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The Essential Camera Settings You Need For Night Photography

Here's a top list of all of the settings you'll need to ensure you get the correct exposures every time you head out to capture some creative nighttime shots.

| General Photography

The Essential Camera Settings You Need For Night Photography: Dubai at night


As we've past the longest day of the year, night's are slowly getting longer which might mean you'll be eventually heading home from work in the dark but it also means you have more time to explore night photography - The School of Photography's latest topic focus. 

Most cameras, and even smartphones, have a shutter speed range that allows for longer exposures so you can venture out in the evening. The only requirement is a little knowledge of metering and some form of support to ensure that you don't get blurred pictures as a result of camera shake.


Equipment Needed For Night Photography

The Essential Camera Settings You Need For Night Photography: Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM


As well as a camera that allows you to adjust shutter speeds or work in manual mode, you're going to need a tripod to minimise shake, a remote release or self-timer function on your camera and a standard zoom lens. If you have one, pack an ultra-wide-angle lens, too, as they're great for wider landscapes or city shots with bridges and water in. 

"Although using a standard zoom lens will do the job fine, an ultra-wide-angle lens will help create those vast scenes of the city skyline or long bridges over the river. An ultra-wide-angle lens is usually an extra lens that you have to buy. It will have a focal length of approx. 16mm on a full-frame camera, 11mm on a crop sensor camera and 8mm on a micro 4/3 camera. To put it simply it goes a bit wider than your standard kit lens," says The School of Photography. 


Night Photography Camera Settings

The Essential Camera Settings You Need For Night Photography: Town at night


Here's a rundown of what The School of Photography recommended you do with your camera settings so you're ready to capture creative shots at night. 

  1. Switch your dial to M - Manual mode
  2. Select a shutter speed between 30 to 60 seconds then if you find your photography coming out too dark, increase the time, if your photos are coming out too light, decrease the time.   
  3. Use an f/8, f/11 or f/16 aperture as this will allow you to create an image that is sharp from the foreground to the background. As with the shutter speed, you can make your shots lighter or darker with the aperture. Start at f/11 and if the image is too light, go to f/16, if it’s too dark, go to f/8.
  4. To reduce noise, use either ISO100 or ISO200.
  5. Set your white balance to auto as this will give you a good middle ground which can be adjusted as needed back in post-processing programs.
  6. You'll probably need to use manual focus as your camera may find it hard to focus on something when light levels drop. Try focusing on something light in the distance with autofocus then switch to manual focus to fix the focus point. 
  7. Shoot in RAW as this will give you more scope for adjustment when back home and sat at your computer. 


Night Photography Tips

The Essential Camera Settings You Need For Night Photography: Rolls Royce at night


"The camera settings shown here will create the classic night shot of the city lights, and if there are rivers, it will make the water look like glass and enhance any reflections," say The School of Photography. "For these types of shots, think carefully about the composition. Diagonals in night photography work well as they create dynamism and enable the eye to flow easily through the frame, especially with bridges."

Commenting on why they suggest you shoot in Raw, The School of Photography says: "Although not necessary it’s highly recommended to shoot in Raw and post-process night photography in programs like Lightroom or Photoshop. There are so many lovely colours at night and post-processing will help enhance and boost those colours for a more aesthetic feeling. There is also a lot of contrast in night photography due to the bright lights against the dark sky. Shooting in Raw will give you much more play to lift shadows and deepen highlights within the scene and this, in turn, will create a more balanced exposure. If you don’t do this, you could produce shots which look too dark or too bright."

For more tips, have a look at The School of Photography's YouTube tutorial below and also have a look at our technique section where you'll find tutorials on night photography and more. 


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