One of the most dif­fi­cult tasks in pho­tog­ra­phy is shoot­ing at night. While the pros are chas­ing more pow­er­ful tech­niques and new ideas, those who focus on day­time pho­tog­ra­phy often over­look the fact that most of the rules and prac­tices of day­time pho­tog­ra­phy may not work at night. How­ev­er, hav­ing real­ized this, you can read­i­ly begin to mas­ter film­ing in the dark.

  1. Explore the unknown

The first ques­tion to ask your­self before tak­ing your cam­era out for a night out is what is the expo­sure time? Under­stand­ing the func­tions of the cam­era is essen­tial to tak­ing pic­tures at night: the degree of aper­ture open­ing can turn the flash­light into a flash of light, and the shut­ter speed will allow the cam­era to see sub­tle details. Shut­ter speed also cre­ates the pop­u­lar effect of light “tails” — long streaks of light from mov­ing objects.

There are no rules in night shoot­ing, as much is based on intu­ition and exper­i­men­ta­tion. Any­thing that pro­duces results can be record­ed by cre­at­ing cus­tom rules for a giv­en cam­era, loca­tion, and light lev­el. Thus, it will be pos­si­ble to under­stand how to achieve the desired effect.

  1. High sen­si­tiv­i­ty test for expo­sure mea­sure­ment

If you’re not sure how to deter­mine your expo­sure set­tings, use a trick known as the high ISO test. The num­ber of sec­onds when test­ing shut­ter speeds at high ISO is equal to the num­ber of min­utes when shoot­ing at stan­dard ISO at the same aper­ture. Or each time you increase the ISO and open your lens aper­ture blades, your expo­sure time will be halved.

For exam­ple, ISO is 6400, which is 6 times greater than ISO 100, while the aper­ture is ful­ly open at f / 2.0, increas­ing the amount of trans­mit­ted light, unlike the aver­age val­ue of f / 8.0. These set­tings will result in an image with poor con­trast, increased grain, and lim­it­ed depth of field. This can be solved by using shut­ter speed instead of set­tings. Ide­al set­tings in these con­di­tions imply a shut­ter speed of 4 sec­onds, respec­tive­ly, you can cal­cu­late the required expo­sure time for the same image at ISO 100 and f / 8 and it will be equal to 32 min­utes.

Pic­tured above on the left is a pho­to tak­en at ISO 6400 and f/16. On the right — at an expo­sure of 8 min­utes.

In this test, after shoot­ing, it is impor­tant not to for­get to return all set­tings to the most con­ve­nient.

  1. Learn and mem­o­rize equip­ment func­tions

At night, it’s a lit­tle more dif­fi­cult to get to the cam­era set­tings, and it’s even more dif­fi­cult to find every­thing hid­den in the cam­era bag. There­fore, in low light, it is even more impor­tant to know the instruc­tions for the cam­era by heart, to remem­ber exact­ly how and what works and where it is locat­ed. It is fun­da­men­tal­ly impor­tant to have quick access to all the nec­es­sary set­tings: at night it is absolute­ly always nec­es­sary to shoot at man­u­al set­tings. And, if this is new to you, it is best to prac­tice all the maneu­vers before you go “in the field”. Thus, it will be much eas­i­er and more con­ve­nient to quick­ly get the frame you are look­ing for.

It is always good to have a mag­ni­fy­ing glass with a light with you. It will help both increase and high­light the set­tings in the dark.

  1. Explore the route ahead of time

At sun­set or at night, the world around visu­al­ly changes, so it may not be so easy to high­light a cer­tain com­po­si­tion or object. In order not to encounter such a prob­lem direct­ly dur­ing the shoot­ing process, and in order to pre­pare for all pos­si­ble sur­pris­es, we always rec­om­mend research­ing the route in advance. It is always bet­ter to plan your arrival in advance in order to be able to pre­pare equip­ment, set up tripods, lay out equip­ment, and so on. The time just before sun­set is ide­al, arriv­ing at your loca­tion just before sun­set will give you the lux­u­ry of film­ing in this short but valu­able time frame and will even be able to prac­tice the effect of chang­ing light on the shot.

If you do not have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore the route in advance, use a com­put­er — often, on sites where pho­tog­ra­phers share their shots, there are GPS coor­di­nates of loca­tions. And nev­er for­get the ana­log com­pass.

  1. Pay atten­tion to con­trast and col­ors

Most often when shoot­ing at night, we are faced with high con­trasts and dif­fer­ent col­ors. There­fore, it is espe­cial­ly impor­tant to shoot pho­tos in RAW for­mat, this will allow you to get great oppor­tu­ni­ties in post-pro­cess­ing.

In order to cap­ture the best col­ors, you can man­u­al­ly set the white bal­ance to a cer­tain tem­per­a­ture, espe­cial­ly use­ful when you need to achieve the cool blue light (3200K) that is most often asso­ci­at­ed with night images. The cam­era has dif­fer­ent white bal­ance set­tings for dif­fer­ent light­ing con­di­tions. Auto­mat­ic set­tings are cer­tain­ly con­ve­nient, but it’s still bet­ter to test every­thing man­u­al­ly and exper­i­ment with the set­tings.

Shut­ter speed 10 sec­onds, ISO 400 + Nikon Flu­o­res­cent 1(sodium vapor) mode
Left — the bal­ance is built on the cement to the left of the pipe.
On the right — by neu­tral light in the back of the yard.

With mixed light­ing, when arti­fi­cial light from dif­fer­ent sources has dif­fer­ent tem­per­a­tures, the task becomes more com­pli­cat­ed. Although these sit­u­a­tions are com­mon when film­ing in the city. Light is not so easy to deter­mine by eye and even more dif­fi­cult to con­trol. Many signs in the city now use LED light, so it turns out clean­er and whiter in the pho­to, and all sources have approx­i­mate­ly the same tem­per­a­ture.

  1. Don’t for­get a tri­pod

Vibra­tions dur­ing night shoot­ing, espe­cial­ly at slow shut­ter speeds, are unac­cept­able. Hand shak­ing can sim­ply negate the whole pho­to. That is why it is nec­es­sary to take care of the tri­pod and remote con­trol in advance. Of course, you will have to get used to work­ing with this equip­ment, research­ing suit­able easy-to-trans­port and sta­ble tripods. We rec­om­mend that you care­ful­ly study the SIRUI mod­el line. The remote con­trol is nec­es­sary in order to avoid acci­den­tal cam­era shake when the but­ton is pressed. It is always impor­tant to pay atten­tion to third-par­ty sources of vibra­tion: floor or bridge shak­ing, wind, even details such as a cam­era strap. All this can be reflect­ed in the pho­to.

  1. Adapt to nat­ur­al con­di­tions

The moment that many peo­ple for­get is the weath­er con­di­tions. For exam­ple, dur­ing rain or fog, which often occurs at night, espe­cial­ly dur­ing cold sea­sons, con­den­sa­tion may accu­mu­late on the lens. When mov­ing the cam­era from a warm room to a cold one, this is unavoid­able. The result will be very blur­ry and fuzzy images, in addi­tion, con­den­sa­tion inter­feres with light trans­mis­sion. You should always have a cam­era main­te­nance kit with you.

  1. Dress accord­ing to the sea­son

This advice is impor­tant not so much for the cam­era, but for the pho­tog­ra­ph­er. At night the tem­per­a­ture is always low­er and even in sum­mer it can get cold if you stay out­side for a long time. You need to go to the shoot­ing, prepar­ing for any sur­pris­es — rain, snow, strong wind and fog. Dry­ness, warmth and com­fort are the three main indi­ca­tors that cloth­ing must meet.

  1. Take a spare bat­tery with you

We nev­er tire of remind­ing all pho­tog­ra­phers to always have an extra bat­tery in their arse­nal. This is espe­cial­ly impor­tant, because in the cold and when shoot­ing with long expo­sures, the bat­tery runs out much faster. You can con­serve bat­tery pow­er by turn­ing off Live View or LCD dis­play. If you’re shoot­ing on a tri­pod, you can turn off image sta­bi­liza­tion as well.

Return­ing to the top­ic of frost, it is advis­able to keep spare bat­ter­ies warm. And always remem­ber about the abil­i­ty to recharge from a car or an exter­nal pow­er source.

For safe­ty rea­sons, do not for­get to tell your rel­a­tives where exact­ly you are going to shoot.

  1. Get out­side and try!

Nev­er be lazy to try, go to remote places and go out at night to take inter­est­ing pho­tos. Night­time pros and ama­teurs alike have a few secrets to keep them up and run­ning.

A promise to your­self to shoot under cer­tain con­di­tions — with a full moon, snow, fog — helps a lot.

You can always plan a joint pho­to walk with friends or famil­iar pho­tog­ra­phers. This is much hard­er to give up.

Well, we can only wish you good luck in the night shoot­ing!