Just activate your pop up flash? Only if you want to have a subpar image that looks like you have no clue what you’re doing.

What you really need is a slow shutter speed or high ISO, a fast lens wide open, and a tripod.

Here are a few night photo situations. The night photography tips shared here can be applied to other dark times too…

Night Photo Situation #1: Outdoor Nighttime Event

This type of event would be a wedding reception, party, family event, class reunion, or whatever else you do outside at night.

Now is a time you can use your external flash. But bounce it off a wall and/or use a diffuser make it more flattering. (Don’t forget to use a flash gel if needed).

Think about the atmosphere of where you’re shooting.

  • Are there candles?
  • Strands of Christmas lights?
  • Does the lighting add to it?

If so, keep your exposure dark enough to show the lights. A good strategy is to try to capture people when they are near those lights so you can see both the light and the faces.

This will be similar to a concert (night situation #4 below). If you’re shooting night photos with people in them, you’ll want to keep a higher shutter speed (so you’ll have to compensate for that with a wide aperture and a high ISO).

Night Photo Situation #2: Cityscape

Night Photography

The best time to shoot a cityscape is a half-hour after sunset so you get a mix of the last bit of natural light on the horizon along with the city lights.

It’s hard to properly expose a shot like this. A trick is to meter off to the side of the city lights. Then use your LCD screen to check. If it’s too dark, use your exposure compensation feature to let more light in (see your camera’s user’s guide).

Be prepared to have a LONG exposure. It could be a few seconds or a few minutes.  Obviously, with that kind of shutter speed, a tripod is a necessity (that is unless your arms are made of stone). Setting your timer, using a shutter release cable or a remote will help keep the image sharp.

Night Photo Situation #3: Concert

Please don’t try to use your flash. Anyone who knows anything will just look at you and think you’re ridiculous. If your flash even can reach the stage, it will take away from the cool concert lighting and expose ugly cords and stuff. Plus, the flash is just plain annoying to the audience as well as the performer.

Instead, use a fast lens and a high ISO – a camera that can shoot a high ISO with minimal noise would be great too. When you’re wide-open, the high ISO will be your way to admit more light: you’ll need to keep your shutter speed 1/100 of a second or higher since you’re shooting people.

I’m not talking about shooting a concert in broad daylight – that obviously wouldn’t go with this post.

Night Photo Situation #4: Fireworks

Night Photography

You must use a tripod.

This is a slow shutter-speed situation. You’ll want a shutter speed around 3 or 4 seconds so you can catch the light trails. Or you can use bulb mode if your camera has it. You’ll just hold the shutter release until the light trails start fading (a remote or cable release would be really helpful in this situation).

Use a zoom lens so you can get in close (I’ll assume you’re not in a helicopter right next to the fireworks).

Choose an aperture of f/11 so the whole scene will be sharp.

Now just get your timing right!

Setting your white balance in these night photo situations:

If your camera will let you use the LCD screen as a viewfinder, then turn on that feature. Now scroll through your different white balance options while looking at the screen. Then pick the best one. If your camera lets you set the color temperature yourself, even better.

One more night photography tip:

Remove your UV filter at night. At night, you want to let in all the rays you can.