Night Photography

Christian Cable led one of the groups in this year’s Project Night. Here are his notes about Night Photography…

Night Photography

Making photographs at night is tricky for one obvious reason, there’s very little light!

The less light you have in the visible scene the longer you must expose your image for. And the longer you expose your image for the more likely you are to shake. It’s tricky but not impossible, hopefully tonight we’ll see how it’s done.

Tonight we’re going to look a few example images you can make at night.

This isn’t intended to be a complete guide but it should be enough to get us out and making some night time shots.

1. Long Exposure of the Castle Gate

Lancaster Castle by Christian Cable

Lancaster Castle by Christian Cable

This is the simplest form of night photography.

Simply find a good view of the castle, place your camera on a tripod and make a picture.

You’ll need to use a manual focus to make sure you have a clear image and to ensure you don’t introduce any camera shake you’ll want to set your camera off with the timer or a shutter release cable.

This sort of image is best just after the Sun has set, that way you can make a good image of the castle while still getting a deep blue colour in the sky.

2. Traffic Trails

We’ll choose a spot facing across China Street near the Judge’s Lodgings where we can see the traffic passing by.

Find a good view and place your camera on a tripod and use manual focus to focus at a point in the scene where you predict a car will pass.

As with the Castle image you’ll want to use the timer mode or a shutter release cable.

The tricky part with this image is that you’ll have to take the shot as the traffic is passing by. The headlights of the passing cars should make a nice colourful streak across your image.

Later you can use Photoshop to layer the different shots on top of each other to great effect.

3. Light Painting

You’ll want the longest exposure you can get away with at the smallest aperture to get the background as dark as possible.

At home I’ve had good results with

  • ISO: 100
  • Aperture: 32
  • Shutter Speed: 30 Seconds.

Use a torch to illuminate the subject and set the focus manually. If you don’t have a torch the torch mode on your phone is fine for this.

Set the shutter on a timer and then while the shutter is open use the torch to paint the subject from different sides. Try not to point the light at the camera or get the light on the background or yourself.



You’ll need a camera where you have control over the exposure time and ideally you’ll be able to set a timer. Most DSLRs will be fine. You’ll also be better using manual focus for many of your shots if you can.

If your camera can shoot in RAW mode you can change the light balance setting when you have the images on your computer to give you different effects.


Since we’ll me making very long exposures you’ll want to use a tripod if you want to avoid making blurry images.

Torch / Mobile Phone

It’s dark and you’ll not only want to see your camera to change settings but you can also use a torch to paint light into your images.

Shutter Release Cable

If you have one of these (or a shutter remote) you can use ‘Bulb mode’ on your camera to make exposures longer than 30 seconds. You’ll have to work out the exposure time yourself if you use ‘bulb mode’ but you can get good results with a little trial and error.

Download the Night Photography – Project Night 2014 notes as a PDF for printing.