Spectacular Night Shots In 5 Easy Steps :: Digital Photo Secrets

Spectacular Night Shots In 5 Easy Steps

by David Peterson 6 comments

With the night comes the interesting light. Street signs, lamp posts, passing cars, and even the moon, all put out colorful light that can create some very impressive photos. You don’t need to be a photography expert to capture amazing night shots. Just follow these five easy steps, and you’ll have it made.

Step 1: Get a tripod

A tripod will keep your camera still for as long as you need to take your night shot. Images like the one above require you to keep your camera’s shutter open for a relatively long period of time (seconds as opposed to hundredths of a second). If there is any shaking while your camera records the light coming in, it will get registered as a blur of light. You’ve probably experienced this before when taking indoor pictures. If you pick a very low shutter speed, and you don’t use a tripod, your pictures turn out blurry.

You don’t need to buy a good tripod right away, but if you have the money and you know you’ll keep pursuing photography, you might as well do it. The cheaper the tripod the less likely it is to last. I’ve purchased tripods from Walmart before, and they’ve broken within a month.

Step 2: Find a high-traffic location or an interesting street sign

You want your image to be “busy,” but in a good way. High traffic areas bring cars, which in turn bring light trails. The light, just like the above photograph, will paint lines on your canvas wherever the cars are going. If you don’t pick a busy area, a brightly lit sign, or some other illuminated object that stands out, you risk not having a real subject for your photo. And without light, your photo will be pitch black.

When scoping out locations, think about the different kinds of geometrical shapes you can paint with streaking lights. I like to place intersections in one of the four thirds of the frame, drawing attention to them and creating a visual focal point in the image.

Have a look at this:

Step 3: Frame the shot in an interesting way

Don’t just put your camera on the tripod and press the shutter. Think about where the cars are going, and if you don’t plan on incorporating cars into your image, consider where you are placing your subject in relation to the rest of the frame. Follow the rule of thirds whenever it makes sense. If you place your brightly light sign where the top or bottom third meets the right or left third of the frame, it will look much more interesting than it would if you were to center it.

Step 4: Pick an aperture of F8 and shoot some experimental shots at a slow shutter speed

Your shutter speed will depend on the amount of ambient light around, so you'll need to experiment (see below). An aperture of F8 works the best for night photography.

You’ll have more control over this sort of thing if you’re shooting with a digital SLR. If you aren’t, switch to your camera’s “night mode” or make whatever attempt you can at lowering the shutter speed. Be aware that some cameras just don’t work well for this sort of thing. If that’s the case, you may need to upgrade to a model that at least allows you some control over the shutter speed.

Step 5: Readjust and keep shooting

Your first image will serve as a test. There is no right or wrong shutter speed for night time photography. You just have to pick the one that produces the image you like the most. I'd start by using a 5 second shutter speed. If your image is too dark, and the colors aren’t filling the frame as much as you’d like them to, decrease the shutter speed. If your colors take up too much of the frame and overpower the shot, increase it.

At this point, you may start to reach the limitations of your camera’s pre-programmed shutter speeds. Most cameras only to go 30 seconds. If you want a longer exposure, switch your camera over to “bulb mode.” In bulb mode, you press the shutter button once to open it and again to close it. As long as your battery lasts, you can keep your shutter open for a very very long time.

Why might anyone keep the shutter open for longer than 30 seconds? Have you ever seen those images with the stars streaking across the sky in a sort of circular pattern? Those pictures are sometimes taken over the course of several hours! They simply aren’t possible without bulb mode.

You need some extra tips to photograph fireworks, and I've written a separate tip just for Fireworks.

As you can see, the possibilities with night photography are nearly endless. You just need to know how to find them. Hopefully, it will be a lot easier when you follow these 5 steps.

Do you have a night shot you want to share? Upload them to the Night Photos gallery.

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  1. Becky White says:

    I have a canon T5 i and I am having problems understanding why my pictures are too dark when I have the camera set on auto. Shouldn't the flash automatically go off? I am trying to read about aperture, iso and shutter speed, but I feel frustrated that I don't retain the information. Expensive camera and clueless how to use it

  2. Roger says:

    Thanks David. I learn something new from all your tips.

  3. J luvracin "Goose" says:

    oh sorry it did post thanks JDG luvracin.com

  4. J luvracin "Goose" says:

    Thanks for the tips ! but I shoot from noon to midnight at Dirt tracks some pavement . I voted and not many want to shoot at night ? firts I learned it takes a great lens a great FPS . I use a Nikon D-80 with a tameron f 2.8 70/200 . I can get colse to the track side but the 70 is to much so I back up . Generally I don't put the Nikon 900 flash on but if I want to get the drivers EYES I have to light it up under the Sprint car Wing . So life in the 100 plus lane is always adjusting ! here my photo page on luvracin via smugmug .

  5. Luis says:

    Great tips! Thanks David

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About David Peterson
David Peterson is the creator of Digital Photo Secrets, and the Photography Dash and loves teaching photography to fellow photographers all around the world. You can follow him on Twitter at @dphotosecrets or on Google+.