When you’re new to photography, the night can be an intimidating time of day to go out shooting. Unlike the Golden Hour, when shooting gorgeous photos is easy, the night requires more skill and knowledge of your camera. It’s a learning curve worth getting through, though. The night is full of interesting and beautiful scenes, especially in the city. The more you practice, the better you’ll get at shooting these nighttime wonders.
Besides practicing, you can greatly improve your night photography by getting a tripod. While you can still get cool photos without one, it’ll be harder and more frustrating. You can get a basic Amazon tripod for under $25. Next to buying a camera, it’ll be the best investment you’ve made in your photography.
Ideally, you should also get a remote release to minimize blur. You can buy them pretty cheap–less than $10 for a basic one–but if your budget is already stretched with the tripod, you can use a two-second timer instead. Though a timer isn’t as quick or convenient as a remote release, it’ll give you the same sharp results.
Once you have a tripod, you can start experimenting with ISO, shutter speed, and different light sources, from bright skyscrapers to blinking traffic lights. In general, you’ll want a low ISO (50-200) to minimize noise, along with a slow shutter speed to bring in more light.
There’s no “perfect” shutter speed to aim for. You might set it at 1 second, 10 seconds, or 30 seconds, depending on the light source. You can even get into ultra long exposure photography with exposure times ranging from several minutes to a few hours. (You’d definitely need a remote release for that, though.)
After you’ve sorted out these technical details, the night becomes rich with possibility. Cities that look grungy or bland during the day can turn into awe-inspiring subjects at night. If you’re still feeling frustrated after taking a few photos, try out one the following ideas.
City Light Photography Ideas
City lights, like Christmas lights, work great with bokeh. To create a bokeh effect, use a shallow depth of field to blur the city lights. You can focus on something in the foreground, like a person or a rain puddle, or let the blurry city lights fill the frame with their soft beauty.
Light trails from cars, trams, or even boats can give your photo a surreal edge. They’re easy to capture, too. Just set your shutter speed at 3 seconds or longer, find something bright that’s moving, and snap a photo. You might be amazed by the resulting image.
If you’ve ever flown into a city at night, you know how spectacular city lights can look from above. Thousands of twinkling lights stretch to the horizon, bright against the night sky. Fortunately, you don’t need a plane to photograph city lights from above. You can get great shots from a skyscraper or tower, too.
Symmetry is a common sight in many cities. Once you start looking for it, you’ll discover it everywhere. Buildings, street lights, and trees-lined parks all have symmetry. These patterns can be even more striking at night, when the darkness limits distractions. The viewer’s eyes are led straight to the shining lights and symmetry of the city.
Some cities have lovely bridges that are worth photographing by day and night. Others have bridges that are dull during the day but interesting at night, as their lights shine over the water. These “dull” bridges can be easy to miss if you’re only scoping out shooting locations during the day. If possible, try searching for locations at night as well, so you can pick up on these hidden beauties.
To get awe-inspiring astrophotography, photographers usually try to get away from cities and their light pollution. They might not even think about shooting the night sky in a city. After all, what’s there to shoot?
Light beams from the city, for starters, or the moon. On the right night, when the sky is clear and the moon is full, you can get incredible images. A super moon is even better, beaming its bright light over the city. But even on a moon-less night, you might see a few stars that could create cool light trails.
One challenge of night photography can be trying to get enough light and color in your frame. Shooting at twilight, also known as the Blue Hour, can help solve this problem, but it’s not the only solution. You can also use water to boost the light and color of your photo. Simply shoot the city lights from across a lake, river, or canal, and you’ll immediately see the difference.
For more beautiful shots of city lights, check out these 34 magical photos of cityscapes at night.