Night Photography for the Beginner

The thought of photographing at night may be quite daunting for the beginner, yet it is the best way to learn more about f-stops, shutter speeds, and exposure because the camera will produce more contrasting results and the photographer increases awareness and understanding of photography as well as the camera.


Night photography became popular with photography enthusiasts, especially since the advent of digital cameras because photographers can see the result immediately. This is a clear advantage to film cameras where the photographer must wait to view the photos when it is too late to reshoot the same exact scene.

Shooting photos at night presents a challenge for beginner photographer because it involves longer exposures, f-stop settings that are set manually, using additional equipment such as tripod, and a remote shutter release cord or wireless remote controller for digital cameras. A tripod is a must for night photography, but you can use the build-in self-timer instead a remote release to reduce camera shake. It also involves more work, thought, and experimentation, but it is well worth it for spectacular shots.

Bring a flashlight with you so you can set up the camera and settings in the dark at the scene. In night photography, especially when just beginning, it will be necessary to adjust the settings and exposure for just the right shot.

Most digital cameras have a bulb mode that allows the photographer to take a photo for as long as the shutter is pushed down and thus set the camera up for very long exposures. In night photography the photographer will be keeping the shutter open to allow enough light in, and this can take from a few seconds to several minutes.

It’s a good idea to shoot a little before dawn or at twilight. This presents a more dramatic photo by allowing some light to enter the camera, but avoid areas with light pollution such as street lamps or light emanating from buildings or spotlights.


Set the camera to bulb mode before leaving for the scene so you won’t have to do it in complete darkness. Also, preset the white balance to daylight if shooting a regular night scene. If shooting holiday lights or indoors, set the white balance to tungsten to avoid a colorcast on the photos that appears due to tungsten or incandescent lighting. The white balance allows the camera to shoot colors that are more realistic.

Try the RAW setting on the camera instead of JPEG. Although RAW files are much larger than JPEG files and require specialized software to be opened, they hold much more information, which gives the photographer a lot of leeway for editing later. For instance, shooting your night photos as a RAW image allows you to adjust the white balance or correct the exposure with editing software after you have taken the photo without loosing quality.

Set the ISO to 100 or 200. Although in most cases, if shooting in low light, many photographers know to increase the ISO to a higher value as this allows the digital sensor to be more sensitive to light, a smaller ISO will cause less digital noise on the photo.


After the camera is set up, check your viewfinder and compose the photo, focus on the object that you are shooting. When shooting in low-light, for some lenses it can be difficult to focus in auto mode and manual focus can give better results. Keep it in mind.

Now you are ready to shoot. Take photos with a large f-stop, such as f-8 or larger. A larger aperture will allow more light to pass through the lens, which, of course, is important in low light. With the remote release in hand, shoot for a few seconds and then release the shutter. If the photo isn’t up to par, reshoot by either increasing or decreasing the exposure time. Keep doing this until you are happy with the photo.

Like with most interesting hobbies, experimentation is the key and night photography is no different. A landscape that involves a full moon is a perfect scene for a beginning photographer to experiment with night photos.