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The Newbie-Friendly Guide to Night Photography: Camera Settings | Gear | Techniques

November 28, 2022

Night photography is a genre that rarely seems to lose its allure. It's beautiful to capture, but it can also be frustrating and challenging when you're just starting out.

Unfortunately, many newcomers are quickly discouraged by the technical challenges and steep learning curve. This guide will cover the basics of night photography, including camera settings, gear, techniques, and ideas for taking stunning night photos.

Night Photography Settings

Unlike your day settings, night photography requires a bit of experimentation to get the right settings. Night photography has no hard-and-fast rules, but knowing some basic facts can help you get started.

Which is the proper ISO? What aperture should you use? What shutter speed will give you the best results? All these questions may run through your mind. But worry not; here are the night photography settings that you should use on your camera when shooting night images:

Wider Aperture

It is best to keep the camera's aperture as wide as possible when shooting night pictures. This will help ensure enough light enters the camera, which is crucial when shooting in low-light conditions.

a little boat in the river with aurora light at distance

Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

It will help if you use a wide-angle lens with f/2.8 or more to take in these night images, as it has the most light-gathering ability.

The main reason for using a wide aperture is the increased amount of light that hits the sensor due to the wider opening. With this, you can use a lower shutter speed and still get a well-lit photo.

High ISO

It would be best to use a high ISO when shooting night pictures. Unlike in daytime photography, where a low ISO is often used so as not to capture too much grain, in night photography, a high ISO is desired to capture more light.

One that is between 800 and 3200 would suffice. If your camera allows it, you could even go as high as 6400 in some cases.

Manual Mode

It is always best to shoot in manual mode when shooting night photos. This is because you will fully control the camera's settings, which is essential when shooting in low-light conditions.

Even though digital cameras are very good at adjusting to the light condition of the environment, they are not always smart enough to determine the appropriate settings for night photography. That is why it is always best to shoot in manual mode so that you can determine the best settings for different conditions.

Slow Shutter Speed

motion photo of the night street corner

Photo by Thaddaeus Lim on Unsplash

Because of how our eyes work, capturing motion with long exposures is a key element of night photography. To capture an image that seems to be in motion and flowing, you'll need to use a shutter speed slower than 1/30s.

While a fast shutter speed will result in a blurry photo, a slow shutter speed will help to capture the night lights in all their glory. We, therefore, recommend a shutter speed of 15 to 30 seconds to ensure that the resulting photo is clear and sharp.

White Balance

Your camera's auto white balance sensor effectively auto-corrects and compensates for different lighting. In order to avoid important details in the image being washed out and turned into stars, it's important to set your camera's white balance to auto.

This will help ensure that your photos look natural without any strange color casts.

Gear for Night Photography

To ensure that you are prepared for night photography, it is crucial to have the proper gear. Here are some essential items that you will need:

A Tripod

fireworks in the sky above the city

Photo by Xiyu Zhang on Unsplash

Night photography often requires slow shutter speeds, so you will have to expose your camera to the light for a longer time. For example, if you use a 30-second exposure, your camera will collect light for 30 seconds. This can cause your images to be blurry if your camera is not completely still.

A tripod will help to keep your camera steady and allow you to capture clear, sharp images. Ensure that the tripod you use is sturdy and can support the weight of your camera and lens.

A Remote Shutter Release

This is a device that allows you to take photos without touching your camera. It can either be a smartphone app or a physical remote that you attach to your camera. A remote shutter release is particularly useful for night photography because it minimizes camera shake.

It is also helpful if you want to take long exposures without standing next to your camera for an extended period.

Spare Batteries

Night photography often requires long exposures, which can drain your camera battery quickly. It is a good idea to have at least one spare battery to continue shooting if your battery dies.

a sculpture of a man on the horse covering by snows

Photo by Klim Musalimov on Unsplash 

Ensure you purchase these batteries from camera manufacturers to ensure they are of high quality and compatible with your camera.

Flashlight for Light Painting

You can use colorful light to add dimension and interest to your night photos. This is called light painting, and you can achieve it by using a flashlight to illuminate your subject while the camera shutter is open.

Be sure to use a flashlight with a wide beam so that you can cover a large area. You can also experiment with different colored gels to create different effects.

Wide-angle Lens

Even though there are many different lenses today, it would be best to use a wide-angle lens when it comes to night street photography. This type of lens is the best night photography lens as it allows you to capture more of the street in your frame, giving you more options to play with in terms of composition.

Lens Hood

A lens hood is a piece of equipment that attaches to the front of your lens and helps to reduce lens flare. Lens flare is caused by light bouncing off your lens's surface and creating a hazy or washed-out effect in your image.

a white car on the night street

Photo by Vasyl S on Unsplash

A lens hood will help to block out some of this light and reduce the amount of lens flare in your photo, especially when shooting city night photography, as there are a lot of light sources.

Techniques and Ideas for Stunning Night Pictures

The most fundamental part of night photography is learning how to separate the subject from the background. With the correct exposure, you can use a singular light source to illuminate your subject while leaving a negative space of darkness in the background.

Here are some tips on how to do this:

1. Try Creating Light Trails

You can set your camera to a long exposure and then wave a light source (such as a flashlight) around in the frame or capture cars and trains as they streak across an image. The resulting image will be a streak of light that can be very visually appealing. Try this in city night photography for some amazing results.

2. Take Photos of Cities at Night

Chritmas  light on buildings at night

Photo by Klim Musalimov on Unsplash

The lights from the buildings and streets can create a beautiful scene, perfect for night street photography. Unlike during the day, where there is a lot of contrast, everything tends to blend more at night. Take a shot of city lights together with the night sky for a stunning effect.

3. Take Shots of Carnivals and Ferris Wheels

Ferris wheels and carnivals are well known for producing stunning light trails. You can capture the spinning lights in all their glory by setting your camera to a long exposure. Moreover, adding some stars to the photo can enhance its beauty and make it breathtaking.

4. Take Shots of Fire

Flames can make for some very dramatic night shots. They are often used in movies and television to add suspense and excitement.

If you can find a bonfire or a fireworks display, take advantage of it and snap some shots. You can also ask a friend to add a prop, such as a stick, to the fire to create interesting shapes in the flames.

starry night on the river

Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash

5. Take a Picture of a Fountain

Fountains are another great subject for night photography. Today, most parks and squares illuminate their fountains with colorful lights. This makes for a beautiful and tranquil scene you can capture on camera.

6. Take Advantage of Reflections

At night, many surfaces, such as glass, water, and metal, can become reflective. Use this to your advantage and shoot some photos with interesting reflections. For instance, you can take a photo of a cityscape reflected in a puddle of water.

7. Take Many Photos

Since it can be challenging to get the perfect night shot, it's always a good idea to take multiple photos of the same scene. This way, you'll increase your chances of getting that one perfect shot.

a lighted palace beside the river

Photo by XAVIER PHOTOGRAPHY on Unsplash

8. Use Bulb Mode

Bulb mode is a great way to get longer exposures. This mode allows the shutter to stay open for as long as you keep your finger on the shutter button. Use a tripod to keep the camera still and experiment with different exposure times to get the desired effect.


Overall, night photography is a gratifying and rewarding hobby. For anyone interested in this genre of photography, the key is experimenting and finding what works best for you and your camera. With some practice, you'll be taking fantastic night photos in no time.

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