What are some tips on night photography

Night photography: long exposure, great effect

Night photography or night photography is the term used to describe photographic recordings made, for example, in the dusk, to blue hour and times of day with poor lighting conditions. Night photography offers its own challenges: from long exposures, to noise reduction and working with a tripod, there are a few things you need to consider for successful photos.

For photographers, the night comes an exciting time that makes it difficult, especially for inexperienced photographers, to take sharp night shots. The good news: It's not that difficult to capture the great lighting effects with the camera at night. In this article, you will find out everything you need to know about night photography - from the correct settings for shutter speed and aperture to shooting technology, through to exciting backdrops and valuable professional tips.


What equipment and what technology do I need for night photography?

The stable underground

Nocturnal lighting conditions usually require a relatively long exposure time. In such conditions it is hardly possible to hold the camera still - blurred images are the result. So the first thing you need for night photography is a stable surface. This can be a classic tripod or a bean bag. If you only have the bare essentials, you can simply put your camera on the floor, on your photo backpack, a stone parapet or something similar. put.

The objective

Lenses with smaller focal lengths of approx. 10–70mm (calculated on APS-C) are particularly suitable for capturing light effects optimally and preventing camera shake. Because even from a tripod, for example, cross winds or a tripod head that is too weak can shake the image - problems that rarely occur with comparatively compact and small lenses.

Tip for long-term recordings:

In order to achieve a shutter speed of over 30 seconds, you need a remote release for most camera models.
There are both wireless and wired solutions - from very simple release buttons to programmable remote controls. For many newer camera models, you can download a remote shutter release app onto your mobile phone.

Long exposure times should only be used with a tripod. Image: © Sabine Grossbauer


The exposure for night shots - it's all a question of attitude

Without a tripod

With static subjects such as landscapes or illuminated buildings, you can achieve good night shots with the aperture priority program of the camera (A or Av). However, if your subject moves, such as fireworks, headlights of moving cars or light painting, night photography becomes more demanding. In such cases, it is better to switch to manual mode, because the camera cannot know in advance how much light will fall on the image sensor.

With tripod

When taking photos with a tripod, the exposure time can be longer, and you can thus set the best possible image quality of normally 100 or 50 ISO. This reduces the image noise and allows more leeway in image processing, for example to brighten dark areas. Look directly at the histogram in the menu of your camera. This way you can be sure that your picture is neither overexposed nor underexposed.
Even so, pressing the shutter release button can cause a slight jolt on the camera. It is therefore better to use the 2-second self-timer. A remote release that works without any shutter delay is even better. The remote release is particularly useful for fireworks photography, which requires precise timing.


  • Switch off any image stabilizers when taking pictures with a tripod.
  • When taking photos in RAW format, you can safely deactivate the noise reduction for long-term exposures - it only costs unnecessary time here, as the camera processes the image again for as long as the shutter speed itself.

Light effect tip:

In order to avoid direct light sources such as street lamps or the like. To capture the popular aperture stars on the picture, it is advisable to set the aperture between f8 and f32, depending on the lens used. When the aperture is open, the light sources only appear as diffuse glowing circles.

Unique effects are possible at night - without image processing. Image: © Sabine Grossbauer


Focusing at night: when the autofocus does not find anything

In poor light or too small light sources, a problem occurs again and again: the autofocus simply cannot find a point to focus on.
Now manual focus is required - even if you can't see too much, of course, even in the dark. But there is a trick: Activate Liveview and zoom into the image preview at the point where the focus should be. Now it is very easy to get the perfect sharpness with the focus ring.


Boring during the day, exciting at night: Interesting backdrops and location tips for night photography

Many places only develop their full photographic potential at night. What may only look moderately interesting in daylight, becomes enormously photogenic in the dark. A classic motif for night photography with long exposure are, for example, busy streets with their cars passing by. Due to the long exposure time, the headlights merge into long, brightly colored lines. The curvier and wider the road, the better the night shots will be. The famous Light trails arise when you use Aperture, exposure time and ISO value play. Pay attention to the number of cars and their speed so that your light trails turn out as desired.


Cities and their architecture are generally excellent night motifs: street lamps provide sufficient ambient light with beautiful effects and striking buildings are often illuminated from the outside. You can also take interesting night shots with passers-by hurrying by, because with a medium-long exposure time they are only recognizable as vague shadows - with several seconds of exposure they disappear completely at some point. Read our in-depth guide to architecture photography for even more ideas!

Architecture is a popular motif for night photos. Image: © Sabine Grossbauer


But there are also many exciting motifs for landscape photographers at night: especially in the moonlight, many a location is suddenly illuminated at a very unusual angle - or villages are charmingly reflected in a lake. Especially on water surfaces, you can conjure up great effects in low light: The long exposure time smooths the water surface and even the most restless lake becomes mirror-smooth.

A night sky in a landscape photo © Sabine Grossbauer


Of course, the night sky is a worthwhile motif in itself: glittering stars at a new moon, polar lights or fireworks can be spectacularly staged.

Tip: Pay attention to a suitable foreground such as skylines or mountain ranges, which can only be seen as a silhouette.


The light: very different, but always beautiful

Especially the "blue hour" after sunset, which still leaves some residual light in the sky, is attractive for night photographers. In urban surroundings, however, there is a problem: Several different light sources are in the picture - neon tubes, street lighting, LED neon signs and much more. m .; they have very different color temperatures. Neon light often has a greenish tinge, while the rest of the daylight looks reddish.

Impressive night shots can already be taken at the "blue hour". © Sabine Grossbauer

Manual white balance

It is therefore best to set the white balance manually. In this way you prevent the color tone in your photos from constantly changing with the dwindling daylight and changing image sections.
Good to know: When taking photos in RAW format, you can change the white balance in post-processing without any loss.

Own light source

If you want to take photos in the countryside or in poorly lit locations at night, you either need extremely long exposure times - or you simply take your light sources with you. Unlit elements in the foreground in particular, such as trees, huts or people, can be brightened very effectively with a flashlight or an external flash.

Tip for those keen to experiment:

Light painting, painting with light, also called LAPP (light art performance photography), has been enjoying increasing popularity for a few years: With colorful LED strips, torches and self-made light objects, you can "paint" fascinating patterns into the picture during long exposure. In principle, a simple flashlight and a little imagination are enough to get started.


Short checklist for night photos

  • Use a tripod or bean bag as well as self-timer or remote control
  • Turn off the camera and lens stabilizers
  • Set the ISO value to the smallest possible number and keep the aperture rather closed
  • Note the histogram (light and dark values)
  • tend to use smaller focal lengths and no telephoto lenses
  • If there are focus problems in the live view, zoom in and focus manually
  • perform manual white balance
  • Don't forget your flashlight to brighten the foreground if necessary or to find your way in the dark

If you follow these tips, you have already worked out a usable workflow. This standard procedure can be very useful, as there are often similar lighting situations for long-term recordings at night, especially in an urban environment.

about the author
Sabine Grossbauer is a freelance web designer, photographer, head of photo trips and coach in the areas of architectural photography, tabletop and food photography, landscape and macro photography, experimental and abstract photography & light painting.