While camera technology on smartphones and DSLRs continues to advance, night photography is still difficult things to get right, regardless of your equipment.
When it comes to taking photos at night or in dark settings, the point-and-click method is not enough to get a great picture. So here are some tips for better night photography.
1. Ditch the Flash
While beginners may be tempted to use their flash to take photos in the dark, this is the last thing you should do. A built-in flash is a surefire way to ensure your picture is overexposed with uneven lighting.
Using your flash will always mean that whatever the light hits first will be emphasized. This isn’t suitable for low-light pictures where the composition is important, or where you want to catch the details of a subject.
2. Manually Adjust Exposure
The automatic mode on your camera is the least suitable for night time photography. Rather, you should switch to a manual mode. Here you can adjust the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed of your camera.
These settings allow you to adjust the exposure of your image—how much light your camera takes in and for how long. The exact setting will depend on your subject and what goals you want for your photo.
If you’re not very familiar with these photography terms and what they mean, check out our photography tips for beginners.
3. Use a Tripod
Since night photography requires long exposure times, you need to use a tripod. If your camera does not stay perfectly still, even when the exposure period is just a few seconds, your image will come out blurry and distorted.
A tripod also allows you to adjust the angle and height of your camera, making it a better solution than propping up your camera on a flat surface. A tripod also withstands vibration better on surfaces like metal bridges.
4. Consider Using a Remote Shutter Button/Remote
Since your camera needs to remain perfectly still during longer exposure times, you should consider using a shutter remote. Tapping on your DSLR shutter button or your phone’s touchscreen can cause enough movement to disturb the image.
A remote can reduce this risk since it uses software or a signal to trigger the shutter rather than a physical button or tap.
5. Shoot in RAW Format
On both recent premium smartphones and DSLRs, you can shoot photos in the RAW file format. This image format is essential for night photography since it includes all the image data captured by your sensor.
These details matter when it comes to capturing night scenes and editing them afterwards. If you capture these images as JPEGs or another compressed picture format, a lot of essential data is lost. This makes it much more difficult to capture subtle details or to bring out these details with editing.
Stick with RAW instead of JPEGs (RAW vs JPEG), so that you can work with your camera and your images’ full potential.
6. Take Your Time and Experiment With Shots
It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get a night photo right the first time around. That’s why it’s important to take your time and experiment with different settings to see which works best with your shot.
Adjust your ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, then take a shot. See the result, adjust the settings again, and take another.
See what works and what doesn’t work. Taking your time and trying out different shots will help you reach that sweet spot to take the best shot possible.
7. Use Bracketing and Combine Photos If Needed
Depending on the subject of your photo, it might be difficult to get the correct exposure on different parts. This is especially true when it comes to subjects that have parts at different distances from the camera (for example, large rocks in a landscape picture).
To get the right balance in a night photo, you may need to use bracketing. Bracketing is basically the manual version of what HDR modes do automatically—taking multiple shots at different exposure levels.
You can then use photo editing software to combine and blend different parts of each shot to get an overall image with the right exposure throughout.
8. Make Sure Your Subject Has Enough Lighting
Unless you specifically want to capture a silhouette, you will need to make sure your subject is well-lit enough compared to its background lighting. This seems obvious for photography in general. But the darkness of night scenes means even a minimal amount of light in the background can result in your subject becoming obscured.
This is especially true when trying to capture a subject near a lit street or building. You either need to make sure that the subject is positioned in such a way that it benefits from surrounding lighting (for example, capturing a person’s portrait under street lighting), or supply your own source of lighting for the subject.
9. Adjust White Balance for Artificial Lighting
On the subject of lighting, not all light is equal—especially when it comes to artificial lighting. Since this is the primary source of light in night images, you will likely need to tweak your white balance settings.
Depending on the light source, your image’s color scheme may appear overly cool or overly warm. You need to decide what balance you want for your image and then adjust its warmth.
Sometimes, the warm hue of old lights outside a building can give a great tone to your image. But if you want a more neutral tone or are aiming for a cool color scheme, your white balance settings will need to offset this tint.
10. Choose a Suitable Setting If You Want a Long Shoot
If you are capturing a specific type of night photo, such as star trails, you will need the right location to account for the long shoot times. These shoots can take several hours. Which means that you don’t want to choose a setting where you will likely be disturbed or asked to move.
Furthermore, you don’t want to choose a location where you or your equipment could be at risk. Make sure to do your research. Check out the location during the day and night before choosing to shoot there. You should also make sure that it’s legal for you to be there at night. Consider bringing along a friend or fellow photographer too.
You should do this even if the photography technique you’re using doesn’t necessarily take a long time. You’ll want to leave yourself enough freedom to take multiple photos and try out different compositions.
Buy the Right Gear for Your Photography
You don’t need the best camera or the latest equipment to take night photos. But the right gear goes a long way.
Check out our guide to the essential gear for new photographersfor some recommendations that can up your photography game. Whether shooting at night or during the day.