How To Shoot Night Time Photography

By | 23/10/2022

Night photography, specially as a beginner, tin can present both the opportunity to create compelling images, likewise every bit some of the about difficult technical challenges you might face. Fortunately, these challenges are all learning opportunities to better your skills backside the camera. In this night photography tutorial, we’ll look at how to photo some mutual subjects after night with ease.

The idea of night photography can encompass a broad range of subjects, including everything from landscapes and cityscapes shot just after dusk to highly technical astrophotography opportunities like nebulae and meteor showers, and fifty-fifty creative subjects similar lite painting. For this guide, I’ll focus on the essentials for shooting images when it gets dark, covering the best camera settings for nighttime photography (besides equally the “why” behind setting them), identifying some of the virtually accessible subjects and compositions to start with, and concluding with the some tips specifically for post-processing dark images.

Table of Contents

What is Dark Photography?

Milky Way Galaxy over Mountains
Nikon Z vii + 24mm f/1.4 @ ISO 800, 13 sec, f/one.4

While any epitome taken later dusk could fit the concept of nighttime photography, I especially associate dark photos with a few specific categories of subjects. For me, the classic dark photo is a shot of the Galaxy galaxy stretching over a unique foreground – this photo typifies many of the challenges that brand nighttime photography exciting.

Pulling off a shot like that is made easier past having the correct gear, understanding how to set up your camera and exposure for the all-time results, and making a few smart decisions when editing. Fortunately, these same skills transfer to just about any subject area you want to photograph at dark, whether it’s a streetlight-lit portrait, an architectural photograph, or something entirely different.

These skills all transfer because the biggest claiming in dark photography is the lack of light. Light is essential to photography, and not having enough light tin make a lot of the automated systems in your photographic camera less consistent. You might find that your autofocus has a tougher time locking on, your camera’s meter doesn’t evangelize the appropriate exposure for the scene, or your final photograph looks grainy and speckled, thank you to noise from using a high ISO setting. All of these challenges are solvable, however. In the next section, we’ll take a look at the few pieces of gear essential to a successful night shoot, followed by building an understanding of how the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO can be best set for whatever nighttime scene.

What Gear Exercise I Need for Night Photography?

Y’all can create amazing night photos with any photographic camera. Cheers to contempo advancements in features like Dark Manner on iPhone and similar features on Android phones, camera phones are also capable of taking swell night images. Whatever your choice of camera, however, you lot’ll probably want some way of steadying your shot. While it is possible to shoot nighttime images handheld, and for many subjects at night, this’ll piece of work fine, a tripod can unlock an even wider range of subjects and possibilities.


Determining what tripod is best for yous tin depend greatly on both what your subject is and what blazon of photographic camera and lens you lot’re using. We’ve got an unabridged, in-depth guide to selecting the best tripod for your camera that you lot should check out if yous’re looking for more information. As a beginner, I went with an affordable tripod from Manfrotto. If I were in that position today, I’d consider the Manfrotto Element MII. This version features an Arca-Swiss-compatible ball caput, a padded bag, and convenient twist leg locks, all at a reasonable, sub-$150 price point.

If you’ve got a larger upkeep or heavier gear, you can consider stepping upwardly to carbon fiber tripod legs and a fancier tripod caput. This can increment the stability and effective load chapters of your tripod, but tin can get expensive fast.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you lot’re shooting with a compact camera, phone, or pocket-sized interchangeable lens photographic camera, you can use an fifty-fifty smaller tripod, like the Joby Gorillapod. This unique concept functions like both a regular tripod and a flexible mountain, capable of wrapping around a railing or tree branch for unique angles.

Remote Trigger

Fugitive shaking the photographic camera is key to getting precipitous photos during long exposures, which are often the exposures you lot’ll need for nighttime photography. A tripod can eliminate a lot of vibration, but finding an alternate way to trigger your photographic camera is key to getting every final detail sharp. Fortunately, there’s a lot of options for triggering your shutter without shaking your camera, and many of them are free!

The outset selection is just to use the filibuster built into your camera. On many models, you can set a self-timer or shutter filibuster. This means that when you press the shutter, a curt timer starts, ending with the camera’southward shutter triggering. In that intervening time, the vibrations of you pressing the button have time to settle out. An interval like 2 seconds should exist plenty for most situations. For information on how to set this, just cheque your photographic camera’s manual for the phrase “self timer”.

For some cameras, peculiarly newer models, there’s oft an app that you tin can use. Canon’south is called Camera Connect, Nikon’due south is called SnapBridge, and Sony’southward is called PlayMemories. Each of these offers the ability to remotely control many of their recent cameras, along with a host of other features.

SnapBridge Interface
SnapBridge Interface

If yous’ve got an older model, or merely prefer a hardware solution, consider buying a remote for your photographic camera. Remotes from tertiary party manufacturers are often very cheap, and they work cracking for merely triggering the shutter. B&H offers a wide range of remote shutter releases. Just make sure to check that it’s compatible with your particular camera model, equally each brand frequently has a multifariousness of remote standards.

On smartphones, y’all can cull betwixt an app that allows self-timing, triggering with an alternate device like a smartwatch, or even using the volume clicker on headphones every bit a shutter release.

Camera Settings

One time you lot’ve got your equipment squared away, it’s time to retrieve most what settings will piece of work for your scene. Depending on your subject field, you might not be able to rely on your camera’s metering or autofocus, so understanding how and why to set these manually is important.

Shutter Speed

For dark photography, I like to outset with shutter speed. Depending on the subject area and how you lot’ve stabilized your camera (handheld or tripod-mounted, for case), you’ll desire to set up different shutter speeds. A longer shutter speed will need better stabilization, like a tripod.

Long Exposure of a Pier at Sunset
NIKON Z 7 + NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 South @ 14mm, ISO 64, 13 seconds, f/five.half-dozen

To understand what counts equally a longer shutter speed, it’due south helpful to know this rule of thumb: a shutter speed slower than 1 over the focal length of your lens, like one/20th of a 2d with a 20mm lens, increases the risk of mistiness. Of course, this can alter with steadier hands or paradigm stabilization/ vibration reduction systems, just the dominion tin provide a good reference point. One time you start to go into multi-second long exposures, you’ll definitely need to mount your camera to a tripod, or rest information technology deeply on a surface like a table.

These multi-2d long exposures aren’t without their benefits, however. Along with capturing much more light (bully in nighttime situations), they also open up up a wide range of artistic possibilities. With longer exposures, you can become interesting effects similar light trails from passing cars, moving water tin smoothen into puffy clouds, or you can even “paint” light into the scene using a flashlight. As your exposure gets longer, you tin can too decrease your ISO or stop down your aperture considering you have more light to work with, decreasing the racket in the shot or increasing the depth of field .

Star Trails in Sedona
Nikon D810 + Nikon 24mm f/i.4 @ ISO 640, xxx sec, f/2.2

If you have stars in your scene, at that place is i terminal consideration for shutter speed, and it’due south caused past the apparent movement of the stars themselves. Put simply, the stars move beyond the sky at dark, and with longer exposures, you can go streaks behind the stars from that movement. Nosotros’ve got a guide on how to deliberately create that star trail event here, but if you’re instead looking to keep your stars pivot-indicate sharp, there’s another petty rule of thumb that can help. The “500/focal length” rule, where yous split 500 past your focal length in millimeters, yields the longest exposure yous should use to retain sharp stars. While this shutter speed might be a flake too long for loftier resolution cameras or big prints, information technology’southward some other skilful starting signal for understanding your possible shutter speeds. (There is also a more complex alternating dominion called the NPF Dominion; nosotros compared the 500 Rule vs the NPF Rule here.)

If y’all want to set a shutter speed longer than 30 seconds, you lot might bump into a limit on your camera. Many cameras cap the longest shutter speed that can be ready at 30 seconds. Fortunately, most of these cameras also offering Bulb style, where the shutter remains open as long as the shutter is held down. If you’re planning on using seedling mode, make sure to pick upwardly a trigger – many avant-garde triggers offer the ability to fix far longer exposures, or trigger repeatedly, interim as an intervalometer. If you’re interested in an avant-garde trigger, the Vello Shutterboss Two is available in versions for many popular cameras, and includes all those features and more.

To recap, if you’re shooting handheld, you’ll need a brusque enough shutter speed to prevent mistiness. In one case yous go on a tripod or stable surface, you lot’re only limited by subject movement, like star trails, or your ability to set the shutter speed. You’ll want to go on those factors in mind when you’re choosing your ISO and aperture, which we’ll discuss in the following sections.


While shorter or longer shutter speeds can offering both artistic options and existent-world considerations, ISO choices are a chip simpler. Broadly speaking, a higher ISO will result in more noise in your image, but information technology can permit you apply a shorter shutter speed for the same level of brightness in your paradigm. Some cameras, particularly those with larger sensors and newer designs, can offer “cleaner” results with less dissonance at higher ISOs, but nonetheless, using the everyman native ISO setting (and getting a brilliant enough image by manipulating shutter speed, aperture, and the ambient light instead) yields the best image quality.

High ISO Noise
A 1:1 screenshot showing the noise that can occur when shooting at high ISOs.

With that in heed, you’ll want to fix the lowest ISO that will enable a proper exposure based on your selection of shutter speed and aperture. If you want to take a portrait in low calorie-free, and demand a 1/30th of a second exposure, don’t be afraid to fix an ISO like 3200 or 6400. On the other hand, if you lot’re shooting a moonlit landscape and can choose betwixt 5 seconds at ISO 6400, or 20 seconds at ISO 1600, the lower ISO exposure will have less noise.

One more matter to remember about ISO is that it’s easy to change. If you’re trying to compose in depression low-cal, or are using Live View and need a brighter image, you can apace increment your ISO to 6400 or college, and use that brighter preview, while still existence able to subtract your ISO for the final shot.

The concepts effectually ISO, digital noise, and sensors tin get very complex. We’ve got articles that dig into the technical details of noise and ISO invariance, if you’d like to learn more.


The aperture of your lens, typically denoted by the f-stop, like f/3.five, determines how much light comes through your lens. An f-end that lets more light in is counterintuitively indicated by a smaller number. A lens set at f/two.8 lets through more lite than when the lens is set to f/9.

Moonlit Sedona
NIKON D810 + 24-70mm f/2.viii @ 56mm, ISO 640, thirty seconds, f/2.eight

For dark photography, there are two key considerations when choosing your aperture: the amount of light permit through, and the depth of field. Stopping downward your lens (AKA choosing a narrower discontinuity like f/8) lets through less light, but it increases the depth of field in your image. You lot tin can stop down to ensure that your unabridged mural is precipitous from front to back, or to deliberately capture less light to let for a long exposure to capture things like star trails or lite trails. On the other hand, you can open up up your discontinuity to f/two.8 or f/i.viii, if your lens supports it, to make information technology easier to shoot in very night environments, like when photographing the Milky Way.

I last thing to know well-nigh your choice of aperture is how information technology impacts image quality. About lenses perform better when stopped down some amount. A lens that can shoot at f/2.8 volition often exist sharper at a moderately narrow aperture similar f/v.6. This is another situation like ISO, where you take to residue image quality against the other considerations of your composition. Especially for night photography, you may need to lose a bit of sharpness or depth of field in exchange for capturing as much lite as possible with a broad aperture.

What Night Photography Subjects Are In that location?

There is a huge variety of night photography subjects. Some of my favorites include cityscapes, notable for their vibrant colour and dynamic presence, and landscapes, where even common scenes can take on a new beauty under moonlight. Y’all can too choose to get more creative with techniques like lite painting, or more than technical, with subjects similar astrophotography.

Landscapes and Cityscapes

Photographing landscapes and cityscapes at night tin can be a great way to detect new fabric in a scene you’re already familiar with. Fortunately, it’s easy to get started with these subjects, every bit you tin can take your fourth dimension and experiment with settings.

NIKON D810 + 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 42mm, ISO 125, 5 seconds, f/6.three

When composing an image at night, consider the impact of movement and light. Roads tin offer the opportunity for light trails, while the full general bustle of a city can brand for a dandy contrast with the static buildings. The direction of the moonlight can too make a big difference, as well as the stage of the moon – a full moon that’southward low on the horizon can light the scene quite dramatically, while a new moon provides the best opportunity to photo stars or shooting star showers.

NIKON Z seven + NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S @ 18mm, ISO 800, 1/8, f/4.0

Time of nighttime can also have a huge effect on the expect of the image. You may have heard of the “blue hour” earlier. This 30-ish minute period later sunset can still exit enough light in the sky to create a really pleasant bluish color. As more time passes, this color will fade from the sky, and that opens upwardly the opportunity to photo the stars and focus on bogus low-cal sources in the scene.


While deep-sky astrophotography can become very complex (just cheque out some of the setups in our deep-heaven astrophotography guide), photographing the Milky Way can be a great way to get started with this niche. The Milky Way, the galaxy that our solar system is located in, is a classic astrophotography bailiwick and appears as a vivid band of stars and interstellar grit.

The outset thing to continue in mind when trying to photograph the Galaxy is that information technology’south non a static object in the sky. Depending on your location and time of yr, it can expect drastically different in the sky, transitioning betwixt an arch low on the horizon, through a vertical column.

For location-specific information, I like to use the app PhotoPills, which provides a wealth of useful night photography tools. I particularly like PhotoPill’s augmented reality view of the Galaxy – this view overlays a live preview of where the galaxy will appear at whatever point in time, right over your phone’s camera view. This preview makes it so easy to program shots for future dates, specially if y’all’re not familiar with concepts like azimuth and elevation.

Across planning for the appearance of the Milky Style itself, you’ll desire to consider the significant affect of the moon. A full moon can drown out the appearance of the milky way for sure, but even a quarter moon may present difficulty, as the galaxy will appear less prominent in the brighter sky.

Milky Way
NIKON Z 7 + NIKKOR Z fourteen-30mm f/four S @ 14mm, ISO 3200, 25 seconds, f/four.0

As a beginner, the wider and faster your lens is, the ameliorate your results will be. Unfortunately, these lenses can exist pretty expensive to buy, but might make a great option for a rental. If y’all’ve identified a composition you’re excited about, renting a Sigma 14mm f/1.8 will virtually guarantee good lens functioning. The Rokinon 14mm is a much more than budget-friendly option, although it’ll require manual focus and may accept more than paradigm quality issues.

Whatever your choice of lens, make certain you’re shooting as wide as you lot tin in both focal length and discontinuity for Milky Fashion photography. This’ll increment the amount of time yous can get out your shutter open before getting visible star trails, and it’s the best manner to capture the faint milky way confronting the night sky.

For the camera body, better depression-calorie-free functioning is ever welcome, but most modernistic bodies can shoot clean enough results at ISO 3200 to make them feasible. Any your choice of torso, exist prepared to manual focus. For focusing in such low lite, I like to use a magnified Alive View of a distant point of lite, with a target similar a particularly vivid star, the moon, or metropolis lights on the horizon. In one case you lot’ve set that manual focus point, be careful non to bump it, and don’t forget to check for variation as the night goes on. Tack-abrupt stars can make or suspension virtually Milky Way photos.

Galaxy camera settings are pretty elementary, but they may require a lilliputian tinkering depending on your camera and location. With a wide angle lens, a good starting point is to open your discontinuity as wide equally possible, gear up your ISO to 3200, and ready your shutter speed to twenty seconds. From hither, you may demand to adjust the settings to friction match your environment, but probably not by too much in any direction.

Every bit you’re iterating shots, you tin attempt turning on your camera’south Long Exposure Noise Reduction. This setting works by taking a second exposure after your first, and using that info to remove hot pixels (pixels in your paradigm that appear as bright dots, often from estrus). This process is helpful, but not necessary when merely working on your settings and composition, and it comes with the downside of effectively doubling every exposure’southward time. Subsequently you get your shot set upwardly, yous can turn this setting off to shoot more quickly or on to go slightly higher paradigm quality.

Creative Subjects

Shooting at night also presents the opportunity to create your ain subjects. One of my favorite ways to exercise this is with light painting. The core concept is unproblematic: in a nighttime surface area, while your camera’s shutter is open, you add light into the scene for an artistic effect. While there are defended tools for this, I got started with light painting with just a flashlight and some colored gels. These gels let me create a multifariousness of colors from a white flashlight, but now there’due south fifty-fifty a range of very affordable RGB LED lights available.

When light painting, you’re merely limited past your creativity. You tin combine light painting with cityscapes, portraits, product photos, or even make the calorie-free painting the discipline itself. Just remember that you’ll have to write backwards if you’re aiming towards the camera – good luck channeling your inner Da Vinci!

Mail-Processing Night Images

Editing night photos doesn’t have to be significantly different from editing your other photos. All the sliders nonetheless work the same, and yet principles apply. There are two sliders that are more important for night photography than daylight photography, notwithstanding: the White Remainder/Color Temperature setting and the noise reduction setting.

White residuum tin have a major touch on the experience of a night photo. A libation color temperature volition bring across the cold, blue experience of night, and is the classic choice. In mixed lighting environments, like a cityscape, at that place may non be a single “right” color temperature. Instead, yous’ll take to prioritize by subject or experience. Lastly, for Milky Way photos, a slightly warmer color temperature might piece of work ameliorate, as going also cool tin drown out the delicate looking structures and contrast that really make the milky way stand out.

NIKON D810 + 24-70mm f/ii.viii @ 38mm, ISO 160, 25 seconds, f/5.six

Dissonance reduction is a matter of personal taste. I find that colour noise is both more than noticeable and more disruptive to the image than luminance noise, and then I focus on reducing color noise when possible. Luminance noise is that grainy texture visible in high ISO shots, and reducing it basically involves applying a very slight blur to the epitome. With the luminance noise reduction slider, avoid using as well much, as it’ll make your epitome look unpleasantly soft.

Colour noise reduction is a little easier. Color noise is visible as specs of “wrong” colour in areas, or fifty-fifty color in colorless areas, like cherry dots in the dark sky. Information technology’s easier to remove than luminance noise without negatively impacting the image, although going likewise far tin yet remove some low-level colour details and saturation. For color noise, I recommend that you merely bump the colour racket slider upwardly until your image looks good at 100%.

Another source of unwanted artifacts in nighttime photos is the aforementioned hot pixel issue I mentioned a moment agone. These are bright dots that may be likewise large for the regular noise reduction algorithms to remove, and they are especially noticeable if yous left Long Exposure Noise Reduction off in-photographic camera. These dots are piece of cake to remove, however. After making my edits, I like to open my image with hot pixels in Photoshop, so duplicate the background layer to work non-destructively. On this new layer, I apply the Grit & Scratches filter at a radius of i or 2 pixels. This filter will remove near all the hot pixels, while having little impact on other parts of the image. If you notice that you are losing details, however, like stars in the sky, merely apply a mask to this top layer, or increase the threshold on the filter itself.


Whatever your choice of subject, nighttime photography can be a wonderful mode to become more than familiar with your camera, stretch your artistic and creative muscles, and refine your technical skills. Information technology doesn’t require much equipment beyond a tripod, and yous tin find subjects merely most anywhere.

Like whatever new skill, learning night photography can be an iterative process. When you become your first shots on your computer at home, don’t be agape to wait at them with a critical eye. Understanding the impact of exposure settings and technical elements can make for a amend photo taking experience whatever time yous apply your camera.

I promise this guide to night photography has inspired you to go out and explore some new subjects. If yous have any questions, I’d be happy to respond them in the comments!