Do you pack up and leave after sunset and miss the fun of night photography?

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There’s no question that the best light occurs during the golden hours, but does that mean that you should pack up your cameras after sunset and miss all the fun of night photography?

city-skyline-example

Absolutely not!

Fun of Night Photography

Night photography offers so many great opportunities for photographers that it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact – I think it should be experienced by everyone.

Of course photographing at night means that you’re going to be pushing your gear to its limits. High ISOs, long shutter speeds, fast lenses, tripods, remote shutters, and patience are a must when it comes to photographing after the sun has set, but the results will be worth it.

So what is there to capture at night, and more importantly how do you go about capturing each of these subjects?

City Lights

Walking-the-city

Cities are great places to take photos any time of the day, but at night, cities come to life. Just think of Times Square in NYC or the Vegas Strip for example. Of course, not everyone’s going to have access to such iconic locations, but that doesn’t mean that your local city won’t offer you the goods.

When photographing a city you have so many options open to you; from skylines, to the simple every day things that make cities run. Things like the traffic, the people, and the objects they use to get around are a great start. This photograph of a bike, chained to a parking meter, in front of a church lit up for the night, is a great example of what can be found walking the city streets.

For more tips and examples on photographing cities at night check out these great posts:

The Night Sky

When it comes to capturing the night sky there are two basic ways that you can go about doing this. You can either show the vastness of space and showcase the number of stars in the sky, or you can capture the motion of the Earth’s rotation by creating star trails.

night-sky-photography

Night photography showing vast open sky and stars

The basic concepts for capturing both types of night sky photos are the same. You’ll need a tripod, a wide angle lens, and you’re going to be working with a large aperture in most cases.

When it comes to the shutter speed and ISO that is where things start to differ between the two types of shots. As the Earth’s rotation is what causes star trails to form, you have to limit your shutter speed in order to capture a single frame shot before this rotation creates the trailing effect.

Startrails-OneWS

Night photography capturing star trails over a long period of time

A general guideline for this is known as the 600 rule which basically states that the longest shutter speed you can use is determined by dividing 600 by your focal length corrected for 35mm. So if you’re using an 18mm lens on a 1.5x crop sensor DSLR you’d take 600 divided by 27 (18mm x 1.5 crop factor) which would mean that the longest shutter speed you can use would be about 22 seconds. To control this you’re going to need to set a rather high ISO. However, with modern DSLR cameras being as good as they are with noise these days, this is becoming less and less of an issue.

However, if you DO want to capture the star trail effect, then the object is to capture the motion that you were trying to avoid before. Often times star trail photographs are created by stacking multiple long exposures of the same scene over a long period of time. Since shutter speed is not going to be an issue here it’s much easier to use longer speeds which will result in less frames in the end. You’ll also be able to use lower ISO and smaller apertures here if you prefer.

Here are some more great posts to send you in the right direction for taking better photos of the night sky

Light Trails

light-trails-example

Light trails are a lot of fun to photograph and can be done just about anywhere you can find a busy road.

In general any shutter speed from one second, to a few seconds, should be enough to give you the look you’re after. But it doesn’t just come down to finding a road with traffic and photographing it – make sure you’re aware of your composition as well.

light-trails-example-2

As roads make for great leading lines, try to use those to your advantage. You can either shoot from above the traffic on a bridge or a building, or your can try and get down low and shoot from a median or side walk. No matter where you’re shooting from you’re going to want to be super aware of your surroundings and never do anything that would put your life in danger – no photograph is worth getting hit by a bus over.

For more tips and examples on light trails check out these posts:

What else?

What else can you think of for night photography? I know I left at least one big one off this list and I did that on purpose as I have no experience in light painting – oops did I just give one away?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

John Davenport

is the creator of PhoGro – Gro’ Your Photography a community that aims to help you grow your photography through engagement with other photographers.

John also offers a free email course 6 Weeks to Better Photos that covers the most important elements for getting started with photography.

  • A wonderful post! I have just started getting into night photography and it can be quite addictive. http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2014/02/great-rann-kutch.html

  • Michael Owens

    I love night photography. I find it most peaceful shooting at night, whether that be traffic trails, or in the middle of a field using a high powered torch to light my scene.

    Nice informative article though. The guidelines come in handy I’m sure!

  • Sena abdi

    See thes…

  • JVodicka

    Please check out my photos at https://www.facebook.com/jvodickaphotography

  • I recently visited Hong Kong for the first time and it was the perfect opportunity to practice night shooting! That city really never sleeps!
    http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2014/02/delayed-weekend-in-hong-kong.html

  • Ed Brumley

    I know this photo may not be anything to write home about, but I shot it in 1982 while attending Olney Central College. (It is featured in their 1983 yearbook on page 88)
    I was by myself, set up my tripod in the middle of my street at about midnight. Of course I used a FILM camera (Pentax K-1000) and used a windup shutter release to fire the Bulb (B) setting. When I heard the shutter open I turned on my flashlight, covered with a towel, and “spelled” out “O.C.C.”, run back to the camera and covered lens and then turned off the shutter.
    It was my first attempt at night photography and have loved it ever since. I think it is the BEST time to photograph and like to “Paint” with light too!

  • raghavendra
  • Phogropathy

    Very cool! I’m really terrible at painting with light – something I need to spend some time at I think.

  • Phogropathy

    Thanks for the comment! It is a very relaxing time to photograph love the quiet of night 🙂

  • Guest

    excellent, i learn the rule 600 from u thanks.

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    Thanks i learned the rule 600 from you. But how to derive the rule? why 600 and not 700?

  • I admit that most of the times I pack my camera and return home once the sun disappears and the city gets populated by neon lights; a combination of unfounded fears contribute to this fact (not having a fast lens or a bigger sensor for optimal low light shooting). But I’m aware of it and I’m going to try and change this habit this year. In my recent trip to Hong Kong, I only had 2 days to see as much of the city as I could, so it was my first real test on shooting extensively at night in the busy streets of this incredible city. See the results here: http://gonzalobroto.blogspot.com/2014/02/delayed-weekend-in-hong-kong.html

  • Phogropathy

    I honestly don’t know how the rule was derived. I’ve also seen rules of 500 and 450 which are more strict resulting in lower maximum shutter speeds to allow even less potential movement.

    The best rule of thumb to remember is that the earth is rotating and thus the stars move through the sky at night – if you’re shutter is open too long your stars will start to trail. So to freeze stars in place the shortest shutter speed, lowest ISO and widest aperture combination your gear can handle for a correctly exposed photograph is your target.

    This rule is more of a guideline and is a place to start – I’d suggest not adhering to it strictly, but to use it as a starting point and see what you end up getting for results. Then adjust accordingly.

    Good luck and thanks for the comment!

  • James

    One of those pictures i took using the RC1 for a self portrait while shooting the milky way

  • Feenix

    I too enjoy night photography. Here’s another benefit that wasn’t mentioned in the article; With timed exposures, or with the bulb setting, you can step in and out of the shot to get a “ghost” image. The camera will not pick up the movement, only the time you are still. Do be careful to be perfectly still if you want a sharp image! Also, experiment with different lengths of time to get the degree of transparency you want.

  • NoLions

    I concur that after dark the city comes to life! I completely agree with your comments regarding composition and also safety, I like your “No photograph is worth getting hit by a bus over”. Street art and graffiti are my preferred subjects and night time lighting gives it a special ambience, the kind of circumstance where we imagine these clandestine activities take place, thats what we want capture with night time photograpy. Here is a recent one. See also http://bit.ly/1bWwiE9

  • Vixtor

    One other event is Fireworks on July 4th. I’ve gotten some pretty interesting results, even tho’ my shots were hand held. Care to pass along any advice in this department?

  • Cheryl Garrity

    John, I enjoy learning anything I can about night photography. I haven’t tried star trails yet, but I would like to try. So far I do static or water scenes. Here is the link to four of my night photographs.
    http://www.throughcherylseyesphotography.com/nighttime.html

  • Denise

    Great photo. I would love to be able to take shots like these. Very new to night photography. Have a Fujifilm Fine pix HS20 and although I’ve managed to capture Jupiter and its four moons (showing up as one bright dot and four smaller dots), and individual star constellations, I really want to capture the Milky Way. Any suggestions most welcome.

  • Jeff E Jensen

    If I have to pick a favorite time to shoot, it would be after the sun goes down. Here’s some recent favorites:

    http://jeffejensen.blogspot.com/2014/01/locomotive-springs.html

  • Ivan Gastaldo

    I sure do love to stay up late and play! 😉

  • SkintoBalinto

    Taken in Glasgow Last Year

  • Llaup Ecraep

    having trouble uploading photos any body help red box with message Unfortunately your image upload failed. Please verify that your image is under 2MB. If you continue seeing this error, please try again later., my photos are only 1.38 meg is there a problem with this site

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