If you’ve tried night photography and your pictures have all turned out underexposed and dark, you’re not alone. Night photography is tricky to wrap your head around, but by following these 5 fundamental steps, you’ll be producing masterful night scenes in no time.
Table of contents
1. Put your camera in manual mode
The first step to shooting effective night photography is to put your camera into manual mode. This mode is an absolute necessity in adapting to the unique lighting challenges of night photography.
Automatic mode doesn’t always adapt well to low light conditions, especially in cities where there’s high contrast between the blinding lights of billboards or car headlights and the surrounding darkness.
However, manual mode lets you directly control the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO of your shots – all of which are already determined in automatic mode.
2. Use a wide aperture setting
Think of the aperture as the iris of your camera – the narrower it is, the less light it lets in, while the wider it is, the more light it lets in.
Light is often readily available during the daytime, so aperture width isn’t much of an issue. But at night, your camera sensor needs to pick up as much light as it can to produce a clear image.
For this reason, you’ll want a wider aperture setting. This is measured in f-stops, and for night photography, the lower the f-stop the better. As with all camera settings though, test and tweak your options to find the one that produces the best photograph for your subject.
3. Keep your ISO as low as you can
ISO dictates your camera’s sensitivity to light, which means you might be tempted to crank it up to make your subject brighter and clearer in the photograph. However, if you do this, you sacrifice image quality.
With higher ISO, image noise occurs – this is a kind of speckling on the surface of the photo, so the trick is to find the perfect balance of brightness and quality. Generally, you’ll want to keep your ISO as low as you can while still retaining the visibility of your photograph’s subject(s).
4. Set a longer shutter speed
Shutter speed is exactly what it sounds like: the speed of the shutter. The significance of it, however, is that it dictates how long light hits the camera sensor.
You can see how aperture, ISO, and shutter speed are all related, in that they all require finetuning if you want to produce your desired photograph. That’s why it’s important to take some test shots to find the right combination of settings before packing up and moving onto the next spot.
For night photography, the shutter speed should be set longer. Using a longer shutter speed will allow the camera sensor to collect as much light as necessary to help you achieve your goals. However, slow shutter speed comes with a catch. The camera needs to remain perfectly still so that all the light collected falls on the sensor consistently.
The sensor’s exposure to light is what produces the image. So, as a rule, don’t use a shutter speed slower than the focal length of your lens if you’re shooting freehand. This means that if the focal length of your lens is 50mm, you should only shoot freehand if your shutter speed is at 1/50th of a second or faster.
5. Bring a tripod or use ledges to steady your shots
This tip ties in with the last one because a longer shutter speed means keeping your camera completely still for a few seconds or more, which is near impossible to do by hand. This is why a tripod, or at least a flat surface on which to rest your camera, is invaluable when it comes to night photography.
Even if you think you have a steady hand, the tiniest shiver can throw your exposure off when shooting with a long shutter speed. Some photographers even invest in a remote shutter release remote because simply clicking the capture button can disturb the camera when shooting at night. Therefore, a remote shutter release remote combined with a tripod ensures that the camera stays in one exact position for as long as you like.
It’s also worth bringing along a smaller and more adaptable tripod like a GorillaPod, as you might not always have space to shoot with a traditional, larger one.
If you’re heading out after dark to take some shots, you need to make sure your camera and accessories are protected. You could lose or damage them, or somebody could steal them from you.
At Ripe Photography, we offer specialist camera insurance to cover each of these eventualities, so you can rest assured your camera and accessories will be safe. And best of all, you can tailor your policy to suit your needs. Only pay for what you need.
Find out more about our specialist camera insurance by clicking the link above, or get an instant online quote.