Digital SLRs are great for night photography, but you might find that some of your pictures don’t come out well. In this quick tutorial we’ll explain some of the best settings for night photography when shooting in some of the common low-light situations.
The first thing to think about when shooting night photography is your photo composition. Current digital SLRs cope very well under extremely low lighting conditions, but they do need at least some light.
Cityscapes are ideal, with street lighting and floodlit attractions. You can also get very good results at twilight, after the sun has set but when there’s still some residual light in the sky.
Compositions that include watery surfaces from ponds, rivers or even rain-wetted streets also add interest, as lights in a scene are doubled up when reflected.
There are a broad range of camera settings that work well, depending on the nature of what you’re shooting and whether or not you’re able to use a tripod, as we see here…
Best settings for night photography
1 Handheld shooting
Increase the sensitivity setting to enable fast enough shutter speeds in handheld shooting. Use optical or sensor-shift image stabilization if available in your lens or camera.
2 Long exposures
Use a tripod and you can retain a low ISO setting and go for a longer exposure. This gives a mirror finish to ripples in watery surfaces, and a milky softness to weirs and waterfalls.
3 Artificial light
Artificial lighting can be out of the range of auto white balance. Using it here has given a warm colour shift. If you don’t want this, switch to tungsten or incandescent white balance.
4 The twilight zone
Here we’ve switched to tungsten white balance. The lighting of the fairground ride looks entirely natural, while the residual light in the sky takes on a rich, blue appearance.
Cities at night: how to photograph urban areas mixing natural and artificial light
Night Photography: how to set up your camera to shoot anything
City photography: tips for taking pictures of buildings and cities
Bulb mode: how to get pro-quality shots in low light
Night photography exposure guide: free cheat sheet