Shooting in the Dark • Night Photography

Welcome to the first in an on-going series of Photo Tips aimed to help you become a better photographer. Whether you want to start learning those manual settings to take control of your camera, just get some tips on how to get a better shot with your point-and-shoot, or even how to take your DSLR shots to the next level, you will find that here. So make sure you add your email to the Subscribe list on the right hand side of this page and you will be the first to be notified when something new is published. So let’s get into today’s article about Night Photography…

Let’s talk about Night Photography!

Since I first started getting serious with my camera I’ve always enjoyed learning how to capture a great photo at night or in a dark setting. These types of photos pose some particularly interesting challenges, but with a little planning and patience you can turn out some really awesome Night Photography images. The lack of light is very challenging for your camera to capture so I’ll try to outline a few tips and suggestions to help you capture some of those shots. Keep reading to learn some more about getting the best shots for Night Photography.

Use your Tripod

This is by far the best way to capture Night Photography images and will be the easiest to learn. First off, if you want to capture a really great long exposure night shot with your camera, be sure to turn off your flash! If you haven’t read it already, check out my article called “Turn off that Flash!” . Long exposure night photography can create some very interesting shots. First off, turn your camera to some form of manual mode. If you are unfamiliar with full-manual mode, try using Aperture or Shutter priority to let your camera help you out. Try not to use full automatic since that will most likely increase your ISO and make for grainy looking images.

To get full effects out of things like Light Trails, motion blur or the starburst effect, you should have a shutter time of at least 5 seconds. Find the location and subject of your choice, pick a good spot for great composition and set up your tripod. Try a variety of settings on your camera and see which yields the image you like. Camp fires make for some really awesome long exposure shots. For the shot below, I used a 30 second shutter speed at 400 ISO. The light trails from the campfire really add a neat effect to the photo.


Improvise a Tripod

For those times when you just don’t have a tripod handy you can always improvise. Just look for any flat surface you can lay your camera on and use things such as your lens cap to prop it up to an angle that makes for a great composition. These situations are still not as reliable as a tripod so turn your ISO up so that you can get your shutter speed down to about 1 or 2 seconds at most. In the below image, I placed my camera on a railing (be careful not to drop it!). The shutter speed was at 1/2 (half a second) with an ISO of 1600 and I snapped away a few images. The shot isn’t perfectly crisp but I loved the way the lighting was here. There are different colours, layers and plenty of shadows. I also love the reflection of the lights on the water.


Lean on Something (or Someone)

Now I know it’s not realistic to always have a tripod or a flat surface handy so sometimes you need to be creative! In order to capture some of these shots you will likely need to crank your ISO up pretty high. This will lead to some grainy images but with the newer technology in cameras you can still pull off some very impressive shots. Look for something sturdy to lean against and hold your hand or camera right up against it and lean your body on it too if possible. I’ve even used my wife as a make-shift tripod in some of these situations! 🙂 Try to get your shutter speed to something faster than half a second. In the below image I was leaning against a street sign with the camera held tightly and leaning my whole body against it. The shutter speed was at 1/30 with an ISO of 3200.


If all else fails, free hand it!

There are some great strategies for stabilizing your camera when you have nothing but your own body to lean on. Keep your camera in close and hold it tightly. Keeping it close and under your chin while blind shooting can work really well too. If possible, crouch and stabilize it on your knee. Using this method will require you to pretty much max out your ISO in really dark settings so expect some grainy photos. Sometimes you can use that grain to your advantage and go for an interesting stylized look with it. In the image below, I shot at a shutter speed of 1/60 and an ISO of 6400. It was a really dark night but that didn’t stop me. Not all of the images from this evening came out great but there were a few I really liked. Even with a bit of grain, I really like the story-telling aspect of this image.


I hope you enjoyed some of these tips regarding Night Photography and have fun trying them out. There’s a few more night shots for you to peek at below as well. I’d love to hear about your adventures in Night Photography post about it in the comments below and share your pictures using a link.

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