One of my favorite things about traveling is photographing cities at night. There is something magical about cities at night. Whether capturing iconic landmarks or seeing things from a different perspective, I try to take some night shots everywhere I go. It’s definitely been a learning process for me over the years, so I thought I would share some of my easy night photography tips to help you start to improve your photographs today!
Night Photography Tips
Find a steady place to shoot
Night photography typically requires longer exposures, so you’ll want to find somewhere steady that you can place your camera. I don’t travel with a tripod all the time, so I’m always looking for benches, posts, sidewalks, trash cans, etc. to place my camera on. I use coins to prop my lens up so you can’t see what I’m shooting from, so having some pennies with you isn’t a bad thing. (The pictures below were taken on the retaining wall overlooking the Thames. Easy enough!)
Know the basics of shooting in manual mode
Did I just scare you off? Don’t worry – I’ll run through a few photography basics with you right here.
- First, your f-stop (or aperture) is how much light is let into the lens. Typically, the smaller the number (1.8 for example), the more light you are letting into the lens. The higher the number (f/16 for example), the smaller the opening for light. This isn’t to say that you should always be shooting on your smallest f-stop. You can (and should!) play with it. For example, these two pictures of the Eiffel Tower used a respective f-stop of 1.2 and 4.0 or so. When I shoot with low f-stops, I’m usually trying to focus on one aspect of an image and blur out the background. If you shoot with a higher f/stop (like I do when I photograph fireworks), you will need a longer shutter speed to let light into the lens!
- Second, shutter speed (T) is the amount of time you are leaving the lens open. If you’re looking for light trails (or water trails or firework trails!), you’ll want the lens open (I usually do 10-15 seconds). If you’re looking for darker and more dramatic photos, you’ll want it open for less time. This is really when camera stability comes into play because you’ll be prone to camera shake (blurriness) the longer the lens is open. I’ve found it almost impossible to hold my camera perfectly still for any amount of time, so get creative and prop it up somewhere! If you have a self-timer (typically 2s or 10s) shutter release mode, I like to use this, too. That means you can press the button and step back before it actually shoots, minimizing camera shake.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
Don’t be afraid to experiment to capture different colors of the changing night sky. You’d be surprised at the colors that emerge that we can’t always see with the naked eye! My mom makes fun of my raw photos because you can see the changing light as I try and figure out exactly what shade of dark I want the sky… I typically like to start wandering around during twilight (blue hour) and shoot until I get tired of it. The later I shoot, the more dramatic the images are (particularly because people tend to disappear and minimize disruption to my shots).
Change your focal point
My camera has a 9-spot focal point system that allows me to choose what I want to focus on. I rarely let the camera choose the focal point in auto mode. I’m constantly moving it around to focus on different things. This does become increasingly more difficult at night, but again, play around with it! Sometimes I’ll focus on a street light. Sometimes I’ll focus on a monument. Other times, I’ll focus on a tiny detail like the clock face of Big Ben. By choosing different focal points, your images will change to accommodate the amount of light available at that particular focal point.
Look for different angles
In most of my travel photography, you’ll notice that I rarely shoot straight panoramic images. Sure, there’s a reason that all stock photographs are of iconic images, but I spend a lot of time appreciating the little details of what I’m photographing. Like the individual arches of the Coliseum or a portion of the Eiffel Tower. Don’t get locked into thinking that the only good photographs are the iconic ones you see in every travel advertisement. Find things that are beautiful to you and capture them. I think they make great conversation pieces too – I mean, I had no idea that the street lamps along the Thames are actually shaped like fish, and I’ve overlooked the smaller pyramid at the Louvre at least three times! I love telling people to look for those same details that you will never see on television or in a standard magazine shot. Night photography is no different – look for ways to make the image unique to you. Get creative. Play with it! 🙂
Do you have any night photography tips that I missed? What’s your favorite way to photograph cities?