Home Photo Tips 6 Essential Tips for Shooting at Night

6 Essential Tips for Shooting at Night

Night Photography Tips

Modern digital cameras with their lightning quick phase detection and contrast detection auto-focusing mechanisms are really good when it comes to locking focus during the day time. At night time though it is a completely different story. More often than not your camera will hunt for focus, struggling to find something with contrast to lock on to. This is the time when you need to use a bit of innovativeness to figure out how to nail focus. Here are some tips that should help.

When you’re taking pictures at night there are a few results that you might be going for:

  • For the shot to have the unique lighting that only occurs at night.
  • To have a shot with traces of motion.
  • To Photograph light itself (Paint with light).
Tokyo Tower by aotaro
Tokyo Tower by aotaro

A Word on Camera AF points

Normal AF sensors look for contrasts in one axis only. You may have heard about the term vertical line sensor. These sensors can look for contrasts horizontally only. It means if the horizon is a bit darker than the sky it is likely going to lock focus easily. However, if you are aiming towards a dark sky with no discernible contrast it would continue to hunt for focus.

Dual axis sensors can look for contrasts not one but two directions. These sensors are also known as cross-type and are more sensitive than the line sensors. Usually the professional models of cameras have these with some cameras having all cross-type AF points. Some enthusiastic model have the center AF point as cross-type.

Stars of the Night // Sterne der Nacht by Frank Lindecke
Stars of the Night // Sterne der Nacht by Frank Lindecke

A bright spot, something in the middle of darkness to form a contrasty edge, anything really that brings into play the focusing mechanism of the camera. If you are shooting in live-view the system would be using contrast detection auto-focusing, which is slower. Otherwise, it would be using the phase detection auto-focusing system which is faster but less accurate in low light conditions.

Trust your Eyes and use Manual Focusing

Either you use auto-focusing wherein there is a chance of focus hunting or you trust your eyes and back yourself by opting for manual focusing. With manual focusing at least you don’t have to worry about your camera going into the dreaded focus hunting scenario. Even if something goes wrong you have the benefit of reviewing an image and taking another shot if necessary.

Sydney By Night by Nicki Mannix
Sydney By Night by Nicki Mannix

Manual focusing helps you in yet another way and that is, you don’t have to rely on the focus and recompose technique. You can simply compose your scene and then use manual focusing.

Use a Small Aperture / Big F-Number

One of the things that you should do when trying to lock focus manually is use a big f-number. Bigger f-numbers brings more of the scene into focus by accentuating the circle of confusion and eliminating the chance that your subjects could be out of focus. Even if they are, by a margin, it wouldn’t matter at the end because the human eye has a bit of tolerance.

‎"Geminid Spiral" by jason jenkins
Geminid Spiral by jason jenkins

Shoot with a Wide Angle Lens

Wide angle lenses not only have a big angle of view but they also tend to offer a big depth of field. All the more reason why they are preferred for night time shooting. Be it fireworks, star trails, Milky Way, light trails, cityscapes or even shooting the northern lights, wide angle lenses are better suited that their tele-lens brethren.

Using the Focusing Distance Scale

The focusing distance scale on some lenses is a neat feature to have. It allows you to set your focusing distance with a tweak of your fingers. Sometimes, pre-focusing becomes essential because the subject you are about to focus for isn’t there at all! Let’s say you are trying to shoot the Fourth of July fireworks. Before the fore-works begin there is nothing to lock focus on. You can make some wild guesses but they are as good as any. The only way you can logically make a sensible focusing estimate is by using the focusing distance scale.

Fireworks by maf04
Fireworks by maf04

Use Live-View

Live view gives you a bigger view to play with. If you are using manual focusing you can trust live-view more than the small viewfinder and accurately lock focus. It is a whole lot easier too, especially when you are using a tripod.

To ensure that you get the most clean & professional quality from your shot here are a few more tips for shooting at night:

    1. Keep a low ISO setting (50 or 100).
    2. Use a Tripod.
    3. Have a device for triggering the shutter remotely.
    4. Turn on Log Exposure Noise Reduction (where available).

Night Photography Video Courses from Udemy

Night Photography Unlocked – No More Dark or Blurry Photos!

Night Photography Unlocked - No More Dark or Blurry Photos video course from Udemy

Night Photography: You Can Shoot Stunning Night Photos

Night Photography - You Can Shoot Stunning Night Photos video course from Udemy

Night Photography Videos

Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots

Night Photography: Stay Focused with Doug McKinlay

Pixels After Dark: Shooting the Night

How To Photograph At Night | TIME


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  1. I would like to know more about the ISO and Shutter settings for taking pictures at night! Sometimes i want to take a great shot with the lights and colors i see but my camera (if on auto mode) requires the Flash to be on. If I put the Flash on it just clears out all the color and lighting i wanted, it s just not what i want! And if i dont put the flash it’s almost the effect i want but either too dark or blurry!

  2. I would like to know a little more about taking pictures at night, there are some instances where I want to get a great picture of the moon and for some reason my camera will not even adjust unless there is something (like a street lamp post) in the picture with LIGHT and that is no fun.. when all i want is the moon.


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