Bite Size Tips: Techniques And Tips For Low Light Photography


For many, night photography can be intimidating. The medium itself is dependent on light reaching the camera’s sensor, so venturing out into the darkness presents a slew of technical issues to overcome.

Thankfully, it’s possible to overcome these hurdles with the proper equipment and camera settings that can compensate for the lack of light. Whether your goal is to capture stars or streetlights, there are a few essentials any photographer venturing into the night should have in tow:

Image from Pexels by Karol D

Prolonged shutter speed.

Boosting your ISO can lead to significant digital noise, and often times wide apertures aren’t enough to properly expose a scene in the night. Therefore, the most effective way of allowing light to reach your camera’s sensor is to keep the shutter open for a longer period of time. Often times, you’ll need to expose for at least a few seconds.

A sturdy tripod.

With shutter speeds longer than 1/60th of a second, it’s nearly impossible to avoid motion blur holding a camera by hand. The easiest way to remedy unsteadiness is to secure your camera to something stable. If you don’t have a traditional tripod, it’s easy to craft a makeshift substitute with something like a bean bag.

Self timer or cable release.

When using a slow shutter speed, even the slightest touch can sabotage your chances of capturing a clear image. By purchasing a remote cable release or utilizing the camera’s built in self timer features, it’s possible to take a picture without even touching your camera’s shutter.

Believe it or not, these three things can make a notable difference in the quality of your images.

Image from Pixabay by Xegxef

Once you feel a bit more comfortable with night photography, try applying one of the following approaches to your images:

  1. Try to capture motion. Although you want to keep your camera still, recording movement during a long exposure is a great way to add life to a composition.
  2. Use a narrow aperture. This may seem counterintuitive to letting light in, but the depth and detail provided by a high f-stop is well worth the sacrifice.
  3. Make sure your subject is well lit. You don’t want whatever it is that you're shooting to get lost in the darkness – unless, of course, you’re trying to create a silhouette.

I hope that this information makes the notion of stepping out into the night a little less scary.

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About Author

Dahlia is a stock photographer and full time educator at Light Stalking. You can find her on Gurushots and see some of her more popular articles at The American Society of Media Photographers. Get to know her better here.

Dahlia, I think there’s a divide in this field.

My preference is for a kind of street-photography-by-night, where tripods & long shutter speeds are out of the question. Lighting is sometimes a pain – you can’t take candid street shots very easily, while burning people’s eyes out with a Speedlight – and artificial light by night sometimes makes colour shots almost impossible (sodium vapour lighting, for instance, has such a narrow wavelength that it’s virtually unavoidable to shoot in B&W instead, or convert the shot to B&W later if it was taken in colour). And of course these factors drive up ISO, open up apertures, and make awkward demands on shutter speed.

But of course if you’re trying to take astro shots, night-scapes etc, every point you make is essential to the success of the shot.

Hi Jean Pierre, thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts on this. What you have mentioned here (street photography at night) is a very interesting subject and something that should be tried because the ambience is entirely different.
I have tried this in the past and it is a real struggle unless you have a camera that responds well to higher ISO and getting the right colours from the available lights is very difficult, especially the sodium vapour lamp that you have mentioned. This is a good topic to share some tips about as well. Sorry that it was missed on this article. Have a great week ahead 🙂

Hi Edgar, that’s great to hear. Let us know of your experience with smaller apertures. It is fun and there is a lot that can be creatively achieved while shooting with smaller apertures both during the day and night 🙂

Hi Edgar, I try to shoot my night landscapes and cityscapes in the aperture sweet spot of my lens. This is where your lens will get the sharpest images. Most lenses are not as sharp with the aperture wide open or stopped all the way down. The sweet spot is usually 2 full stops higher than your widest setting. So if your widest setting is F/4 then F/8 should be your sweet spot. All lenses are different so experiment with it.

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