Photography at night can be one of the most rewarding experiences you can have behind a camera, and these tips can help you achieve some super results. It’s not difficult, so why not get out and give it a try – you’ll probably be really pleased with the results. I run regular small group night shoots around Dublin – a gallery of participants shots from the Liffey by Night shoots can be seen at here, and one from the O’Connell Street shoots here. Why not come out on a shoot and get shots like these yourself? Click here for shoot details.
- Use a tripod. Depending on your camera, this can be a tiny four inch tabletop model for a phone or compact camera, right up to a full size 6 footer for a big DSLR, but to get crisp, sharp shots at night, the camera has to be absolutely still during a much longer exposure than you can handhold.
- Use the self-timer. If you press the shutter at the start of the shot, there is always a little vibration or camera moment as your finger presses the button. Using the self-timer lets the camera become still on the tripod before the exposure begins.
- Try for light trails. I generally go into shutter priority mode and manually set an exposure time of 8 seconds for light trail shots – this gives lovely long lines of colour from head and tail-lights. Buses look even better as they show up as long swooshes of colour.
- Look for reflections. The lovely colours of lights reflected in water at night can really make a scene, so always look for reflection shot opportunities, and get down as low to the water as you can to maximise the reflections.
- Turn the flash off. This might sound crazy, but unless you are shooting people, turn the flash off. The camera will then keep the shutter open for much longer, letting enough light in to make a lovely shot. If you leave the flash on when photographing scenes at night more than around 20 feet away it isn’t powerful enough to light the scene, so your shots will be very dark and unappealing.
- Catch the “blue moment”. In the 10-20 minutes as dusk falls, the camera will often pick up a lovely dark blue colour in the sky before it turns black. There’s only a very short window of opportunity to get this colour sky, so get setup well ahead of time to maximise your chance of bagging the keeper shot.
- Avoid lens flare. If there are strong lights in shot, and especially if they are close, above you and just slightly in front, then you can end up with lines of blurry coloured circles in your shot as the light bounces around in the lens. Avoid this by fitting a lens hood which sticks out around the front of the lens and minimises this unwanted light effect. Hoods also protect your lens from knocks and the rain too.
- Shoot in colour. Night shots can make great black and white images, but always shoot in colour and do your conversions later in the computer, as you can go from colour originals to a black and white version, but if you shoot in back and white the camera doesn’t record the colour information, so you can’t convert to colour later on.
- Get the ghost shot. On the night shoots I run this is a favourite of many participants! Setting up your camera for an exposure of around 2 seconds and then people walking in shot blur out and become ghostly figures. Exposures more than 5 seconds and moving people don’t even register, so you can get street scenes which appear deserted even though there were people walking about during the exposure.
- Try really long exposures. Exposures of 20 or 30 seconds can give really startling effects. Fast moving clouds begin to explode out of the sky as their movement registers, and river or seawater blurs out to give a lovely silky sheen effect.
Joe Houghton Photography runs small group photo shoots, individual 1 on 1 tuition and photography assignments.