Photo Tips – Night Photography

Snapping photos at night can be challenging and rewarding!  There are so many fun things hiding in the dark to capture – the moon, stars, shadows, lights, reflections ….  I find working in manual mode has made the biggest difference in success for me with my photos in the dark!  This post may get a little techie, but I will try to keep it simple and easy to understand.  There is a lot of trial and error that goes on with night time photography and digital is so fantastic for learning and experimenting.

Christmas Lights

I like to capture the lights on our home at Christmas time, especially after a fresh snow.


In this photo the lights are a little washed out because all of the surroundings in the photo are too bright.  My settings were f6.3, 1/3 sec shutter speed and my ISO 800.


This photo was taken moments later, but I changed my settings to get the effect of twinkling lights.  f22, 2 sec shutter speed and ISO 640  The big difference here is the aperture at f22.  This closed the shutter to a very small opening like squinting your eyes and gives the starburst effect on the light bulbs.  Because changed the f-stop I had to hold the shutter open a bit longer to 2 sec.  This is best achieved with a tripod because 2 sec is a long time in camera time.  The lights now have a warm glow against the darkness of the house.


Same rules when photographing the city at night, close down your f-stop or aperture to a small opening which means a big number.  I shot this from the balcony of my hotel and used the railing as my tripod (and I had the strap around my neck at the same time).  My settings were:  ISO 2500, f14 and 1.0 sec.


Reflection of lights on the water is a beautiful thing at night time.  This can be done quite simply and can make your small home town look pretty or enhance the lights of a big city!


The lake I drive by quite frequently near my home and I thought the lights looked like candles glowing!


I rotated the photo and cropped off the grocery store and now we have candles!


This was my first trip to Las Vegas and I stayed at the Paris Hotel so grabbing this reflection photo is a great memory from my trip!  It doesn’t matter though if it is a big city or your home town, lights and water always make a beautiful combination!


Taking photos of people at night can be challenging because you want there to be a enough light to see the people and still have them in focus.  You could turn on your flash, but if there is a scene behind them you want to capture this usually doesn’t work.  When you turn your flash on in the dark it lights up what is closest to the camera and everything in the background is dark.


Our family leaving Epcot and I love to get as many family photos as I can while we are on vacation!  The flash was off here because I wanted to be able to see we were at Epcot, but as you can see we are a bit fuzzy.  Settings were:  ISO 3200, f3.5 and 1/25 sec.   People are slightly fuzzy, lighting is right and you can see the background clearly so you know where the photo was taken.  At some point you have to decide that it is good enough and capture the memory.


This photo was taken at the same time and same settings as the one above, but it is sharper.  The reason being is because no one is moving.  No one was really moving in the other one but they are breathing, so they are moving.  The combination of the photographer and the subjects compounds the camera shake.  The only way to avoid this is a tripod and that is not always possible.


A fun photo to capture at night is shadows.  Instead of sun shadows, street light shadows!


We were walking home from a fireworks display in our neighbourhood and the street light behind us created really tall shadows of our family.  Settings:  ISO 6400, f3.5 and 0.4 sec for shutter speed.


Any movement is visible though at 0.4 sec shutter speed.


Movement can be fun in night photos though and takes some patience.  Cottage time is always a good time for me to try these techniques because life slows down there and it is really dark!


Sparklers around the campfire are great fun for the kids and me!  As you can see I exposed my camera for the sparkler which is bright which made my daughter blurry and dark.  Settings:   ISO 100 f5.6,  4.0 sec  The 4 seconds gave Lauren time to draw in the air and the camera captured this as motion in a still photograph.


This photo was done a bit differently, but still captured motion.  I had my camera on a tripod and had my remote in my hand.  The settings were the same as above except the shutter speed was slowed down to 8 seconds.  This gave one of my children time to run around my husband and I with the sparkler.  The cool thing about this photo is that you can see us holding a pose, the light traveling around us, but you can not see the person running with the sparkler.  The reason for this is the camera was exposed for the light so you can see the trail of the sparkler, we held as still as possible and we are lit from the sparkler and the motion of the child running is a total blur!


Another fun photo challenge at night is to photograph traffic.  Holding your shutter open and photographing cars moving gives an interesting effect on the headlights and taillights.  These cars were just starting to pull away from the traffic lights and I was on a pedway above the road using the railing as my tripod.

Moon and the Stars

I love photographing the sky at night because it feels there is a whole other world up there and we have so much to learn!  It is all very intriguing to me!  These three photos below were taken within moments of each other with a tripod and but different exposure settings.

The Big Dipper


A)  Settings:  ISO 640, f3.5, 4.0 sec


B)  Settings:  ISO 400, f3.5, 30 sec


C)  Settings:  ISO 800, f3.5, 30 sec

Which one do you like best?  Answer below if you would like to share your answer and why you like the one you do.

One other tip when you are photographing the sky is set your camera to manual focus which is different than manual exposure.  So take off of automatic focus and set your camera to infinity on the focus ring.  I use a Nikon and mine uses an infinity symbol on the focus ring.


When I am photographing the moon I start out with these settings and then play around with it.  ISO 100, f5.6 and 1/200 sec.  Why have your ISO so low?  The moon is surprisingly quite bright when you point your camera at it.   If you have your photo overexposed or too bright you will not see all of the shadows and craters on the moon’s surface.  A full moon is beautiful, but it is actually more fun to photograph a half moon because of the shadows.


Having some tree branches in the photo can add some interest or a mood.untitled-0443-2

Zoom in on the moon and you can see the craters on the surface.


When you get away from the city and communities and get out in nature you may get lucky enough to capture the Milky Way.  I find when I am home in my backyard there are too many street lights, businesses and homes lighting up the sky to see the Milky Way.


Some example settings to capture this are ISO 1000, f3.5 and 15 sec shutter speed.  Don’t forget to set your focus on infinity, set up your tripod and shoot towards the sky!

Have fun in the dark and you never know what is going to show up on your screen!  untitled-0130.jpg


9 thoughts on “Photo Tips – Night Photography

  1. Wow, Beth! Thanks for the tips. I like the second photo of the Big Dipper. The first is almost too dark to see it. And the third one looks like it was taken in the daytime. LOL!
    That photo of the Milky Way would be in the National Geographic! Just amazing!

  2. you’re right – techie – but wow! Where were these tips when I was trying to shoot the supermoon a couple of weeks ago??!!!

  3. Your Milky Way photos were incredible! Thank you for sharing as it gives everyone great new ideas to try! Merry Christmas!

  4. I love these tips. My night pictures leave a lot to be desired. I can’t wait to experiment, with your blog as my guide.

Leave a Reply