New Year's Eve. It will be one hell of a chaotic night. Trust me.
The overcrowded streets. Long lines for the urinal. Maxing out your credit card on that shot of Cuervo. You'll be lucky to make it out alive.
If you do manage to stave off alcohol poisoning and survive the ascent into 2011, then you better have some kick ass battle scars, i.e. some great New Year's Eve pictures!
But first, you need to refresh your digital photography skills. Whether you have one of those expensive DSLRs, a basic handheld digital camera or even your iPhone, these night shooting tips should help you get stunning New Year's Eve photos every time.
Step 1 Know Your Camera
This is absolutely the first thing you should know— YOUR CAMERA! If you're not even sure what kind of camera you have, then you might as well just stop right now. If you have a Canon, Kodak, Nikon, Sony— whatever— then read through your camera's operating manual to re-familiarize yourself with the controls and functions. To get a better grasp on your device, check out some of the tutorials on WonderHowTo. Browse the digital camera section or search for your model above.
Step 2 Protect Your Camera
Remember— this isn't just a stroll down the park— this is New Year's Eve. This is that one night a year where all the rules break, and possibly even your camera. Make sure you have it well protected. Carry it in its protective carrying case when not in use. If you don't have one— get one. The last thing you need is someone spilling a tall beer all over it.
But if you're one of those photographers that needs the camera ready at all times, then skip the case. Use your hand. Or your pocket. Whatever means necessary to protect it from stray fireworks and urine puddles on the street.
Perhaps your best friend, the condom, can pull double duty on New Year's Eve. Click here to see how to use a condom as a waterproof cover.
Step 3 Basic Compositional Rules
What's that one thing everyone always talks about? Oh yeah— the RULE OF THIRDS!
Always think of your soon-to-be pictures in grids. Divide your camera's viewfinder into thirds, vertically and horizontally, giving you nine equal parts. Some digital cameras have a feature that automatically shows you the grid on the LCD screen. I highly suggest you use it until it becomes intuitive to you.
The subject of your photograph should be either along one of the lines or at an intersection. This will create more tension, energy and interest in your picture. Which of the pictures below looks better? The one on the left or one on the right?
The right? Right? Yes.
The right? Right? Yes.
The same goes for human subjects. Click here to learn more about the rule of thirds.
Step 4 Avoid Bright Backlighting
It's New Year's Eve for Christ's sake. It's going to be dark and there's going to be bright lights all over the place. The key to great New Year's photos is to make sure all of the bright lights are behind you, the master photographer, instead of behind your subject. Otherwise, you'll get a darkened room and an even darker subject.
Use your camera's features to zone in on your focus point, which can detect the correct exposure. But if you rely completely on your camera to do all of the work, you might as well just put the camera down and pick up the Heineken, because it's going to be a long night. Try to read up on how to get the proper exposure for your model camera. And remember, the wider your iris is open and the longer the shutter speed is, the better shot you'll get in dark scenes.
Click here for more information on proper night exposure.
And this step also requires one thing...
Step 5 Avoid the Built-in Flash on Your Cameras
Nothing good ever came from a flash on New Year's Eve. Well, maybe. It depends on what kind of flash you have. If you have a handheld Coolpix or similar camera, it's best to make sure your flash is turned off. All you'll get is brightly lit faces, void of any natural color, with the background drowned out. They'll look grotesque. Disgusting shadows will hide behind their facial features. It's pure amateur night. Don't use the flash. Use the foreground lighting to brighten your subject and bump up the ISO if you have to. I'd say "natural" lighting, but there isn't really anything natural about neon lights and fireworks.
This photo below was taken in a dark room with a very bright flash, which drowned out any details and made her paler than a ghost. On the right, the flash also was too strong.
Some say that placing semi-translucent tape across their camera's flash will diffuse the bright light it creates, cutting down on the ghostly effect. If you love your flash, give that a try. You may just come out with some decent photographs.
Click here to learn more about camera flashes.
Step 6 Avoid Auto Modes (Or Maybe Not... Just This Once)
Depending on what level you are with taking pictures, this could go either way. My opinion— drop the auto modes. Hone your skills at the manual mode.
But really? On New Year's Eve?
Yes, that is, if you're already a pro at adjusting all of the settings manually. Otherwise, you only have so much time to prepare, and once you get a few brewskies in you, you're not going to remember your focus from your flash. So, by all means, this one day out of the year, use your auto modes (except flash, of course).
I probably will.
Click here to learn more about your camera and auto modes.
Step 7 Keep the Picture Crashers OUT!
Okay, you're bound to get at least one image with some guy you don't know in the background waving at you, wrecking a potentially awesome pic. Those creepers are hard to look out for, and they'll show up in the damnedest places, but you need to keep your eye out for them.
If you do take a sabotaged picture, flip them off and take another, after they sulk away. This is where your CIA training comes in handy. You need eyes in the back of your head. Except, the likelihood of one of these photo crashers sneaking past unnoticed rises as you keep sipping on that Margarita.
If you want to make some resolutions this New Year about improving your picture-taking skills, check out Mostly Lisa for 10 New Years Resolutions Every Photographer Should Make.