Night Photography: Tips, Tricks, and Lessons Learned

There is something particularly magical about an amazing landscape at night. Maybe it's the fantastic views, or the sight of something we don't normally see or see a place we love in a different way.

To me, the best part of a nighttime shot is the satisfaction of an awful lot of patience.

Every landscape photographer will only consider using about 1 photo for every 10 images they take, but that ratio is doubled or tripled for night shooting. It can be tempting to be intimidated by a lack of light (a photographer's best friend!) or the abundance of night-friendly gear or perhaps even a feeling a lack of subjects at night. But just as all photographers wield the power to transform a subject in the daytime, there's a whole second world to explore at night.

Try out these tips, and remember, the best way to overcome any photography challenge is trial, error and even more patience.

1. Know the gear, know the site.

A seperate daytime visit to a site is not always possible, but any form of scouting before the night time shoot makes the difference between a perfectly framed image and a literal shot in the dark. It may seem obvious, but the truth is during a night shot many parts of your shot may not be clear until after an arduous 30 minute exposure or maybe not even until you are back home looking at the photos.

In the same way, fumbling around with new gear in the dark may make for a rough shoot, and the last thing you want is to be even more in the dark with faulty gear or glitches. Some cameras are designed for low light with special low-light sensors, but similar results can be achieved with a good mid-grade camera with some handy shooting accessories like a remote shutter release. Ultimately, you'll be happiest with the shots that you shoot on gear that you know the ins, outs, and limitations on.

2. The subject of the same photo changes at night

In the daytime, your frame can be filled with both space and content. Some of the best photos carefully balance the emptiness of a scene with the fullness. This may not necessarily be the case for night photos, as very frequently dark or black areas may be dismissed by the eye. Dark photos will frequently do much better with more content than space, (though sometimes darkness, such as a silhouette, IS the content). In general when looking at an area in the daytime, think about what would be interesting in the nighttime, and go in with an idea of what you may do differently when coming back at night.

3. Master the light to shoot the dark

The common focal point for night photography is maximizing what light is present, and stretching whatever light is present across the image. A satisfying night image may not necessarily be a maximization of light as much as a precise control of where the light is. As a part of scouting a site, consider where your light sources are in a frame. Consider if these are light sources, to be emphasized, or subjects of which to focus on.

Keep in mind that light sources themselves can be flexible, such as passing cars, or even a long exposure with your own light running around a subject! The key is control, making sure only the light you want is in frame, and the rest (streetlights, a full moon, etc.) is excluded however possible.

4. Put the camera down

This one is a no brainer: you are going to be shooting a long exposure at night no matter what, which means even the steadiest surgeon's hands are going to put some shake on the image. Although being gear-light is often a priority, a way to set the camera down on a solid surface, such as a tripod, as a must. Many people like to use flexible travel mounts for this purpose, but the main take away is the camera needs to be in a place where it won't move during the shoot, even when the shutter moves.

Bonus tip~ you would be surprised at the amount of shake that comes out of pressing the shutter button. A remote shutter will pay for itself in it's first use. Some cameras also boast a wireless control possibility, this would be one of the few times it may be worth the extra battery useage

5. Don't trust the photo

Got the shot, and it looks great!

Or does it? Reviewing photos on site is pretty tempting with modern digital cameras, but no LCD screen will show you what you will curse yourself over when you are in the editing room later. Whether you are shooting 3,000 photos on a digital camera or love the thrill of film and later developing, never trust that one photo was "the one", and give a single shot a few different shots.

With these tips see how the world around you can be transformed by trying out some night photography for yourself!

Joseph Townsend

Joseph Townsend

Making up the "maritime" half of Mountains and Maritime, Joe studies marine biology in the US Virgin Islands. You can usually find him in, on, or near the closest body of water.

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