6 Tips to Help You Conquer Your Nighttime Photography Fears

Many of the photos we take in our every day life are ones snapped during daytime. Why? We have great lighting, our camera works smoothly, and our shots come out crisp and clear. When we think of nighttime photography, many of us shudder. Taking pictures at night seems to work against us! For one, it’s dark! Many pictures come out blurry because we turn off our flash to capture those beautiful lights. If our flash is on, it often over exposes our subjects or doesn’t reach far enough to shed light on the subject we are trying to capture. Photographing at night can definitely be difficult, but also lends so much potential. Many cities come to life at night, the moon gives everything a subtle glow, and even water provides unique photo opportunities. In this blog post, we will give you some quick tips and new ideas, allowing you to take charge of the night and capture those wonderful after-dark moments. Tip #1 Take advantage of the little light that may still be around. If you shoot within the first half hour after the sunset, you can get some beautiful colors, great light, and some of the emerging night sky. While this may not literally be “night photography” the light that comes from the setting sun provides a great backdrop for stunning photos. Using well-lit areas in your photography can also work to your advantage. Position your subject under a street light or near a window with a lit interior. Your subject can be seen and you are still able to capture the night essence.

Eiffel Tower at Sunset

SpotlightTip #2 If you must use your flash, try to use it last. If you want to photograph people against city lights (or my personal favorite, Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland during Christmas), try to use the flash at the end of the shot, instead of the beginning. If your camera allows you to do this, having the flash at the end will give you a clearer shot of your subjects. A flash at the beginning of your shot will force your friends and family to stand completely still as you wait for your camera to capture the beautiful lights behind them.

*A Note on Flash: For night photos, flash is something that may not work in your favor. If you are attempting to photograph a landscape, the flash will not reach your scenery and will actually cause the photo to come out dimmer. For the most part, you will want to turn your flash off when photographing at night.

Sleeping Beauty's Castle During ChristmasTip #3 Embrace the blur in your photos. Because of the low light, it’s slightly harder to capture crisp photos. Instead of fighting this, use the blurriness to your advantage. A great example of this is photographing cityscapes. Capture the beautiful city lights, while allowing cars to zoom by. This shows the beauty of the city and adds an “on the go” feel. Another example shown below embraces the movement of flickering candles. The blur gives the cake a more realistic feel, and even makes it look like it's glowing!

Tower bridge wide
Photography by Marc Baker

Lit Birthday CakeTip #4 Use bodies of water to your advantage. At night, the water can be your best friend! Its dark surface is great at reflecting light, which makes it easier to capture your photo. Including the reflection in your shot can also give you endless possibilities.

Photo Tip

Photography by Chris Court

Tip #5 Utilize your Firework or Night Time setting. This setting optimizes your camera for shooting at night. It lets your camera know that there will be less light, so it accommodates for that by changing your aperture and shutter speed. Manually changing these settings is also an option! Aperture The aperture, put most simply, is the size of the hole that lets in light. If we were to compare a camera to our eye, the aperture would be equivalent to our pupil. At night, our pupils dilate to let in more light, allowing us to see in the dark. We will need to do the same for our camera. A lower number means your aperture hole is larger, allowing more light to enter the camera. Shutter Speed The shutter speed refers to the length of time your shutter will stay open. Continuing with our eye comparison, a camera’s shutter is similar to our eyelids. The longer you keep your eyes open, the more you can take in. This is the same for our camera. The longer our shutter speed is, the more light our camera can take in, which means we have a brighter photo. For more information on aperture and shutter speed, take a look at FaceTheLight.com’s article. They provide great examples that further explain the relationship between aperture and shutter speed. An additional setting you may want to look at is your ISO. ISO speed controls the sensitivity of your camera to light. In low light situations, you would want to increase your ISO, making your camera more sensitive to light, and thus being able to catch more detail. Nasim Mansurov does a great job further explaining ISO for the beginning photographer.

*A note about higher ISO’s: As you increase your ISO it adds grain or “noise” to the photo, which creates a more pixelated shot. Whenever possible, use the lowest ISO so you can avoid any graininess in your photos and turn on your “noise reduction” feature, if your camera has it.

San Francisco City LightsTip #6 Our last tip is the most important. Use a tripod or stable surface. The drawback to a long shutter speed is that you will need to make sure your camera stays still! The smallest shake can cause blurriness in your photo. To combat this, you’ll want to utilize a tripod or stable surface. Check out Tip #1 from our close-up photography post for more information on keeping your camera stable!

2012 New Year at DisneylandWe hope this helps you conquer the fear of nighttime photography! If you have any additional tips, please feel free to share them with us in the comment section! We love learning new tips to help us enhance our photography skills!

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