When talking to photographers about the best time to take pictures, many will say it’s during the “magic hour.” The magic hour is that time just after sunrise and just before sunset. The sun is just below or above the horizon, and the light is full of beautiful oranges and reds, basting the world in a glow that comes across in a divine light. But those photographers might be missing out on an equally and possibly more, exciting time to take pictures: after the sun has set.

Nighttime photography takes a little more planning and, depending on the weather, a warm coat. But, if done right, there is ample opportunity for creativity and fewer people to accidentally step in the front of the camera. When using film, the light range that the film picks up varies over time so that, when taking a scene, the reds will come across brighter or more intense than the blues.

Another creative and fun thing for nighttime photographic work is High Dynamic Range (HDR) Photography. HDR photography involves taking multiple pictures of a scene at different settings and merging them on a computer later.


There are specific pieces of equipment that a photographer will need in order to take nighttime photographs. Since the camera is picking up less light and will require a longer shutter time, it won’t be possible to hold the camera in hand. A tripod and a cable or remote release for the camera are probably the two most important items.

If using a tripod, it should be a sturdy one so as not to move and create a blurry image. Since most pictures will involve long shutter times, a stopwatch and notepad are handy for making notes of the amount of time used for each exposure. If it’s cold at night, a thermos of hot chocolate is also helpful. And, on the warm summer nights, a gin and tonic is a good way to go.

When to take Nighttime Photographs

It doesn’t need to be pitch black outside to start taking night photographs. Just after the sun has set while the sky is a little blue, is an excellent time to take some photographs. Urban areas and houses can have a surreal effect just after sunset. When taking pictures of people just after sunset, it is possible to still get some of the background in the picture and use a subtle amount of flash to light the subject.

While taking pictures late at night, after it’s fully dark outside, using long shutter speeds will be required. A fun thing to do here is to point the camera at the sky, set the camera to the bulb setting and, using a stopwatch to time it, hold the shutter release for multiple minutes before releasing. When reviewing the images later, it will be possible to see the stars moving.

When taking pictures of motion such as traffic, the long shutter speed will result in the car lights streaming through the image. It’s also fun to hold a flash off the camera and trigger it at different objects. When the flash hits the moving object, it creates a unique freeze effect on the image. Or, take a flashlight and highlight different areas of a subject while holding the camera shutter open. Just be cautious not to do anything that will cause the camera to move, or the image will end up blurry.

Think of photographs of the San Francisco Bridge at night or the Seattle skyline and how fantastic those look. Think about any city street or urban area in any town and what a different feel that will have with no people and dreamlike lighting.


Seattle at Night


It will take some practice and note taking to figure out the right amount of time to hold the shutter open when taking night photographs. By not having to deal with large crowds, and possibly a bottle of scotch to keep warm with, the experience will be a fun one.