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Tips for Night Photography

Updated on September 1, 2011

Nighttime photography offers an opportunity to capture images of the world in a way we don't usually see it. This unique perspective can help create strikingly different moods based on how you use the tools available to you.

Your two most important tools are light and shutter speed. These two things will drastically change how the colors pop and how much detail comes through.

Fuchsia flowers at night
Fuchsia flowers at night | Source
Marigolds at night
Marigolds at night | Source
Marigolds by light
Marigolds by light | Source

Play with the light

The first thing to try is playing with the flash. You can get wildly different effects depending on how much light you add to the situation. The first photo here shows what the automatic flash does to the scene. The next photo is without flash.

I love how trying the shot without a flash lends a feeling of mystery to the photo, as if the flowers were leaning into the light for warmth.

Adding your own indirect light would also change the mood and shading on a scene. Shadows are particularly harsh at night, which can be hard to work with, but which will also yield stunning results. Take a cheap floor lamp or even a flashlight outside and see what you can come up with. You could also try different colors of light to see how that impacts your subject.

Change your shutter speed

The shutter is what stops your camera from recording the image. Imagine coming into a dark room from a bright day. Your eyes need to adjust before you can see much of anything. Your camera acts the same way in a dark setting-- it needs some time to interpret the images. Changing your shutter speed to a slower setting allows the "eye" of your camera to stay open longer, letting it "see" more of the image.

Shutter speed is especially important for large-scope pictures. For example, when taking pictures of a skyline at night. You will need a slow speed to allow the camera time to take in all the lights and shadows.

If you want sharp images, keep the camera steady on a slow shutter speed. Every slight movement will be recorded, so you'll get a blurry picture if you have shaky hands. It's best to use a tripod or other stabilizing measure to keep your photos crisp.

Cactus fruit
Cactus fruit | Source

Focus on details

The nature of night photography makes it difficult to do large landscapes. Focusing on smaller details is not only easier, but it makes for excellent night photos as well. Using different lighting techniques and shutter speeds, you can come up with some uniquely stunning photos.

Palms at night
Palms at night | Source

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