Taking the Struggle out of Night Photography

Updated on March 14, 2018
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Chris is a photography enthusiast and blog writer. He enjoys learning new photography techniques and practicing old ones.

Urban street style photography at night. Neon lights are always great to work around at night.
Urban street style photography at night. Neon lights are always great to work around at night.

Night Photography Challenge is Real

Night photography can be a real struggle for some photographers. As soon as the sun sets they are done taking photos and the camera goes right back in the bag.

The rules are obviously different in the dark than in the daylight. The camera is built to collect light. Creating or finding enough nighttime light without lugging around a bunch of lighting gear can be a chore.

I personally like getting out at night and shooting. The quiet and darkness appeals to my introverted nature I suppose. Especially if you choose to shoot night scenes among city or suburban areas the hustle and bustle of the day is typically relaxed. Of course, shooting outside a hot night spot will negate that feeling of solitude but that is always the choice one can make when choosing locales to photograph.

So, for any daytime photographers looking for a challenge, embrace what’s different about night time photography and give it a go. Here are some tips for making the most of a successful night photography session.

Gear You Will Need

Tripod

It is fairly obvious but you are going to need a tripod. There are times when you can make do with any sturdy surface but for convenience and getting the most out of your shots a tripod will just do better.

Do you need an expensive carbon fiber tripod? There is a lot to be said for the convenience of having a light and sturdy model that you can easily carry around with you. Then again maybe you will not be very mobile and will just set up next to your car for hours. If so, who cares how heavy and awkward the tripod is.

Personally the tripod I use weighs probably more than a spare tire but then again it never wavers in windy conditions.

Flashlight

I have a flashlight with me just about everywhere I go, day or night. I use LED lights at night for light painting and I use filtered lights to protect my night vision. If I need a white light then I have one available.

There are so many different small and reliable light sources to choose from. Regardless of what you use it will come in handy trying to fiddle with settings or backlight a subject or simply play around with.

Shutter Release

Camera shake will ruin your photos. There is almost no way to avoid camera shake if you are using your finger to push the shutter button for extended periods of time. Resolve that issue by bringing a means of remotely releasing the shutter.

There are many expensive and inexpensive intervalometer models that have tons of options. Frankly I use a smartphone app to do the job. It’s free.

Optional Items

The obvious additional items include extra batteries, lens hood to help avoid lens flare from harsh lights, filters and personal comfort items. I have seen numerous listicles on the web concerned with providing insight to a bag of extras. Suffice to say, I don’t play around with filters at night and I can’t remember a time I went shooting day or night without an extra battery and my lens hood attached.

Singapore at night along the water. Great use of lights and reflections.
Singapore at night along the water. Great use of lights and reflections.

Types of Night Photography

Light trails are the most recognizable and popular type of photo collected at night time. Vehicles moving across a roadway reveal long streaks of red, white and other colors as continuous streams of light.

It looks beautiful and too some quite complicated but slow shutter speed blur is one of the easiest things to capture in a camera.

Reflections are another style that just seems more interesting at night. Anything from a puddle to a large body of water can be shot into to capture a silky smooth photo of the scene.

One of the best times to capture photography at night is after a rain or when the city street cleaners wash the streets. There is a lovely film of water on the street and elsewhere that offers a grand opportunity for creative reflective night time photography. The bottom line is that night time scenes are always better wet.

Black and white night photography take advantage of nature contrasts
Black and white night photography take advantage of nature contrasts

Technique for Capturing the Image

Night time means dark and that is the antithesis of photography where light is everything. In order to get as much light into the camera as possible you should opt to shoot in manual mode.

Shooting at night is never an exact science. I typically start with a shutter speed of 2 seconds and test my ISO at 800. Usually I have to relent and set it at 1600 but with my current camera I try to not to go above that.

I always try to work my ISO down to alleviate background noise. Post-production denoising helps but it is best to get rid of as much as possible in camera.

I usually set the aperture around F/9 to start since I’m already letting in so much light with a shutter speed of 2 seconds. That typically allows for a nice light trail scene.

If I am taking photos of light painting then I will put the camera in bulb mode and set the shutter speed for 30 seconds and see what is captured.

It is also important to shoot in RAW format and not JPEG. Collecting as much information at night is important when the light you are capturing is so minimal. RAW saves more colors than JPEG and smooths the transitions between those colors.

Architecture at night is full of interesting lighting situations.
Architecture at night is full of interesting lighting situations.

Conclusion

Shooting photographs at night can be a challenge. However, scenes you find in the daytime are almost always different at night. The boring bridge during the day can be lit up in a whole different way at night.

Night time photography allows an opportunity to slow down and experiment with creative photo techniques. There is a world of great photography waiting after the sun sets.

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