Night time photography tips and tricks

Some great photos can result when shooting at night. Streetlights, fireworks, lightning or the moon create their own imprint whilst leaving the shutter open. And flash photography need not be a precedent.

How to Photograph at Night

The best nighttime photographs can result when it is not in fact completely black. Some ambient light from dusk or dawn can provide the ideal backdrop for an illuminated foreground. Use a wide-angle lens if a dramatic sky can be seen behind. A foreground illuminated by a campfire or even a flash will create contrast between background and foreground. If using a flash, set it to ‘slow sync.’ This will program the camera to use a sufficiently long shutter speed to capture the background, whilst illuminating the foreground with a flash at the last instant.

Camera Settings for Night Mode

Most dusk shots will require a long shutter speed, so a tripod will be necessary. Before sunset, mount the camera on the tripod and select the B setting. If an independent light meter is not at hand, a little instinct may be relied upon. Select the slowest ISO possible (around 200 or so) and select aperture f-8 (or wider if depth of field is not important). Leave the shutter open for around 8 – 10 seconds. Press the shutter gently to prevent camera shake and request the subject remains still. Non-static objects such as a flickering campfire will create interesting smudgy patterns in the foreground.

How to Photograph Illuminations at Night

Bright lights at night can create interesting patterns and colours. Shop fronts, headlamps and fireworks form three of many examples. Leave the shutter open to record car headlamps or fairground motion to create dynamic colour streak. Leaving the shutter open for two seconds or more will reveal the background which might include an interesting sunset or distant streetlights. Beware that moving figures will appear blurred, as the lengthy shutter speed will record their transit.

How to Photograph Fireworks at Night

When photographing illuminations in the night sky, a tripod may be needed. Before a fireworks display, select a dark portion of sky where there are no street lights, and where the fireworks are to occur. Drape a dark cloth over the camera if you don’t have lens cap. Set the shutter on B setting. Again, remember to use the lowest ISO possible, and use a wide angle lens to take in a fair portion of sky. F-8 aperture setting might work best.


Photography of the Night Sky

The instant before the fireworks begin, remove the cloth (or lens cap) and replace each time there is an interlude. Remove each time new fireworks light up the sky. This process may be repeated several times to attain interesting patterns of light on the photograph. The resultant image will show several moments of explosions at once.

How to Photograph Lightning

Lightning is trickier to capture as it can appear in any part of the sky. During a thunderstorm, I will ready myself with a tripod in similar fashion to photographing fireworks previously described, (away from ambient light). Again, use a wide angle lens and conceal the lens behind a cap or dark cloth. Once the storm is underway, expose the lens and hope a bolt of lightning will occur within the viewfinder. On a particularly dark night, you can keep the shutter open for up to 30 seconds. If nothing happens after this time period, close the shutter and proceed to the next shot; try another portion of sky. Once the lightning has occurred, close the shutter and ready the camera for the next one. Accept that most of the shots will yield little or part of the lightning. However, lightning that occurs near the horizon will be easier to capture than lightning at the zenith, because such a view covers a larger portion of sky.

Interesting Nighttime Photographs

Some lighting will exhibit pinks, blues, violets or illuminate cloud bases. Such shots can really add atmosphere. A similar approach can be used when it comes to photographing the moon. A telephoto lens will make the moon appear larger, but a tripod will be needed to keep it steady. A wide aperture will allow more light to enter. Focusing on infinity will guarantee a sharp image but fast moving clouds will appear smudged.

Tips on Night Photography

Night time can provide interesting subject matter such as city lights, headlamps, fairgrounds shop fronts, campfires, fireworks, lightning and the moon. Shooting at dusk or dawn will provide an interesting backdrop to the subject matter in the foreground, but a tripod will be needed. Use the lowest ISO that conditions allow and set the shutter on B. Some guesswork may be required regarding how long to keep the shutter open, so expect a few unsuccessful shots. Drape the camera beneath a dark clot between firework bursts or lightning. But a flash might be used to illuminate objects at close proximity.
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