Photography Tips: Shooting Nighttime City Lights

Some of you already know if you want great night city skylines, don’t wait until night arrives. The best night photographs taken are the ones taken at twilight. As the sky turns to night even on a cloudy dull day at twilight the atmosphere filters out the warmer hues leaving blue as the dominant color.

nighttime photo tips

So why shoot your potentially nice city lights scene against a black featureless night. There is a window of time when the ambient light is about the same intensity as the city lights. This occurs approximately 45-60 minutes after the sun hides behind the horizon. I call this the magic hour. You can actually use a light meter take a reflective reading of the sky and one of the city lights, when they are at approximately the same intensity, click.

So how do you shoot this? All it really requires is a tripod. What ever you do don’t just crank up the ISO speed of your digital camera or run out and buy fast film, not unless the build up of noise or grain is what you want for your composition. Keep your ISO low, I use 200 ISO and have shutter speeds around 4-6 seconds using not quite an open aperture.

nighttime photo tips

So I have my camera on a tripod and I’m still getting blurred photographs. This would be caused by camera shake. Two methods around this annoyance is either a cable release or if your camera is not compatible for a release try using the timer.

Submitted by

David W Sussman
Panama City, Florida

4 Responses to “Photography Tips: Shooting Nighttime City Lights”

  1. Susan says:

    Very nice tips. I was just wondering what’s the best aperture used to take night shots..

  2. Brian Auer says:

    Great tip. I’ve got to get out and try shooting in that “magic hour.”

  3. David Sussman says:

    If you are shooting digital I prefer shooting near open aperture, around 7.1 or 6.3. Shooting film which I have not shot for years I used Kodak type L and would stop down more around f 11. The reason I use a more open aperture with digital is to minimize noise artifacts.

  4. Susan.. you may also try to use smaller aperture (f/16 or even f/22) to create those starry effect on the lights. The best thing about digital photography is that you can always play around with your setting to get desired result without worrying wasting too much money on film.

Leave a Reply