Night Photography: set up your camera to shoot anything

Night Photography Tips: best camera settings for any subject

How slow should I set my shutter speed to capture motion blur?


Night Photography: capturing motion blur

Cars and trucks can play havoc with your compositions when shooting during the day. But at night city traffic is a real advantage.

The moving headlights and tail lights are converted into ribbons of red and white throughout your picture, making a surprisingly attractive feature of the rush-hour roads. But in order to create this effect you have to set a shutter speed that’s slow enough.

The exact speed will depend on how fast the traffic is moving and on how much of the road you have in the frame. But, as a general rule, the longer the shutter speed the better.

This gives wider streaks and unbroken lines of light. For the average city street, an exposure of 20 seconds or more is ideal (but don’t forget the tripod!). Factors such as traffic lights will mean you’ll have to judge exactly when to start the exposure to maximise the movement during the shot.

How do I set a slow enough shutter speed?

An easy way to set the longest shutter speed available is to use your camera’s Av mode. Then use the thumbwheel behind the shutter release button to set the narrowest aperture that your lens allows (usually between f/22 and f/32).

Night Photography: using slow shutter speeds Night Photography: using slow shutter speeds Night Photography: using slow shutter speeds

The maximum shutter speed available in this mode on many DSLRs is 30 seconds. To get longer shutter speeds, you 
need to switch to M (Manual mode).

Here you can use the Bulb setting to keep the shutter open for as long as the cable-release button is pressed (find out how to use Bulb mode). You may need an ND filter to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor.

PAGE 1: Overview
PAGE 2: Choosing the right aperture
PAGE 3: Choosing the right shutter speed
PAGE 4: Choosing the right ISO settings
PAGE 5: Choosing the right White Balance
PAGE 6: Using flash in your night photography


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  • Don DeMaio

    How could you shoot aerial fireworks with a 20-second exposure? Most fireworks don’t even last for 20 seconds?

  • Chupacabra

    That’s the point Don – a longer exposure allows several of the aerials to be captured