Tips for Mastering Night Photography

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.

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. 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.


 Explore the Unknown

Night photography is a great equalizer. When it’s dark enough outside, it is like 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 with your camera, or you choose a new location.

Photographing at night can reveal views that people aren’t used to seeing. For example, with long exposures, you’ll start to see stars you didn’t realize were there. Areas you are familiar with will look different at night. But, because you know the place you may become stuck photographing the same thing.

By exploring the unknown, you are starting afresh. This is the best way to tackle night photography. Break out of your usual area and force yourself to see something new with your camera.

Use Manual Focus

Although the modern camera is great at autofocusing, when it is dark your camera will struggle to focus correctly. To ensure that your photo is in focus, switch to manual focus. Turn your manual focus to infinity (the ∞ symbol on your lens). Once you manually focus on your subject, don’t switch to autofocus. If you do, the camera will automatically autofocus again, and ruin your focus.

Ditch Night Mode and Choose Manual Settings

What is night mode in photography? Many DSLR cameras have a night mode which automatically sets a long shutter speed and high ISO. Instead of using the preset night mode on your camera, it is better to shoot in manual mode.

You should first have a good understanding of how exposure settings work. You may find it useful to read our guide to exposure. Three factors affect exposure. These are shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, and we use these differently at night.

So how do you expose for night photography?

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. But what is the best ISO for night photography? That depends on the rest of the settings. You might need to take a couple of test shots before you figure out the right exposure settings.

Try Bulb Mode

Bulb mode allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you are holding down the shutter release button. This lets you shoot with a slower shutter speed than what your camera would otherwise allow. It is great for creative night photography for when you need a longer exposure, such as shooting light trails, star trails, or light painting.

Get the Right Equipment

Besides a camera, what is needed for night photography? The most important gear is a sturdy tripod.

Using a tripod allows you to capture a long exposure. Shooting with a slow shutter speed 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 for your camera.

  • Make sure it’s weighted down and sheltered from strong winds. Even slight movement of the camera 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 at f/5 with a shutter speed of 1/6 of a second.

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 camera.

The exposure settings of this photo were f/5.6, at ISO 100, with a shutter speed of 235 seconds.

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.

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.

Capture the Night Sky

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.

If you are wondering how to photograph stars, it is easy. To capture stars, you will need to set the shutter speed to less than 20 seconds. This will prevent star trails. To compensate for this low shutter speed for night photography, set the aperture as wide as possible and keep the ISO high as well.

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.