Tips for Taking Great Night Photos

Night photo

Capturing night photos can definitely be tricky. It's always tough to strike that balance between illuminating the people in your image with a flash and capturing the scenery too. It doesn't take a fancy SLR to get the right exposure, however; just a little fiddling with your digital camera's settings and a few time-tested photography tricks will make sure you get the picture every time.

It's helpful to start by learning a little about how a camera works. First of all, at night when there's less light, the shutter speed slows down to allow more time for the small amount of available light to be absorbed. A slower shutter speed means you're much less likely to hold the camera steady as the picture's being taken and movement causes blurry images. Secondly, the flash, especially on point and shoots, is intended only to light objects at close range, or indoors. If you're at a distance from your subject or outside, the flash provides unnatural lighting or will make the background abnormally dark.

Now here are the easy fixes you can make to vastly improve your images (also take a look at our top reviewed cameras to help choose one which will compliment your creativity).

  • 1. Change the Camera Mode. Instead of using the "Auto" setting, choose "Night" or "Night Portrait" mode.
  • 2. Use a Tripod to keep the camera steady and prevent blurring. Not all tripods take up an entire trunk - some can fit in your pocket.
  • 3. Turn the Flash Off. Yes, I know it sounds counterintuitive, but by turning it off, especially when you're photographing stationary objects, you'll get an image that looks more like what your eyes see.
Related: Shopping Tips for Digital Cameras

For comparison, here is a photo of a city landscape taken with an iPhone 4, with flash on.

iPhone photo with flashiPhone photo with flash











You can see the flash in no way helps illuminate the landscape but rather, distorts it.

Here the same photo was taken, but without flash - preserving better light accuracy.
iPhone photo without flashiPhone photo without flash














The same photo was then taken with a DSLR camera on auto (which automatically flashed). You can tell the photo is underexposed because the flash interfered.
DSLR photo with flashDSLR photo with flash












Here again, the same photo taken with a DSLR camera with no flash, which preserved natural lighting.

DSLR with no flash












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Here, an outdoor landscape was photographed with a camera on auto.

You can see the flash only illuminates objects (with unnatural looking light) close to the camera, while it darkens those beyond. You can see this would really only beneficial when taking a group photo etc.

Camera on auto














Here again with no flash, or tripod. Hand motion blurs the image.

Photo with neither tripod nor flash












Lastly, with no flash, and set on a tripod. You can see there is no blur, and natural lighting is maintained.

Photo with tripod but no flash











What tricks work best for you when you're trying to take pictures at night? Let me know in the comments!

- by Erik Eibert

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