In winter, there’s an abundance of dark rather than abundance of light – but that doesn’t have to restrict your shooting hours. The world looks very different at night and you may find things that appear quite mundane in the daylight hours are far more intriguing in the shadows. Cities and architecture are classic examples of this, where interesting illumination hits the buildings as the sun goes down.
Shooting after dark can also be a more pleasurable experience: the pace is slower as the light (or lack thereof) is consistent and there are normally fewer people around. You also have the benefit of being able to get out to take some night shots late afternoon and still be home at a reasonable hour.
Best equipment for night photography
A camera with a large sensor is ideal, as it will be able to make the most of any available light. All DSLRs and compact system cameras have sensors that are much larger than the average compact or mobile phone, and at the moment there’s never been more choice on the market.
The Sony A7S II is one of the best mirrorless cameras for low-light photography, with its full-frame sensor producing some incredible low noise shots. Alternatively, the Nikon D7500 is a fantastic all-rounder more than capable of producing high-quality night shots.
In terms of lenses, you can afford to be quite varied with your choices, depending on what you want to shoot. As a starting point, if you’re shooting architecture or landscapes, a wide-angle lens is a great choice – between 16 and 24mm is ideal. A lens hood will also prove useful for preventing lens flare from streetlights.
The most important addition is a sturdy tripod. When shooting at long exposures times, it’s vital to keep your camera as still as possible to prevent image blur. Adding a remote release to the mix will prevent camera shake when touching camera buttons.
Quick tips for night photography
To make the most of available light, use a long exposure. Experiment with different shutter speeds, as you may not need such a long exposure if you’re shooting a well illuminated building, for example. Bulb mode allows you to shoot longer than 30 seconds, creating exposures of up to an hour. Make sure you have a remote release if you plan to have the shutter open that long.
Another way to reduce the risk of introducing camera shake is to use timer mode to delay the shutter release. Go for either 2 seconds or 10 seconds – especially if you’re not using a remote.
Artificial lights can throw off automatic white balance systems. Switch to a specific white balance setting, such as tungsten, to get the most accurate colour possible.
One of the best things about modern cameras is their ability to cope with high ISO situations. However, it’s still true that the lower the ISO, the better the detail – if you’re using a tripod, you’ll be able to keep ISO as low as possible (ISO 400-800 is ideal).
Night photography is one of the most critical times to shoot in RAW. You’ll be able to recapture any lost details in shadow areas, while recovering any highlights that have been blown out thanks to long exposures. You can also tweak settings such as white balance, too.
Ian Savage, expert photographer and author.