Night photography produces some of the most stunning images. But it can be exceptionally frustrating to capture if you don’t know what you’re doing.
Read on for all the information you need to master night photography.
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10. Prepare Your Composition and Settings to Get the Best Shot
Shooting at night is a hard skill to master because shots take longer to expose. I liken it to shooting on film. You need to think a lot more about your camera settings and composition when thinking about how to take night photos.
Night photography takes place at any time between dusk and dawn. During this time, the range of colors can vary. Night photography draws on some of the same principles of black and white photography. For example, a factor that may once have affected the color in your photo may now change the contrast.
When there’s an inkling of light in the night sky, take a long exposure. You can end up with a blue evening sky when, in reality, it’s much darker outside.
9. Explore the Unknown
Night photography is a great equalizer. When it’s dark enough outside, you’re effectively working with a blank canvas.
When it comes to finding the best locations for shooting at night, there are two possible ways. Either you stick to what you know and return at night, or you choose a new location.
Photographing at night can reveal views that people aren’t used to seeing. With long exposure times, you’ll start to see stars you didn’t realize were there, so areas you are familiar with will look different at night, but you know the place and may become stuck photographing the same thing.
By exploring the unknown, you are starting afresh. I believe this is the best way to tackle night photography. Break out of your usual area and force yourself to see something new.
8. Choose the Best Night Photography Settings
You should first have a good understanding of how exposure settings work. You may find it useful to read our guide to exposure.
The first thing to do is to take your camera out of auto mode and set it to manual mode. In manual mode, you’ll have full control over all of these exposure settings.
Low light conditions mean you’ll need to change your exposure settings to compensate to get the correct exposure. You may have to widen your aperture, slow your shutter speed and/or raise your ISO.
When I first find a scene that I want to capture, I raise the shutter speed and take a photo of about 1 second. I do this to see roughly what it looks like with a little bit more light.
I then lower the ISO back down, as low as I can, to make sure that I don’t end up with a grainy photo.
And I use the extended shutter speed to capture the photo. See the image below shot at ISO 400, for 30 seconds at f/5.
The majority of your photos will have a wide aperture so that you can allow in as much light as possible. This will result in a shallow depth of field in some cases.
But I always find it much less noticeable at night as the lack of light takes away some of the definition.
Sometimes you’ll be in a scene in which your subject goes way into the distance – to the point of convergence. You’ll need a narrow aperture to produce a wider DoF.
The photo below was shot at f/13 for 25 seconds at ISO 100. You can get away with these settings because you rely on a bright source of light to be the subject.
When shooting a scene like this, always focus about a third of the depth into the photo. This creates the best depth of field.
In very dark places, raise your ISO and shutter speed. At the same time, lower your aperture.
I took the photo below at night on the outskirts of the woods. Local light pollution was the only light source outside of the building.
The graininess of the photo, the blue of the sky and the shallow DoF make this photo stand out.
High ISO will produce a grainy result in your photos which you can use for creative results if you know what you’re doing.
Think before you shoot. Decide what you’re shooting and whether you want grain, a deep DoF, or light trails. You’ll be able to work out the exposure settings for yourself from there.
One thing worth noting in low-light photography is to ignore your camera’s exposure meter: it’s irrelevant at night. The histogram is also going to appear completely different from what you’re used to.
Do some test shots and go with the settings that work for you after a bit of experimentation.
7. Try Using a Tripod for Easier Shooting
Using a tripod allows for long exposures and gives you the ability to play around with cool effects. If you are shooting handheld, you’re a lot more restricted. You need to be able to hold the camera still for long periods of time.
There are a few points to bear in mind when using a tripod.
- Make sure it’s weighted down and sheltered from strong winds. Even slight movement will blur your photos.
- Use a shutter release cable to prevent camera shake or jarring the camera by pressing the shutter.
- Turn off any image stabilization as it will be counterintuitive. It will think that the camera is moving.
The photo below was shot at ISO 3200, for 1/6 of a second at f/5.
My lens didn’t have IS so I couldn’t use that. Instead, I focused on my subject’s lips as a central, reflective point for creative effect.
6. Shoot on Film for Cool, Creative Effects
There are some really cool ideas and effects that you simply can’t achieve during the day.
Test the setting on DSLR, and then take the shot with your analogue camera. That way, you can learn faster without wasting money on film.
5. Create Fun Light Trails
Light trails are fun for night photographers because, if you’re in control, you can do whatever you like with them.
For the photo below, I went into a local town in the middle of the night with some friends. I got one of them to drive through the scene while the rest of us captured their light trails with our cameras.
This photo was shot at f/5.6 for 235 seconds at ISO 100.
4. Experiment With Reflections
Reflections are a lot harder to capture during the day as they’re dependent on the light in a scene. When you take away the natural light, you only have to worry about manmade light.
Try to use as much color as you can. These will merge in the reflections on the water. It’ll create a contrast between smooth and sharp.
3. Use the Moon to Create Beautiful Night Photography Images
The moon is one of your only consistent light sources at night. It can produce some interesting effects for night time photography.
You can use also use the moon as a key part of your image. In the picture below, the moon is a focal point.
2. Capture Movement in Your Night Scene
You can see this in the photo below, taken in New York with a 10 seconds exposure.
1. Capture the Night Sky With Long Exposure for Stunning Results
Sky photos at night offer a variety of effects. You can include movement in the clouds or more definition in the stars or star trails, like in the picture below, taken on a 20-second exposure.
Exposing any photo for long enough allows the small amount of light in the night sky to multiply enough times to produce this cool blue/purple color.
You can also capture incredible milky way photographs without fancy equipment, learn how with our milky way mastery course!