Night photo shooting samples
ISO 150 - F/5.6 - Shutter Speed 4 sec

There’s no better time to improve your night photography than right now. It’s winter, and longer nights and shorter days give night photographers more opportunities to experiment with different techniques and ideas for their nighttime photo shoots. If you enjoy capturing images at night or want to expand your photo creativity or quality, this post will help be your guide in the dark.   

We’ll shine a light on excellent night photography ideas, tips, and equipment to take your after-dark images to the next level. As the sun sets on another day, it’s time to grab your camera and embrace the beauty of all the marvelous ideas you’ll have for your next night’s photo shoot.  

Night photography ideas, tips, and samples

Table of Contents

Night Photography Tips & Techniques

Long Exposures

Want to add some creative flair to your nighttime photo shoots? Try longer exposures. This simple technique involves using a slow shutter speed to intentionally lengthen the amount of time that the camera’s sensor is exposed to light. By using a long exposure time, not only does your camera capture more light (to brighten the images), but it can also capture the movement of light sources in beautifully intricate ways, creating motion-inspired light streaks or star trail effects. This is especially effective for photographing moving traffic or astrophotography. 

You can achieve ideal long exposure results by using a tripod and a camera with manual exposure settings and setting the shutter speed to a slow value, such as around 10 to 30 seconds. You can experiment with exposure times and see what different creative captures you construct. 

Night photo shooting - car traffic light trails
Photo courtesy of Jake Blucker

Key points:

  • Slowdown shutter speed for long exposure (around 10 seconds or hire)
  • Long exposures brightens photos by allowing shutters to take in more light.
  • You can create light trails using long exposure technique
  • A tripod and manual exposure settings will help image quality

Shooting In RAW

Shooting in RAW format can give you more flexibility when editing your nighttime photos, as it captures a greater range of tonal detail. When you shoot in JPEG, the camera processes the image and discards some of the data, resulting in a smaller file size. This can make it more difficult to recover lost detail when editing the photo, especially in low-light conditions. Overall, it gives photographers more control over the final look of their images, adding flexibility to editing. 

Key points:

  • RAW captures more detail
  • Can benefit you during post production photo editing

High Dynamic Range (HDR)

HDR is another good night photography technique involving taking multiple exposures of a scene at different exposures and combining them into a single image. This can be useful for capturing a wide range of tones in a setting with a high contrast between light and dark areas, such as a cityscape at night.  

To create an HDR image, you will need to take multiple exposures of the same scene at different exposures, either by using a camera that has an HDR mode or by taking the exposures manually. You can then use special software to combine the exposures into a single image, adjusting the exposure and other settings to achieve the desired result. 

Key points:

  • It helps to bracket your shots (essentially capturing same image over and over)
  • Can combine photos into a single image for better results

Below is a gallery of beautiful NYC night photography samples our team was able to capture, including camera setting like ISO, F-stop, and shutter speed. We used a Sony a7R IV camera with a Sony 70-200 2.8 GM lens for the close up cityscape, a 14mm GM lens for the wide bridge shots, and a Sony 35mm 1.4 GM for the pics of Little Italy restaurant signs.

Night Photography Ideas  

Light Painting

Another way you can expand your artistic canvas is by light painting. This creative technique involves using a flashlight or other light source to “paint” light onto a subject or scene during a long exposure shot.

This will require you (or a volunteer) to motion that flashlight or light sources creating sort of after image affect onto your subject or scene during a long exposure shot. This simple but well-renowned technique highlights specific features, creates abstract patterns, and vibrantly brings your photos to life. 

Key points:

  • Move a light source within a long exposure shot to drag out light streaks in your photo

Below is a short light painting reel our team worked on. It showcases all the wonderful creative potential you have when it comes to using this practice.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Focus Camera (@focuscamera)

Star Trails & Light Trails

As previously mentioned, star and light trails are created by taking a series of long exposures and combining them into a single image. This can create illuminating photos with a mix of streaks that show the night sky, traffic, and cityscapes in motion. You’ll need a camera with manual exposure settings, a tripod, and a slow shutter speed to create lavish light trails. 

Key points:

  • Similar to ‘light painting’ but instead using the stars or traffic as a light source

Capture the Beauty of the Night Sky

There’s something magical about the night sky. Whether you’re out in the countryside, away from city lights, or simply enjoying the view from your backyard, the stars and the Milky Way offer a stunning spectacle that can take your breath away.  

Using the tips this post covers, a wide-angle lens to capture a larger portion of the sky, and a long exposure, you create the opportunity to capture the movement of the stars as they travel across the sky.  

Key points:

Night photography photo sample - night sky
Photo courtesy of Juskteez

Document the City at Night

Nighttime cityscapes can be beautiful and atmospheric and can be captured using all these techniques to enhance the aesthetic of traffic lights, store signs, and skylines. Consider including iconic landmarks or other exciting features in your compositions. So next time you are out in the city after dark, don’t forget to bring your camera for some excellent night photo shooting opportunities. 

Key points:

  • Use the dynamic aesthetic of the city to spark more creative opportunities

Experiment With Abstract Compositions

Nighttime photography can be a great opportunity to experiment with abstract and creative compositions. Try using contrasting light sources and shadows to create unique and artistic images. Since the lighting is often low and there may be a lack of detail, you can play with shadows and silhouettes to play tricks on the human eye and create striking images.

One way to create an abstract composition is to focus on a specific aspect of a scene, such as a single light source or a distinguished pattern in the environment. Another technique you can try is to play with perspective. Shooting from a low angle or a high angle can change the way a scene looks and feels, and can help you create a more unique and interesting image.

Key points:

  • Focus in on specific aspects of your scene to add an intricate feel to your photo
  •  Experiment with shadows and silhouettes
  • Draw attention to obscure light sources and patterns

Night photography ideas, tips, and techniques. Night photo sample

Night Photography Settings & Equipment

Use a Tripod

As discussed, long exposure is a great photography technique to help manipulate lighting and create unique light trail effects with cars or stars. However, it is crucial that you keep your camera steady during these shots; otherwise, even the slightest movements can create obnoxiously blurry photos. 

One reliable way to prevent this is by using a tripod. They help keep the camera steady and to avoid movement during the long exposure shots, resulting in sharp and focused star trails. 

Tripod recommendations for night photography:

Experiment With White Balance

White balance refers to the process of adjusting the colors in a photograph to accurately represent the colors of the scene as they appear in real life. Different light sources, such as streetlights and headlights, can give off different colors of light. Experimenting with different white balance settings can help you capture a scene’s mood and atmosphere more accurately.  

On the other hand, if you want to enhance the mood of a scene and create a particular atmosphere, you can intentionally adjust the white balance to produce a warm or cool color cast. For example, if you want to create a cozy and intimate atmosphere, you might adjust the white balance to a warmer setting to add a yellow cast to the photo. 

White balance color temperature guide for star photography

Color Temperature Guide Courtesy of Exposure Guide

Use a Fast Lens

A fast lens with a wide maximum aperture can help capture more light in low-light conditions. This can help to reduce the need for long exposures and high ISO values, which can introduce unwanted noise into the image. For example, Sigma’s 35mm F/1.4 DG DN Art is an excellent lens for night photography because of its wide aperture and high optical quality. See which lenses best complement your style for night photo shooting. 

Lens recommendations for night photography:

Use a Cable Release or Self-Timer

Using a cable release or setting the camera’s self-timer mode can help to reduce camera shake during long exposures. A cable release is a device that allows you to take a photo without physically pressing the shutter button on your camera. By using a cable release, you can also minimize the amount of movement caused by pressing the shutter button. 

Remote shutter recommendations: 

Night photography ideas, tips, and samples - night sky
Photo courtesy of Joshua Woroniecki

Check Your Focus

It is essential to pay attention to focus when taking photos, especially at night when the light is low. The autofocus (AF) system in your camera uses contrast to determine which parts of the scene are in focus, and in low-light conditions, there may be less contrast for the AF system to work with. This can make it harder for the camera to focus accurately, resulting in blurry or out-of-focus photos. 

To ensure that your photos are in focus, it is a good idea to check the focus before taking each shot. You can do this by using the viewfinder or the LCD screen on the back of the camera to check the focus point. 

Shoot In Manual Mode

Shooting in manual mode can give you more control over the exposure and focus of your photos. This can be especially useful when shooting in low light conditions, as the camera’s automatic exposure settings may not always produce the best results. You can set the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO manually when shooting in manual mode rather than letting the camera choose these settings for you. 

In dark scenes, the camera may struggle to choose the correct exposure settings, resulting in too dark or too bright images. By shooting in manual mode, you can take control of the exposure and choose settings that will produce the best results for your particular scene. 

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