Shooting tips > Capturing Beautiful Illumination

    Level: Beginner

    LESSON 17Capturing Beautiful Illumination


    Focal length: 24mm (35mm equivalent), f-stop: 3.2, Shutter speed: 1/60 second, Exposure compensation: +1, using cross filter.

    Whenever you see the gorgeous illumination of a cityscape, you want to capture it in photos. Here, we show you how to photograph illumination so the image contains the splendor that you see at the actual scene. When shooting, set the camera to A-mode so you can customize the aperture. Generally, reduce the aperture when you want to focus on the entire scene, and open the aperture as much as possible when you want to emphasize and get a close-up shot of illumination or decoration.

    Photographing the Entire Scene

    When photographing illumination, sometimes you may want to capture the entire scene as a cityscape, and sometimes you may want to capture close-ups of your subject.


    Entire scene captured. Focal length: 24mm (35mm equivalent), f-stop: 2.8, Shutter speed: 1/60 second.


    Close-up captured. Focal length: 50mm, f-stop: 1.8, Shutter speed: 1/80 second.

    Generally, when photographing the entire scene, try setting the exposure compensation, white balance, and Creative Style/Creative Look in similar ways to when shooting at night. Also, see Capturing Dramatic Night Scenes, which covers the basics for shooting at night.

    Aperture setting

    To focus the camera on the entire scene, shoot with a smaller aperture. You can capture beautiful images with the entire scene in focus by setting the aperture value to between f8 and f11. However, if you do not have a tripod, preventing camera shake is a priority. Even when shooting an entire scene, open the aperture as much as possible.

    Exposure compensation

    A basic tip for shooting illumination is to adjust the brightness to create the overall atmosphere. Adjusting the exposure compensation toward + creates more vibrant images, depending on the light source and camera settings.


    Exposure compensation: 0 (when set to Multi-pattern metering).


    Exposure compensation: +1.3 (when set to Multi-pattern metering).

    But because illumination lighting deals with greater differences between bright and dark areas than shooting typical night scenes does, there may be higher contrast, and you may not be able to capture what you see by adjusting just the exposure compensation. In this case, try adjusting the D-Range Optimizer (DRO). DRO analyzes the image and obtains the optimal brightness for each area in the image. Unlike exposure compensation, which uniformly increases or decreases the overall brightness of the image, this function adjusts the brightness only in underexposed or overexposed areas, which is especially effective much light contrast exists.
    When shooting illumination, the effect of this function becomes apparent at stronger levels (Lv3 to Lv5). However, overdoing the correction can create unnatural images and noticeable noise, so select an optimal level by checking the images that you have shot.


    DRO: Off.


    DRO: Lv5.

    Here, DRO was set to Lv5. When DRO is on, the darker areas are made brighter, creating an image that looks more like what we see with our naked eyes. Another useful function is auto HDR, which shoots three images at different exposures at the same time, then overlaps these images to capture both the bright and dark areas.
    See the User Manual or Handbook to learn how to use DRO and Auto HDR.

    White balance

    By changing the white balance, you can change the expression of illuminated images. Although Auto WB can reproduce colors faithfully close to how we see them, you can also use Daylight to create a warm image or Incandescent to create a cold or ethereal image.


    White balance: AWB.


    White balance: Sunlight.


    White balance: Incandescent.

    Creative Style/Creative Look

    If adjusting the exposure compensation, DRO, and white balance are not enough, you can also try adjusting the saturation in Creative Style/Creative Look toward +. This will make the illumination lighting look more spectacular. We also recommend changing the Creative Style/Creative Look setting. Have some fun playing with the many Creative Style/Creative Look settings available.


    Creative Style: Standard, no saturation adjustment.


    Creative Style: Standard, saturation adjusted toward +.

    Shooting Close-ups

    When shooting illumination lighting, try capturing close-ups of nearby decorations and small objects. A close-up of just the illumination lighting tends to make the light bulbs and wires stand out, so focusing on nearby decorations or positioning the background just right can make for impressive images.


    (1) Shot from eye level.


    (2) Shot from a different angle.

    Here is a close-up of a Christmas tree ornament. Image (1) was shot focusing just on the ornament without changing the background. Because there is no illumination in the background, the entire image is dark, and the balance is poor. In image (2), the camera angle was selected to capture another tree in the background. It has better balance than image (1), and it beautifully expresses the gorgeous surroundings. To defocus the background as much as possible, the aperture was opened all the way, but with auto exposure, the image appeared dark, so exposure compensation was adjusted toward +. The picture at right above is a good alternative image of a small primary subject in focus and illumination itself as a secondary subject in the composition.


    Defocusing the illumination in the foreground. Focal length: 70mm (35mm equivalent), f-stop: 2.8, Shutter speed: 1/100 second.

    You can shoot to defocus illumination in the foreground, just as you can shoot to defocus illumination in the background. Creating large round blurs of illumination can make an image look magical. The size and number of round blurs can vary greatly, depending on the illumination, distance to the light, and camera angle for the shot. To achieve optimal image balance, try taking several shots while moving. If it is difficult to focus on the subject in the background, use manual focus.


    (1) Focal length: 130 mm, f-stop: 5.6, Shutter speed: 1/200 second.


    (2) Focal length: 91 mm, f-stop: 5.6, Shutter speed: 1/125 second, using cross filter.

    For image (1), manual focus was used to adjust the focus and make everything appear blurred. This is a good way to capture an interesting image when the subject is only illumination lighting.
    Also, depending on the application, you can use a commercially available cross filter to create a brilliant image, as shown in (2).

    Using a Fixed Focal Length Lens

    With a Fixed Focal Length Lens, you can create impressive shots with the background even more defocused, which works well when photographing illumination. A Fixed Focal Length Lens can capture more light than a zoom lens, creating less blur for more convenient shooting even in dim areas.


    Focal length: 55 mm / F-number: 2.2 / Shutter speed: 1/15 sec.

    This standard prime lens with a 55 mm focal length and large F1.8 maximum aperture offers stunning ZEISS Sonnar contrast and resolution for full-frame E-mount bodies. It can also create gorgeous background bokeh to set off your subject when needed. The big, bright maximum aperture means you can shoot handheld in low-light conditions while still getting outstanding sharpness and clarity.


    f-stop: 1.8, Shutter speed: 1/80 second.

    This medium telephoto lens has a 75mm focal length (35mm equivalent), which is ideal for portraits. The bright aperture of f1.8 and the new optics system enables you to shoot beautiful blurred images. When combined with an optical image stabilization function, this lens demonstrates its power in handheld photography even in darker conditions. In addition, the built-in motor and internal focusing provide smooth and silent AF, ideal for movie recording. The lens features an aluminum alloy exterior for a high-quality appearance.