of the camera body (usually a small yellow or orange light). This autofocus assist lamp will emit a brief but very bright light that’s designed to illuminate the subject briefly, allowing the autofocus system to lock in on the focal point. The autofocus lamp them turns off, allowing you to record the photo with the natural light in the scene. If you’re too far from the subject, the autofocus lamp may not be able to provide the amount of light needed to allow the autofocus system to lock in on the subject, so by moving closer, you’ll give the autofocus system a better chance of succeeding.

Bring in a flash unit.

Although you may not want to shoot with a flash unit in your night photograph, adding the light from the flash unit to the scene will allow the autofocus system to have a better chance at success in creating a sharp photo. If all else fails, you may have to go with the flash unit.

Below is a link to a great video I recommend from one of our partners B&H Photo – contains some great advice for shooting time-lapse photos. Happy Shooting – Dan!