Night photos are usually breath-taking. The main reason why at night everything is looks so “magical” is the light. If you take a photo of one scene during the day and a photo of that same scene during the night, you will see a huge difference. You will find out that taking photos at night might be a bigger challenge. But, before we start to talk about the settings in night photography, we should talk first about the gear you need when you go out to shoot night photos.
GEAR FOR NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
For start, you will need your standard camera and lens (wide-angle lenses recommended). One other thing you surely need when it comes to night photography, is a tripod. The reason why a tripod is so important is the use of a longer shutter speed and the right exposure. To obtain that, you need to stabilize your camera to avoid hand shake. Another thing that will help you keep your camera steady, is a remote shutter release (a simple remote shutter release is quite cheap, but if for some reason you cannot invest in this item, your camera self-timer will do the work).
Other helpful items that will come in handy are a flashlight, lens hood, extra batteries and a soft lens cloth.
Having a flashlight with you will help you finding things in your bag or when attaching your camera to the tripod. When you are out there in the night, there are a lot of lights coming from different directions (i.e. street lights) and a lens hood will help you minimize the unwanted lights coming to your lens.
As mentioned before, when shooting at night, you need a longer exposure which will drain your battery faster than usual and that’s why you need a spare battery.
A soft lens cloth might come in handy because dew can appear on your lens, especially on humid nights or humid places and you don’t want that to ruin your photos.
SETTINGS FOR NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
The most important difference between a day and night photography is in the exposure. When it comes to exposure, there are three controls you have to keep in mind; shutter speed, aperture and ISO. The darkness is a very important factor which changes everything. Because of the darkness that surrounds you, you have to let more light into your camera. To do so, you have to change the values of one of the three controls mentioned above (ISO, shutter speed and aperture). TIP: When it comes to night photography, you need to shoot in Manual Mode because it gives you the control over the camera settings.
At night, your camera will be using shutter speeds that are longer because your camera needs more time to gather a proper amount of time for the right exposure. This is also the reason why your camera needs to be stabilized in a tripod.
The aperture lets the light into the camera. On the size of the aperture depends how much light will your camera receive, which also affects your shutter speed. If you have a small aperture, your camera will need very long shutter speeds to recompensate the small amount of light that is coming in. Because of that, you better use larger aperture when shooting at night.
ISO measures the sensitivity of your sensor to the light. If the ISO value is higher, the sensor of your camera is more sensitive to light which will allow you the use of a shorter shutter speed or a smaller aperture. But you should be very careful when changing your ISO values to higher. As a result of a high ISO value, there will be more digital noise in your photos. Of course, there will be situations where you will need to use a higher ISO, but if you have a tripod with you, you can allow yourself to have a longer shutter speed. Whenever you can, use lower ISO values and recompensate the lack of light with a longer shutter speed to have photos with less digital noise.
TIP: if you want to photograph the night sky and the stars, you will need to increase your ISO values. If you use a shutter speed that is too long, your stars will appear as trails on the photo because the earth is rotating. The exposure controls depend on what is your shooting subject. The best way to find out the best settings that fit your needs (and your camera capabilities), is to go out and start shooting with different values until you get what you want.
Among other settings, it is important to shoot in RAW format (not only in night photography, but always). The use of RAW format will allow you to recover the maximum amount of data of the image (it has more bits; the more bits, the higher the range of available colors).
Before going into the adventure of night shooting, set the brightness of your camera’s LCD to the lowest. Everything will be dark out there and your eyes will adjust to the dark. If the LCD is not set to the lowest it might trick you when you preview the image; the photo will look brighter to your eyes that it really is.
TIP: check the histogram to determine if the exposure is correct.
TIP: use spot metering and expose for the highlights (set your meter between +1 and +2 when you meter on).
CHOOSING A SUBJECT FOR NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
When choosing the subject you would like to photograph, remember: at night everything looks different. Even that simple bridge you cross every day that looks boring, at night it will look completely different due to the highlights and shadows. Look around you for sure you will find some interesting subjects for your night photos.
List of the most popular subjects for night photography
The night sky
Museums and public buildings
Car light trails
We have been through some essential steps and tips for night photography. This guide gives you some basic info, but the rest is on you. You need to go out there and explore the settings of your camera, find the subjects that you like and create your own magical night photos!