Until fairly recently, photographs taken at night looked pretty unedifying.
Unless the photographer had a tripod and a natural flair for aperture settings, images tended to appear gloomy and rather amateurish.
This would be exaggerated by using the meagre flash built into smartphones – barely enough to illuminate a small room, let alone an outdoor scene.
However, technology has evolved to tackle this issue, as smartphone manufacturers recognise night photography modes represent a new consumer battleground.
The image accompanying this article was taken by a professional photographer using a Samsung Galaxy S7, which is now three generations out of date.
Even so, the image looks decent, despite a lack of clarity around light sources.
However, by the time the Galaxy S11 debuts in early 2020, low-light photography may be vastly superior to efforts like these…
Dark side of the mode
Recognising that half our lives are lived in darkness (externally, anyway), smartphone manufacturers have belatedly started developing low-light photography modes.
Google started the ball rolling last year with a Night Sight mode, combining multiple images into one alongside traditional long exposure techniques.
Software determines everything from object movement and light availability to the handset’s stability, combining 15 frames into one to give the brightest possible results without blurring.
The same is true of Huawei’s Night mode, which also reduces noise, balances colours and sharpens details – creating night photography of unprecedented quality.
In fact, Huawei’s P30 Pro can take images in almost total darkness, and still produce a finished image which is worth keeping.
Samsung’s inaugural attempt at this technology has been christened Bright Night, available exclusively on the Galaxy S10, though image quality falls short of Google and Huawei’s.
While the American and Chinese companies have used machine learning algorithms to deliver striking night shots, Samsung’s version is less impressive.
Nevertheless, it’s still useful in circumstances where a flash gun might reflect off a foreground surface, or where an unsteady hand could ruin a unique photo opportunity.
A shot in the dark?
Of course, night photography modes might turn out to be a literal and metaphorical false dawn.
They could go the same way as other failed smartphone innovations like 3D displays, Facebook Home, pop-out games controllers and trackballs.
However, given modern day society’s obsession with photography, this could become a key selling feature for handsets in an increasingly mature and stagnant smartphone market.
There are increasingly few distinctions between any of the mid-priced and high-end smartphones on sale nowadays.
They all provide rapid connectivity and impressive signal strength, high-end cameras with generous internal memory, powerful processors and large, high definition screens.
And as every generation of phones improves on its predecessors, there are fewer reasons to upgrade from one device to its successor.
Being able to capture high-quality images even after the sun goes down will be welcomed be festival-goers, architecture buffs, tourists and night owls alike.
And for now at least, night photography modes give Google and Huawei an edge over rival hardware manufacturers.