Some people are put off by night photography. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suppose everyone has their reasons. Whatever your reasons may be, however, I highly recommend setting them aside and going out with your camera after night falls.
Nighttime provides you with photographic opportunities that you will never encounter during daylight hours. Sure, you’ll have to work a little harder to make the most of these opportunities, but I think you will agree the end result is worth it.
Keep reading to discover some simple tips to help get you started with nighttime photography.
Pack The Right Tools
Landscape photographers will be accustomed to lugging around a tripod, but if you’re someone who rarely finds a use for one, now is the time to break it out. Due to the lack of light, you’re going to need to use shutter speeds that are significantly lower than what you would use during the day.
To achieve these slower speeds without introducing camera shake, you’re going to need a tripod. Or some means of stabilizing your camera. Makeshift “tripods” are all around you — fence posts, trash bins/dumpsters, traffic cones. Think creatively and you can more than likely forgo the traditional tripod.
A lens (or camera) with image stabilization is also a good option, but there are limitations to how slow of a shutter speed you can use while handholding and still get a clean shot.
This isn’t absolutely necessary, but if you want to further minimize the potential for camera shake then a remote trigger is the answer, as it allows you to trip the shutter without having to put your hand on the camera. Alternatively, you could set the camera’s self-timer.
A fast lens, which lets in more light, makes handholding a bit easier. You’re going to get more mileage out of a lens that opens up to f/1.8 as opposed to one that maxes out at f/4 or f/5.6 (common with kit zooms). But none of that really matters when you’re using a tripod.
Find The Light, Get The Shot
Long exposures are rather obvious when it comes to night photography. But don’t make the mistake of thinking that long exposure photography rests strictly with landscape photographers and astrophotographers.
For those living in urban areas, cityscapes are the name of the game. Use the skyline, lights, clouds, and reflections to craft your long exposure gems. You can also use long exposure technique to photograph light trails or motion blur within crowds.
There’s no reason at all that street photography can’t be done at night. The aforementioned crowd blur qualifies as street photography, but for a more conventional take, you will need to crank up your ISO.
Don’t fear the noise. I’m willing to bet you’ll be able to find subjects in the same places you would during the day. The night will give rise to some interesting light sources (street lights, neon signs, etc.) and even more intriguing shadows. Wait for a visually appealing interaction between subject, light, and shadow to occur, then get your shot.
Night portraits follow similar guidelines as night street photography in terms of lighting, but you’ll probably want to avoid those unflattering overhead street lights and the long shadows they cast. Of course, there are no perfect available light sources at night, but store windows represent your best bet as they are large, somewhat soft sources.
Final Thoughts On Getting Started With Night Photography
Some of the “rules” of successful photography after dark are different than those we all follow for daylight photography, but the essence of the craft remains — you’re capturing light. Once the sun goes down you have to get creative and rethink your technique but I trust you will find that night photography is both thrilling and rewarding.
Use the ideas above to get started, expand on those ideas over time and enjoy the magic of shooting at night.
For More On Night Photography
- Night Photography Tips and Techniques – Picture Correct has a post providing some important tips and tricks
- Night Photography Camera Settings For Beginners – a beginners guide from Improve Photography
- 12 Tips For Taking Gorgeous Nighttime Photos – Tom's Guide shares some tips
Jason, with night photography – particularly street photography – I don’t mind a little bit of noise. I don’t see it as an worse than grain in analogue photography – and a product inherent in photography as a medium. Purists can freak out (or whatever else they do), over this. And maybe one day we’ll have sensors so wonderful that it isn’t an issue. But even as things are, I don’t really see it as an issue.