- Nico Bistolfi
It just takes a few minutes on Instagram to fall in love with night photography. When you’re trying to capture a certain place, for example, there’s something magical and powerful about nighttime. It doesn’t matter if it’s a natural landscape such as a beautiful sky surrounded by mountains or an overwhelming city, adding the “night factor” to a picture, it surely adds mystery and intensity. And a plus: it’s a way to avoid crowds and enjoy a personal time just for you and your camera. Let's check the best tips for night photography!
The thing is that night photography requires technical knowledge. It’s impossible to accomplish a great shot by using automatic mode. So, if you’re an enthusiastic new photographer or maybe just someone that truly digs this hobby, you’ll really take advantage of these night photography tips :) Let’s begin!
First thing first: which camera should you use?
It may not be the answer you wanted to hear: to truly succeed in this kind of photography, you will need a good camera. A large sensor, a wide dynamic range, a high ISO, are features that can make you accomplish the picture you aim to.
Of course, as in everything in life, it doesn’t mean that without a super pro camera, you can’t practice or enjoy taking photos. But, to be fair, it’s one of the most complex kinds of photography because of the technical requirements.
Let’s start with the ideal: a full-frame DSLR is the best option. Wide dynamic range is what helps you keep the details in the shadows of the pictures. It will assure you a high ISO range - essential when working in dark ambients - and with high, we mean over 3200.
Some of our favorites are:
- Nikon D810 Full-Frame DSLR.
- Canon 7D Mark II APS-C DSLR.
- Canon 6D Full-Frame DSLR.
- Canon 5D Mark III/IV Full-Frame DSLR.
- Pentax K1 Full-Frame DSLR.
- Fuji X-T2 APS-C Mirrorless.
- Sony A7S Full-Frame Mirrorless.
- Sony Alpha a9.
You can learn more about cameras here. Remember: it will always be more important the eye of the photographer but it’s important to know the limitations of your equipment. Sadly, when it comes to night photography, there are some high-level requirements.
So, now you have your camera. What’s next?
Which lenses should I use?
Lenses are “easier” than cameras when we talk about night photography. Basically, it depends on which kind of photography you want to take: is it a portrait? Is it a landscape? Is it architecture? Read about lenses if you’re not that familiar with specifications regarding each one.
Anyway, you need to consider that it should be a luminous lens, at least f/2.8. Of course, it will be more expensive if it’s brighter.
Our recommendation is to start with the basics: a 50mm or a 35mm. Although they’re not specially made for landscapes, for example, they’re quite versatile and a wise choice when you’re starting. A good - and excellent relationship between price and quality - is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 (or the f/1.4 if you feel like taking a leap of faith) or the Nikon AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8.
If you specifically want to shoot night sky photography, maybe it’s better if you choose a wide focal length, such as a 24mm or even a 16mm.
6 essential tips for settings in night photography!
Ok, write these tips down because, without them, it will be almost impossible to capture a good night picture.
1. Shoot raw
This setting should be your main choice every time you want to accomplish high quality and professional photos. Although it’s true that raw images occupy more space in your SD card, it makes a huge difference when recovering details lost in under or overexposed areas. So, when shooting at night, it’s a must.
2. Forget about automatic, shoot manual
Lighting at night is tricky and your camera probably will not be properly set to Switch over to your camera’s manual settings; trying to shoot in auto will confuse your camera, and you probably won’t end up with the image you were hoping for.
3. High slow-shutter speed: the key
The exact amount of time will depend on the subject: try! A city landscape will probably need a shorter shutter speed than nature. For stars, you will need to set a very long shutter speed. Don’t be afraid to take a lot of tests. It’s the best way to get the result you’re going for.
4. Tripod: your best friend
You will be using long shutter speeds, so in order to get a sharp image, you can’t count on your hand. Unless you’re specifically trying to accomplish a shaky image, you will need something to stabilize your camera. There are some small tripods perfect for trips! We know it’s not that practical to carry around a huge one. If you aim for more professional equipment - and you won’t be necessarily traveling - you can choose a bigger one.
This is the most delicate factor. If you don’t want the noise to ruin your photo, you’ll have to choose carefully your aperture and shutter speed. If you have a professional full-frame camera, such as the Canon 5D Mark IV, you won’t have any problem shooting in 4000 but if you don’t, pay attention to this. The best way to go is to start around 1000 and working your way up if necessary. Remember: the best thing about digital cameras is that you can try and test over and over again.
We’ve been through the importance of having a luminous lens when it comes to night photography. We can generalize and say: the wider, the better. Of course, choosing a wide aperture will determine the depth of field, but it’s a good call in an “extreme situation” like nighttime.
Extra tips just for you
Practice makes the master… but also these little secrets will help you in your process of becoming an awesome night photographer.
Consider buying a remote release cable
Even though you’re using a tripod, sometimes when pressing the button, you move a little bit of your camera. When using a cable, you make sure that you don’t shake it at all. But what’s even more fun: by using a remote release cable, you can do some awesome self-portraits at night without using the timer.
Try exposure bracketing
At night, you handle a quite hard lighting situation. Try playing with exposure compensation so you make sure to have different choices at the moment of editing.
Try bulb mode
We established the importance of long shutter speed. Take this to the limit and try bulb mode (B). Using this setting, you can go beyond the 30s maximum and see the results. You just have to press the shutter button and hold down for as long as you want.
Photography is an art but mostly, a craft. It takes time to get to know your camera, be familiar with all the settings and enhance your creativity towards composition and content. Patience is almost as important as technical knowledge. Give yourself time to play around with your equipment, different settings, and locations. Night photography is especially hard. You will need several test shots for sure and you have to be prepared to accept that your first pictures may not be as you hope them to be.
Explore and experiment with different ideas
Depending on the location, use your imagination to get the best out of every place you visit. When in a city, use the opportunity to seek interesting people to shoot at night, for example. Use street lighting that can help you create a mood. Besides portraits of people, you can portray the city itself by capturing its lights.
When in nature, don’t just stick to regular landscapes. Add a personal touch by playing with silhouettes. You can try self-portraits as we said before but also try silhouettes of trees, houses, other people. Everything may work!
I have my photos. What should I do?
We all know the nightmare it is to accumulate in your hard drive a huge amount of files and images. Your pictures may be awesome but you need to find a way to store them.
The best thing you can do is to resize and compress, so you can keep them forever. You can save just a few raw files - your favorites - and the other ones in smaller files. I know what you may be thinking: “I don’t want to ruin my pictures by losing quality”. You don’t need to do that! You can compress without losing any sharpness. Try this online app and check it for yourself. If you want to choose the best format for your website, to show high-res Images, read all about WebP format, the King of all formats!
After that, you can resize them in the specific dimensions you need and share your favorites photos in your social media. Using instagram or vsco as your first portfolio is a really good idea! Try sharing your tips and a bit of your creative process with others: there’s nothing better than using social media to nurture each other! You can also consider Pinterest, the number one platform to get inspiration and to check other people's work. Don’t be afraid to try things you see online but don’t be limited to that. Reading photography books and looking for previous authors that explored the areas you’re interested in, it’s both fulfilling and fun.
Now you’re more prepared to go out there and try all these Tips for night photography ;)
Don't forget to check this article to understand all the image formats and the best for you!
Let us know if you have more tips for night photography or tell us how we can help you!