Scene Mode: Night Scene

Before I even aware about ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, let alone knowing how to adjust them, (yes, I was on that stage for the longest time), I relied a lot to the Scene Mode to take photos in special condition. One of my favourite is the Night Scene mode.

Night Scene mode is great for taking images of illuminated objects in the dark. It relies on long exposure time (slow shutter speed) to collect the light from the illuminated object.

My last 3 cameras have been Olympus (including pocket-able waterproof μ850SW and bigger micro 4/3 E-PL2), and they have this night scene mode. I hope you have it too in your camera, especially if you don’t care about the more manual setting.

P6070764 - DP

Night Scene mode, what and when?

  • Lighting condition:
    • Illuminated objects with dark background.
  • Examples:
    • City skyline in the night time
    • Castle/church illuminated with spot lights in the night time
    • Lit up objects inside a dark room
  • Result:
    • Light profile of the object in dark background (just imagine how beautiful a Christmas tree when you turn off the room-light)

What to do?

  • Camera setting: Night Scene mode
  • Steady surface: It’s long exposure, so camera must be stay still to create sharp image
    • Use tripod
    • No tripod? Not a problem! Just place your camera in steady surface. Use any objects around you to create the angle correctly. Sometimes I even use my notebook or pen for this purpose.
  • Watch out the shutter button: Use timer/remote
    • Even when you try to be really steady, the camera moved a bit when you press the shutter button. Avoid this using the camera timer or remote.

Safety tips:

  • Always hold your camera’s strap!
    • I often use ledge/fence to place my camera. Since to create a crisp picture you should not touch your camera (yes, your body shakes all the time), the camera could fall from the ledge and break. Even worse if you are along a water body like on a bridge above river or in a high tower: Your camera could be gone forever! You don’t need to worry about this if using a steady tripod. Otherwise, hold on to your camera’s strap.

My case: Lisbon under the night sky

  • Location: Lisbon
  • Lighting condition: Dark, with city lights
  • Camera: Olympus Digital μ850SW (pocket, waterproof)
  • Scene mode: Night Scene

This was back in 2009 when I didn’t really know much about my camera at all. I wasn’t even aware of the magic of Night Scene mode. We were in Lisbon, high up in one of the hill in the city. The view was great, but it was very dark, except for the city light, shimmering far from us. I thought I won’t be able to capture this moment. Only if…

But Ryan said “hey, let’s try the night scene mode in the camera.”

“Oh, there’s such a thing?”

So I switched to the Night Scene mode, held up the camera high, and took this shot:

Lisbon under the night sky (June 2009)

1. Lisbon at night (Night Scene mode - ISO 250, exposure 4 secs, f/3.5) - shaking

Well, great… or not?

I have the lights, but everything looked doubled, even though I already held my breath to reduce my hand movement. Obviously it was not steady enough. Fortunately right where we were, there was a low brick wall in the edge of the viewing point, you know, so people won’t fall off the cliff. Or it could be stone pile, I don’t remember. So I sat my camera steady there, and…

Voila!

Lisbon under the night sky, June 2009

2. Lisbon at night (Night Scene mode - ISO 125, exposure 4 secs, f/3.5) - steady

Wow, now it’s a great shot! I mean, this photo was taken using an automated mode by just a pocket camera! Yes, a pocket camera can do it! Everything looks sharp and nice. It captures the city light, of beautiful Lisbon, and more importantly, it captures my memory about this moment – how many times you captures your precious moment in camera, but even when you have the picture that describes the occassion, it doesn’t capture the feeling of the moment?

The picture is sharp, and I don’t even need to retouch it. What you are seeing here is the “as is” shot! So yes, a pocket camera can do it!

Want to see the close up comparison of the 2 picture? Here it is:

Lisbon night scene comparison

Lisbon night scene comparison. Picture 1 (left) shaking, picture 2 (right) steady.

See the winner? Keep it steady!

Btw, don’t worry about the ISO, exposure, and aperture information up there. If you have Night Scene mode, you don’t have to set it up yourself, it’s all automated. You can use it though, if your camera doesn’t have the automated mode.

Using the same technique, I create these photographs:

Have fun trying!

Torch dancing

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