DxO PhotoLab

Successful night photos with DxO OpticsPro 9

In collaboration with Christophe Gressin

In this tutorial, we will show you how to take successful night photos. After a few general tips about shooting, you will learn how use DxO Optics Pro 9 to optimize your results by setting the white balance, adjusting the exposure, defining the colors, and then working on such details as noise suppression and contrast.

To follow this tutorial, you will need:

  • DxO Optics Pro 9, Standard or Elite edition (depending on your camera).
  • Some photos, preferably in RAW format

1- Shooting night photos

Night shots should be taken preferably at twilight —that short half-hour between sunset and the darkest part of the night, or in the morning at dawn between the night and sunrise. Shooting at this time allows photographers to capture the details in the sky, beautiful colors, and overall more brightness than possible when shooting a dark night sky.

To successfully shoot night photos, we recommend using the following settings:

  • Choose your camera’s lowest sensitivity.
  • Use a tripod if possible, given that the exposure times are generally long.
  • Set the white balance to automatic mode.
  • Choose exposure matrix metering (in the case of strong light sources, center-weighted metering may be more advantageous).
  • Close the lens diaphragm in order to have good depth of field in relation to your scene.

If you are shooting without a tripod, you will need to increase the sensitivity in order to reduce the exposure time. In this case, particularly with urban lighting, the white balance tends veer toward shades of orange, so you will need to manually adjust it before shooting or correct it during post-processing. Freehand shooting also risks increasing digital noise.

2- Color and exposure

2.1 – Apply the basic corrections

The DxO Standard preset automatically applies a set of corrections adapted to your image as soon as you open it in DxO Optics Pro.

2.2 – Set the white balance

You can use the dedicated slider to manually set the “temperature”: the higher the value, the warmer the colors, and the lower the value, the cooler the colors. Set the slider here between 3800K and 3900K.

2.3 – Adjust the exposure

To recover more details in your image, use the DxO Smart Lighting feature to correct highlights and shadows. Several different automatic intensity settings are possible, along with the ability to set the intensity manually for greater precision.

Night photos present strong contrasts between light sources (such as streetlights) and the zones in which such lights do not reach, so we advise you to go slightly above the default correction by manually setting the slider to 80.

To finish setting the exposure, we will use the Selective tone palette.

Each slider lets you correct the exposure of an area within the image. To accentuate the highlights, darken the midtones and bring out the details in the dark zones, set the corresponding sliders as follows: Set the Highlights to -40, reduce the Midtones to -15, and boost the Blacks to +10.

At this point, the histogram is better balanced: compared to the histogram of the original image, we can see that the histogram has moved toward the right, indicating that the overall image has been brightened and that details in the shadows have been recovered; the right part of the histogram is somewhat narrower on the left, indicating that we have also recovered information in the highlights.

2.4 – Correct the colors

Use the Hue / Saturation / Lightness palette to precisely adjust the colors.

For each channel, or for all the channels, you can adjust the parameters for these three color settings:

  • The Hue slider lets you modify the color of the selected channel.
  • The Saturation changes the intensity of the selected hue.
  • The Luminance lets you brighten or darken the corresponding color zones.

Here we will increase the luminance of the Yellow channel to 70 in order to increase the brightness of the reflections in the water.

2.5 – Reinforce the contrast

You can reinforce the contrast for a more eye-catching rendering. Increase the contrast to 25 and the microcontrast to 55. The image will immediately display a stronger dynamic.

After making these corrections, you will have a sharper image that better conveys the photographed scene.

Info

A few dead pixels may appear on your images that you shoot at at fairly long exposures. A few dead pixels may appear on your images that you shoot at at fairly long exposures. DxO Optics Pro offers automatic correction of dead pixels, available in the Advanced settings in the RAW Noise palette. Do not forget to apply this correction if your photos display any dead pixels!

3- Dealing with noise and setting microcontrast

Modern cameras let you take night photos without a tripod with little loss of quality. Thanks to DxO Optics Pro, you can correct whatever flaws freehand shooting may produce. We will use a different image to illustrate this.

When you open your image in DxO Optics Pro, the DxO Standard preset is automatically applied.

3.1 – Set the white balance

Use the Eyedropper  tool in the White Balance – RAW sub-palette:

After selecting the tool, click in an area on the left-hand image that can serve as the reference gray. The image on the right will display the result. Here we will choose the bottom of the stairs on the left side of the temple:

You can adjust the result by using the Temperature and Tint sliders; to warm up the colors in the image, choose a Temperatureof 5100 K and a Tint of -25.

3.2 – Correct the noise

We will now use the Detail > Noise sub-palette to adjust the noise correction.

DxO Optics Pro also lets you correct the luminance noise, whose structure resembles that of silver halide grain argentique, and depending on your camera, chrominance noise as well, which appears as clusters of colored pixels (generally green and magenta).

Zoom in to 100% to begin with to easily see the results of these corrections.

DxO Optics Pro applied an automatic noise correction to your image as soon as you started processing it. You can manually adjust this correction. If you prefer a smoother rendering, you can increase the slider values to reinforce the correction. However, you can also choose to decrease the slider values to keep some noise so as not to flatten out too many image details.

Here is the same photo at 100% zoom with different correction settings:

ORIGINAL (no correction)

DEFAULT CORRECTION (Luminance: 40)

REINFORCED CORRECTION (Luminance: 80)

3.3 – Adjust the microcontrast

The microcontrast slider lets you amplify the fine details and reinforce the sharpness; in our example, the slider restores the sharpness lost during noise correction.

Set the microcontrast slider to an intermediate value to get a satisfactory result; here we set the slider to 50.

Straighten the horizon, and then compare the before and after photos to verify the corrections you have made.

4- Going further: Black & white and creativity

Some night photos lend themselves perfectly to black & white processing. The second photo in this tutorial, for example, produces a very interesting result.

To try this, we recommend that you apply (in addition to the same overall settings as for color above) the General – black and white partial preset, and then work with the Selective tone palette. You can also boost the micro-contrast to recover even more textures on the water and to give more substance to the twin towers of light.

Photos credits: Hector Martinez