There’s no secret that cameras utilize light in order to capture professional images. But, what about shooting at night? If you don’t have a lot of light to use when taking pictures, you’ll need to rely on your camera’s settings to be able to use as much light as possible.
But, what are the best settings for night photography? In this guide, we are going to be talking you through all of the best settings that you can use for night photography (see also: The Best Settings For Nebula Photography).
So, without further ado, just keep on reading to learn more about what all of the best settings for night photography are.
How To Set-Up Your Camera For Night Photography?
Regardless of whether you’re new to the world of photography or not, anyone has the potential to take awesome night pictures – it all depends on what type of settings you have adjusted your camera to.
So, to help ensure that you are able to take the best night photography you can, below we are going to be breaking down what all the best settings for night photography are.
So, no matter whether you want to take images of the night sky or even a natural landscape, this guide will show you how to achieve the best results. Let’s have a look at the optimal settings that you are going to want to use below:
1.Use An Open Aperture
If you want to make sure that you are capturing the best images during the night, then you are going to want to make sure that you are shooting your images with an open aperture.
If you’re already familiar with using a camera, then we’re sure that you’ll be familiar with the way that it is typically recommended to shoot with a narrow aperture.
When shooting in the day for landscape or portrait, a narrow aperture typically has the ability to be able to achieve a crisp and sharp image quality which is ideal for shooting in the day.
However, when it comes to shooting in the night, a narrow aperture doesn’t work as well as, to put it simply, it’s just not fast enough.
When it comes to night photography, you are going to want to make sure that you are opting for a wide-angle lens, as this will be able to offer you an open aperture that will be far faster than if you were to use a standard lens with a narrow aperture.
If you don’t have a wide lens and you’re thinking of making the investment in one, you’ll want to make sure that you are picking up one that offers an aperture of f/2/8 or lower.
Keep in mind, lenses that have a faster aperture (in particular, wide lenses) typically tend to be far more expensive to purchase than standard lenses that have an aperture of around f/4 or higher.
Due to this, if you don’t want to make the investment in one, you can still get great pictures with a standard lens with a narrow aperture, but it will just mean that you need to make sure you are utilizing the ISO and shutter speeds to achieve the desired results. This brings us to our next section.
2. Use A High ISO
Along with making sure that you are using an open aperture that will be able to increase speed to improve the results, you’re also going to want to make sure that you are using a high ISO setting, as well.
As you might have already been able to guess by now, the optimal settings for night photography typically tend to be the complete opposite of the optimal settings used in the day – and the ISO is no exception!
When it comes to shooting in the day, a low aperture is considered to be the best as it can help to prevent any unwanted noise or grain in the images.
However, if you want to make sure that you are getting the best night photography images, you’re going to need to make sure that you are using a high ISO to help your camera get more light.
If you were to shoot night photography with a low ISO, then it is highly likely that the images that you take will be totally black.
For this reason, opting to use a higher ISO will help to make your camera sensor more sensitive to light, which in turn will be able to create images that are clear, crisp and vibrant.
Keep in mind, however, that increasing the ISO will ultimately result in images that typically tend to have a lot more grain and noise, which is why it’s recommended that you try and keep the ISO as low as you possibly can.
Still, if you don’t want to make the investment in a wider lens, a higher ISO is a great compromise that will still help you to capture great images at night.
Top Tip: If you are going to be shooting the night sky, it’s important to note that how high or low you will need the ISO to be will greatly depend on what artificial light you already have, as well as what phase the moon is in.
3. Choose The Optimal Shutter Speed
Along with using the right aperture and ISO setting, you are also going to want to make sure that you are using the right shutter speed. When shooting at night, there’s going to be a much higher chance that the images you’re taking will be blurry.
For this reason, you’re going to need to make sure that you are making good use of your shutter speed, as this can make all of the difference!
Now, when it comes to shutter speed, you’re going to want to make sure that you are opting for a shutter speed that isn’t going to be too slow.
While it can be tempting to think that you should have a lower shutter speed to help increase light exposure, a lower shutter speed will ultimately result in blurry images.
While you can certainly opt for a slower shutter speed if you want your images to have a “dreamlike” quality to them, if you want to try and get the best quality imagery while shooting photography at night, it’s recommended that you use the maximum shutter speed for your lens.
But, what is the maximum shutter speed that you should use for your camera? This is a great question that many photographers that want to shoot imagery at night find themselves wondering.
While this can be hard to get right, the good news is that you can easily calculate your shutter speed by following a simple formula that we’re going to be talking you through above.
In order to calculate the maximum shutter speed for your camera, you’re going to need to take the number 500 (for full-frame sensors) or alternatively, the number 300 (if you have a crop sensor) and then go ahead and divide that number by the focal length of your camera.
So, with that being said, if you make sure to follow the formula that we have outlined above, you will be able to easily calculate what the maximum shutter speed for your camera is going to be.
From there, you will then be able to proceed to use the ideal shutter speed that you have calculated in order to get the best night photography results.
As a general rule of thumb, though, when it comes to shooting photography during the night (or even in low light conditions) it is not recommended that you have a shutter speed lower than 30 seconds.
4. Plan Ahead And Take The Right Equipment With You
Even though it’s important to make sure that you are using the right settings when taking photographs at night, it is also just as important to make sure that you are also making use of the best equipment to help enhance your images and overall experience.
First things first, if you’re planning to shoot the night sky or a similar landscape, then you should consider bringing along a portable chair so that you will have somewhere to sit while capturing the images.
Plus, along with a chair, you should also make sure that you are wrapping up warm as it can get cold during the night, as well as making sure that you are shooting in a location that is safe.
If you want additional peace of mind while shooting at night, you could also consider letting someone know your location (many smartphones have location sharing features) so that a loved one or friend will know where you are for the duration of the photography session.
As for additional photography equipment? If it’s possible to bring, we highly recommend that you consider using a tripod when capturing your night photography.
A tripod will not only be able to free up your hands, but a tripod will also be able to ensure that the camera is held steady while capturing images.
This is especially true for capturing images of the night sky, as even a slight shake of the hand can greatly impact the quality of the images.
In addition to bringing along a tripod with you to hold your camera steady while you are capturing the imagery, you could also consider bringing along portable lights to use.
While this might not be an ideal option for capturing images of the night sky, using portable lights at night are perfect for portrait imagery.
Best Settings For Night Photography On An iPhone
Now that we have talked you through all of the best camera settings for night photography, we’re now going to be sharing with you some of the best tips for increasing the quality of night photography you can capture on an iPhone.
1.Stabilize With A Phone Tripod
Even though tripods are primarily designed for cameras, there are a few on the market that can also be used with a smartphone.
This is one of the best pieces of advice that we can share with you, as when it comes to capturing night imagery on your iPhone, you’re going to want to make sure that the lenses are as steady as they possibly can be.
Even just a slight shake of your hand could cause motion blur that will totally mess up the quality of your images, so you’re going to want to make sure that you’re using a tripod to help get around this potential issue.
2. Activate High Dynamic Range
Along with making sure that you are using a tripod suitable for your phone, you are also going to need to make sure that you are activating your phone’s built-in HDR, which is otherwise referred to as simply High Dynamic Range.
By shooting with the HDR on your phone activated, it will mean that you are going to be able to capture more highlights and shadows to achieve more interesting images that will be of a higher quality.
In addition to this, using HDR will be able to bring a certain depth to your images that regular exposure won’t be able to offer. If you aren’t overly familiar with how HDR works, it is implemented by taking three images at once.
These images consist of a regular exposure image, an underexposed image and then an overexposed image.
They are then combined together to create one image, which will mean that you will be able to get better lighting and far more details than if you were to just shoot with a regular exposure.
3. Take Pictures With Ambient Light
Just because you plan to take night photography doesn’t mean that you have to begin capturing pictures when it is pitch black outside!
One of the best ways that you can help to increase the overall quality of your night photography captured on your iPhone camera is by choosing to begin the session during blue hour, which is around dusk when the sun is falling below the horizon.
During this time, it won’t yet be completely dark outside but it will still be dark enough to capture imagery that counts as “night photography”.
Thanks to this, it means that you will be able to take images that have plenty of ambient light that will result in images that are clearer, brightly lit and of a much higher quality than if you were to shoot during the pitch black darkness of night.
4. Use Artificial Light To Brighten The Subjects
Last but certainly not least, the final way that you can help to increase the quality of the night imagery you take on your iPhone camera is to make use of plenty of artificial light.
This is especially important if you are going to be shooting portraits, as you’ll want to make sure that the subject is as brightly lit as possible.
There are plenty of options available to you when it comes to artificial lighting. You can use a flashlight, a ring light or even a flood light designed for photography.
By doing this, you will help to ensure that the portrait images you take will be of a high quality and brightly lit, without having to worry about manually adjusting any of your phone’s camera settings.
Keep in mind that artificial light won’t work as well when trying to capture images of the night sky.
For this reason, if you are planning to take imagery of the night sky with your phone’s camera, you should make sure that you are remembering to go out and begin your photography session right after sunset, as you will have around 60 minutes to make good use of ambient light before it gets too dark to capture high-quality images on your phone.
Top Tip: If you don’t have any portable lighting equipment to use and you want to capture high quality images of a subject at night, then you can always opt to simply use your flash.
Wrapping Up: Over To You
You’ve made it to the end of our guide to the best settings for shooting night photography (see also “Best Settings For Nature Photography“).
By now, after taking the time to read through all of the settings that we haven talked you through above – you should now find that you are confident to go ahead and begin taking pictures during the night.
Still, to make sure that you’re absolutely ready to take on night photography, let’s provide you with a quick recap of everything that we have talked you through above:
Even though settings can vary depending on individual circumstances, it is generally recommended that you opt for a high ISO, an open aperture and a long shutter speed when taking night photography.
This means that you’ll want to make sure that you have a high ISO that is starting at at least 1600, an open aperture ideally at f/2.8 as well as the longest possible shutter speed that your camera will allow in accordance with the formula shared.
Remember, it’s important to make sure that you are only using the settings that we have recommended to you above as general guidelines.
It’s important that you remember that the optimal settings for shooting at night might vary depending on a variety of factors, including what camera you have, what additional equipment you are using as well as what artificial lighting you have.
Thanks for taking the time to read through this guide once again, and bye for now! We hope you have plenty of fun taking photography during the night.
Frequently Asked Questions
There is no clear-cut answer to this, as the answer to this question will ultimately depend on what lighting conditions you have when shooting. If you plan to shoot during dusk or early evening, then an ISO of 400 (or, potentially even lower than this) might work just fine.
Along with this, if you are shooting the night sky and it’s a very clear night and you have great lighting conditions to work with from both natural and artificial light – then you might also find that you are able to get away with a lower ISO.
However, if you are going to be shooting during the night and you have very poor lighting conditions, then it is preferred that you opt for a higher ISO of at least 1600.
This is because a higher ISO will be able to raise the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to help increase the amount of light your camera will be able to work with when taking imagery.
The best ISO for shooting the night sky will typically be anywhere from 1600 or higher.
Remember, however, that when shooting the night sky, other variables might come into play that could affect the optimal ISO setting such as the moon phase, as well as what natural lighting you have.
Even though it is recommended that you manually set-up your camera yourself (ideally, using our guide we have shared above) when taking night photography, you can also opt to simply set your camera to automatic if this is something that you would prefer.
Depending on what type of camera you have, setting your camera to the “automatic” function will vary depending on the layout and design.
More often than not, however, there will typically be a button somewhere in the center of your camera that you will be able to press to switch your camera into automatic.
However, if you can’t see a button for this, you might need to go into the settings on your display screen to set your camera to automatic.
If you’re struggling with either of these options, then we recommend that you take a look at your owner’s manual for instructions on how to do it correctly.