Basic tips for first-time night photographers

Setting a DSLR to shoot at night

Frustrated with your attempts to take photos at night? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Shooting at night is one of the more challenging subjects in photography.

Regardless of the subject of your night photography – night cityscapes, light painting, etc. – the following tips will help get you started to mastering a number of basic photography techniques that will enhance your night photography results.

Camera on tripod overlooking Hong Kong

The first thing you need to do is to buy and use a tripod. Shooting at night when there’s less light means you’ll have to use slower shutter speeds. Your shutter speed could range from 1-30 seconds – much too slow to shoot hand-held. So using a tripod is a must if you want sharp results when shooting at night.

Your tripod should be solidly placed (the heavier your tripod the better).

When taking long exposures at night, even with your camera mounted on a tripod, you need to do everything you can to avoid any movement of your camera. Just pressing the shutter button can create enough movement to result in blurred shots. Avoid this by either using a remote shutter release, or the self-timer built-in to your camera.

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Remember, the slightest movement can create unwanted camera shake, even the movement of the mirror in your camera. So, enable Mirror Lock-Up (easy to do – your manual will outline the steps). And finally, if your camera has Image stabilization, make sure to turn it off as the movement of the stabilization motor can also cause blurred shots.

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Once your camera is set-up on the tripod, set your camera to Manual mode, so you will be able to control both aperture and shutter speed. If your subject is static, begin by setting a wide aperture (which allows more light to hit your camera’s sensor) – f2.8 for example. Then dial-in the correct shutter speed until your Exposure is set at ‘0’. Take the shot and review it on your camera’s LCD screen. If your photo looks too bright, narrow your exposure by one or two stops, adjust the shutter speed, and retake the shot. By experimenting, you’ll get the right combination.

Night shots of moving Ferris Wheel and trails of automobile tail lights

If you want to capture movement at night – car taillights or a moving Ferris wheel – a longer exposure is required – figure at least one second for a start. Set a narrow aperture, f8 for example, dial-in a shutter speed that brings your Exposure to ‘0’, and take a shot. Again, experiment to get the right settings.

Final tip – keep your ISO as low as possible (100 to 400). While increasing ISO allows you to take photos in low-light situations, it also increases noise in your photos. With your camera on a tripod, you’ll be able to shoot at night using a low ISO with no problem.

Japanese umbrellas and lanterns at night

Night photography is challenging, and experimentation is the key to success. The more you practice with the combinations of apertures and shutter speeds settings, the better you’ll get at taking beautiful night photos.

Author: Kana Kukui

Part Asian/part Western, and having lived almost my entire life in Asia, photography, particularly photography in Asia, has been a major interest in both my personal and professional life. Over the years I’ve noticed that there’s a huge pool of talented photographers in Asia that generally goes unnoticed outside their local country. I’ve also found that there is a great interest in Asia by photographers based outside the region. The purpose of this site, and my Twitter (@KanaKukui) is simple: 1) to share some insights about photography in Asia – introducing talented photographers shooting in Asia, and subjects and locations to shoot in the region. And 2) to provide a little inspiration to everyone interested in photography – from the hobbyist to the emerging professional.

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