Night Photography

Photography is – as the Greek name origin says – the art of drawing with the light.Curious then realize that often the most beautiful images are not completely illuminated, clear and with bright skies.In addition to the intermediate hours – sunrise and sunset – it is common to find odd photos made at night.Perhaps because of the scarcity of available light, nocturnal photography delights, with its bottoms dotted with dots and traces of headlights.

Special cares

Before even talking about photography, one should always remember that the streets of big cities – even during the day, but especially at night – are not totally safe.Walking in groups and avoiding dangerously dangerous areas – parks and other uninhabited areas, for example – are attitudes that can guarantee the beautiful images you will make in the course of a night photographic incursion.As the Scouts say: always alert!

Another important thing to take into consideration is: if you live in the south of the country, or in other regions where it is cold, taking a warm and thermal overcoat with a warm drink can greatly increase the comfort and pleasure of shooting at night.North and Northeast do not offer the same problem, so those who live in these regions already have an advantage.

What to take?

Of course, the equipment for shooting in the dead of night is quite close to that used in any other situation.Camera, lenses (for dSLR and micro 4/3 ), flashlight, memory card, extra batteries (for both camera and flash, if you have access to external illumination to the camera) are the minimum necessary.

On the camera, if you have conditions, a dSLR or a compact that has manual adjustment options – especially the bulb speed, which allows exposures lasting hours – are ideal.If you do not have access to this type of equipment, find out the lowest speed of your camera and get ready to take your photos accordingly.Another necessary consideration is the sensitivity to light of your sensor.For night photography it is common to imagine that high ISO should be used, making the camera more sensitive, but this is not always true.To get really long exposures – even last night – or even as an experiment, it’s worth risking a lower ISO value.

But there are other parts that can make it much easier – and in some cases even mandatory – to get good results.Right from the start, the main accessory for those who want to shoot at night is the tripod.As the light condition is very precarious, long exposures are virtually rule after the sun sets.Like everything else, if you do not have a tripod, apart from being able to improvise by propping up the camera on objects that are in place, sometimes taking a chance to shoot on the hand can deliver amazing and creative results.

With the tripod, another thing that can help – but it is not essential, even by being complementary to dSLR cameras – is a remote shutter release.Whether cable or wireless, such an extension helps prevent camera shake, and typically allows the use of autofocus and various shooting modes.

A flashlight can be a good substitute for flash.Since exposure times are long, it is possible to illuminate parts of a scene and keep others completely in the dark, especially if you are away from the lights of large centers.Of course, a small flashlight requires more time to illuminate an object in the photograph because of its low intensity.If you choose to use the flashlight as auxiliary illumination, it is also worth taking some cellophane paper cutouts of different colors to try to look different in your images.Also remember that, unlike flash – which illuminates a large area and relatively evenly – the flashlight is mainly meant to emphasize details and to give dramatic effects.

A stopwatch can be your best friend – if you already have some experience with photometry especially – when shooting at night time. If your camera has the bulb exposure time, the sensor is exposed while the camera button is pressed (one of the functions of the remote shutter is to ensure you do not have to spend hours with your finger on the button), and the exposure time Must be controlled in some way. A timer or clock alarm solves the problem easily.

Trial and error

Look, shooting at night is not easy.It’s not enough to just count on the lights of the city and think “okay, all those specks of light make a beautiful photo,” because they do not form.Composition – what you will show in the photo – is essential as well as careful with the exposure time.On manually controlled cameras this is much easier to do, but even the compact ones can deliver good results.Most important, of course, is how you want the picture to go before you press the shutter button.

In scenes with very high contrast – very strong lights, like street poles – it’s a good idea to take the bulbs out of the frame.With this, the rest of the scenery has a much better view, as the glare of urban lighting will not steal the attention.Signs of shops and bars, fainter or distant lights, on the other hand, offer interesting colors and shapes and can turn an ordinary photo into a memorable image.

But the main thing is to find out how your camera behaves photographing in this critical situation.Train a lot, make lots of bad shots so only to get a really nice result is nothing wrong.The vast majority of photographers do this all the time, inclusive.Take advantage of the opportunities you have to test settings, image capture modes and also your resourcefulness with all the accessories mentioned above.

Themes in the dark

The amount of things that can be photographed at night is as vast as the grounds for daytime pictures.Landscapes, portraits, details of the streets, all this offers many possibilities precisely because, at night, it is very different from what people are accustomed to seeing during the day.Exploring this strange familiarity is one of the secrets of night photography.

The night light

Just as during the day the photographer cares about the position of the Sun, at night it is necessary to pay attention to the Moon and where it is in the sky.Although the intensity of the light is much smaller, the moon also causes shadows, just as the star closest to the planet.The higher in the firmament, the Moon generates relatively hard, short, sharp and well-defined shadows.As the satellite approaches the horizon, the shadows lengthen and become softer.

Another important detail: the closer to buildings and other human elements the Moon is, the greater it will appear in relation to these.The phase of the star also matters, since the intensity of reflection will be smaller outside the full moon, and – for all intents and purposes – nonexistent on the new moon.In addition, since the exposures are longer, when the time with the open shutter exceeds two minutes, the probability of the Moon appearing deformed increases, since this is the approximate time it takes to travel its own diameter in the celestial cycle.

Yet the stars and other planets practically do not influence night-light, except as points of light in the sky.However, just like the Moon, the stars also travel in the celestial vault, and the further away from the equator line you are, the greater the perception of that movement.Often, the risks generated by stars increase the photo’s dramaticity by giving a feeling of dizziness.However, this is not always the purpose of the photo, so attention and care are recommended.

The long exposure

Even compact cameras have long exposure modes, and for night shooting, it’s virtually mandatory.Hardly a photo is taken in less than 15 or 20 seconds – coincidentally the maximum shooting time of some older compacts.With this, it is important to realize that some characteristics of the photos will be different: movements will be “blurred”, cars and other illuminated objects that move will leave traces of light, and the composition of the image should take all these effects into account.

As in this type of exposure, the sensor receives small amounts of light over a long period, the colors represented are quite different from those obtained during the day.Even if they are not so contrasted – difference between light and dark – the images show a very strong saturation, with very vivid colors.This should be part of the night photographer’s concern as well, as it can determine a better angle for certain shots, in search of even more vibrant colors.


In the days of analog photography, movies used for night shots had a feature called grain.The image obtained in these films resembled a painting pointer, made just by pressing the pencil on the paper.The digital sensor, however, lacks the chemistry that was responsible for this effect, and as it depends on the light to form an image, in low light conditions some defects may arise.All these problems are known as noise.

In more modern cameras, various electronic and computer systems help prevent the appearance of the famous green and red dots characteristic of photos with noise problems.The appearance of them occurs due to the approximate calculation that the camera performs to try to identify visual information in areas of the sensor that did not receive enough light.

Another type of noise quite common in nocturnal images is due to the superheat of the sensor.Like all chips, the ideal operation of this equipment occurs in a certain temperature range.Since the night exposures are very long, the sensor spends a lot of time in operation, overheating.Unlike the green and red dots caused by the processor, the noise generated in the sensor creates distortions of intensity and contrast in the colors.

To solve noise problems, it is ideal to use a lower ISO value, which avoids the formation of colored dots thanks to the action of the processor, and to shoot in RAW to try to minimize the impact of the sensor on color aberrations in the final image.If your camera does not offer these possibilities, shoot at the highest quality possible to be able to treat the image after unloading it to your computer.

The celestial vault

Realize that shooting at night is not the same as shooting the celestial bodies that show up at night.Photographing the planets, the stars and the moon is a much more complicated activity, and requires a series of equipment (at least one telephoto lens and one dSLR).So you will not find great explanations about the photography of the stars – in this article at least, but who knows next, specific about astrophotography?


Now that you already have an idea of ​​how to make the most of the nights to photograph, how about risking in some different way?Of all the recommendations made in this article, the only ones you should not overlook are never those concerning safety.Everything else is an account of experiences that many people do, and who knows, one day, does not someone use the experience you still have to try to help others make better use of their photographic equipment?

Get to work! Put together your equipment, invite your friends and you have excellent nights photographing the world in a way no one sees out of the picture.