4 Tips for Taking Night Shots Like a Pro

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Proper lighting helps create awesome photographs. But what happens when you want to take photos at night when available light is limited? Fortunately, with the right equipment, proper techniques, and some practice, you can shoot stunning night photos.

Here are four tips that will help you take night shots like a pro:

1. Shoot in RAW.

To take high-quality night shots, you’ll need to shoot in RAW. When shooting in RAW, your images will retain the most information, which gives you more room to maneuver when enhancing these images in Adobe Camera RAW, Adobe Photoshop, or other editing software.

Shooting in RAW also gives you greater versatility, as it lets you change white balance (or color temperature), as well as accurately brighten or darken your exposures.

2. Bring the right equipment.

Bring the right equipment

Photo by David Marcu

For a successful night photography shoot, you’ll need to bring the right equipment.

  • Tripod – Night photography often requires long exposure times of 1, 10, or even 30 seconds. This makes using a tripod a must to avoid the blurs that result when using a shaky camera. If you’re on a night shoot without a tripod, you may perform long exposures by placing your camera on a flat and stable surface.
  • Cable release – Without a wired or wireless cable release, triggering the shutter will result in camera shake and the inevitable blurred image. If you don’t have a cable release, you can take advantage of your DSLR’s timer, which gives you a few seconds of delay before the shutter is triggered.
  • Wide lenses – Wide lenses are generally better at focusing in limited light environments. They also deliver greater sharpness, especially at higher F-stops like F16, F18, and F22.
  • Flashlight – For your safety, bring a flashlight when shooting in dim places. Flashlights will illuminate your surroundings and prevent you from tripping or hurting yourself.
  • External flash – An external flash can be used manually off-camera to illuminate darker areas of the scene. Once you’ve set up your tripod and nailed your focus and exposure, you can pop your external flash in different directions. It’s best to set the external flash to Manual Mode and adjust the flash power accordingly.

3. Scout night photography locations before the shoot.

Before you venture out for a night photo shoot, it pays to scout night photography locations beforehand. If you’re planning to shoot in urban areas, you can explore different locations and identify the most interesting scenes, lights, and architecture for your night photo shoot.

If you’re planning to shoot traffic light trails, scout different roads at night. Make a note of the busiest roads, the best time to shoot traffic, as well as the best and safest vantage points to shoot traffic light trails.

On the other hand, if you’re shooting in a more secluded area, like the open desert or the beach, it is best to get a good lay of the land before the sun sets. Assess the shooting location an hour or two before sundown in order to identify the best places to set up for a night shoot. Arriving before sundown also gives you time to set up your camera when there’s sufficient light instead of fumbling about and setting up your equipment in the dark.

Plan your composition carefully before you start taking photos. Are parts of the scene too dark? Would areas of the shot look more interesting if they were carefully illuminated? (You can use your external flash to correct this.)

4. Use the right exposure and settings.

Singapore at Night

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov

To master night photography, you need to be a whiz at controlling aperture and shutter speed. Aperture refers to the size of the lens opening, and shutter speed controls how long the shutter stays open. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light will reach the camera’s sensor.

To get the exposure right, you’ll need to shoot in your DSLR’s manual exposure mode. As the light changes, you’ll be making continuous adjustments to achieve the right exposure.

Adjusting Your Aperture and Shutter Speed

Indeed, calculating the right exposure for low-light shoots will require a lot of fine tuning as meter readings aren’t accurate in the dark. When shooting in dark places, avoid increasing your ISO speed and opening up your aperture to let in as much light as possible. To reduce noise and capture more vibrant, sharper images, observe the following:

  • Keep your ISO at a normal level (ISO 100 to 800).
  • Close down your aperture (F-stop) as much as possible (F8, F16, F18, or F22).
  • Shoot a much longer exposure (as long as 10 to 30 seconds).

To illustrate, the following night photograph was taken at ISO 800 with a 30-second exposure, using F8.

The mote wall around fort jefferson on the Garden Kay, off the coast of Key West, Florida.

Image Source: Adorama

As you can see, you don’t have to be afraid of the dark when it comes to taking a dazzling night photo to remember. By choosing the correct shooting format and mastering your equipment setup, you’ll be confident enough to use whatever light is available to your advantage and get fabulous results every (night)time.

Creating Starburst Lights

Aside from producing more sharply focused and radiant night shots, shooting a longer exposure also produces interesting effects, such as lights that fracture into beautiful stars. A pretty “starburst” effect can be achieved when shooting street lights by using a narrow aperture (around F16) to give your night shots an added magical effect.

Getting the Right Amount of Ambient Burn


Photo by Kazuend

When setting up your exposure, you’re also looking for the perfect amount of ambient burn. If you’re trying to capture moving lights (like the evening traffic, a bolt of lightning, or fireworks), you’ll need to determine how long your shutter should stay open to capture those lights.

Slowing down your shutter speed will help you capture the motion you wish to see. Most city lights can be burned at ISO 100 at F8, with a 2-second exposure time. You can calculate the optimal exposure time anytime you need a faster shutter speed or more depth of field. Each time you raise one number, you have to choose another setting and lower or raise that to get the same equivalent exposure.

As you can see, you don’t have to be afraid of the dark when it comes to taking a dazzling night photo to remember. By choosing the correct shooting format and mastering your equipment setup, you’ll be confident enough to use whatever light is available to your advantage and get fabulous results every (night)time.

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