7 Tips for Night Photography in the City

November 4, 2019

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of night photography. Mostly because it is fun and the photos you take feel nothing like the ones you take in the daytime since your artistic sight is limited by the absence of light. Many people asked me ‘Man, how did you take that?’ when I posted some photos to my Instagram, and so I thought to write an article about 7 simple tips just to answer that. Bear in mind this is more to those who are new to night photography and based on my own experience.

1. Decide the theme

I think this is the most important thing to start with. Don’t believe me? If you don’t decide correctly you might wander off at nights not knowing what are you supposed to do. Are you looking to shoot in long exposure or perhaps night portrait? Some photographers may just go out without any direction in mind, relying only on their senses to bring them close to interesting spots. But not all of us are like that. Decide a theme and stick with it is way better for a beginner.

2. Bring the right tools

Which brings us to the next point: bring the right tools. This is also important because there is nothing worse than the feeling of being at the right time but not with the right equipment.

  • If you are aiming for light trails and bright cityscapes, then a tripod with a remote shutter release is a must.
  • If you want to take night portraits, get a fast lens (typically aperture f1.8 and below) so you can capture glorious bokeh. You might also need an external flash, depending on the lights.
The photo above was taken without flash, hence it came out a bit dark.

3. Location, location, location

Alright, now that you have decided on the theme and with that you also picked the tools. Now you need to think about where to go. If you have time to spare, I’d advise scouting beforehand the places you are thinking to shoot at night. Try to go in the daytime, then imagine how it will look like after dark.

Sometimes an ordinary place will look way better at night because of the street lights, building signs, etc. This is especially important if you want to take portraits or street. For example, taking portraits near neon signs will give you that classic sci-fi feel. Or you could hunt photos in a pub-filled area.

This narrow alley of pubs only comes to life at night.

4. Be patient

A key factor in finding the right moment is patience. If you feel you have found the right spot to snap that shutter button yet there are too many people blocking the view, maybe you should wait until they are gone. Take your time, there is no rush. Sometimes a person or a crowd will make the shot, but sometimes it will make your image too busy. You could easily spend around five minutes in the same spot to see if the view will change or you could move a few meters from a different angle and recompose the shot. The image below is the result of me being patient — I waited until someone appeared and filled the center of the frame.

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This won’t be possible if I didn’t stop and wait.

5. Look for happening events

While this is not a must, sometimes you will get a better flow of creative juice when events are happening around you. Check the local events list and see if there is anything interesting going on in your city. Chances are there could be a night market, seasonal festivals, or even illuminations, which will provide you with a good supply of objects to shoot. In Japan where I currently reside, typically all-year-round there should be night sakura viewing parties in spring, beer gardens on summer, illuminations/light-ups on autumn and winter.

Pageant of Starlight, an event only happening in Sendai in December.

6. No weather is bad weather

A lot of people avoid going out taking pictures when the weather is bad, like when it is raining, windy or snowing. They think only a fine night will yield great photos. Too bad by doing this, you will have a lot of missed opportunities. While it is true depending on what you’re shooting you could opt not to go, taking pictures in slightly bad weather could create an atmosphere you usually would not find on normal nights. For instance, water puddles after the rain combined with skyscrapers are a great source of creativity, and the falling snow will add seasonal flavor to your photos.

Rainy days are especially good for those shiny water reflections.

7. Revisit again

Alright, so you followed the tips above and yet after you got back home from your night adventure, you look at your new photos and you exclaimed ‘Wow it’s not as good as I had thought!’. Maybe it is too dark, maybe the focus is a bit blurry, maybe the framing is not quite right.

We’ve all been there. That being said, failure is how we learn. In night photography especially, many factors would affect the end results. But one thing is true: if you did not succeed the first time, you might as well try again. After all, the city is dynamic. The next time you go guaranteed you will get a different shot even when it is in the same place.

That’s all! Hope this article helps you to start your city night photography adventure.

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About the Author

Jerfareza Daviano

Jerfareza is a weekend freelance photographer based in Sendai, specializing in portrait photography, family & couple photography and travel photography among others. Should you wish to hire him you can do so by checking out his photo plan page.

He won grand prize in architecture category of Sendai Starlight Festival 2018 Photo Contest.

Visit his photo portfolio for articles about travel in Japan especially Tohoku area and photography related stuffs.