Capital Photography Center | Photography Classes in Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia

5 Tips For Night Photography

September 22, 2016 by Marie Joabar

It’s exciting to photograph at night. Whether capturing expansive cityscapes or downtown Main street, colorful festival lights or neon carnival rides, seek out a strong subject decorated with lights… or choose just the lights themselves as the subject.

Consider these tips for night photography:


• With most night shooting, the prettiest time is during twilight. This is just after the sun has set but before it’s dark and the sky is a beautiful royal blue. Subjects lit with artificial lights look magical against this backdrop.


Use a sturdy tripod and your camera’s self-timer or a remote.  Just pressing the shutter button can cause the camera to move giving you a slightly blurred image.
• The timer can be set to 2 seconds or 10 seconds. If you have a wobbly tripod, use the 10 second delay so there is enough time for the shaking to stop.
• With the majority of our lenses we should turn off image stabilization, vibration reduction, anti shake, etc. when we are using our tripod. These systems have a moving element in the lenses to help correct for movement and when you are on a tripod, they are still moving so turn them off.


The Manual exposure mode works best for night photography.
• Aperture: There isn’t much depth of field at night so use a mid-range aperture of f8. However, if you close your aperture and use f16 or f22 any lights in the scene will have a starburst effect to them.
• ISO: If there is no motion in your scene, you can set a low ISO of 200 or 400. However, it if there is motion and you want to freeze it, you’ll need a higher ISO so you can work with faster shutter speeds.  Remember, higher ISOs let you work with faster shutter speeds.
• Shutter:  Unless there is motion that you want to control, after setting your Aperture and ISO, just set the shutter speed until you have the right brightness in your scene. If your image is too bright then use a faster shutter speed, if the image is too dark, use a slower speed.


Use manual focus as it’s difficult for our cameras to “see” in the dark.
• Confirm your subject is in focus by looking for a solid dot along the very bottom of your view finder.
• The camera needs an area of contrast in order to focus so place one of the focus points on something such as the edge of a building, a window frame, etc. If you try to focus on the sky, it won’t be able to and your camera won’t fire. 
• If your subject is nearby, you can shine a light on it and using auto focus, achieve focus and then turn auto focus off. Just make sure your subject doesn’t move and that you don’t rotate the lens or zoom it. If so, you’ll just need to focus all over again.
• If shooting distant subjects, focus at infinity. Test your lens to determine where the infinity point is. Most will focus at infinity by rotating the barrel just a slight bit before the actual infinity mark (sideways 8 looking icon). 
• Zoom in on playback to ensure have sharp focus where you want it.


Use your White Balance setting to adjust the color cast of the image. There’s nothing wrong with dialing in a little creativity.
• Perhaps start with Auto WB but explore Tungsten/Incandescent and Florescent as well. You can easily cool or warm your image so season to taste.
• If you’re shooting using the JPEG format, the color settings you choose will be “baked into” the file and will be difficult to change after the fact so it’s good to take a few shots, each with different color settings to later decide which you like best.
• If you’re shooting in the Raw format, the WB setting can easily be changed using a slider (with editing software) but it’s good to choose this while shooting to put yourself in a better starting point when editing.

Explore night photography and see how much fun it can be. Want to enjoy shooting at night but don’t want to venture out alone? Join us at one of these upcoming classes.