You may also want to bring a light source and play with light painting — there are many options that are small and easy to pack. As Pidgeon explains, “Put on a five-second exposure and shine a flashlight over something. You could use your phones, and be like, ‘When I count to three, we’re going to paint this little corner of the building.’” If you’re shooting digitally, you can immediately check your results. “If it didn’t work,” Pidgeon says, “you can just try it again; it can be really fun.“
Keep it sharp.
With longer exposure and a wider aperture, sharp focus on your subject can be tricky. To avoid blur, Tan notes , “You might have to be a little bit more steady if you’re opening up on your aperture or slowing your shutter speed. Shooting at night is a little bit slower of a game.”
He warns that “a lot of people miss focus at night; their subjects aren’t sharp. When they open up to a really wide depth of field, there’s not a lot of forgiveness on sharpness. If your subject moves an inch or two away from the camera, they all of a sudden go out of the range of focus.” Setting your shot up carefully and asking your human subjects to be still can help ensure that your image is clear.
Samuel Nute, a landscape photographer, has tips on night sky photography — sometimes called astrophotography— which requires very long exposures and especially careful attention to focus. His recommendation:
“You want to have the shutter open for anywhere from 10 seconds to a minute, depending on what you’re trying to get. But in that time, if the camera moves at all, the shot’s going to be blurry.”
Using a cable to control the shutter remotely — so you’re not having to touch the camera — is really, really important. Having a tripod is important, as well. Because, again, you need to limit movement.”
If it’s a windy night, or you’re trying to capture star trails, Nute suggests using what you have on hand to minimize camera shake: “You can set up your tripod and then hang your backpack so that the tripod won’t move in the wind, acting like a sandbag of sorts.”
Prep, patience, and a sense of adventure.
Taking photos at night requires a little extra precision around camera settings and a bit more preparation than simple daytime snapshots. But the rewards can be great, and the nighttime scenes you discover through your lens may surprise you.
Pidgeon offers a last piece of advice for those setting off into the dark, suggesting that the real work is about “looking at it as an adventure — at what makes a compelling or interesting picture versus being more control oriented. You need a certain amount of control to come up with something that technically works, but with night photography, you embrace the random things that happen. You can come up with some cool shots if you’re in that mindset.”