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10 Killer Night Photography Tips

If dawn and sunset are widely considered to produce the best light for shooting in, I think night time comes close behind. The first night time shot I ever took was in my garden on the day I bought my first tripod. It certainly wasn't an award-winner, but the process of using the available light from the stars and moon alone was thrilling. I hope you enjoy these 11 night photography tips:


1. Silhouettes

Image by: Vinoth Chandar

It's nigh on impossible to use only natural light at night (last of the sunset/moon/stars) without some part of your photo being silhouetted (especially if you don't have a tripod). But that's fine, because silhouettes can be stunningly effective, as with these 2 figures standing on a bridge. This kind of shot forces you to fill in the blanks (literally!); who are these 2 people? What are they doing there? Is it a friendly meeting?

Artificial light, like colourful neon glow, can work very well too for night time silhouettes. Simply expose for the light source, and don't worry about opening up the aperture or slowing the shutter speed to capture details as you normally would.

2. Reflections

Image by: peasap

As the sun disappears and vibrant city lights fill the skyline, water becomes a giant mirror with wonderful photographic potential. The symmetry of tall buildings reflected on flat calm water is a recipe for a brilliant picture. A wide angle of view is required to encompass both the breadth of the skyline, and the height which is effectively doubled by the water. Needless to say, a tripod is your friend in this situation, as a long exposure is necessary to fully capture the light.

Quick tip: I've often found pedestrian bridges are excellent places to get this kind of shot, as there's nothing obscuring the water in the foreground.

3. Misty Waves

Whilst the magic hours do yield the best results when it comes to night photography, don't neglect the night time. I've occassionally hung around for an extra hour or two after a sunset shoot and discovered some really nice effects. This shot was taken about 80 minutes after sunset and I quite like the cool blue tone that has appeared. On days where there is a clear sky or lots of cloud, you can capture these moving across the sky too.

This image had an exposure time of 30 seconds, which was long enough to disguise any texture in the water and transform it into an atmospheric silky sheet. (Beach sunset photography tips)

Digital Photography School's book on Natural Light is a very easy to understand guide with lots of cool ideas. Thumbs up.

4. Old Buildings

Image by: josef.stuefer

I really enjoy shooting old architecture and trying to capture its age, often using texture. But night time offers a different slant on this subject. Buildings are often lit up by bright modern lights, which creates a really interesting juxtaposition of old and new. The picture above is beautifully composed, with trees either side and reflections in the water, but the materials and style of the building definitely help to make the shot too. This sort of thing is quite a common feature of modern cities, especially in Europe, so look out for it.

5. Lightning Strikes

Image by: stevoarnold

Clearly, you cannot just pop out and capture a lightning bolt illuminating the night sky whenever the idea appeals. Photography is rarely more opportunistic than when it comes to shooting this awesome natural phenomenon. Most of us will be lucky to ever create 1 or 2 great lightining images. But it can be done and, as ths image shows, the results are often stunning.

4 things to bear in mind: 1) Maximize the impact of the shot by composing the scene carefully first and waiting for the lightning to fill the sky. Prominent vertical objects like city buildings or trees often work well. 2) Shoot in "bulb" mode. Bulb mode enables you to manually govern the length of the exposure by holding down the shutter-release for as long as you choose. This allows you to time the shot perfectly for the duration of a strike. 3) Use a remote release device. This is crucial, as just pressing the button on your camera creates vibrations that can significantly damage clarity 4) Count the seconds between the sound of thunder and flashes of light, to help you time the shot.

6. Revellers!

Image by: crsan

Parties and concerts always produce some great photo opportunities. Usually these situations have a few very powerful light sources, giving a hard light with lots of highlights and shadows. This can be really tricky to shoot in, particulalry if you're looking to capture any degree of detail. But one side-effect is that crowd scenes can look very cool with the 'outlining' effect shown in this image.

The only 'correctly' exposed part of the scene is the stage where the musicians are standing. Spot metering would be necessary to judge the exposure for that correctly. But the strong spotlights have picked out the crowd figures and drawn a line around the tops of their heads. Combined with the guy being passed around the crowd, arm aloft, which clearly makes the shot, the result is brilliant. Don't be afraid of inevitable lens flare in these kinds of situations, which can add to the party atmosphere.

7. Cityscape Panoramas

Image by: debasis123

I'm a big fan of panoramic cityscapes. But night-time city panoramas, if done well, are on a whole other level! Scouting the location during the day is a good idea, but you only really get a sense of the best view when everything is lit up after dark. I love the way this image has been exposed (and processed) to reveal just enough of the night sky, on the right hand side, to produce a strong atmosphere. The bridge has been used really well to lead the eye towards the buildings beyond.

You can get an idea of the exposure time from the lines created by a boat travelling across the water on the right hand side. I would image a shutter speed of 30-60 seconds was used, in order to adequately record all the distant artificial lights. (Long exposure tutorial)

8. Candlelight

Image by: lel4nd

Some nights you just don't feel like standing in a quiet corner of a big city with, say, £1000 worth of gear, focusing all of your attention on a 15mm x 15mm viewfinder. That's ok, there's no need to venture out all of the time, as great night photography can also be made from the comfort of your home. Candles are a lovely light source to use and always evoke a feeling of peace and calm. They can be included as part of a wider scene, or used as the main event, as in this shot. Combined with bokeh in the background, thanks to a nice wide aperture, it's a winning formula!

9. Traffic Lines

Image by: Doug88888

Yes, it's that old chestnut again! The key to good traffic line pictures is pre-visualization. Why? Becasue unlike most photographs, the subject doesn't really exist! It's going to be created by lights on moving vehicles as their path is recorded by your camera's sensor. Think about: the direction of the vehicles, your perspective and angle of view, the colours on the front/back of vehicles and the surrounding lights and buildings.

It might seem cool just to capture traffic lines whilst your shooting. But without thinking carefully about composition you'll be disappointed by the end results later. For example, this image works well because of the symmetry, punctuated by the central lamp-post, and the unusually high level of the lights, which reach up to the top corners. On a practical note, a remote release device is so much better than manually pressing the shutter-release button (which causes vibrations) and using the self-timer (which makes timing the shot for approaching vehicles pot-luck). It's best to just get one and be done with it.

10. Fireworks

Image by: Terry Grealey

Fireworks are notoriously rather tricky, but once you get the hang of it you can have a lot of fun. The same basic principles apply as for traffic lines and lightning shots: use a tripod, use a remote release, shoot in bulb mode, pre-compose the shot.

As the above image illustrates, fireworks can make a shot, but the overall composition is essential. This little city scene is infinitely more interesting thanks to the explosion of colour in the top left, and vice versa. As for depth of field, it's usually not possible to use a really narrow aperture, but f.8 or f.11 should be fine. Quick tip: beware of wafting smoke in the aftermath of each firework, which can be a really irritating obstruction. Position yourself with wind direction in mind.


I hope this has given you some ideas for taking great photos after dark! Feel free to share some of your own night photography tips in the comments.

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