Relative beginner needing night shooting help!!!


TPF Noob!
Jan 8, 2012
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Hello guys!

Let me first quickly introduce myself; I'm a 20 year old who has loved photography for quite some time now, but am having trouble getting used to my Sony Alpha A200. Although it's a very nice camera, and I understand the basics, I am having trouble shooting in low light conditions.

My main focus of my photography is cars. I shoot cars for friends, and for myself, but recently I have been wanting to improve my night shots. I am quite comfortable post processing (lightroom), but my trouble begins when shooting. All too often I find myself shooting, thinking I have got some nice shots, and then going home to find my subject blurry, but my background very sharp. Here are some examples:

As you can see, the background of these pictures is much more in focus than the subject. I understand that's normal, considering that the camera will focus on where there is more light, but how can I get around this? Some have suggested using the car's lights, or a flashlight to focus, which usually gives me a result something like this:

The shot ends up way too dark, and no post processing will help.

I have managed some nice shots, but lots of them end up blurry, and I don't even waste my time trying to edit them.

I am shooting in "Night Mode" on my camera, with low ISO and no flash. Any help would be very much appreciated!

Thank you, and I look forward to participating on these forums!
TO: Naptime, yeah he probably is, his exposure times are around 5 seconds, so it would appear so.


Just a couple of suggestions. You are shooting some long exposures, which opens up the opportunity for camera shake. I'm not totally familiar with the Sony's, but I bet you can get up around 800ISO before concern sets in, which is at least 3 stops of shutter speed added. Also make sure your tripod is rock solid.

I can't see which FOCUS mode you are using, but I would try either a single point or manually focus on the grille of the car (or which ever point you want to be the sharpest). That may help get it sharper than the background.

Good Luck
Hey! I'm using a tripod, and yes, I have tried in manual mode, but there is little difference in terms of focus!

Thanks for the help both of you! Instead of shooting at 200 ISO, I should try bumping it up, is what you're saying?

This is going to sound terrible, but I don't even know how to focus manually with my camera.

I forgot to add that the lens I have is a 3.5-5.6/18-55 SAM, if that changes anything.
Yeah, im a Noob too...but I think you could increase your ISO a bit to increase your shutter speed.

And, i dont want to give this as advice, becasue i am really not sure, but I would think shots like this could benefit from a flash to light up the foreground. Maybe even HDR processing would help for these kinds of shots.
Hmm, ever tried to use Manual Focus ?

My guess is that you are using Auto Focus ... and the camera is not exactly hitting what you think it should focus on.

Also try shooting with a smaller aperture ... which you will probably need a tripod as your shutter speeds will get slower.
I guess I should've asked how to manually focus on my DSLR... It is hard to believe that I have read the user manual twice :(
You do have lots of light in these, so you do well to keep your ISO at 100 - 200. When you shoot with a narrow aperture you will get more DOF and backgrounds in focus. But, using the wide angle lens allows you to get closer to the cars in the foreground and get them in focus by focusing not too far behind them, maybe half way into the scene.

In the first photo crop out that bright light right overhead, including the ceiling light which does not add anything important. The lighting is nice in #2. When headlights were suggested, I think they meant having headlights shine onto the car you are photographing, not having the headlights on in the car that is the subject.

If a scene is coming out too dark, in Manual Mode you can sometimes find the "Bulb"setting which allows you to hold the shutter open for a longer letting more light in. Try panning with the shutter open, you can get some interesting effects with fixed lights. With the shutter open move the focus in and out for other effects. Try a shot with the camera tilted quite a bit especially if a car is moving. With the lens held open rotate the camera in a slow circle.
Thank you rambler. If I understand correctly, you're suggesting to use the opposite of the telephoto lens position? Would this not focus too much on the foreground and blur out the subject?
Tighten your aperture to about f/8, you want best sharpness and a fairly deep DOF.

Then when you shoot cars, THEY are the subject and should be in the sharpest focus, in fact the area of the car closest to the camera should be the point of focus and most sharp.

To do this you can use auto-focus, provided you have enough light, Shine a Flashlight on where you need to focus, Point your camera center focus point AT that spot and get focus lock. Then on the side of your lens is a AF/MF switch. With the car in good Focus using auto-focus. Now turn off that switch which will keep the focus where it is provided you don't hit the focus ring

Now with the focus locked, Recompose your image how you want to frame the shot.

Even if using a tripod, use a remote shutter release or the timer so you don't get any camera shake.

Cars look better shot more towards the 55mm end of your lens than wide angle, unless that is your artistic vision for the shot.

Good luck
Thank you for that tip! I hope I can try everything mentioned, this week!

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