hong kong at night

Capturing Light in the Dark: Beginner Tips for Practicing Night Photography

Does night photography appeal to you? From nighttime portraits to long exposure shots of light streaks and light painting; there’s so much one can capture when it’s dark outside. So, are you looking to improve your night photography skills? If you are, keep reading! This post includes photography tips on iso settings, proper exposure, using ambient light sources, and tools night photographers implement to get the best shots.

In this post:

5 Night Photography Tips for Beginners

When you’re just starting out, night photography can take a bit of practice. From figuring out the correct exposure settings to trying to capture star trails in the night sky; new photographers may find it challenging. Luckily, we have a few photography tips that folks can keep in mind when venturing out into the dark! Just keep reading.

1. Change your camera settings to manual mode.

Macro photo of a camera lens in manual mode

When you’re just beginning your photography journey, it can be tempting to keep your camera set to auto mode and let the technology do some of the work. However, when it comes to night photography, we highly recommend switching your settings to manual mode and using manual focus! Doing so will give you full control over the camera settings – allowing you to adjust ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to accommodate for a low-lit night scene. 

2. Shoot raw files to insure optimal image quality.

long exposure of car lights at night

One of the most practical tips for practicing photography at night is to shoot raw files instead of jpeg. While there is nothing wrong with jpeg, in general, that file format compresses image files a great deal – which is not well-suited for night photos! Instead, opt for raw files to keep your images as high-quality as possible. 

3. Become familiar with bulb mode.

a city scene at night time

Sometimes, night photography calls for a long exposure shot. This may come up for night photographers who focus on shooting star trails in the night sky or capturing light trails from moving objects. Bulb mode is accessible when a camera is in shutter priority or manual mode. It allows the photographer to expose (or capture) an image for as long as the shutter button is being pressed. 

Most cameras allow photographers to shoot at shutter speeds that are 30 seconds or faster. Bulb mode is a workaround that empowers folks to create long exposures at night using slow shutter speeds. To avoid fatigue from pressing the button manually, it is advised to employ a remote shutter release whenever possible. 

4. Take test shots at different exposure settings.

hong kong Gold Coast at night

Night photography, like all forms of image-making, takes a bit of practice. So, when you set out to capture scenes or portraits at night; be sure to take test shots in the beginning. Taking test images is one of the most practical (and easy) night photography tips one can implement. And, it saves a ton of time! After all, testing allows photographers to adjust for proper exposure. 

5. Invest in a sturdy tripod and cable release cord.

highway at night time

Night shots require a steady hand. To avoid camera shake and get sharply-focused shots, a sturdy tripod can be used. After all, you don’t want to spend time on long exposure shots only to end up with a collection of blurry photos. So, put your camera on a tripod or a safe, stable surface. And, if possible, use a camera release cord in tandem with your tripod. Camera release cords come in handy for creating long-exposure images as they allow you to release the shutter without touching the camera directly. 

5 Subjects to Capture At Night 

The only way to capture stunning images at night time is to practice! Unsure of what ideas to explore? Below is a list of night photo subject matters you can start experimenting with today. 

Light Painting

light painting of a car outline

Do you want to capture light in motion? Try practicing light painting to see what you can create. Light painting, also referred to as light writing can yield intriguing results. To practice at night choose a small aperture setting of f/8 or higher. Then, set a slow shutter speed. Use a flashlight to “write” or “paint” in the air while the image is being exposed. The result may just stun you!


lightning striking a field multiple times

It may seem a bit dangerous, however, lightning can produce visually-arresting images when captured correctly. Is your region experiencing a lot of thunder and lightning storms? Getting ready before lightning strikes! Have your camera handy, set your ISO to 600 (or higher), set your aperture to around f/4, and stand still. While you’re steady, try to capture as many 30-second exposures as possible. With a bit of patience, persistence, and the right camera settings, you’ll be able to capture an image just as lightning strikes. 


green and golden yellow fireworks exploding in the night sky

Fireworks photography can be just as beautiful as watching the colorful explosions live. To practice capturing these bursts of light, set up your tripod and tilt your camera to a 45-degree angle. Once you’re all set up, pick a fast shutter speed and change your ISO to 100 or 200. Alternatively, one can opt to shoot in bulb mode for full control over the shutter speed. 


unclose of smoldering wood at a campfire

Going camping? It can be an opportunity to practice your night photography. After all, camping usually involves being outdoors and under the stars – making it a great time to capture long-exposure images of star trails or campfires! 

For those looking to take fireside shots at night, our advice is to use a slow shutter speed and keep a steady hand. Doing so will allow your camera to capture the fire as it illuminates the campgrounds. 

City Lights

red phone booth on city street with streaks of light trailing around it

Cities can be incredibly beautiful to photograph at night. Do you agree? If so, grab your camera and get out there to capture a stunning night scene. The lights of the city – traffic lights, street lanterns, and the glow of lights coming from homes, municipal buildings, and businesses – can be awe-inspiring. Ask yourself, how much light do I need to capture this scene? You’ll be surprised that, sometimes, all you need is the spotlight a street lantern creates on the pavement or the glow of streaking lights from cars whizzing by.