Tips for Cool Night Photos!


I took this shot during our workshop in Australia. I gave away my f/2.8 lens so a student could follow along with the workflow we were presenting – so my settings were different from the others in the group… but no worries. Keep an eye on your histogram, and don’t be afraid of experimentation. Here are my basic tips for night photography.

1. Get your focus right. Your auto-focus won’t work in the dark, but a flashlight should give you the light you need to set your focus. Take a test shot and zoom way in to check so you don’t find yourself with a bunch of blurred photos when you’re done! I stood and held the flashlight for 15 minutes or more while everyone set their focus. It took some time since we were making sure everyone was on the same page.

2. Light Painting is fun – and I think it might be even more fun with a large group! 🙂 We all released our shutters at the same time, and then Jay and I took turns moving the light across the rocks in front of us. We took a whole lot of shots… some were too bright, and some were too dark. Just keep experimenting until you get something you like!

3. Pay attention to your histogram – but don’t expect a neat “bell curve”. You are working with very dark tones, so you should see a peak on the left side of the histogram. You probably won’t see much on the right side of your histogram unless you really go crazy with the light painting. 🙂

4. Use a wide-open aperture, and keep your shutter speed under 20 seconds or so. A longer shutter speed will result in short star trails. (If you WANT star trails, you’ll need a series of 30-second exposures.) You’ll need to bump up your ISO to get the aperture and shutter speed you want… so you’ll probably want to clean up some noise in post.

Here are a couple of other night shots from other locations:

Residual Light - Varina Patel

Vermilion Cliffs, Arizona – I took this shot at the tail-end of twilight with a 266 second exposure.

Time Turner

Arches National Park, Utah – This is a blend of 210 exposures – at 30-seconds each. Best date night EVER!

Have you been out shooting at night? Share your suggestions and experiences in the comments! And have fun out there!

About Author Varina Patel

There is nothing more remarkable to me than the power of nature. It is both cataclysmic and subtle. Slow and continuous erosion by water and wind can create landscapes every bit as astonishing as those shaped by catastrophic events – and minuscule details can be as breathtaking as grand vistas that stretch from one horizon to the other. Nature is incredibly diverse. Burning desert sands and mossy riverbanks… Brilliant sunbeams and fading alpenglow… Silent snowfall and raging summer storms… Each offers a unique opportunity. I am irresistibly drawn to the challenge of finding my next photograph, and mastering the skills required to capture it effectively.


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2 replies
  1. David Ryan Taylor
    David Ryan Taylor says:

    Ive seem some people have difficulty achieving proper focus on stars (especially important for aurora photography). The best way I’ve found is to use live view with a moderately high ISO (800+), find a bright star on the screen, then manually focus until it becomes a pin point. Just be sure to not touch your focus (or your zoom ring) after you’ve done this.


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