Using the right settings for night photography can turn a dull and dark photo into a vibrant masterpiece that comes to life. All it takes is ideal lighting, gear, and a few easy techniques to produce creative and fun images. If you enjoy capturing images at night or want to expand your photo creativity and quality, this post will help be your guide in the dark. We’ll shine a light on the best settings for night photography, good tips to follow, 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.
- Camera Settings for Night Photography
- Long Exposure Shots
- Shooting in RAW
- High Dynamic Range (HDR)
- ISO Settings
- Manual Focus Settings
- Experiment with White Balance
- Easy Night Photography Ideas
- Light Painting
- Star Trails & Light Trails
- Capture the Beauty of the Night Sky
- Document the City at Night
- Experiment With Abstract Compositions
- Night Photography Settings & Equipment
Camera Settings for Night Photography
Long Exposure Shots
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, but it can also capture the movement and flow of light sources in beautifully intricate ways. This is how you create 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.
- 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
Your aperture is another significant setting for night photography and will determine how much light your lens lets in. A low aperture allows more light into the camera, resulting in brighter and more detailed images. Ideal aperture settings for night photography to have will be somewhere around 2.8 or lower; however, even if you aren’t capable of going that low, the right angel and a decent source of light can make up for this. A low aperture creates a shallow depth of field, which can help to isolate your subject and introduces a sense of depth within your picture. However, a low aperture can also result in a narrower focus area, so it’s important to focus carefully to ensure your subject is in sharp focus.
- Low aperture (around f/2.8) lets more light into the camera and creates a shallow depth of field.
- To achieve this, set the aperture to a low number on your camera’s settings.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
You may think that shooting in low light or at night requires cranking up the ISO for a more detailed image; however this will only increase the chances of you producing even blurrier low-quality photos. Instead, the focus should be to have a low ISO, as it reduces noise in the photo, resulting in cleaner and sharper pictures. However, as you might suspect, a low ISO can also result in darker images, especially in this case. Hence, balancing the ISO with the aperture and shutter speed settings is essential to achieve your desired exposure.
- Low ISO reduces noise and results in cleaner and sharper images.
- To achieve this, set the ISO to a low value on your camera’s settings.
- Balance the ISO with the aperture and shutter speed settings to achieve the desired exposure.
Manual Focus Settings
It’s obviously essential to pay attention to focus when taking photos, but at night this becomes even more crucial. 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’s a good idea to do two things – set the focus camera setting for night photography to manual and check the image before taking each shot. Use the viewfinder or the LCD screen to ensure your focus is good. You use manual mode to give yourself more control over the focus points. Since the camera may struggle to find clear focus points, you’re better off doing it yourself. Artistically, this can also be helpful for focusing on specific elements in the scene, such as a particular light source or texture.
- Manual focus allows for more control over the focus point and can result in sharper images.
- Use the camera’s focus peaking or magnification features to help achieve accurate focus in low light situations.
Experiment with White Balance
White balance refers to the process of adjusting the color temperatures in your frame to accurately represent the colors of the light source, making it so white colored objects actual appear white. Different light sources, such as streetlights or headlights, can give off different color temperatures which will affect the scene you want to shoot.
You can use the “tungsten” or “incandescent” white balance presets for warm lighting conditions similar in color to many artificial light sources at night. They can help to neutralize any yellow or orange color casts that may be present in your images. If your camera doesn’t have these presets or if you want more control over your white balance, you can adjust it manually. One way to do this is to set the white balance to “daylight” or “cloudy” and then adjust the color temperature manually using the Kelvin scale (shown below). It helps to experiment with different color temperature values until you find one that looks natural or reflects the vibe you want to create.
Additionally, you may want to avoid using the auto white balance setting as it can sometimes produce inaccurate color temperatures in low-light environments. Lastly, as a bonus – it helps to know that Shooting in RAW format allows you to adjust the white balance during post-production, giving you more flexibility and control over the finished image.
Here are a few stunning picture samples complimentary of our photography experts. We’ve also included their settings for night photography used to create each image.
Easy Night Photography Ideas
An excellent method to expand your artistic canvas is light painting. This creative technique involves using a long exposure shot to capture the movement trail of a flashlight or other light source. The photograph will then look as if the light was “painted” or “drawn” into your scene because of the traces of lines the light source leaves behind.
It’s a fun concept that requires you (or a volunteer) to move the light around during a long exposure shot to essentially create an after-image effect around your subject or scene. This simple but well-renowned night photography technique is excellent for producing abstract patterns and vibrantly brings your photos to life.
- Move a light source during 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 the wonderful creative potential you have with this technique.
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.
- Similar to ‘light painting’ but instead using the stars or traffic as a light source during long exposure shot
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.
- A wide angle lens will help you capture more area
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.
- 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.
- 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 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:
Vanguard VEO3+263CB160S Carbon Fiber Tripod with Multi-Angle Center Column and VEO BH-160S Ball Head
3 Legged Thing PUNKS Brian 2.0 Carbon Fibre Tripod System with AirHed Neo (Black)
- Manfrotto 190CXPRO 3-Section Carbon Fiber Tripod
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:
Sony FE 20mm f/1.8 G Full-Frame Large-Aperture Ultra-Wide Angle G Lens
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: