7 Bright Tips to Shoot Better Night Photography

If you’re busy with a day-job, and when you leave the office and it turns dark — try out night photography.



Why photograph at night?

Starry Night – Vincent van Gogh

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.” – Vincent Van Gogh

Okay so this is my idea:

Most of us with 9-5 office jobs do not see much sunlight during the day. Also, when it is winter-time, you don’t get that much light.

Orange transparency at night. Marseille, 2017
Orange transparency at night. Marseille, 2017

A lot of us as photographers get depressed because we don’t have the opportunity to shoot during the day. We get depressed because we cannot creatively express ourselves, and many of us during the winter months just go into hibernation mode in our photography, and feel crappy.

I know for myself, the more I shoot, the happier I am. So the secret to happiness in a photographer is to just shoot more.

Liberty and equality. Marseille, 2018
Liberty and equality. Marseille, 2018

That means, don’t be the slave of the light. Even thought it is night-time; know that you can light up the streets with your vision and your camera.

Here are some practical tips and ideas to inspire you to shoot at night, even when the light isn’t so good:

1. Shoot at ISO 1600-3200

When you’re shooting at night, use a high ISO, like ISO 1600-3200 and shoot in P (program) mode. The biggest mistake we make is trying to shoot with our ISO too low, and many of us are also afraid of grain and noise.

To me, I find grain and noise adds to the emotion and feeling of a scene. So don’t be afraid of high ISO. Even as an experiment, push your ISO to 6400, and see what happens.

If you find high-ISO on your camera doesn’t look so good, I would recommend shooting black and white RAW, and post-process your photos with ERIC KIM PRESET MONOCHROME 1600.

2. Use a flash

The flash is the best thing– it is like having a mobile sun in our pockets.

With photography, flash is often looked down upon. I think the flash is the best thing ever. Use the integrated flash on your camera, for example I shoot with the integrated pop-up flash on the RICOH GR II.

The benefit of using a flash is that you are able to better light your subjects, and also the fun thing with flash– you make more surreal photos.

For example, you don’t know what the photo is going to look like with a flash, until after you shoot it. Therefore, shooting with a flash is fun. It is like a visual experiment. You shoot stuff just to see what it will look like with a flash.

Also the aesthetic benefit of shooting with a flash is that you add more contrast and punch to your photos. Black and white photos have more contrast with flash, and color photos have more vibrance and saturation when shot with a flash as well.

If your camera doesn’t have a flash, buy the smallest, most portable, automatic ‘TTL’ flash as possible. And just shoot in “P” (program mode) and shoot with the flash in automatic settings.

3. Photograph silhouettes

Also one of the benefits of shooting at night is that you can create more silhouette photos. I personally love silhouette photos because they are more mysterious, open-ended, and allow me to come up with my own stories. Also, they remind me of film noir in cinema— films like The Third Man and Citizen Kane are my personal favorites.

To shoot silhouettes at night, use -1 or -2 exposure compensation, or just photograph your subjects with the light source behind them.

4. Shoot blurry photos

I also like to shoot night photos with blur, while walking, or even moving my camera while shooting. The reason I like blur in photography is that it adds more emotion, soul, and dynamism to your photos.

Photos don’t need to be sharp. There is often an over-obsession with sharpness and focus in photography. I love the blurred photos of Daido Moriyama and William Klein, because their blurred photos have more life and energy in them.

What you can practice doing is just shoot while walking at night, or even lower your ISO to 400-800, to slow down your shutter speed.

My suggestion is to shoot a lot of blurred photos at night, and when you’re editing (choosing your best photos), choose your photos based on what evokes the best emotion in your heart.

5. Photograph colorful textures

Also, when you’re shooting at night (especially with a flash), look for colorful textures. I find that when you’re shooting at night, your flash is an opportunity to discover interesting textures and color-combinations.

Shoot abstract shapes, forms, and textures which interest your eyes.

See if you can find fun color-combinations like red and green, or orange and blue.

6. Take your camera to dinner

Also if you’re busy with work, just bring your camera to dinner in the evenings, if you plan on meeting friends.

You will see lots of great photo opportunities inside restaurants, bars, or clubs in the evening.

Shoot portraits of your friend, partner, or whatever you see inside the restaurant. Photograph lights, the mood, and whatever is going on.

7. Photograph lit windows

An homage to Todd Hido: go ‘house hunting’ at night, and photograph inside lit windows.

To me, I like shooting inside homes at night. I wonder questions like:

“I wonder what those people are up to inside?”

I wonder whether people are having a nice dinner with their loved ones, whether they are alone watching Netflix along, or perhaps looking at something (interesting) on their computer.

The nice thing with photographing lit windows at night: the sense of mystery and open-mindedness you evoke in your photos.


Green and orange lights. Marseille, 2018
Green and orange lights. Marseille, 2018

To me, true happiness in photography is just having a cheerful mood, and photographing whatever brings you joy in life– and sharing that joy with others.

Also, it means to be able to have the opportunity to shoot more.

So this is perhaps a Stoic philosophy:

Regardless of what your situation is in life, use it to your advantage.

So if you have a busy job, or you don’t have the chance to shoot during the day– learn how to conquer the night.


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