Night Photography Tips

With our evening photowalk tomorrow evening, I thought I would share a few pointers for night photography in downtown Houston. If you have any comments or questions, you can post them on our facebook page in response to this post.

Safety First

S1. Be Situationally Aware. Pay attention where you step, back into, and swing your tripod.

S2. Be mindful of your flash. Flashing into an oncoming car, could temporarily blind someone. Flashing into a Metro vehicle is against the law. You also want to be respectful of people if taking their picture especially with flash at night.

S3. No one left behind. Get a smaller group to hang and converse with for the walk. Look out for each other to make sure no one gets left behind, or misses out on the most important point of the outing: Socializing with other photogs.


1. Camera in Manual Mode -  For night shots, Automatic mode does not work. The meter in your camera tries to make the exposure like daytime. You will need to know how to put your camera in manual mode, and be able to look at your camera meter.

2. Do not use auto-ISO -  Higher ISO adds more noise, especially in the shadows. Nighttime shooting is full of shadows, so keep your ISO as low as possible, below 800 for APC, and below 1600 for full frame.  Having your ISO fixed will also make it easier to adjust your aperture and shutter speed to get your desired exposure, i.e. one less variable moving around. I will keep mine between 200-800 ISO for my Nikon D600.

3. Use a tripod. At the lower ISOs, you will not be able to handhold your camera, and will need a tripod to get a steady shot.

4. Use a timer or cable release. The camera will shake when you press the button. The timer lets the camera settle before releasing the shutter. A cable release will actually give you more precise control if you are trying to capture that “decisive moment” on the street. I use a 2 sec timer.

5. Bring a flashlight. It will be dark, and your camera will not be able to autofocus without it. You will point the flashlight where you want to focus, and let the camera autofocus. If you use a small aperture/ high f-stop, you will not have to be too precise in your focus point.

6. Pre-focus your shot. You will want to get your shot in focus before you are ready to take the shot. “Back-button” focus works really well in this situation. It allows me to focus with my back button and then press the shutter release without affecting my focus. If your camera uses the default where the shutter release half way down does the focusing, you have 2 options. The first is to focus with your flashlight, then put your lens on manual focus, so the camera cannot change it. The second is press the shutter release halfway down, use your flashlight to get your focus, then press the release all the way.

7. Use a small aperture to get a starburst around your lights. f/16 is a good one to start with. Any smaller, and you might start losing sharpness.

8. Use Auto-White balance. The night lights are all over the place, so just set your WB to auto, and forget about it until post processing.

9. Shoot in Raw. Raw files will have more information to pull out detail in the shadows or adjust slightly blown-out highlights. You also have more control over your white balance in post processing. You will need a program to read the raw files like Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or Aperture. If you have the software for Raw, but still feel intimidated, shoot in Raw + JPEG mode, and start to play with raw files.

10. Put your LCD in “Blinky” mode. This is the mode that will blink the blown-out highlights on you LCD. You can then tell very quickly whether you need to reduce your exposure. The lights will almost always be blown-out, this will just give an indication of the extent.

11. Do not use long exposure NR. It takes a second shot after the first, and will just slow you down. Depend on low ISO and your software to manage noise in post processing. If you have more patience than me, then go for it.

OK, that’s it. I look forward to seeing everyone at the walk tomorrow evening.

Dee Z.

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HPS Outing – Evening/Night Downtown Walk