Taking photos at night is one of the most rewarding experiences as a photographer! Theres nothing like looking down as your display and being struck by the results and being in total surprise of the amazing results.
Some things do cross over though, regardless of what time of day or where we’re at. Here are 10 night photography tips that have helped me immensely during my learning process. Lets get stuck in!
10 Amazing Night Photography Tips
1. Use a Tripod
Generally speaking, the exposure times for nighttime photography are going to require using a tripod. Even Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip, or downtown Tokyo, though very well lit, would be better imaged with our camera on a tripod.
Some night photography projects would be impossible trying to hand hold the camera. Some of the other tips will reference this first tip, so I’ll go on ahead with more night photography tips. You can seem my recommendations for night/milky way tripods here.
2. Use a lower ISO
A good rule of thumb, even remembering back to our film days, is to use the lowest film speed or ISO setting that works with our subject matter and intended results. Shooting a nighttime football game would be an example of an exception to this rule, for example, so let’s save situations like that for a different tip list.
Many night images have bright points of light or larger bright areas framed within a very dark area. Lower ISO settings help reduce electronic noise from adding distracting artifacts that may be difficult to edit in post processing. A lower ISO also allows us latitude in the longer exposure times needed for certain techniques.
3. Remote release is a great idea
We’re on a tripod, the exposure time is long, so we’re trying to reduce any camera shake that would make our final image less sharp. If using a lighter tripod, for portability’s sake perhaps, we still need to be camera not to introduce any camera motion when depressing the shutter release.
Using a remote eliminates that problem. E can use a cord or a cordless release. Some wireless remote releases offer other specialty features that can be useful for other photographic projects. Most of the ones I’ve purchased for various cameras are less expensive than a high capacity memory card.
4. Turn off image stabilization
Also known in some brands as vibration reduction, anti shake, steady shot, or something similar. This feature is designed to reduce the issues that we encounter when using longer focal length lenses or longer shutter speeds while hand holding the camera.
Since we’re not hand holding the camera, but rather using a tripod, we don’t need image stabilizing. Left on while the camera is tripod mounted, this feature can actually have the opposite effect, introducing tiny movements that degrade the final image.
5. Go manual
Manual exposure is a good idea because of the nature of the scenes usually imaged. Automatic exposure might get a correct exposure in the bright city areas that some are documenting. But the mix of large dark areas and bright points or other areas can play serious havoc with exposure meters.
There are tables and charts available online or in books that cover a variety of night photography situations and give some ideas of where to start with our exposure settings. If trying some light painting techniques, manual exposure is just about the only way I have personally found that gives successful end results. Depending on your specific equipment, you may find a different setting that works for you.
If you really want to better understand manual photography, you can check out my guide on the best online photography courses. Best of all is most of these are free and are jam packed with a lot of value.
6. Manual focus
Auto focus tends to hunt back and forth in low light. If this were to happen in the middle of a long exposure, that image would most likely be unusable. Even with shorter exposure times, auto focus is difficult for the camera to achieve in lower light levels. For accurate focusing, there is a threshold beyond which autofocus becomes inoperative or unreliable. Manual focus through the viewfinder can be hard as well, so…
7. Turn on Live View
Live view turns on the camera viewscreen. This is one of the night photography tips that I turn to as a matter of course when I set up my rig on my tripod. The viewfinder is somewhat hard to use for accurate manual focus in very low light or with a mix of bright spots and dark areas in the scene.
The viewscreen on the back of my camera is larger, is very clear, and allows me to magnify what I’m trying to focus on. The camera I use now for night photography has an articulated viewscreen which makes it more useful for my needs, since I can set it at whatever angle gives me a good view while adjusting whatever I need to do.
I can also adjust the brightness level of the viewscreen so I don’t overpower my adapted night vision in darker surroundings.
8. Shoot in RAW
RAW image files have loads of information imbedded in them that can be adjusted quite a bit more than a JPEG file, even a large fine quality JPEG. This information is adjusted in post processing. When first switching to RAW, a lot of photographers get a little worried because of how different they look than the JPEG they have been using. A RAW file is like film, it is meant to be processed.
Even the default settings of popular image processing programs yield a final image that is already better than an image shot as a JPEG. As we learn our programs and get more comfortable with them, we start seeing and doing things that turn us into an image manipulator that would make Ansel Adams smile with approval.
9. Take a red flashlight
This is a night photography tip that I borrowed from my also being an amateur astronomer. Not so much of an issue in brighter city venues as opposed to a dark countryside, but it still helps there as well. Red filtration helps preserve our night vision. Night vision is what our brain automatically adapts us for in lower light.
A bright flash of light in our eyes can reset us back to needing time to adapt again to the dark. Red filtered lights reduce or eliminate that problem. Even if our cameras have backlit controls for some things, the light lets us set up, adjust, or even just find the controls we need to use. Available online at minimal cost.
10. Image processing programs
Get one, any will do, and learn to use it (I personally use photoshop). Some are available for free, some are on a subscription plan, some may even come with our camera. Find the one that does what you need or want it to do and then practice, practice, practice. Play around with it, get comfortable with it.
One of the most important tips for night photography. It will also improve your results in the other forms of photography you enjoy.
This is not a complete write up of night photography tips, but it’s what helps me the most out of all the tips. One of the best tips I ever got, for any photography, is just to keep shooting. Take pictures, play around, learn. Your photography skills will increase, your images will be fantastic (or at least interesting!), and you will definitely enjoy the journey.
You can view some of my guides on tripods below.
- Best tripod for landscape photography
- Best carbon fiber tripods
- Best fluid head tripods for videographers
- Best GoPro tripods