Capture Action After Dark

Marlon duToit All Authors, Marlon 2 Comments

It is always a little tricky to photograph effectively under the cover of darkness.

The settings on your camera changes completely, and all of a sudden you are faced with far higher ISO’s and much slower shutter speeds than what you normally are used to.

What do we do to combat this confusing topic?

I was fortunate enough to play witness to a battle of epic proportions. A pride of four lionesses killed an adult wildebeest. They had fed on it throughout most of the cloudy day. A few hyenas arrived during the late afternoon, keeping an eye on the full-bellied lionesses all lying within close proximity of the carcass. Contrary to popular belief, hyenas can be impressive predators in their own right, and the act of stealing a kill from lion weighing more than double their own weight is not all that cowardly in my opinion. Most of this behaviour takes places in the dark hours.

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1/1000, f4.0, ISO1000

How do you prepare for this?

Most of the new DSLR’s are capable of ISO abilities in the range of atleast 3200. This is high enough to capture what you need at night, making use of the artificial light from spotlights. There might be alot of movement and you may need to achieve a shutter speed or around 1/200, but in less active moments you can shoot as slow as 1/20th of a second and still achieve an acceptable result.

Because my light source is consistent, in the from of a vehicles spotlight, I often shoot on manual mode. Now that I am in manual I can achieve my correct exposure for the strength of the spotlight, and from there simply adjust my shutter speed in order to control the amount of light coming onto my sensor. It is simply and very effective.

My ISO would be set anywhere from ISO1600 to ISO3200. My aperture would be pretty wide open, likely somewhere between f2.8 and f4.0.

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1/200, f5.6, ISO 1600

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1/100, f2.8, ISO2500

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1/100, f2.8, ISO2500

As soon as the cover of darkness fell a large female hyena, likely the matriarch, came charging in with the utmost confidence. Immediately she emboldened the remaining 10 clan members and as a unit they sent the four lionesses in all sorts of directions.

They laid claim to what was left of the wildebeest, and once again proved why they are so efficient at what they do.

Till next time,

* * *

Marlon du Toit

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Comments 2

  1. Barry

    Hi Marlon,

    Awesome sightings and pics! Do you ever leave your iso on auto once you’ve dialed in your manual settings?

    Reason I ask is I use the same technique as you at night with manual settings but occasionally get really dark images if the spotlight goes wandering at the wrong moment.

    With my old 40D I used to try and avoid the higher iso settings (above say 800) as much as possible but I believe my new 70D should produce better images at higher iso. I haven’t tried it on a night drive yet but I’m wondering if the auto iso setting could compensate for the wandering spotlight?

    Cheers Barry.

    1. Post
      Author
      Marlon duToit

      Hey Barry,

      Thanks for taking the time to get in touch.

      I personally don’t leave ISO on Auto. I enjoy being in control of ISO as much as possible. I understand the issue of the “wandering spotlight”, ha ha. Once the spotlight moves off of the leopard’s face, then you lose that light completely. The best would be to chat to the tracker/ranger as well. The problem is that they often don’t know where you are photographing, and by asking them to just keep the light on the subject a little longer you can nail your shots.
      I’m afraid that the spotlight will render you with this issue every time it moves, regardless of ISO.

      Hope this helps.

      Best,
      Marlon

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