night photography tutorial – long exposure camera settings

night photography tutorial

long exposure camera settings

In this night photography tutorial we will be covering few basics for the camera settings for the best outcomes.
how to become a photographer - night photography
Sydney night shot

Night photography is one of the reasons people buy a camera including myself.  It is one of the most interesting section of our  Academy of Photography  tutorials.

Some of the best city scapes in the world are presented with night shots in brochures and magazines postcards and other marketing material.Even if not very difficult, there is a bit of challenge to obtain to desirable lighting effects after dark. As a minimum requirement, for getting the shot you want, you need a DSLR camera and a tripod. You can achieve good results with a compact camera as well, but you need to make sure your camera has the Manual Mode as an option.

how to become a photographer - night photography tutorial
sydney busy freeway long exposure

If you follow this night photography tutorial with tips how to take interesting pictures during night time, you will be able to cover this aspect in one go over one hour.

As a suggestion, you need to pick up a spot where there is light movement such as busy road, interesting dynamic lit buildings or a distant city scape. Take the tripod and camera and establish yourself in a suitable spot where you can spend a bit of time to try different camera settings and take various exposures – see image below of a busy freeway where the night light trails are due to a long exposure

The main thing you need to do is to set the camera on manual mode. You can try few shots on automatic mode (or even Aperture Priority mode or Shutter speed mode) to understand how the camera will react to the dark environment. Depending on your settings, you can press the shutter button halfway until camera can focus on a subject and reads the distance and lighting level. The distance can also be set manually by choosing the manual mode for your lens.Very important fact is that camera will indicate the shortest time possible to achieve an exposure.

That won’t help much if you wish to see an interesting result as in my experience camera will attempt to use a relatively short exposure such as 1 second, or less. Night photography is about long exposures of several seconds up to hours.

However for a better understanding what camera does, you can try to apply the previous techniques of fixing 2 out of 3 settings and vary the remaining one. The easiest is to fix ISO to 100, set the Aperture to the widest F stop as the lens will allow it, and see what shutter speed camera will suggest. After this short exercise you need to change the camera to manual mode, and start taking shots with the suggested settings and increase the shutter speed to faster values up to few seconds.

Take one shot at the time and see the results. You will understand easy how the camera captures the light and what effect you will get.

After you master this technique it is time for the next exercise where you can set up the aperture to smaller values and re-do all the shots again by varying the shutter speed up to 30 seconds.

Usually the camera is limited the shutter speed to 30 seconds, so if you would like to achieve more than this, you need to switch to Bulb Mode

In order to master the night photography, all of the above would be enough to help you get spectacular results. Other than the camera settings, the only thing left to do is to use your imagination to take better and more intriguing shots.

Other areas of night photography are

–       Light painting – by exposing in the dark for a long period of time and use an external light source to “paint an element in the picture” . This would be subject to another article and tutorial

–       Stroboscopic effect – where you can use the flash several times during ne long night exposure and each instance will capture a moving subject creating a duplicated effect in the same image (subject to another separate photograph tutorial)

–       Light writing – you can use a small light source during a long exposure to create the effect of writing with light –

–       Second curtain synchronization – various lighting effects due to flash light being triggered at the end of an exposure just before the shutter closes


stay close for more exciting tutorials in progress



About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and