Author Topic: 10 Essential Tips for Night Photography  (Read 1255 times)

Reyed Mia (Apprentice, DIU)

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10 Essential Tips for Night Photography
« on: May 03, 2017, 11:58:55 PM »
10 Essential Tips for Night Photography



1. Take a Chance and Explore the Unknown

What’s my exposure time? This is the number one question asked by a night photography novice setting up his or her camera for the first time. A basic understanding of the functions of aperture and shutter speed take on mind-expanding dimensions at night, when stopping down your aperture can turn street lights into starbursts and setting your shutter speed to bulb offers you the ability to capture the unseen. Contrary to the view of photography as an exact science, nocturnal image making provides an opportunity to experiment, explore, play, and have fun. So, instead of freezing up and following someone else’s exposure suggestions by rote, explore all the variables at your fingertips with your own camera.

2. Use High ISO Testing as an Exposure Guide

If you’re still unsure about how to determine exposures from scratch, use a trick called High ISO Testing as your guide. Here’s how it works. For each successive increase of your ISO dial and full stop in opening the aperture notch of your lens, your subsequent exposure time will be cut in half. Let’s say you boosted your ISO to 6400—a 6x difference from ISO 100—and fully opened your aperture to f/2.0—increasing the amount of light from a mid-range setting of f/8.0. While these settings will potentially yield an image with unappealing contrast, increased grain and limited depth of field, you can save valuable time by shooting an exposure bracket to identify a well exposed histogram at these settings. Let’s say the ideal histogram for this scene corresponds with a shutter speed of 4 seconds. You can then do the math to calculate the required exposure time for the same scene captured at ISO 100 and f/8, which would be a total of 32 minutes.

3. Learn & Memorize Gear Functions in Advance

Locating that pesky button or dial to change camera settings or pull up a menu is much more challenging at night, not to mention locating the accessories buried in your camera bag! Low light shooting makes it even more essential to study your camera manual to memorize how your gear functions and locate access points for essential dials and menu options before you go out into the darkness.

4. Know your Destination and Scout it in Advance

One challenging repercussion to low-light shooting is that everything in sight takes on an otherworldly appeal, which can complicate attempts to pinpoint one specific composition or picture subject. To avoid this dilemma, as well as to prepare yourself for unexpected surprises, you should familiarize yourself with your destination, ideally by scouting the site in advance. Plan to arrive at your location before sunset and take your time setting up, while also gaining the advantage of making pictures during magic hour lighting. This will add to your understanding of how changing light conditions can impact a scene.

5. Adapt your Image Capture to Address High Contrast Levels and Color Casts

Night photography often involves working in situations with extremely high contrast and widely ranging colorcasts. This makes it particularly important to shoot in RAW file format, for greater leeway in controlling contrast and white balance in postproduction.

For optimum control of color, you can manually set your camera’s white balance to a specific Kelvin temperature. This can be particularly useful if you’re looking to achieve the cool blue tungsten hue (3200K) that many people associate with nocturnal images. Your camera also has white balance presets for various lighting conditions, as well as an auto white balance option. Auto white balance is quick and convenient, but this setting functions within a limited range and can be fooled by mixed lighting conditions or the predominance of one color in a scene.

6. Plan for a Sturdy Shooting Platform to Avoid Vibration of All Types

Another key concern when photographing at night is camera vibration as a result of long exposure times. The importance of a sturdy tripod cannot be underestimated in such circumstances. While the bulk and unwieldiness of working on a tripod can take some getting used to, it is essential for image clarity at night.

7. Condition Your Gear to the Outside Environment

A pesky external condition that’s likely to hamper every night photographer on occasion is the occurrence of lens fog. This can be caused by moving gear from dry cold to warm, humid conditions, or it can occur due to changes in temperature and humidity levels—such as when the temperature nears the dew point. Accumulating moisture can totally interfere with or block light passing through the lens, which can result in soft, blurry images or frames that register no exposure at all. This can be particularly frustrating when it occurs in the process of a long exposure.

8. Dress for Success in all Conditions—Winter, Water, and Bug-Proof Yourself and Your Gear

Proper wardrobe is a key concern when photographing at night. Plunging temperatures or sudden weather inversions can quickly turn an enjoyable evening into an endurance test for the unprepared, even in temperate climates. Dress in thin layers that you can add or subtract as outside conditions change, and bring along items to keep everything warm, dry and comfortable—from your core to your extremities to your gear.

9. Pack Extra Power and Plan for Calamity

Making long exposures for hours at a time can drain your battery quicker than you think, so make sure to bring plenty of back-up power for cameras and other electronic gear that require batteries to function. You can also conserve power by turning off your camera’s Live View function and LCD display. If you’re shooting on a tripod turn off the Image Stabilization as well.

10. Don’t be a Couch Potato, Go Out and Give it a Try


As the adage goes, you can’t be successful at something if you don’t first apply yourself. This is particularly applicable to night photography, when the motivation to gear up and go into the darkness after a full day of work or other pursuits can be easily foiled by inertia.

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Reyed Mia (Apprentice, DIU)
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Daffodil International University
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