Tips for Retouching a Night Photograph using Lightroom


I will show you an experience I had of shooting in the middle of the night after sunset without a tripod. Many monuments don’t allow you to shoot with a tripod but you still want to take a photo. The nicer light in my opinion is usually after sunset or before sunrise, so I will show you how to take and process a photo without a tripod at night.


If you have a nice high vantage point to take a beautiful photo but cannot put down your tripod you will see that there
is something we can do about it. The trick is you must put your camera on a timer, (use the built-in 2-second timer) meaning when you press the shutter it counts to two and then takes a photo. This way when you take the photo you are not pressing the button so there is less vibration.

Next go into manual mode and put it on 1/20th of a second. Usually it will be blurry, but if you put your arms on your stomach and stop breathing you should get a sharp photo. Then open the lens as much as you can. As you can see the photo is very sharp and I was only at 320 ISO.

As usual I am always shooting to get the highlights, so what you do is you put your camera at 1/20th of a second, 2 second on timer, approximately f/2.8 aperture (or open as wide as you can), then start going up on the ISO. You take several photos until you see that you have something you like.

Now let’s see how we are going to retouch this photo. First we are going to open up the shadows; you see how we can see the entire city?

Screen shot 1
Now on the white balance. When you are taking a photo of a sunset in a city there is one white balance that I advise you to use, but it is very difficult to get the right white balance right away. What I usually do is go to the shade preset, and add a bit of magenta, that is something I like.

Then bring down the highlights, and lastly do the white and black points.

Look how incredible this photo is, I took it without a tripod at night, now the only problem is that I don’t have a long exposure so the cars are very sharp, I don’t have the lighting streak behind the cars that I would have liked but it’s still pretty good.

Ok, now let’s crop the photo a bit to get it to look more dynamic.

Screen shot 2

Next, let’s take a brush, select a warm temperature and add some clarity to it and we will now start painting the photo in specific areas where we want to add color.

Screen shot 3

We will now create a graduate filter to accentuate the sunset.

Screen shot 4
Create a new graduate filter to add some highlights to parts of the buildings to make them come out a little bit more.

We will now add a gradient filter on the top of the photo to create more of a blue sky.

Screen shot 5

We will remove some clarity on the overall photo. Last but not least let’s add some sharpness, there is almost no noise as I am using this amazing Sony camera, so we will only remove a bit of noise.

We can now see the end result of this photo that was taken at night without a tripod. I find it quite incredible!


For a full walk-through of how this is done check out this video:

If you enjoyed this tutorial you can find more of Serge’s tips and courses here.


Read more from our Post Production category

Serge Ramelli is a landscape and urban photographer based in Los Angeles and Paris. His work has been shown in galleries worldwide and he has over 15 books on photography. He also does tutorials on Photoshop and Lightroom and has over 400,000 subscribers on his Youtube channel! Serge’s mission is to help photographers take better photos and pursue an artistic career. Find hundreds of free presets on his website.

  • Matt

    Thank you! Great tutorial and beautiful shot.

    Question – with such a fast aperture, how is everything so sharp in the original shot?

  • Serge, very wonderful article. My processing style is very similar in LR ( a little less on the magenta but it’s all subjective). I really enjoyed the video. The one thing I took from your article that I would have never thought of was to add the 2 second timer! Great tip and look forward to adding that into my tool bag πŸ™‚

  • Keith Starkey

    I’ve seen all his Lightroom videos! Great stuff.

  • There are 3 factors that make the foreground/background sharpness of a photo.

    1) Aperture
    2) Distance
    3) Focal length

    For example, if you shoot something that is 10ft away from you and very far from the background with a wide aperture and a telephoto, you’ll get a lot of background blur. If you shoot the same thing that is further away (closer to the background), you’ll get sharpness. So in this case, since it’s a landscape and it’s also a wide angle lens, you get a lot of sharpness πŸ™‚

  • Matt

    that makes sense πŸ™‚ thanks!

  • My pleasure πŸ™‚

  • Very nice; I love shots where the lighted streets glow up from below. Now I’m desperate to find a good vantage point here to try to do the same thing at home. πŸ™‚

  • This is a very informative tutorial for Lightroom users. Lightroom is part of the syllabus for video-editing students of VEDA. Take a look and comment.

  • Definitely picked up some cool tricks. I have been following your tutorials on youtube for a bit now and am looking forward to implementing your techniques for my next gallery showing!

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    … i confuse… everything is so sharp using wide angle lens?

  • Choo Chiaw Ting

    2s is sufficient? perhaps it should be 10s. And, mirror up with remote trigger.. :). Adjusting exposure may cause lots of noise which i dislike. Why not just use blended multishot and minimized editing, and everything done in-camera then blend them together?

  • When you’re using a wide angle lens, the depth of field is bigger, so it makes more elements stay sharp in the frame. Does that makes sense?

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  • Well done this is an excellent job and the videos make it very easy to learn. I’m working photo retouching with photoshop but I have a question that can I do the light room activities with Photoshop?

  • Rob Bixby

    Thank you for this tutorial. I shoot frequently in the “blue” hours and this will help greatly.

  • Great tips. Thanks for sharing.

  • Ozkkar Delgado

    thanks great info, will try it this weekend.

  • Aneta Klosek

    great tutorial! thanks!

  • Mark

    Dumb !!

  • Mark

    Noob !!

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