Today's "Disneyland Photo Tip of the Day" is more of a test and result more than a tutorial because the desired results are a matter of personal preference and choice. For this one we try out Different Settings for Photographing Neon.
With Cars Land being open and having such a plethora of things to photograph including my favorite thing, Neon, I was curious to figure out what the best settings were for photographing neon.
I ran this test using the assumption that most people walking through Cars Land will be taking pictures hand held, without the use of a tripod and would need to know how to photograph the neon signs with a fast enough shutter speed to get a nice clean shot and not blow out the bright light of the sign.
I was curious to see which aperture would give the cleanest look to the neon and then which exposure compensation would keep the exposure from being over blown. I have to admit that I was really surprised by the results. I had assumed that a large aperture would make the neon seem fuzzy and blown out, and that a small aperture would make it seem thinner and cleaner. I know that is how it works with Fireworks, so I thought neon would be the same. It wasn't!
I used my 18-55mm Kit Lens and set the camera on a tripod so I could keep all the images lined up exactly the same and run the most precise test. I set the ISO at 100 and the Metering Mode on Spot Metering. I shot it at several different apertures beginning at F/4 and going all the way down to F/25.
Aperture; F/4, Shutter Speed; 1/80th of a second.
F/25, 1/2 second
As you can see, there wasn't much difference between each photo. However, the shutter speeds did change dramatically. Given the assumption that people are not going to be using a tripod, the faster the shutter speed the better, which means a larger aperture is required, unless you want to increase the ISO. Luckilly, I think that the one with the aperture of F/4 was the best looking image, so it is a win win situation.
For the next step I set the aperture at F/4, kept the ISO at 100 and Spot Metering. Now I dropped the Exposure Compensation down in increments of 1/3rd stop to see where the cleanest, sharpest exposure would be.
F/4, EC -1/3, Shutter Speed 1/100
F/4, EC -2/3, Speed 1/125
F/4, EC -1, Speed 1/160
F/4, EC -1 1/3, Speed 1/200
F/4, EC -1 2/3, Speed 1/250
F/4, EC -2, Speed 1/400
Now the look of the neon is everyones personal choice of how they want it to appear. My preference is either -1/3rd or -2/3rds. I can't decide which I like better. For either of them, the shutter speed is plenty fast enough to take them handheld without worrying about it being blurry.
I hope this gives you a little insight as to the different ways to photograph neon and how to achieve the look you prefer.
Michael Greening 2012