Night Photography: A Simple How To

August 11, 2015

To me, night photography is a lot of fun. It's a great way to capture a person/place/thing in a different light (or lack of light, I should say). After fumbling around with different settings, I finally found my go-to "starting point". From this starting point, I just make minor adjustments to get that perfect night shot. 

Here is a short, simple list to help you get that clear, crisp long exposure shot:

1 | Tripod

Unless you have crazy steady hands, you will need a tripod to help you reduce movement. You can also set your camera down on a ledge or table if you don't have a tripod with you. Just make sure no one bumps into the table cause any slight movement will be noticeable with long exposure. Tripods can range from $20.00 to over $500.00. You definitely do not need to spend half a grand on a tripod to get a good shot but also try to avoid the cheaper models. Remember the tripod is holding your camera (expensive or not), and you don't want a cheap tripod tipping over and breaking your investment. 

2 | Set Your Camera to Manual 

If you have never shot in manual before, don't worry it's not scary. Actually, you will probably wind up loving it! You will need to control the aperture, ISO and shutter speed which isn't possible in Auto, so make sure to have your camera in Manual.     

Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 1.6s at f/3.5, ISO 100
Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 1.6s at f/3.5, ISO 100
Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 1.3s at f/3.5, ISO 100
Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 1.3s at f/3.5, ISO 100
3 | Low ISO

As a rule, I try to shoot on ISO 100 to reduce as much noise as possible (day or night). Since you are shooting with at tripod, you can keep your ISO low (100 is ideal). You will be adjusting your shutter speed for brightness so don't worry about adjusting your ISO for that.

4 | Set Your Aperture

I usually start with a wide aperture which allows for more light but a shallower depth of field. For all the photographs on this post, the aperture ranges from f/3.5 to f/4.5. I like to keep my ISO and aperture pretty consistent when shooting. Some people like to use a smaller aperture (f/9 and higher) when shooting landscape or cityscape night shots. Also with a wider aperture, lights will have a halo look while with a smaller aperture, it will have a more star like effect.    

Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 2.5s at f/3.5, ISO 100
Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 1/3s at f/3.5, ISO 100
Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 3.2s at f/4, ISO 100
Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 3.2s at f/4, ISO 100
5| Turn Off Image Stabilization

While Image Stabilization is an awesome feature most of the time, it can actually cause more harm than good when it comes to night photography... with a tripod. When using a tripod, your camera is completely still but your IS lens is still looking for any movement or vibration to reduce which in return can cause camera shake. So just to be on the safe side, switch your stabilizer to off.

6 | Auto Focus/Manual Focus

Auto Focus is great but when it's completely dark out and Auto Focus has nothing to focus on, it's not that great. If this happens, you will need to switch it to manual focus. Most of the time though, you will have enough light in your shot for Auto Focus to latch on to.     

Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 1/100s at f/4.5, ISO 1000 (no tripod)
Canon 70D + 18-135mm, 1/100s at f/4.5, ISO 1000 (no tripod)
7 | Adjusting Your Shutter Speed

Now that you have your camera set to Manual, your ISO is low (preferably 100), your aperture is wide (or small) and you have your stabilizer turned off, you are ready to start adjusting your shutter speed. Pick a starting point, let's say 1 second then from there you can adjust for more or less light. Your shutter speed with depend on various things like the time of night and how much light is in the area (ie. street light, window light, car light). With all the other settings pretty much consistent, all you really have to do is mess with the shutter speed until you get the perfect amount of light. After a while, you will be able to guess your shutter speed starting point by the amount of light around you.

8 | Remote Shutter Release/Self-Timer 

Since you want to avoid all camera shake, using a remote shutter release or even the self-timer is a great bonus. Just pushing down on the shutter can cause camera shake so when my remote isn't available, I like to use the 2-second self timer on my Canon. I highly recommend getting a remote shutter release for anyone interested. They aren't that expensive and they come in handy more times than not. 

I hope these tips are easy and helpful. Of course, nothing is set in stone and everyone has their own likes and dislikes when it comes to camera settings. But if you're looking for an easy starting point, this should definitely get you started. Happy shooting!  


What is your favorite thing to shoot with long exposure? 

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The post I am highlighting from last week's Travel Tuesday is "All About My Greenlandic Adventure" by Van from Snow in Tromso. Greenland is a total sleeper country and probably not on a lot of people's radars, but it totally should be! Check out Van's post to see her amazing time in this beautiful country! 




Now it's time for the Travel Tuesday Link Up with Bonnie from A Compass Rose!

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