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7 Essential Night Photography Tips for Beginners [Video + Infographic]

A simple and effective guide to master night photography

Night photography is a fascinating type of photography. I agree night photography might seem too technical for beginners; they are unsure the settings of night photography, the equipment for night photography, and even choosing a subject a location for night photography.

Camping at night — Night photography
Photo Credits: Max Pixel

Night photography technique is not complex, but I don’t deny that it is easy to do. I can promise you that you will get the hang of it if you follow these simple night photography tips to get good night photographs. However, you need to practice quite a lot to master these techniques.

(Don’t forget to take a note of the pro tips I have mentioned in this article. I have also added infographics at the end of this article)

I know you are already motivated to try night photography as you are reading this article. It is a wrong notion that you need some special equipment for night photography.


I will show you how to do good night photography with the camera and equipment you already have.

After reading this article you will learn

  • What is night photography and how it is different from low light photography?
  • Different ideas of night photography you can try
  • Equipments for night photography
  • How to pick a location for night photography
  • Master night photography settings
  • Creativity in night photography
  • Night photography tips for beginners

7 Essential Night Photography Tips

Los Angeles Griffith Observatory Night Photography
Canon EOS Rebel T6i, EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM – 231.0mm · ƒ/5.6 · 1/1250s · ISO 100
Photo Credits: Maxpixel

 

What is night photography? — A new definition to help you learn easily. 

I know it is boring to start this article with a question like this. Trust me, this will help you understand all night photography jargons.

All  kinds of night photography is low light photography, but all kinds of low light photography is not night photography. Huh? I know you are confused.

Let me explain…

Low light photography means, as the name suggest, taking pictures when the light is minimal. Night photography is taking pictures at night in natural light like moonlight, starlight, and the like. So by that definition, night photography is one kind of low light photography, but the opposite is not true.

Some photographers might have a different definition, but it is easier for me to define it in this way.

I will give you some examples to explain this definition.

Suppose you take some pictures in a room with low light or in a pub or in a city at night. You can easily take those pictures with a hand held camera. For taking creative photos like traffic light trail photos, you have to use a tripod. But usually you don’t need a tripod and a long exposure shot when you just want to take some low light pictures .

Now imagine you are at a beach in the middle of the night or some place where it is pitch dark, you would have no idea where to focus, what to focus, what settings you should use. You won’t even see your equipments without a flash light.


So what do you do?

You can use a tripod for slow shutterspeed (or bulb mode) to take well exposed night pictures. Long exposure captures moonlight (or starlight) which would illuminate the entire scene.

Since I define these two types of photography this way, I can make informed decisions to choose your equipment, settings, and location for night photography.

Okay,  I am not going any further with all that technicalities of night photography.

 

Milky Way night photography Fairyland canyon Utah
Canon EOS 5d Mark 3 camera with shoot mode: EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM – 16.0mm · ƒ/2.8 · 30/1s · ISO 6400

 

Let me jump right into the essential night photography tips for beginners. These tips would help any beginner to master night photography.

Make sure you note the additional pro tips I have added in this article.


You can learn more about long exposure photography from these articles:


Equipment for night photography

Eventhought you don’t need any special equipment for night photography, there are some essential gears you must have to take the perfect night sky photograph.

Don’t worrry. They are basic ones. You have them already.

 1. A Sturdy Tripod — For sharp pictures and creative photographs. 

When you think about night photography, the first thing that should come to your mind is a tripod. WIthout a sturdy tripod, you cannot take night photographs because of long exposure settings.

You need to use slow shutter speed to get a good exposure at night. Taking handheld photographs with slow shutter speed (or long exposure) results in blurry images.

Thus, you should use a sturdy tripod to get sharp photographs. However, using just a tripod doesn’t make your images sharper.

You need to make sure that the camera doesn’t move (even when it is mounted on a tripod) by other means like either by tripod movement or when you press the shutter button.

Here are some pro tips to get the best out of a tripod.

Pro tip: Equipments and tips to avoid blurred images by pressing shutter button

When you press the shutter button to take long exposure, it moves the camera eventhough you may not notice it. This can blur the photograph.

What? Now it is getting more complex right? Don’t worry. Here is how you can fix this issue.

To avoid this, you can either use your camera’s built-in timer to trigger the shutter (after a particular time) when you press the button. Other options are shutter cable release or a shutter remote.


Wifi and Bluetooth are available in advanced camera these days. You can use your smartphone to control the shutter of your camera.

Note: If you use the bulb mode, timer may not help. Use a cable release or similar equipment instead.


Do you know what causes blurred images, and how to prevent them? Read:


2. Use Sweet Spot Aperture of Lens — The secret to get tack-sharp images. 

This is not some technical stuff.

Sweet spot of a lens is the aperture (or aperture range) in which the lens captures sharp images. It varies with lenses; you can find the sweet spot of your lens by taking some test shots in all apertures and check the sharpness.

I know this is a bit technical, and some of you may not want to do this.

Don’t worry. There is another way.

You can check some photography forum or manufacture’s website for information of ‘sweet spot’ range of aperture for lenses. I found that f8 was sweet spot of my 18-55mm kit lens from a digital photography forum. For fast lenses, like the famous 50mm lens, the sweet spot is f2.8.

It is a myth that you need a professional or expensive lens to take sharp night photographs. But unless you use the sweet spot aperture of a lens, your photos will not be sharp even if you have a professional lens.

So what is the bottom line?

You can take sharp night photographs even with an entry level lens if you use the right aperture of your lens.

3. Choose the right white balance for night photography to add a mood to the photograph

White balance is another least understood setting in digital photography. I am not going into the technical explanation of white balance. White balance is simply how much blue (cool) or yellow (warm) the images are.

This is not an accurate definition. But this is enough for this article. I would suggest you to read about white balance before reading this section.

Star trail earth rotation night photography
Choose the right balance to create the mood of a night photograph

 

Amazing mood in this photo, right? White balance plays a major role here.

In night photography, you capture the moonlight or star light that add blue color to the photograph.Thus, when you select a white balance, try to use a white balance setting with blue cast or adjust the temperature of the photograph within 3500K (if you want to know about color temperatures, please read our post on white balance.


Night photography location

4. Pick Night Photography Locations in Advance

Want to know the secret tip to make unique images?

It is about location, location, and location.

I know technique matters, but if you have a well composed frame, both technically and artistically, your photograph will stand out.

For example if you take a photograph of a starry night, you need to make sure that the foreground complements the background (starry night). If you don’t do that, your photographs would look amateurish.

Stary night photography with Milky Way
The arc added a unique composition element in this photograph.
Canon EOS 5d Mark II camera with shoot mode: 20mm – 20.0mm · ƒ/2.2 · 25/1s · ISO 2500

 

How do you compose a scene in pitch dark?

For this, and to save time, you need to scout some potential locations for night photography. I would suggest you to do this in day time and compose the scene. In this way, you can right away setup your camera and focus on the technical side.

Even to shoot sunsets or sunrise on a beach, I scout the location in daytime and plan the composition because sunset and sunrise doesn’t last for long.

Choose a location that is far away from city lights. In night photography, city lights can break the image. City light is the red color you see on the horizon at night. You might think that city lights are almost negligible and it would not matter. But since you are using long exposures, city lights will pollute your photos.

I would suggest you to go through some good examples of night photographs to get an idea how professional night photographers compose the photo. Perhaps you could find a similar location close to your place.

Another pointer you can use to select a good location for night photography is reflection.  A photograph with a good reflection will never fail. In night photography, reflection will create a sense of mystery in your photograph.

Like this…

Starry night photography with reflection of mountains
Choose a location with reflection.
Reflection makes stunning image.

5. Night photography ideas

One of the interesting things about night photography is the various options you can explore:

* Starry night or star trail photography
* Night photography in moonlight.
* Light painting
* Astro photography in which you can take pictures of galaxies and all.

I will write tutorials on these areas in future.

Eventhough they are different, the basic technique for night photography is the same. Just follow these tips you can easily try all the different night photography ideas and even get creative with it.

I will give you some basic tips on some of these ideas.

Shoot Trails of Light

As I have mentioned before, shooting traffic light trails is actually low light photography, not explicitly night photography.However, you can shoot light trails to make variety night photographs.

Check out this image.

Traffic light trail night photography

Sony Ilce-6000 camera with shoot mode E PZ 16-50mm F3.5-5.6 OSS – 16.0mm · ƒ/8.0 · 53/1s · ISO 100

Now compare this with a regular traffic light trail photograph.

City scape light trail night photography
Photo Credits: Maxpixel

 

See the difference there? Eventhough both are light trail photography, adding the light trail element in night photography made the photo unique.

In the first image, the traffic light trails are adding a different dimension to the night photographs. The only artificial light in these photographs are the traffic lights. It is hard to find these locations, but give it a shot . While shooting the light trails or a burst of firework, try to take several pictures and blend in Photoshop. This makes pictures dynamic and well exposed.


Want to know how to do star trail photograph?

Read:


Light painting

This is one of the popular ideas of night photography, and it is fun. It has limitless creative potential. You can try to use a torch for painting scenes during a long exposure.

But it is not simple. You need to practice a lot. Here are some pro tips:

Make use of a lockable remote release to keep the shutter open while illuminating the subject. Keep the torch moving to prevent hotspots (bright patches of light) and check exposures using the histogram on the LCD screen of your camera.

 

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I highly recommend you to master light painting to make beautiful and creative night photographs.  It is not possible to explain this technique in text. You can check out these images and videos to learn the light painting technique. I will write a detailed tutorial on light painting in a future article, anyway.

6. Combine Different Elements to Create Artistic Interpretation

Night photography is not just about the sky. Beginners tend to focus only on the sky, and they forget the foreground.

Find unique elements in the landscape to combine with the night shots. This makes real images, but containing artistic interpretation of scenes. You can choose elements in different shapes and sizes. It may be anything from the rugged trees to jagged rocks along a placid lake.

These elements will not take away anything from the starry skies, but add a focal point drawing the viewers into the image. Most people fill 3/4th of the scene with sky and that is a rookie mistake. Make sure to play around with the surroundings until you see a good composition.

Aurora Borealis Northern Lights Night Photography
Canon EOS 5d Mark IIi camera with Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/21 ZE – 21.0mm · ƒ/2.8 · 30/1s · ISO 2000

 

If you are interested in Northern lights photography, read this tutorial.

Some more tips on night photography by Michael Shainblum

In this video Micheal Shainblum explains how to plan ahead (you can use an app to find the right location and time for your night photography), some tips on exposure settings of night photography, and some tips to improve your photography.

 

7. The most essential tip to improve night photography

Finally, stop reading more articles on night photography and get out and practice now. You will make so many mistakes. But that is okay.

Night photography opens up a whole new world in front of us; it provides us an opportunity to capture unique images of some of the most photographed locations.


Make sure to take extra care while venturing out since the possibilities of an accident enhance substantially at night.

I know it is impossible to remember everything I have mentioned in this post. So I have made an infographic on this. Please share it.

Essential night photography tips infographic
Pin or share this infographic

 

Share your night photographs

I would like to see your night photographs. Please share it with us on our social media profiles. I will feature some good photographs here.

Image Credits: Maxpixel.com

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Vidhu Soman

Vidhu is an enthusiastic photographer from Kerala, India. His desire to share his knowledge and experience on photography was the motivation for creating Shutterstoppers. His dream is to provide a platform for people all around the world to exchange ideas and information on everything related to photography. In addition to photography, he also has a keen interest in traveling, philately and science.

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