Night Photography: set up your camera to shoot anything

Night Photography Tips: best camera settings for any subject

Creative flash effects at night


Night Photography Tips: best camera settings for any subject

When should I use flash?

Flash shots can often prove disappointing because the flash itself tends to kill the atmosphere, making the subject too bright and the background too dark. For this reason, it’s often  best to switch the ISO setting to a higher value.

However, when increasing the ISO still doesn’t give you a fast enough shutter speed or a narrow enough aperture to capture the subject sharply, your camera’s flash can come in handy.

Flash is often essential for low-light portraits, for instance, because a live subject can’t be captured sharply with an exposure measured in whole seconds.

The secret is to try to make the fact that you’ve used flash less obvious. A great way of doing this is to combine a burst of flash with a long shutter speed.

The advantage of this so-called ‘slow-sync’ flash technique is that it’s easy to set up on your DSLR and it works remarkably well with the camera’s built-in flash unit.

When should I use a bounce flash technique?

Bounce flash is another great way of getting natural looking pictures in low light. It works particularly well with portraits, giving a soft-lit approach that disguises the fact that you’ve even used a flashgun.

How to use bounce flash - straight flash

The flash is diffused and weakened as it bounces off a nearby wall or low ceiling, so you lose the harsh shadows caused by direct flash.

How to use bounce flash

Unfortunately, you can’t use the camera’s built-in flash, so you’ll need an accessory gun with a tiltable head that fits on to your camera’s hotshoe.

How do I set my camera’s slow-sync flash function?

With slow-sync flash, the camera sets a long enough exposure for the background to be fully exposed while simultaneously firing the flash to light up the subject in the foreground.

Using slow-sync flash at night: example with no flash Using slow-sync flash at night: example with flash Using slow-sync flash at night: example with slow-sync flash

The subject is caught sharply thanks to the short burst of flash, while the background is not the under-exposed black expanse of a normal flash shot.

To activate slow-sync flash on a Nikon DSLR, you set the flash mode to Slow. On Canon SLRs, all you have to do is set the main mode dial to Av and flip up the flash. For other brands, check your manual.

Unless you’re using a tripod, you’ll need to use the thumbwheel behind the shutter-release button to set an aperture so that the accompanying shutter speed isn’t so slow the background becomes blurred.

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


12 common errors of night photography (and how to solve them)
9 essential night photography tips for beginners
Manual Focus: what you need to know to get sharp images
Download free photography cheat sheets
99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)

  • 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