How to make a successful night shot with the long exposure

If you put your camera away when it gets dark thinking that all you’ll get are red eyes, backlit subjects and noisy images, then you have everything to gain from unlocking the secrets of night photography.

You don’t need overly sophisticated equipment to take night pictures with an SLR, or scholarly knowledge or a photo lab to get started.

Even if you’re just getting started, you can create images that are even more beautiful than what your eyes can see in real life. And that’s what’s magic about (night) photography.

In this article, I’ve put together some pictures that will prove to you that when the sun goes down and it gets dark, it’s a good time to get out your camera and go on a night shoot.

Following the reading, you will discover the necessary equipment for night photography, what are the essential knowledge to start and the different types of practices in night photography.

What equipment to start taking night pictures?

In night photography there is little light, which pushes the equipment to its limits. To succeed in your night photos you will need:

    A good camera

    A bright lens

    A tripod

    Possibly a remote or timer release device.

What equipment to start taking night pictures?

Which camera to avoid in night photography?

Of course, any camera that already has difficulties to offer quality during the day will be inadvisable for night use. To make it short, the cameras least adapted for night photography are those equipped with “small sensors”, lenses that are not very bright and that do not have access to value settings.

How to recognize them?

Because of its size, a small sensor will “capture” little light. So it needs a lot of light. But they are often associated with a low light optics, so very little light will be able to reach the sensor. Hence the interest to access to a manual adjustment of the exposure time. Even with a long exposure time, the result will be disappointing.

Recommended cameras for night photography

To get into night photography…

A good camera, it’s bound to help. So yes it is possible to start with a compact with a bright lens (f/2.8 or lower) for urban photography or night portrait and a short focal length (18, 35 mm equivalent) or standard lens (50 mm equivalent).

For sky photography, as long as you have a wide field of view (not too zoomy), a small medium-light lens on a small sensor can provide as much brightness as a large medium-light zoom lens on a large sensor, without too much investment.

As soon as you need to zoom in, a bridge camera with a good zoom or a camera with an interchangeable hybrid or SLR lens will do the trick. You will find them for a few hundred dollars.

The main thing is to access the settings in manual night photography. Ideally a good night camera allows you to access a low native ISO (ex 100 ISO) which limits digital noise. Accessing a pause time of 30s or more will give you more creativity.

For advanced use of night photography

Night photography is more reserved for “large sensor” AFNs. The name refers to the micro four-thirds format also called MFT or m4/3, APS-C and APS-H, and full format 24×36 mm.

A large sensor requires a lot of light, and therefore is associated with bright optics. A bright constant f/2.8 lens will do the job very well. With a less bright lens, the exposure time will need to be increased.

Who says long exposure time, necessarily says a tripod to immobilize the camera !!!

To avoid any parasitic movement that could introduce a blur, it will be preferable to access a delayed or remote release solution: Check that your camera has a self-timer, or even an interval meter. Otherwise provide a wired or wireless remote trigger device such as a remote control or a pairing with a smartphone.

For the on-call photo :

Orion Nebula, Andromeda Galaxy, the star photo is the most technical practice of night photography. It requires some advanced astrophotography techniques.

It is also greedy in material. As an overview here is the list of specific equipment to obtain a deep sky and sharp stars despite a telephoto lens or telescope:

    – Equatorial mount telescope;

    – Digital camera with large sensitive sensor with device allowing exposures of several minutes (some use a webcam with ccd sensor for its sensitivity);

    – Adapter or T-ring to connect the camera to the telescope ;

    – Equatorial mount (motorization that compensates for the rotation of the earth) with its power supply and remote control;

    – Polar viewfinder to calibrate the mount on the axis of rotation;

    – Image processing software such as Iris or Registax for free or Photoshop and Lightroom for a fee. Software like Merge to recompose an image from several detail photos.

How to make night pictures?

How to make night pictures?

Which solutions to get sharp night photos?

It is possible to get close to the best settings for night photography by trial and error. When the light is dimmed, you will need to increase the exposure time.

Plan to use a tripod (see our guide) for successful long exposures! By doing this you will get images that are out of the ordinary because the human eye simply cannot see them.

In order to bring in as much light as possible, you will try to increase the exposure time.

For night photo settings, I apply the following rules:

    Use the aperture to work with the desired sharpness area. If this does not speak to you, I refer you to my content on aperture and depth of field.

    Leave the ISO sensitivity low to avoid introducing digital noise, unless this is the desired effect.

    Reduce the exposure time as much as possible to get the correct exposure while avoiding blur to move, unless this is the desired effect.

I can’t advance any settings because each situation will have its own settings.

If you want to get familiar with these notions of aperture, ISO sensitivity and shutter speed you can ask to join my sequence for free and get a good grip on your camera.

Read More : How to make a success of your family photo at Christmas?

Night photography in low light: the appointment of the photographer

Night and low-light photography allows you to obtain very special atmospheres.

In photography, the most interesting moments are between day and night. You have :

    The blue hour: which allows to obtain a blue sky with very deep contrasts in the evening after sunset and in the morning before sunrise.

    The Golden hour: which allows you to obtain warm tones towards sunrise and sunset.

Between the two the sky is dark and there is a whole range of subjects to photograph at night and techniques to discover and that is what I introduce you in the rest of this article. Forget about the 36 things you are doing and let yourself be guided in this virtual exhibition on the theme of night photography.

Night Photography of Still Subjects

Among the night photos, you have a first category that represents all the scenes where the elements that compose it are motionless. You find it mainly with urban and extra-urban landscapes and sky photos.

Personally, I find that the impression of a frozen scene creates a timeless feeling and sometimes a source of discomfort because one ingredient is missing: life.

This is a great way to practice photography technique but I recommend either sliding over cityscapes or introducing a main subject. It will bring more meaning to the viewer’s eye.

Night photography of a subject with a flash

The advantage of flash photography is that it brings additional light to the main subject. It quickly becomes technical because in addition to avoiding pale skin tones, red eyes, and reflections, a good photographer will take care to restore the mood and even take care of the background even if it is out of reach of the flash.

My tip for taking care of the background: Use a tripod and exposure for up to several seconds to capture nuances in the background and flash for a fraction of a second to uncover the subject.

Night photography of a subject with a flash

The night picture without flash

You don’t have a flash? Perfect, taking night pictures without a flash is quite possible.

Moreover, most of the night photographs presented on this page are taken in ambient light. Rather than using an additional light source to illuminate the sensor, it will be possible to use a longer exposure time to compensate for a lack of lighting.

The night portrait photo presented above benefits from the addition of low light but close to the face. This is enough to make a successful night portrait photo. Think about these kinds of little tricks the next time you take the camera out at night.

Playing with light sources to create a blur effect

Light sources outside the sharpness range can create beautiful geometric shapes. These light spots are called bokeh.

With a bright lens, it’s easy to capture pretty bokehs in street photography. This effect is very popular with photographers. As the holidays approach, illuminated streets may well become your favorite playground.

My tip to get nice bokek: Play on the aperture and zoom to make them appear.

The night sky photo

The starry sky photo

One of the great satisfactions of the night owl photographer is to take pictures, not of a banal starry sky speckled with dots that look like spots on the sensor, but to clearly render the starry ceiling and the Milky Way. The Milky Way captures the eye, which can then get lost in every detail of the photo.

 My tip for successful starry sky photos:

Choose a place far from the light pollution of cities and a moonless night to get a deep sky.

The Northern Lights Photo

The Northern Lights photo remains, by the richness of the colors and the forms, a subject of predilection in nocturnal photography. And since it is taken near the poles, it is well deserved.

My tip to get an extra dimension:

Bring a night landscape into the foreground to put the action into context.

Shooting shooting stars

It must be admitted that the long exposure brings something magical: making stars appear that you can’t see with the naked eye!

With luck a starry sky photo can even have shooting stars. Imagine the satisfaction of capturing a shooting star. I salute the achievement but I find that these small streaks are more reminiscent of scratched sensor marks or bad handling in photoshop.

My tip to improve the rendering of a starry sky:

Play post-processing with the addition of very lightly tinted gradient filters to amplify warm or cold tones. Add a ruler to avoid abracadabrating colors: each modification should be barely perceptible.

Having a solution that compensates for the rotation of the earth then becomes interesting to lengthen the exposure time and multiply the star filaments that burn out. It is putting the finger on a very demanding discipline.

The other photos selected in this article are more accessible to execute since a camera of correct quality that allows long exposure and equipped with a self-timer already allows to obtain very good results!

Moon photo

Photographing the full moon

A great classic in night photography, the full moon photo returns periodically on a 29.5-day cycle. When the lunar calendar announces a full moon, it’s time to take the camera out. Some moons are bigger, so keep an eye on them.

You have probably already tried to photograph a full moon, but were disappointed by the result, a pale luminous disc, without detail and with a diffuse outline?

You have seen that the uncle who does a little photography manages to capture a red moon, with a warm tone and interesting contrasts that reproduce the relief effect that you would like to reproduce.

My tip for photographing the moon:

Instead of photographing the moon when it’s high in the sky, take advantage of the moment when it’s low in the sky. When the moon rises or sets, the light from the moon travels longer through the earth’s atmosphere. The light intensity is more filtered and you can get closer to soft, contrasting tint dresses like the one shown above.

The special moment not to be missed in a moon photo is the moonrise in the evening or the moonset in the morning. As with the example of the aurora borealis, introducing a landscape will add an extra dimension.

A second undeniable advantage of taking a moonrise photo is that it can be integrated into a night landscape, with the moon rising close to the horizon to indicate that the moon is rising. The association between a star and a remarkable element of the landscape is a recipe that will always work.

Photo of solar and moon eclipses

Moon eclipses and solar eclipses are opportunities not to be missed to photograph the star or the star in a different light.

The selected illustration shows a solar eclipse. It is recognizable by its glowing contours. This allows scientists to observe solar flares.

Of course, avoid looking directly at the sun without special protection.

Photography of night landscapes

Photography of night landscapes

The city picture at night

There are countless opportunities to photograph nighttime cityscapes, but not all nighttime city photos are created equal. By working on the composition, the image produced will be visually powerful. By taking care in the choice of the subject and the exposure, the atmosphere will be strong and impossible to produce during the day.

Photography of monuments

In an urban environment or not, it is possible to stage a building or work of art. The rules of composition that apply during the day also apply at night.

By using the following technique you will apply a trick to highlight a particular building (a statue, or a tree for that matter).

Lightpainting of fixed objects

The long exposure can be used to capture frozen scenes, to reproduce movement and to better detach a subject from its environment.

With a long exposure, it is to gradually capture the light reflected when you scan an object with a beam of light. The latter will be darker.

Lightpainting is a creative activity within everyone’s reach. The necessary equipment consists of a camera that allows an exposure of several seconds, a tripod and a lamp, even a weak one.

Light in motion

Lightpainting of moving objects

In night photography the photographer extends the exposure time to get enough light on the sensor. The result with moving characters is that they eventually disappear.

The result with light sources is that they print their tracks on the sensor, thus restoring images that the naked eye cannot see.

Lightpainting staged version

Lightpainting allows you to be even more creative. Take a photo stand, a camera in bulb mode and it’s up to you. Yes it is possible to be an actor in the photo.

Circumpolar photo or star yarn

Likewise, adjusting the exposure time makes it possible to freeze the movement of the stars in the sky. This creates a multitude of concentric circles around the North Star. For those who would ask the question, the effect is produced by the rotation of the earth and yes, it requires software processing to compile a sequence of photos.

Of course, integrating a portion of a landscape gives the composition an additional appeal.

Fireworks Photography

In the middle of summer when night comes there are still golden opportunities to take out your camera at night. Did you know that taking a photo of a fireworks display simply by using the exposure time, to good effect, it is possible to juxtapose several successive sprays on the same photo?

The urban night landscape photo

Always lengthening the exposure time, the moving lights of road or river traffic draw bright and colorful snakes.

The photo of lightning flashes

When the skies rumble and become threatening, photographers have the opportunity to capture lightning that tears the sky apart. What’s nice is that it doesn’t take a gift of anticipation or a hidden reflex to successfully capture a flash. A sky full of black clouds will bring extra depth and atmosphere.

Strange atmosphere with foggy sky in long exposure

Foggy or cloudy skies with wind can be a source of atmospheric haze. With a long pose, it’s up to you to play with this mist to create a magical, mysterious, timeless atmosphere.

Fog is an excellent light diffuser and excellent results can be achieved by mixing night, big city and fog like here in Hong Kong.

Read More : 13 good tips to make your travel photos a success

Photographing moving water

With a long exposure, the photographer has the power to smooth the water. The reflections gradually register during the exposure time and eventually create a surface that is more glossy than it really is.

Any body of water is a valuable asset for composition in photography. This is also true in night photography, where integrating a water surface allows to play on an effect of symmetry and increase the level of immersion of the spectator in the scene.


Broadcasting a series of photos in the form of an animated video sequence allows you to “fast-forward” the film. These animated productions can take a long time to capture and become more and more demanding to produce.

Coupled with long exposures, the level of detail becomes excellent and brings rhythm to a panorama or a video.

Coupled with very high definitions it becomes possible to add creative effects in post-production.

Coupled with a tracking rail movement the timelapse will bring a bit of dynamism. Coupled with a more important displacement always pointing to a fixed point and stabilization, the timelapse becomes hyperlapse and allows to create quality displacement effects.

The night surveillance photo

The surveillance photo is a special case since everything is automated. Today, wildlife enthusiasts and hunters have equipment that allows them to capture photos remotely, without even having to travel.

My practice of night photography

Personally I like to photograph at night. I appreciate the calm and the feeling that time passes differently from the day. On the road, I sometimes record a timelapse sequence of a starry sky.

During my convalescence period when I couldn’t wear anything or go far outside I could take a few nocturnal pictures of full moonrise in slippers from the balcony or test the long exposure with urban traffic and try my hand at shooting in blue time with a very busy sky. This practice is therefore widely accessible.

During the day we all have a lot of commitment to keep. Photographing at night becomes the easy solution for those who already have busy days. At night, everything is calmer and soothing. The streets are more airy and that’s a good thing!


I enjoyed writing this article and documenting it in photos. I hope you will take as much pleasure in discovering its contents.

Photography at night sometimes requires you to get out of your comfort zone, if only to go and find an interesting place before coming back at night, to climb a summit to find the right viewpoint, or even to wait for the right time or to sleep in. Otherwise from his balcony in slippers it is already possible to take some pictures of urban landscape at night or starry sky and that’s great!

For those who still hesitate. I would like to share with you the satisfaction I feel every time I get a good shot. I say to myself, that’s it, I’m dominating my equipment… too good… in fact, wow!. A lot of the pictures presented here are within the reach of a motivated beginner. The most important thing is to break with your daily routine, pack your bag and go on a night adventure hunting beautiful night scenery, and no matter the result!