As a mobile photographer, learning how to take night photos on your iPhone or Android can be challenging. You have a unique set of strengths and knowledge. Some may find that night photography is easy and others find it difficult. Also, different phones will do a better job with night photography.
Night photos can bring a new view and new life to photography. At night, buildings, attractions, and the sky can make stellar night photos. With a tripod to stabilize your phone and a remote shutter release you can take amazing night photos. Here are some tips to help you have a great experience doing night photography.
How to Create Perfectly Sharp Night Photos in the Dark on an iPhone or Android
Increase the ISO
Taking pictures at night can lead to images that are too dark. ISO is a photography setting and term. ISO is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO the more light is let in the image. A very high ISO can create grain or noise in the image. Therefore, it is best to increase it to a middle range.
It is best to increase the ISO to something between 400 and 800 depending on the amount of light in the image. Next, test out your image by looking at the view before you take the shot. If you see a lot of grain or blurriness you can adjust the image. By increasing the ISO you can get a clear photo at night without the glare and effects of using the flash.
To increase the ISO on a phone you can go into pro mode or a manual mode app. This will allow you to adjust the settings manually. On an Android the manual mode it is part of the camera but for an iPhone you’ll need to download a manual mode app. Some of my favorites include Lightroom or Camera+ 6 for IOS.
Neon lights have a modern edgy feel and are making a real comeback in photography. Throughout Instagram, there are many people taking pictures next to neon lights. Taking pictures with neon lights is a great way to take night photos with an iPhone or Android.
- Time of Day: The first step of taking photos of neon signs is to know the best time for great light. If it is too light then the neon lights will be dim. If it is too dark the subject may be blurry. Take note that the best time to take a night photo with an Android or iPhone is during blue hour. This time is 30 minutes before dawn or 20 minutes after sunset. To find the exact times you can download the app Alpenglow for iPhone and Photo Time for Android.
- Get Close: For best results, stand close to the neon light to show the reflection of the color on the subject. Also, your subject will need to stay still to avoid motion blur.
- Be on the lookout: Nowadays, neon signs are disappearing across cities. As you walk or drive around your town take note of which places have neon signs. You can stop and take a photo right then or jot down the location to return.
In smartphone photography, common advice is to shoot with the light at your back. To add creativity you can try using backlighting and shoot the subject into the light. This creates light that illuminates the subject from the back. This can be challenging to master but can create a glow that encompasses the subject.
When shooting at night and there is not a lot of light you can use light from a streetlight or a building as backlight. By shooting into the light you can show a silhouette of the subject with few details. Try to capture ambient light from other buildings to show depth in the image.
Reduce Exposure Levels
It may seem a little counter-intuitive, but a tip is to decrease the exposure levels. Why would you do this? You may wonder why, since it is already dark. Although it is night, you may have residue light from the setting sun that affects the image. There may be light reflecting somewhere in the distance causing a distraction.
Decrease the exposure to reduce the glare on the camera lens. This will lessen the amount of light in the photo and so only the brightest lights will be in the image. This works well when taking pictures of fireworks or city lights.
Capture Motion with Long Exposure
The purpose of long exposure is to capture the beauty of movement against a still background. The moving elements are blurry and the still features are crisp and clear. The process of getting a long exposure shot includes opening up the shutter for a long time. This increases the light in the image. Some examples of long exposure shots are the lights of cars across the cityscape. Or a person standing still next to a moving car or train.
What you’ll need
To get started taking long exposure shots on your smartphone there are a few items you’ll need. The first thing to note is that you’ll need to be still, and even a tiny bit of vibration will ruin the photo. You’ll need something to steady your phone and to shoot from a distance.
A Long Exposure App
- To capture the effects on your phone with long exposure you’ll need to download a manual mode app.
- The Android app Camera FV-5 is an excellent app for long exposure and night photography.
- For the iPhone, I recommend ProCam 6. Which includes night photography options for slow shutter and night mode.
A Timer or a Portable Shutter Release Button
- Set the camera timer on your phone
- Try a the Joby Impulse Shutter Release button for more control
Tips for Long Exposure
The purpose of long exposure is to capture the beauty of movement against a still background. The moving elements are blurry and the still features are crisp and clear. When taking a long exposure any movement will make the image blurry and unclear.
You’ll need a tripod, the camera’s timer, or portable shutter release button. Once you set up the scene you’ll need to choose the time the shutter will be open. You can do this by changing the time the shutter will be open to something from 15 to 30 seconds. You can test different amounts of time the shutter will be open for the best shot. Sometimes 30 seconds can let in too much light making the image look unpleasant. Try a few options and choose your favorite.
City Lights can bring power and story to your mobile images. You might find it challenging to know how to take night photos of street lights with your phone. Sometimes street lights provide unwanted glare in the background.
The first thing to note when learning how to take night photos is where are the light sources for the photos. Are there lights in the distance? Is the light from the shop window, or from street lamps above?
Pro tip: Avoid bright lights in the background; because it can be a distraction to your image.
Lights From a Distance:
Before taking the picture look to see if there is a glaring light in the background. This could take away from the subject. Dark streets are a better place to take a picture because the source of light is the front. You’ll be able to capture the outlines of the cityscape.
Reflection From the Shop Window
If you are taking photos of people. Place the subject next to the window where the light will reflect on them. Also, standing next to a window is a great spot to shoot night photos. You can illuminate an otherwise dark scene with soft light.
Street lights are a great way to lead the viewer through the image. Lamp posts or overhead streetlights often provide excellent lines.
Prevent Camera Shake With a Tripod
When learning how to take night photography you’ll need to invest in a tripod. Phones are taking better night photography but still, it is easy to get a blurry picture. A tripod will help you to be able to take long exposure shots. This will stabilize your images for crisper shots.
Here are a few things to look for when buying a tripod. First, is the size. With mobile photography size matters, the smaller the better. Joby makes a small tripod for your smartphone that is 7 inches long and can fit into any bag or purse. The GorillaPod comes with adjustable legs that balance on rocks or can wrap around a tree.
Next look for a sturdy tripod. When taking pictures outside something sturdy is important for balance. A cell phone could tip over and get scratched. The Manfrotto Pixi is one of the best small tripods.
Black and White
It seems natural to take photos at night in black and white. During the nighttime, we focus on the details of lights and darks. It is easy to spot out the highlights and the darks. Contrast is easier to see and capture. To take pictures in black and white it is best to shoot in color. Then convert the image to black and white after you take the shot. This allows the phone to capture the color that you can adjust later in the photo editing process.
Edit with a Photo Editing App
The last step of learning how to take night photography with a phone is post processing or editing. Photo editing is easy to do on your phone with an app. There are many editing apps but Snapseed is a free app that is easy to use and has many features. To learn how to use these tools you can tap on the tutorial option. Also, you can explore by tapping on tools. Quickly adjust the detail, saturation, curves and much more. To learn more Snapseed editing apps check out this blog post on Snapseed.
Now, that you have learned how to take night photos with an iPhone and Android your on your way to becoming pro. This is one of the hardest skills to master. As a recap here is what we talked about. Increase the ISO to something between 400-800 for better light without using a flash. Try increasing the exposure time if you are shooting motion like cars, or an amusement park. Experiment with backlighting to add creativity. It may take a few tries to not get the light glaring in the background. Use street lights to show lights from a distance, a reflection from a window, or leading lines. Add contrast by shooting and then editing in black and white.
Take a minute to try these tips to become a great smartphone photographer. Want more inspiration? Here are some additional resources that can help you:
Give those tips a read and you’ll be ready with new hacks and tips to help you make the most of your phone’s camera. See our photos on Instagram at @picxtrix.