How to take the perfect night photograph

How to take the perfect night photograph

The advent of smartphone cameras has turned most of us into amateur photographers.

From grabbing impromptu family snaps and holiday photos through to taking pictures for work-related purposes, our phone cameras are constantly being called upon.

However, following the annual clock-change back to GMT, darkness becomes the default setting for up to 16 hours a day – and even longer in northerly counties of Scotland.

That means being able to take half-decent night photography is crucial.

Yet most of us still rely on the point-and-shoot method of photography, which is (a) often ineffective and (b) a waste of the technical resources imbued into most smartphone cameras.

It’ll be all white on the night

We’re all familiar with the smudgy, stark photos taken in dark conditions by people who assumed their integral flash would help to capture a perfect scene.

In reality, the binary nature of smartphone flashes tends to either oversaturate the shot and make it look too white, or deliver a dingy aesthetic by failing to illuminate things properly.

The eyes of our pets glow through the gloom as if they’ve been possessed, while car registration plates assume undue prominence.

Night photos are often blurry, because camera lenses tend to open wider in dull conditions to try and capture more light – dilating like the pupils in our eyes.

Unfortunately, when a camera lens is open, it’s more susceptible to blurring as a result of movement.

And since everything from breathing to pressing the shutter button makes a phone move fractionally, night photography is often smudged if you don’t have rock-steady hands.

Tips for optimal night photography

  1. Make light a feature. Instead of just illuminating a scene, light can be the main focus. The image above this article, taken on a Samsung Galaxy, shows backlit fountains in Dubai.
  2. Turn on image stabilisation or vibration reduction. Some smartphones offer this to mitigate the shaking mentioned earlier, helping to ensure night photos are less blurry.
  3. Use flash wisely. Don’t assume every low-light scene will benefit from flash. It could dazzle and burn out an image, cause reflections, or only illuminate part of the scene.
  4. Soften the flash. Alternatively, use the flash but mask it with a piece of paper, a lens cleaning cloth or even a tissue. Play around with objects to see how they affect it.
  5. Enable HDR mode. Modern Android and iOS devices feature High Dynamic Range
    Mode. Turn it on in Settings for crisper, more balanced images in low light conditions.
  6. Capture blurring. Images of white and red light trails along busy roads are achieved by slowing shutter speeds (increasing exposure times) when a device is on a fixed tripod.
  7. Change your stance. Unless photos can only be taken from one position, move around. Experiment with foreground light, and try standing beside or beneath light sources.
  8. Switch to black and white mode. Night shots tend to lack accurate colour representation, so do away with it entirely. Black and white photography is a totally different artform.
  9. Download apps. App stores are bursting with programs for trick photography, giving you more control over aspects like shutter speed and ISO settings.
  10. Choose your device carefully. This won’t help with existing handsets, but some phones excel at night photos. Worth considering when you’re next in the market for a new phone…
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