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How to Get Creative with Night Photography

How to Get Creative with Night Photography

Take your night images to the next level with creative photography techniques at night!

Night photography is an exciting genre of imaging that encompasses many different disciplines from concerts to traffic trails, and landscapes to nightclubs. However, it’s notoriously difficult to take good images at night because of the lack of light.

Low light levels means camera settings are pushed to the extreme as photographers try to maximize the brightness of available light to eke out every last photon for a good exposure. Not only that but autofocusing is next to useless because the camera relies on sufficient light to nail focus on subjects. Instead, you’ll have to get creative by nailing manual focusing techniques. So let’s take a look at some of the creative photography techniques you can use to nail some excellent night photographs.

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Traffic Trails

As the light fades and the city lights turn on, drivers of cars and other motor vehicles turn on their headlights to see where they’re going. Take any camera to the city at night and put it into automatic and you’ll see that all you’re left with is a set of streaky bright lines worming their way through your photo. This can look unsightly, but with a little preparation it can actually transform a dull city scene into something remarkable.

Set the camera on a tripod and engage manual mode. Set the aperture to f/5.6 or narrower to ensure a long depth of field. Put ISO to 200 or similar in order to reduce image noise, and then switch the shutter speed to roughly 10 seconds. Watch as the headlights turn into traffic trails that smoothly slide along the frame. Simply by putting the camera on a tripod and engaging manual control of the camera, we’ve achieved traffic trails. This kind of photography works extremely well in bustling towns and cities, and on highway overpasses where it is sufficiently safe to take night photography.

traffic lights at night photography

It’s important to use a remote trigger such as the MIOPS Flex to take the photographs. That’s because when the camera is triggered by hand when shooting long exposures, the small vibration from the user can cause the camera to move during exposure and make images blurry. Instead, set up a remote trigger to remove the issue and keep the camera steady for sharp shots.

Rear Curtain Flash

Something you’ll no doubt have seen on all the nightclub galleries online is something called rear curtain sync flash photography. It’s a bit of a mouthful, but the principle is simple. Allow the camera to shoot a long exposure (1/2 a second will work) and place a flashgun on the hot shoe. Engage rear curtain synchronization - this means that the flash will fire at the end of the exposure. Now for the technique.

night photography ideas

Remember, this’ll work best in indoor situations or at night when ambient lighting is dim, such as a nightclub full of dancers. We’re aiming to move the camera deliberately during the long exposure, and then have the flash fire at the end of the exposure to correctly expose the foreground subjects. If you look for some kind of lighting to put in the background it will amplify the effect. Now, as the camera is rotating the camera, aiming to keep the lens steady during the shot. You’ll be left with a very creative night photography effect where the background is blurry and textured, but the foreground subjects are exposed correctly.

Low Light Landscape Photography

Landscape photography is all about composition, and nailing focus through-and-through, once the light goes down. There are two techniques to achieving a low light landscape photograph that contains correct focus: setting the aperture and manually focusing.

Narrower apertures such as f/11 and f/16 produce a greater depth of field than wider apertures of f/2.8 or f/1.4. The depth of field is the slice of focus in front of the camera that is in focus. To ensure a landscape is in sharp relief from foreground to background it’s important to set a narrow aperture. But a long depth of field is no good if the focus isn’t in the right place.

low light landscape photography

Autofocusing will undoubtedly not work when shooting in low light. That’s because the camera relies on available light to help autofocusing clasp onto a subject. Instead, engage the live view and set the camera to manual focusing mode. Then zoom in on the screen and find a spot bright enough in the landscape to see on the screen. Next, rotate the focusing ring until the landscape is in focus. If you’re struggling to see the landscape, bring a high power torch with you to light up the landscape before focusing.

Timelapses

Timelapses are a great way to capture the environment at night. Look for moving subjects such as waves on a beach, clouds moving through the sky, or a busy inner city. Set up the camera on a tripod and engage the in-built timelapse mode. Set the interval times (the time it takes between shots) to an appropriate length between images based on the moving object's speed. For example, clouds flying through the sky will require around a five second interval time, unless there are high winds, in which case one to two seconds will work.

night photography timelapses

If your camera doesn’t have an in-built timelapse mode then use an external camera controller. You’ll need a camera controller that can not only trigger the camera remotely but also has the ability to set intervals between photos. The MIOPS Flex is the best camera controller from a smartphone because it allows manual control via the on-board screen and buttons on the device itself, or via the MIOPS app on a smart device like a smartphone or tablet. Simple attach the Flex to the camera with an appropriate cable and mount it to the hot shoe of the camera. Then dial in the mode settings and set intervals as desired before triggering the camera.

Concert Photography

Gig photography is notoriously difficult to master. When photographing concerts at night low light levels and stroboscopic lighting mixed with other stage productions can make it hard to get decent images. That’s where getting creative is important.

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First off, shoot with a lens that has a wide maximum aperture, like a 24-70mm f/2.8. Then set the camera to a semi-automatic mode like aperture priority. Dial in the widest aperture possible and set the shutter speed to the reciprocal of the focal length. For example, if shooting at 24mm set a shutter speed of 1/25 sec as a minimum. If the image is still dark then boost the ISO sensitivity. Alternatively, dial in auto-ISO to let the camera set an automatic exposure.

Blog Credit: Jason Parnell-Brookes

Jason Parnell-Brookes is an Internationally award-winning photographer, educator and writer. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014. Jason is a qualified teacher, Masters graduate and works with many high profile international clients. Further information can be found in his website www.jasonpb.com.

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[faq q1="how to do concert photography during night?" a1="Gig photography is notoriously difficult to master. When photographing concerts at night low light levels and stroboscopic lighting mixed with other stage productions can make it hard to get decent images." q2="what is night photography?" a2="Night photography is an exciting genre of imaging that encompasses many different disciplines from concerts to traffic trails, and landscapes to nightclubs." q3="how to do night timelapses?" a3="Set up the camera on a tripod and engage the in-built timelapse mode. Set the interval times (the time it takes between shots) to an appropriate length between images based on the moving object's speed."]

Landscape Photography, Any Time of the Day 

Landscape Photography, Any Time of the Day 

Landscape photography remains to be one of the most universally loved genres of photography because of its ability to transport the viewers instantly to a certain place and give a glimpse of the experience of being there. Landscape photography not just allows us to photograph and document a certain place and the environment but also allows us to use the world around us to express our creativity and even our emotions in a singular image. 

For new photographers trying out landscape photography, a common tip for more successful pursuits of breathtaking images is to shoot either at sunrise or sunset. The golden soft light often gives an easily vibrant feel to any location and this is why that tip has always been effective. However, for more experienced landscape photographers, any time of the day can be turned into a unique aesthetic environment with the use of various exposure techniques and shooting methods. 

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Golden Hour 

There's a reason why the golden hour is the most favorable shooting scenario for landscape photography or any kind of photography in general. For one, the quality and direction of light are more favorable in a way that the shadows are produced to give the scene more texture and depth, and the colors of the sky have a characteristic vibrance. 

Shooting landscapes during the golden hour can often be the most rewarding. The light coming from a mildly cloudy sky can produce a very dynamic and rapidly changing backdrop. No matter where you may be shooting from, even the simplest of locations to the grandest views, the vibrant skies of the sunrise or sunset can definitely transform it into a stunning scene.

Shooting landscapes during the golden hour can be done in various ways. If you’re shooting from a perspective facing the sun or the bright sky directly, the easiest way is to capture the fiery sky with a characteristic silhouette of significant foreground elements. This can be done very simply with any camera without the need for tripods or filters. 

sunset in landspace photography

In locations where applicable, photographing landscapes with the sunlight coming from the side can be a great way to produce dynamic images. Tangential lighting emphasizes depth and increases the contrast in the scene. However, a common problem encountered in such near-perfect shooting conditions is dynamic range limitations. This problem arises from the huge gap in luminosity between the foreground elements and the bright sky. Specifically when you would want to retain details in the darker foreground while making sure that the sky remains vibrant and properly exposed. 

One solution is to use graduated neutral density filters. GND filters limit the entry of light into your camera’s sensor but only do so to a fraction of the frame depending on how you position it. The most common use of the GND filter is to put the darker part of the filter in line with the sky so that you can adjust your settings to make the foreground brighter while keeping the sky properly exposed. However, using such filters has its own limitations especially in very busy compositions. 

Another way to overcome the challenge of dynamic range is to use exposure bracketing or HDR. This process involves shooting three to five consecutive exposures with varying levels of brightness. This way, the camera can capture as much detail as possible through the sequence of shots. This is then put together either by an automated built-in function or through post-processing to combine the most detail-rich parts of each image into one high dynamic range photograph. Many cameras have automatic exposure bracketing modes on board. However, more advanced camera control devices such as the MIOPS Flex not only automate the exposure bracketing sequence but also gives an instant preview of the resulting HDR image, as well as back up the data to its own built-in storage. 

Early Morning Light

Early Morning Light 

The light given by the early morning sun has its own characteristic vibe. The soft light from the relatively diffused light source gives a pleasant and gentle feel to the landscape. Shooting landscapes from relatively higher altitudes often has an added bonus of a moody atmosphere. This can be due to relatively low clouds that interact with the mountains or due to moisture and fog. These environmental elements make great additions to your landscape images as they render smooth textures to complement your composition. 

The movement of these atmospheric elements can be a great tool to utilize in landscape photography. With the use of 6 or 10-stop neutral density filters, one can shoot long exposure images that will allow the clouds or the fog to move across the frame and produce softly brushed textures that enhance contrast against the still solid elements of the landscape. These exposures can be as short as 5 to 10 seconds or even longer as the light intensifies. With the use of a smart camera remote trigger, exposures can be stretched to minutes to achieve smoother textures. 

High Noon

Many photographers dread the harsh light of noon. This is mostly true for portrait photographers who shoot outdoors. However, in landscape photography, the harsh lighting of noon can be used to a certain advantage. Shooting landscapes at noon when the weather is right can give significantly compelling results. 

The brightest part of the day also means the best time to do even longer exposures. When shooting locations with flowing water or waves, this can be a great opportunity to create minimalist landscape images by shooting for very fine textures on the surface of the water. Alternatively, strong winds with moderate clouds can give very interesting textures in the background when shot in very long exposures. This can be done with the use of heavier neutral density filters typically between 12 to 20 stops. Neutral density filters reduce the entry of light allowing the photographer to extend the exposures to achieve such effects. 

MIOPS’ selection of camera control devices allows for easier and more precise processes for long exposure. Both the MIOPS Smart+ and the MIOPS Flex offer precise use of the smartphone as a remote trigger not just to start and exposure but also to achieve a setting beyond what the camera already offers. These smart remote triggers offer both extended long exposure times, timer delay, and interval shooting. At the same time, the MIOPS smartphone application includes a handy calculator for ND filters to give you a more precise approach in estimating how long your exposures should be depending on the lighting scenario and your choice of filters. 

twilight landscape photographyTwilight 

Twilights are the simplest and easiest times to shoot landscapes. Whether dusk or dawn, this means that the luminosity of the sky is very close to that of the foreground and therefore the challenges of dynamic range are eliminated. With the sun below the horizon but still casting light onto the sky enough to give it vibrance and detail.

For any beginning landscape photographer with no experience in using filters and processing HDR, shooting at twilight will be the best way to master exposure. Simply with the use of a camera with manual functions and a tripod, one can capture the perfect balanced exposure just by shooting at the perfect time. In this scenario, the perfect time means the few minutes when the foreground is just as bright as the sky.

Clear Nights and Astro Photography

Many photographic genres avoid the nighttime due to the relative absence of light sources. However, for landscape photographers, the night brings out a whole new array of natural wonders, a different character of nature, and entirely different perspectives on the world we see during the day. Night photography makes use of the absence of sunlight for us to see and photograph the distant and more faint light sources from the moon, the stars, and other distant galaxies. 

Photographing the night sky can be done to almost any landscape location that one may have already photographed during the day but the resulting images are drastically different. While the challenges of photographing landscapes with daylight lie in achieving good dynamic range and balanced exposures, the challenges of night photography come from the scarcity of light and physical obstacles that may reduce the visibility of these distant light sources. 

landscape and astrophotography

Night photography is best done on clear cloudless nights. Even if exposures are long and the stars are relatively bright, a few seconds of obstruction from thin clouds can lessen the clarity and vibrance of the night sky. In addition, the best time to be shooting nighttime landscapes is either during the new moon when the moonlight will not affect the luminosity of the stars, or before the moon rises at night. 

To photograph the stars, there are typically more technical requirements needed to achieve clearer images. A good camera with great low light performance obviously leads to better images and this is best paired with a fast lens with a wide aperture for better low light performance. Lastly, one non-negotiable is a sturdy tripod. Long exposure is a make-or-break method that can be ruined by even the slightest camera shake. 

Exposure times for night photography generally differ depending on the presence of foreground elements, the lens’ focal length, and the astronomical elements in the sky. Generally, wider lenses allow for longer exposures that also allow for lower ISO for cleaner images.

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However, using longer focal lengths to achieve a high magnification of the distant night sky elements also limit the feasibility of doing longer exposures due to the emphasized movement of the earth that can lead to light trails. Alternatively, shooting star trails with multiple consecutive exposures also produce interesting images and with the use of automated interval shooting, one can even produce dynamic nighttime time-lapse videos. 

Photographing the night is made easier with convenient camera control triggers such as the MIOPS Flex. These smartphone-controlled devices give the option of precisely timed long exposures, reduce the risk of camera shake with the remote trigger on your phone, and can also automate your night photography and time-lapse shooting process. 

Landscape photography is not just about warm sunsets and daylight. For a passionate landscape photographer, any location can be turned into a masterpiece at any time of the day. With experience, curiosity, and the right gear, any envisioned image can be made.

Blog Credit: Nicco Valenzuela

Nicco started his photographic journey in 2007 practicing the craft as a hobby. Currently, he shoots for various local and international architectural firms and construction companies. Out of his love for sharing his knowledge, Nicco began writing about photography and various pieces of gear.  

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[faq q1="what is golden hour in photography?" a1="There's a reason why the golden hour is the most favorable shooting scenario for landscape photography or any kind of photography in general." q2="how can you do nighttime photography?" a2="Photographing the night sky can be done to almost any landscape location that one may have already photographed during the day but the resulting images are drastically different." q3="how can you shoot at noon?" a3="Many photographers dread the harsh light of noon. This is mostly true for portrait photographers who shoot outdoors. However, in landscape photography, the harsh lighting of noon can be used to a certain advantage."]