Set your camera to ISO 6400.
Dial in whatever aperture you’d like to use.
Set the shutter speed to one second.
Take a sample image
Learning how to take great photos during the daytime can be a significant challenge that requires a lot of time, patience, and practice to perfect. Photography at night is even more difficult, so you can imagine the time, patience, and practice that it takes to take quality images once the sun goes down.
To help you get out at night and create wonderful nighttime images like the one above, give these quick and easy steps a try!
It probably goes without saying, but if you want to take nighttime photos, the extended shutter speeds require that you mount your camera on a tripod. Handshake is never your friend, so having a stable base is absolutely essential. If you’ll be shooting in windy conditions, take along a backpack or a strong bag and fill it with rocks and hang it from the tripod’s center column hook for added stability.
You’ll also want a remote shutter release so you can trigger the shutter without actually having to touch the camera. There are many different types of shutter releases, but for nighttime shooting, the most useful are those that also serve as a timer. This gives you the capability of setting the interval during which the shutter is open to longer than what the camera allows, which is usually just 30 seconds. Extending the length of the shutter speed to a minute, 90 seconds, or longer, means your camera can collect much more light without you having to push your ISO too high. The result is a well-exposed image without excessive noise.
Naturally, the shutter speed that you use and the length of the timer you dial in will change from one shoot location to the next depending on the available lighting. But some camera settings will remain the same regardless of the subject matter. This includes shooting in RAW, using manual mode, and dialing in a low ISO.
Shoot in RAW
The recommendation to shoot in RAW format is probably a lot like a broken record at this point. The benefits of shooting in RAW are just too many not to do it! With no compression, more pixel information, and an abundance of post-processing options, your final product will be better if you shoot in RAW versus shooting in JPEG. Adjust exposure, white balance, saturation, sharpness, and so on and so forth, all without impacting the original data. And, since memory cards can hold a vast amount of data these days, you needn’t worry about the large size of RAW files.
Shoot in Manual Mode
There is no fallback for shooting at night - manual mode is the way to get it done! Your camera may struggle mightily to get the exposure right, so relying on your own two eyes and your understanding of the exposure settings on your camera will be your best bet.
To get an idea of what the settings need to be for a proper exposure, do the following experiment:
What this does is give you an image that is essentially the same as a 1-minute exposure at ISO 100, a 30-second exposure at ISO 200, and so on. If your image is too bright, try reducing the shutter speed to 30 seconds. Doing so changes the scenario to being equivalent to a 30-second exposure at ISO 100, a 15-second exposure at ISO 200, and so on.
Once you find the right shutter speed at ISO 6400, you can then dial in it’s equivalent at ISO 100 or 200 to create an image with far less noise. The other benefit of using this trick is that you don’t have to take tons of long exposure images as you try to find the right settings. You’ll be out there for long enough in the dead of night creating long exposure photos, so you probably don’t want to extend that time by taking dozens of test shots at 30-second and one-minute intervals.
Keep the ISO Low
As we just mentioned, keeping the ISO low is critical because it allows you to keep digital noise at a minimum. Use the ISO trick discussed in the previous section to help you determine an appropriate shutter-to-ISO ratio, then use that formula to dial in the correct settings at a lower ISO.
For nighttime photography, an ISO of 100 or 200 would be ideal. At those settings, you will be able to keep the image free of noise in the darker and shadowed areas of the image. At times, though, you might find that you can’t go below ISO 400. Today’s cameras do a good job of minimizing noise at ISO 400, and in some cases even higher, so you should be able to get a good image even if pushing the ISO to 400 or above.
Whether you want to shoot images of a nighttime city skyline, the night sky, or something in between, these quick tips will help you nail down the right settings to get you a well-exposed image. Although shooting in RAW takes up more space on your memory card, you should have plenty of room given the sizes of cards available today. Likewise, while shooting in manual mode requires more work on your part, the resulting images will be better for it. Keep the ISO low as well, and with practice, you will find that you can create stunning nighttime images.