Photographing Lights at Night

Winter can be a fantastic opportunity to capture some beautiful scenes. Longer nights and holiday festivities often mean twinkling lights decorating anything from shop fronts and residential streets to forest trees and well known landmarks. Some of these displays are breathtaking and to be remembered. That’s where your camera and a few tips come in. Just follow these simple steps to capture some of the season’s best and make some magical memories!

(Although the holidays are specifically mentioned these tips cam be used for any night light photography situation you find yourself in!)

1. Timing.  As an amateur it may be tempting to take snaps in the dark when you’re admiring lights – don’t! You won’t be able to capture the magic of the lights and surroundings being exposed correctly. Instead go out in the late afternoon or dusk to capture the natural ambient light and the glow of the Christmas lights.

2. No Flash. Let the lights illuminate your photos, not the harsh brightness of the flash!

3. Exposure and ISO. Capturing lighting at night will require a long exposure and a low ISO which you may want to set manually.

Great DSLR settings for night light photography:

Exposure Mode: Manual

Aperture: f/5.6

ISO: 800

Shutter Speed: 1/15 second

White Balance: Tungsten


4. Avoid Camera Shake. Be warned that because you will be using a long exposure, you will be prone to camera shake. A great way to avoid this is by using a tripod. If you don’t have one (although they are highly recommended), leaning up against a wall or  other sturdy surface will also help. Time shutter release also helps to avoid blur.

 5. Think about Composition. Just as any shoot, you need to think about the way things are arranged and work (or don’t work) together.  

  1. Use the sky to add light and texture from wispy clouds – be careful not to take away the focus from your subject – the lights!
  2. Experiment with the positioning of nearby objects such as street signs, street lights, cars and trees. They may add depth and a sense of perspective.  “Filling your frame” with these objects also creates an interesting photo.
  3. Utilize the naturally reflective elements during winter such as water, ice and snow. They create more light and enhance how the lights in your photo look. As with anything else, use in moderation.

 6. Experiment! Tweak your camera settings, use different perspectives and angles, change your focus and subject, take multiple photos and have fun!


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