Introduction to Night Photography

Night photography, long exposure

Night photography results in breathtaking shots, especially when taken with the right exposure and skill. It solves the problem of shots looking ordinary and uninteresting. For example, a shot of a building or a street can look ordinary during the day, but the same shot looks amazing when photographed at night. It's like night brings out the magic in pictures.

However, for your shots to look great and clear, you will need to master exposure skills in the dark. Even the most experienced photographers may struggle to get proper exposure during the dark if they are not used to night photography. However, it is easier to photograph at night than during the day.

Before we narrow down to the tips and tricks of getting amazing shots at night, let’s briefly look at the essentials you need for night photography.

Essentials of Night Photography

When it comes to night photography, you don’t need to bring in a lot of extra gear. In addition to your DSLR camera and lens, the only must-have thing is a tripod. The darkness dictates that you use longer shutter speed so as your camera can gather enough light for proper exposure. Therefore, you need to hold your camera steadily as a little shake will have a significant effect. This is why a tripod is an essential tool.

Also, you may need a remote shutter release, so that you don't touch your camera during exposure. If you cannot find this, you may need to use the camera timer so that you don't move it during exposure.

Other items you may need, although not necessary;

  • A lens hood. To block out bright lights from different directions such as neon lights and street lights, a lens hood will do a good job- it will keep the flares to a minimum.

  • A torch. This can help in different ways. For instance, it can help you locate your camera controls if you don’t know where they are. Besides, it can help you set up your tripod and find things in your camera bag

  • Extra batteries. The long exposures mean your camera battery will be drained at a faster rate. If you end up using Live View, the cells will be drained even faster. Therefore, you may need to carry spare batteries with you.

With this in mind, we can now discuss how to take stunning night shots.

How to Get Your Camera Settings Right for Night Photography

One of the distinctive things between daytime and nighttime photography is the exposure values used. When night falls, you need to switch your camera exposure settings to get perfect shots. However, this is simpler than you thought.

Your camera’s exposure is controlled by three things (the exposure triangle) - aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Because of darkness, your camera will need to let in more light, and this is only possible when you alter the three controls.

We will cover how to set each of them for night photography;

  • Shutter Speed

During the day, you usually use shorter shutter speeds to limit light getting in the camera. However, at night, your camera will use longer shutter speeds. This is because, during the night, the camera will need a more extended period to gather enough light for proper exposure.

With a longer shutter speed, it means you have to hold your camera steadily as a slight movement will cause your image to become blurry. That's why a tripod is essential equipment to have at night.

  • Aperture

This is the opening of the lens that allows light to enter the camera. The aperture size dictates the amount of light coming into your camera for given shutter speed. The aperture is also known to affect the depth of field.

When it comes to night photography, the ideal option is to use large apertures at night. This is because you don’t need to worry about achieving a wide depth of field. Also, a small aperture means you will need to use longer shutter speeds.

  • ISO

ISO measures how sensitive your digital sensor is to light. Higher ISO values make the camera's digital sensor more sensitive to light, which means you will need to use a smaller aperture or shorter shutter speed.

However, remember that using higher ISO’s may result in more digital noise in your shots. It is important to mention that darker areas tend to show more digital noise than lighter areas. Therefore, if you can avoid using higher ISO values at night, the better.

Instead, use longer shutter speed to increase exposure so that you don’t end up using higher ISO. However, in cases where you are photographing a moving subject, you may need to increase the ISO.

Things You Can Photograph At Night

Now that you have the right tools and have knowledge on how to adjust your camera settings, here are several things you can photograph at night;

  • The night sky. Moonless, clear nights can create great pictures. To get better sky shots at night, go further from city lights.

  • Public buildings. Well-lit buildings are a popular choice for most night photographers. You can use them as your starting point of your night photography.

  • Bridges. Look for a well-lit bridge at night and make it your subject. The long exposure time will blur the water under the bridge while traffic will appear as flashing lights.

Photography of Brown Concrete Bridge at NightNikon D7000, f8, 30sec.

  • Fountains. A well-lit fountain with different colored lights will make an interesting shot. The long shutter speeds make it appear to be flowing.

Multi colored fountain design in the darkCanon 20D, f6.3, 8sec.

Other things to capture at night

  • Car light trails

  • Street lights

  • Reflections

Bottom Line

Night photography offers you a great way to get interesting, unusual shots. Hopefully, this guide will help you get started with night photography.

If you master what we have discussed here, you should end up with fantastic night shots. Keep practicing and good luck

Posted in: Photography for beginners