Beginner’s Guide: Camera Settings for Night Photography

Beginners Guide Camera Settings for Night Photography by stolen maps

Right camera settings for night photography are essential to capture good images. A perfect moment can be easily ruined if the photo is not exposed properly or the subject gets blurry. This get even more complicated in night photography. Here are the best tips to get proper exposure in low light.

1. Switch to Manual Mode

When it comes to night photography, shooting in manual mode is easier and efficient. Manual mode gives you the freedom to set aperture, ISO, etc as and when needed.

Night scenes may have very little light or even no light at all. With unreliable lighting, you can’t always trust the auto-mode. Best camera settings for night photography can be obtained only in manual mode.

camera on tripod for long exposure night photography of a city

2. Use a Tripod

In low light conditions, you need longer exposure to get good images. The longer it takes to capture a photo, more are the chances of Motion Blur or Camera Shake. It becomes essential to use a tripod, hand-held shooting won’t work. The camera needs to be perfectly still.

3. Slow Shutter Speeds

Shutter speed decides how long the sensor in your camera is exposed. With scarcity of light in night photography, you need to make the most out of what you have.

Expose your camera for at least 10 seconds. You might be thinking that 10 seconds is too long, but it is quite typical for night photography.

Sometimes, you might have to use even slower shutter speed depending upon the circumstances.

also read: Beginner’s Guide: Camera Settings for Street Photography

4. Larger Aperture (lower f-stop)

Aperture controls the light entering through the lens of your camera, just like pupil in your eye does. You need to use larger aperture to gather enough light to get proper exposure.

For larger aperture, adjust the camera to lowest f-stop available.

Also, aperture directly impacts the Depth-of-field (DOF) in your photos. Larger aperture (such as f/2) means shallow DOF. This means the subject in foreground looks sharp and the background appears blurry.

For shooting night landscape photographs, you need smaller aperture to get everything in-focus. But, lack of incoming light might leave you with underexposed images. So, take some test shots and adjust other parameters like shutter speed for proper exposure along with deeper DOF.

5. High Sensitivity

You might already know that ISO controls the sensitivity of camera sensor to the incoming light. More sensitive the sensor gets, brighter are images even in low light.

Increase ISO to 1600, although it (unfortunately) brings noise in night photographs. You need to make some compromises to get properly exposed images.

6. Mirror lock-up

Mirror lockup is a camera setting that locks your mirror before clicking photographs.

All DSLR cameras have mirror inside them. This mirror reflects light to the viewfinder before clicking an image. As you try to capture a photograph, this mirror flips to reflect light onto the camera sensor.

This flipping causes a slight camera shake and might make the photo a little blurry. To capture absolutely sharp images, you can try mirror lockup (if your camera allows).

Keep in mind, you won’t be able to use the viewfinder when this setting is activated. So, set the camera and frame the scene beforehand. I suggest using a shutter release button also.

also read: Beginner’s Guide: Essential Gear for Night Photography

long exposure sky night photography

7. Shoot in RAW

Choose RAW among JPEG, RAW and TIFF formats. Shooting in RAW ensures you can take care of noise in post-processing.

Color variations and other fine details can be preserved in RAW.

It gives you flexibility of adjusting while balance, color, exposure and many other things.

8. Test Shots

You can’t be sure about camera settings for night photography without taking a few test-shots. Analyze exposure of your photographs and adjust camera settings accordingly.

In case photos appear underexposed, consider increasing exposure time to 30 seconds. If too bright, decrease ISO from 1600 to 800 or adjust aperture.

Wrapping it up

Perfect camera settings for night photography:

  1. Switch to manual mode for ultimate control.
  2. Use tripod to avoid camera shake in long exposure photography.
  3. Select shutter speed to 10 seconds or slower, depending upon the scene
  4. Larger aperture (lower f-stop) make sure enough light is gathered. Aperture can be adjusted according to your needs for Depth of Field in images.
  5. High ISO means brighter images in low light. However, it brings up noise, which must be taken care of in post processing.
  6. Mirror lock-up is a setting to avoid blur due to camera shake while clicking images. Viewfinder is disabled in this camera setting. So, turn it on only after you’ve set camera and framed the scene.
  7. Use shutter release buttons to avoid camera shake.
  8. Always shoot night photographs in RAW format.
  9. Try having some test shots and adjust camera settings as needed.

a street with diffused lighting at night
long exposure car tail lights on road night photography

Well, there you go! That’s all I had to share. Don’t forget to drop a comment down below if this post helped you in some way or if you’d like me to write about something or maybe just to say hi!

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