1: Camera Settings

Dealing with dim lighting isn’t as bad as it seems. When photographing night scenes the camera requires more time to sense the faint light from the moon or other light sources, therefore it requires longer exposure. There are several methods to deal with this and we recommend you play around with the settings to decide which you like better.

Manual mode on a camera lengthens exposure time to thirty seconds. For scenes in the twilight where you still have a bit of light this isn’t a bad setting, but the moment it gets darker you’re going to lose a lot of detail.Bulb mode allows you to lengthen the exposure as long as you like so the camera has a chance to pick up more light. This is very nice, but if your exposure is on the longer side a tripod is highly recommended – as it will be for most nighttime shots.

2: Equipment

SunSpin Media’s Director of Photography, Dain Kim, highly recommends a tripod for long exposure times.

“If you try to hold the camera still without a tripod on a low shutter speed then your photographs will most likely come out shivery. It makes them difficult to see and ruins a nice scene. Always have a tripod for low light photography.”

Another tool to handle the lack of light is supplying your own. Nighttime allows for an entirely different play on light. You might bring a flashlight to “spotlight” a particular image or use a nearby streetlight. Our Photography Director also says,

“a white wall can be your best friend. A bright surface can reflect and make a shot brighter even with minimal light.”

You can also use lights to create different backdrops and shadow, however, be mindful of your frame. Increased exposure to bright light can damage your camera or ruin a photograph. Play around with it, but verify where you’re aiming a light and how it will affect the camera.

3: Composition

The rule of thirds still applies for your composition, but there are a few things you can see at night better than you can during the day. The pattern of star trails can give you a circular composition offset by the apparent stillness of the foreground.Light trails from other sources such as cars, people, or planes become moving trails of light with a long exposure time. An interesting item to note when photographing at night is the presence of water.

Water creates a pastel effect when light reflects and it can add a lot to your piece. Likewise if you don’t know it’s there it can also harm your composition. Be aware of water in the area – even little puddles. They can reflect and give away your light sources in ugly ways – especially if you used your own. If you’re aware of their presence you can use their abilities and reflect your light sources to better set the mood of your piece. The night offers a lot of opportunity to photographers willing to work with light and shadow. These tricks will get you started on this new challenge.