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Night Photography Equipment: 10 Must-Have Items in 2024

Essential equipment for night photography

Choosing the right equipment for night photography can be tough. You can’t just waltz around with a camera and snap away; instead, the lack of light (often) forces you to work with lengthy shutter speeds, bracketed exposures, and more – and getting great images using such settings requires specialist equipment.

So if you want to capture stunning night shots, what gear do you need? While the perfect night photo equipment isn’t set in stone, I share my top 10 recommendations below, drawing on years of experience photographing at night. I make sure to discuss the basics (cameras and tripods) all the way to more advanced items for night shooting (colored lights and ND filters, to name a couple).

By the time you’re done, you’ll know exactly what to put in your gear bag before a night photoshoot. And you’ll be ready to capture photos like those featured throughout this article!

Let’s get started.

1. The right camera

Night photography equipment

It should come as no surprise that you must have a camera for your night photography, but not just any camera will work. Night photography is tricky and requires certain specialized capabilities, so you’ll need a camera that offers:

I’d also recommend choosing a camera model that accepts interchangeable lenses; that way, you can adjust your focal length as needed, and you can also tailor your lens capabilities to your personal preferences and requirements as you grow as a night photographer.

You’ll also need a camera with good low-light performance. In other words, your camera should be able to capture images with low noise levels at ISO 1600 or so (and the higher your camera can go while producing low-noise images, the better!). In general, cameras with larger sensors do better in this regard – so full-frame cameras perform better than APS-C cameras, and APS-C cameras perform better than Four Thirds cameras – but this isn’t always true, and modern mirrorless cameras offer consistently outstanding low-light capabilities.

If you’re struggling to choose a new camera for night photography or you’re not sure if your camera measures up, then check out testing done by DxOMark and DPReview. On DPReview, for instance, you can view images taken at various ISO levels (I recommend checking ISO 800, ISO 1600, ISO 3200, and ISO 6400, if possible).

And if you’re after specific recommendations, here are a few excellent night photography cameras to consider:

Champs Elysees from the Arc de Triomphe night photography gear
Champs-Elysees from atop the Arc de Triomphe, Paris.
17mm | f/5.6 | 3 bracketed images at 1/4s, 1/15s, and 1s | ISO 200
(Note that these settings were used only because tripods were not allowed at the location.)

2. A tripod

If you’ve ever seen night photographers at work, then you’ll know that a tripod is a key piece of equipment. And it should make sense: low-light conditions require long shutter speeds, and unless you have a tripod, your long-exposure photos will be full of blur.

Night photography equipment
Without a tripod, photographing landscapes or cityscapes at night will be next to impossible!

(The exception is street night photography, where you’ll generally crank your ISO way up, use a shutter speed of around 1/100s, and rely on artificial light sources to keep at least part of the photo well exposed. If that’s the only type of night photography you plan to do, then feel free to skip to the next section!)

What kind of tripod do you need?

Most photographers recommend that you buy a very large, expensive carbon fiber tripod to keep your camera as steady as possible. To be sure, such tripods do work great. In fact, if you aren’t going to do much walking – and if you can afford it – you should definitely invest in a tripod like that, because it’ll give you the best chance at sharp shots, even in wind and moving water.

However, most night photography involves a lot of walking around. Lugging a big tripod while walking for miles is difficult, and it limits your mobility, too. So why not start out with a lightweight, smaller, cheaper tripod? Check out something like a Manfrotto Befree or a Benro MeFOTO RoadTrip Pro. Unless you are using big, heavy lenses or shooting in difficult conditions, either of the above options will hold your rig steady and are supremely portable. They don’t cost that much, either. 

And if you later decide you need a bigger, more substantial tripod, your smaller model will still make a great tripod for travel photography!

Buckingham Fountain in Chicago
Buckingham Fountain, Chicago.
21mm | f/18 | 10s | ISO 100

3. A small flashlight

A flashlight might seem simple, but it is a fundamental piece of night photography equipment.

For one, it’ll help you see your camera’s controls when working in pitch-dark conditions (which is always important!). It’ll also help you select the right equipment from your bag, set up your tripod, deal with straps, etc. And if your camera’s autofocus is struggling, you can even use a flashlight to illuminate a part of your scene, which should improve focusing accuracy and speed.

Night photography equipment

(A flashlight will also help you find your way in the dark, and it might help you improve your compositions, too. The better you can see, the better you will shoot!)

That said, before you head out for a night photoshoot, I do recommend you become extremely familiar with your camera. If you can set the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and shooting mode without looking, you’ll have a much easier time, whether or not you have a flashlight on hand.

Look for a good model – check out the OLIGHT Baton3 Pro, which is high quality, reasonably bright, and won’t break the bank. Though if you’re looking for a cheaper flashlight, I recommend the OLIGHT I5R EOS 350.

fireworks long-exposure night photography
Fireworks in Southlake, Texas.
135mm | f/14 | 8s | ISO 100

4. Spare batteries

Night photography almost always requires long exposures (the darker it gets, the longer your exposures will need to be – a couple of hours after sunset, you may find yourself shooting at 30s or longer).

Here’s why it matters: Long exposures will drain your camera batteries at an alarming rate. (Seriously. It’s ridiculous how few 20-second exposures you can take on a single battery, and modern mirrorless cameras are already poor performers when it comes to battery life.)

Night photography equipment
After a handful of shots like this, your battery might be completely drained!

The specific number of shots will depend on your camera as well as your technique (I often use Live View at night, which causes the batteries to drain faster, and shooting with an electronic viewfinder will elevate power consumption even further) and the weather (in cold temperatures, the battery power will be more limited). But at the end of the day, no matter how impressive your camera’s normal battery life, you’ll want to have some spare batteries on hand.

How many batteries are enough? Even if you have a grip with two fully charged batteries, I’d recommend you bring a couple of spares. And if it’s cold and you plan to be out for a long time, add another two spares on top of that. Don’t take any chances.

After all, there is no way of getting around dead batteries; if you’re out of power, then you’ll be forced to head home!

Buckingham Palace at night
Buckingham Palace, London.
35mm | f/8 | 3 bracketed images at 1.3s, 5s, and 20s | ISO 400

5. A remote shutter release

A remote shutter release lets you trigger the shutter without touching the camera, which prevents the initial vibrations that occur when you press the shutter button. Unless you’re shooting at shutter speeds above 1/60s or so, you’ll need a remote shutter release, which means that pretty much every night photographer should have one in their gear bag.

Night photography equipment

Fortunately, these are pretty cheap, especially if you go for a basic model sold by a third-party company. Plus, while remote releases used to be nothing more than a way to click the shutter from afar, there are now models with many additional features, such as:

  • Timers: This is useful when shooting in Bulb mode, which does not have a shutter speed timer.
  • Intervals: Most advanced shutter releases allow you to shoot at intervals, which is perfect for time-lapse and star trail photography.
  • Custom delay: This allows you to set delays (besides the 2- and 10-second delays built into most cameras).

Speaking of shutter delays: If you want to get started with night photography but you don’t own a shutter release, another way to prevent shutter-button vibrations is via your camera’s self-timer feature. Simply set up your camera with a 2-second delay, tap the shutter button, and wait for the exposure to start.

(I don’t recommend this as a long-term solution, however, because it’s often inconvenient to wait two seconds before every exposure, especially if you’re capturing moving subjects, such as a seascape scene with foreground waves.)

Amazon has shutter releases for most camera models, and most of them will get the job done, though a slightly more rugged release will come in handy if you do nighttime landscape photography or like to shoot in the rain or snow.

One more tip: If you’re in a pinch, you can often connect your camera to an app and trigger it that way!

Galveston fishing pier night photography long exposure
A fishing pier in Galveston, Texas.
24mm | f/16 | 3 bracketed images at 5s, 13s, and 30s | ISO 200

6. A lens hood

Night photography equipment

A lens hood might seem unnecessary, especially if you’re not shooting in rain or snow, but trust me: when it comes to night photography, a hood is essential.

You see, night photography often involves harsh lights coming from different directions, which leads to unwanted lens flare. And lens hoods are specifically designed to avoid this problem (by blocking stray light from hitting your camera sensor).

If your lens comes with a hood, make sure you always grab it before heading out. And if your lens didn’t come with a hood, you can order one from the manufacturer or even purchase a third-party model.

Personally, I don’t find lens hoods especially inconvenient to carry; you can always store one on its lens by attaching it in the reverse position. Then, when it comes time to shoot, just flip the lens hood around!

By the way, it’s worth remembering that a lens hood may do more to protect your lens than a UV filter. If you drop the lens on its front element, a UV filter may not prevent a catastrophe – but a lens hood might.

If your lens didn’t come with a lens hood or you’ve lost one, you can find generic ones for almost any size lens at Amazon. Manufacturer lens hoods tend to be very expensive, and they don’t offer much benefit over third-party hoods, so why not save some money when you can?

taxi in Times Square night photo
Times Square, New York.
17mm | f/4 | 1/100s | ISO 800 | Handheld

7. Neutral density filters

This may come as a surprise, but neutral density filters are a great piece of night photography gear to have in your bag.


If your goal is to do long-exposure night photography, you may wish to use a longer shutter speed than the conditions allow, even after dark (this is a common problem when shooting light trails at twilight, or when trying to blur people moving through a well-lit outdoor area).

Therefore, a small collection of neutral density filters – which reduce the amount of light hitting the camera sensor, like sunglasses for your lens – can be a night photography lifesaver. You’ll want different strengths for different conditions and effects (I carry a 3-stop and a 10-stop neutral density filter, and you might also want to grab a 6-stop filter, too).

A polarizing filter isn’t hugely useful for night photography, but don’t forget that a polarizer will reduce the amount of light coming into your camera by 2 stops as well, so in a pinch, you can use that instead.

Trafalgar Square in London at night
Trafalgar Square, London. A neutral density filter allows you to carefully control your shutter speed and achieve the exact level of blur you envisioned!
21mm | f/10 | 15s | ISO 200

Note that a good set of ND filters can be on the expensive side, but you don’t want to skimp on quality and end up with filters that soften your images or add unpleasant color casts. This Tiffen kit is good for beginners, though a more midrange option is this B+W 6-stop filter.

8. Fill lighting

Night photography generally involves extreme contrasts, with a combination of bright lights and very dark areas. Sometimes, you can boost the exposure with HDR or other post-processing techniques – but other times, it pays to get it right in camera.

If you do decide to nail your night exposures in camera, you’ll need a fill light. Flash units can work, but the range is very limited; I’d recommend a flashlight instead (this should generally be different from the flashlight discussed above!). Feel free to experiment with larger and smaller flashlights, depending on your distance from the subject and the overall lighting conditions.

Then after starting the exposure, simply shine the light at the areas you want to brighten up. You don’t have to keep the flashlight on the entire time, and you can vary the amount of light you use.

Ultimately, careful use of fill light will save you a lot of post-processing time. It will also prevent you from needing to lighten very dark portions of your image, which always leads to noise and other problems.

9. Colored lighting

Once you’ve really committed to night photography, you may want to add some colored lighting to the scene for creative effect. There are two techniques you can try:

  1. Using flash gels to color an area. If you want to add colored lighting to a part of your picture, get some colored gels that attach to the front of your fill light. You may not use them very often, but gels take up very little space in your bag. When you see an opportunity, “paint” over the targeted areas with your colored light.
  2. Using glow sticks to add discrete lines/shapes/words. If you want to add “painted” lines, shapes, or even words to your picture, get some colored glow sticks and move them around in the frame during the exposure. This is not the sort of thing you are likely to use every day (or night), but they are small and lightweight, so you can carry them everywhere without too much trouble.

10. A smartphone

It may sound obvious, but you should always bring your phone to a night photoshoot. Even if you see photography as your time to get away from everything, don’t leave your smartphone at home.

You see, a phone serves a variety of key night photography functions, including:

  • Timer: You will often use Bulb mode when shooting at night, which (as mentioned above) doesn’t include a timer. Unless your remote shutter release has a built-in timer, then you’ll need to rely on your smartphone to track exposure lengths.
  • Map: Getting lost or turned around at night is easy to do. You don’t want to end up in the wrong place!
  • Safety: Obviously, you want to be able to call for help if necessary.
  • Applications: There are a variety of apps, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris, which contain useful information on the movement of celestial bodies. I highly recommend you download one of these apps and keep it on hand at all times!
  • A backup flashlight: If your primary flashlight dies or you leave it in the car, you can use your phone’s light to handle your camera controls and find your way in the dark.
Chicago from the Hancock observation deck at night
Chicago from the Hancock Building.
17mm | f/9 | 6s | ISO 200

Night photography equipment: final words

Well, there you have it:

All the gear you need to capture stunning photos at night. Below, I’ve categorized the gear in order of importance – so read through the list, figure out what’s missing, then add it to your bag. Good luck!

Mandatory gear:

  • Camera
  • Tripod
  • Remote shutter release
  • Smartphone

Highly recommended gear:

  • Spare batteries
  • Flashlight
  • Lens hood
  • Neutral density filters

Optional gear:

  • Fill lighting
  • Colored lighting (gels and/or glow sticks)

Now over to you:

What equipment do you plan to use for night photography? Are there any essential items that I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Jim Hamel
Jim Hamel

Jim Hamel excels in showing aspiring photographers simple, practical steps for improving their photos. He is the creator of several courses here at Digital Photography School, including the popular 31 Days to Becoming a Better Photographer course. His book Getting Started in Photography has helped many begin their photographic journey. You can see his work on his website: JimHamelPhotography.com

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