The #1 Night Photography Mistake

I'm a night photography fanatic.  Night photography is beautiful and contains a certain mood that other types of photography simply don't contain.  Because I love night photography, I spend a lot of time looking on Flickr for night photos.  Between viewing night photos online and teaching photographers in my in-person workshops, I see a lot of mistakes being repeated. There is one misstep that nearly all night photographers make.  It seems that this mistake is so common that it is done incorrectly more often than it is done right.  The mistake is so disastrous that it makes an otherwise beautiful scene dull and uninspiring, but most photographers don't even know what they did wrong. What's the mistake?  Underexposure.  Photographers are used to exposing an image to match what the eye sees, so when they take pictures at night, their photos are just as dark as what they see with their eyes. Viewers of night photography will understand that the photo is taken at night by the quality of the light.  It is unmistakable.  There is no need to make large portions of the photo pure black just for a viewer to know that it is night time.  One of the most obvious signs that a photo is a night shot is the light coming from street lights or other lamps. Your night photos will have much more impact and drama if you expose the image properly.  If you don't believe me, just go search Flickr for night photography, sit back, and look at how much detail in the scene is wasted simply because the photographer underexposed the image. One reason why night photos are often underexposed is that DSLRs will only allow up to a 30 second shutter speed without a remote release.  Buy a cheap (usually $15) remote release for your DSLR and then you will be able to shoot long shutter speeds which will properly expose the image.

9 thoughts on “The #1 Night Photography Mistake”

  1. Hi

    This is a great article on Night Photography – thanks for sharing! I love night photos, especially in the city! This one is a long exposure to capture the dynamics of a busy downtown street in the GasLamp Quarter of San Diego.

    Uptown from Downtown: http://t.co/WpR66fB

    regards, Erik

  2. Thanks for a great post. I think one reason people tend to underexpose night scenes is to avoid overexposing the moon. I dislike images where the moon has no detail. This is when exposure blending comes in handy.

  3. I agree that it’s important not to underexpose, as the sensor is tonally richer in the highlights than the shadows. The guideline I give my night photography students is to expose as far to the right as possible on the histogram without clipping important highlights. Learning to differentiate between unimportant and important highlight detail using the “blinkies”. This is especially important in urban night photography with lots of artificial lights.

  4. Thanks for the post, but let me raise a doubt over the exposure on the picture above, as with the apparently long exposure used I don’t think the moon would be so detailed on the surface, and rather just a ball of light itself. Montage or is there a trick I am missing?

  5. Yes, but can you give us some exposure setting guidance? Where dis you take the exposure on the enclosed photo? Sky? Water?

  6. I agree with your opinion. I look forward to seeing some tips to solve this problem. Sometimes I see a beautiful view at night and take a photo, then I have to delete it because the photo is not as good as what I saw 🙁

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