Learn the trade: Aisha Nazar shares her secrets to mastering Night Photography

by Aisha Nazar

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Learn the trade: 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 of 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 was proven 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 covert 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 realising her dream as 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 picked her brain on the storytelling element of photography, Aisha moves on to exploring 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:

Manual mode
F-stop: Shoot wide open with an aperture value of f2.8 or lower where possible
ISO: Shoot between an ISO 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 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 it with a lower shutter speed.

It is also useful to utilise 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 flares that usually happen at night.

The right way to flash

How do you maximise a flash for an outdoor night shoot?

A flash such as Sony’s HVL-F60RM can be utilised 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 towards 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 achieving a beautiful composition in light trail photos?

First, visualise how you want your final photos to be like. 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.

Perfecting cityscapes

What is your trick to getting 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 you can get creative with lights, where you bend the reality of how it really looks like 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

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