While there are some photographers who seem to have a natural talent for shooting at night, some of us struggle with producing the perfect shot, and there’s no shame in that. Low light conditions affect your shutter speed (causing blur), awareness of your surroundings (affecting composition) and ISO (noisy, grainy images). But don’t fret, here are some tips to mastering night photography and getting great shots every time.
Shoot in RAW
You should always be shooting in RAW in any case, but this is particularly helpful when you’re shooting in low light conditions. By shooting RAW, you’re “retaining” most of the information in your image, meaning you can easily change the exposure and brightness or darkness of your shots in post-production without losing detail.
Also, shoot in Manual mode
Have complete control over your camera when shooting at night as the camera can easily be fooled by the big differences in lit and non-lit areas, therefore affecting your exposure. Shooting at night will definitely require a little trial and error, so having complete control over your settings ensure your images turn out correctly exposed.
Know your surroundings
With genres of photography such as astrophotography, where you’d essentially be shooting in complete darkness, knowing your surroundings will make a big impact on your final composition. Scout your site in advance and note where the most interesting buildings or lights are situated. For example, if you are looking to shoot light trails, then look out for busier roads and where it’s the safest and best position to shoot them from. Also, set up at least an hour before sundown so you don’t have to fumble with your equipment in the dark – you’ll even get to take advantage of the magic hour.
Always use a tripod
Less light = slower shutter speeds = potentially blurry photos. If you are shooting at a shutter speed of anywhere between 1-30 seconds, it’ll be almost impossible to shoot hand-held, so make sure your camera is firmly attached to a tripod if you want sharp results. If possible, connect your camera to a remote trigger so you reduce movement even more. This is especially important if you are shooting in Bulb mode, where the shutter stays open for longer than the 30 seconds maximum of Manual mode.
Achieving a starburst effect vs bokeh
Playing with the surrounding lights is a great way to add dimension to your image.
If you’re looking to get the “starburst” effect in your image, use a narrow aperture (around f/16) for a shot that is also sharp from foreground to background. For those dreamy bokeh shots, opt for a wider aperture (f/2.8 and up).
Bring a filter
If you are shooting on a cold winter’s night, then you will most likely have to deal with lens fog. Attaching a filter helps with this (although you might end up with flaring or ghosting) and also acts as barrier between your lens and the elements. If its particularly cold, you can even consider wrapping packets of hand warmers around your lens barrel, although these can get pretty hot so pay attention.
Learn more about shooting in different weather conditions here.
Bring a hood
Minimize lens flare and unwanted light sources from entering at angles outside of your frame.
Bring a torch
Get creative and do a little light painting to make your images more interesting. Simply shine your light source at the subject you want to highlight while the camera is capturing the image, and adjust your distance to the subject if its overexposed.
Focus with live view
Focusing at night can be tricky, even for the most veteran photographer! If your camera has a Live View feature, use it! Switch to Manual Focus and focus by digitally zooming in on your main subject to check if it’s sharp.