7 Tips for Street Photography at Night

It’s at night I always feel the most inspiration to shoot street photography. For me, the city comes alive and, the rich colours open up lots of creative possibilities for street photographers.

People often believe that night street photography is more challenging, or that special equipment is required — neither is true. In this post, we’ll explore some tips for street photography at night and the key things to remember:

1. SEE THE LIGHT

During the day there's often so much going on, that it can be hard to know where to focus your efforts. Everything is a potential photo. But at night, less of the city is illuminated, so there are fewer distractions and it becomes far easier to spot opportunities for street photos.

Tip: always be aware of your surroundings to spot opportunities and threats. Start by looking for sources of light such as illuminated signs, windows (shops, bars, restaurants, cafes), street lights, car headlights, bus stops etc. Find the scene, visualise the possibilities and work it.

2. PUSH YOUR ISO

Low ISO settings are great for delivering clean images, but in street photography this isn’t important. The moment and story are what matter - some digital noise or film grain may even enhance the mood of your street photos.

If you're working with good light sources, you won’t need a super high ISO — even the most modest of modern cameras will produce pleasing results up to 3200. And there’s plenty of film stocks with high ASA ratings, either out of the box or when pushed.

Tip: achieve faster shutter speeds by using a higher ISO. Set your digital camera to 1600, 3200 or use an automatic ISO range on your camera. If you’re shooting film, use a stock that’s rated to or can be pushed to 800 / 1600. It’s better to have noise or grain than miss a shot entirely.

3. USE PRIME LENSES

Zoom lenses offer great versatility, but this often comes at a price - slow apertures. Generally speaking, prime lenses collect more light which help achieve faster shutter speeds. These lenses (such as the ‘nifty fifty’) are generally smaller, readily available and cost very little.

Tip: shoot wide open with a fast prime lens (up to F/2) to collect the maximum amount of light.

4. WORK WITH SLOW SHUTTER SPEEDS

When shooting at night the lack of available light means you’re generally working with slow shutter speeds (1/60th to 1/125th). To achieve acceptably sharp results, you’ll need to slow down whilst taking photos - briefly standing still, works best. Of course, slow shutter speeds also open up opportunities to get creative blur by adding a sense of motion in your night shots.

Tip: keep it slow and steady if you want sharp street photos at night.

5. SHOOT IN RAW

Getting a good exposure at night is difficult, either you or the camera, need to read the light from a variety of artificial light sources. RAW files give you more flexibility when it comes to fixing issues with exposure and white balance, so it’s a no brainer. If there’s time, take a test shot to check your exposure and adjust where required.

Tip: set your camera to RAW or RAW + jpeg.

6. FORGET ABOUT TRIPODS

Street photography is all about seeing and reacting quickly to what’s happening around you. Using a tripod will interfere with this decisive process and you’ll end up missing those fleeting moments.

If you’re using a fast prime lens and higher ISO, there won’t be any need for a tripod. Alternatively, a flash could be ideal in some situations, but this is something I want to cover in a future post.

Tip: travel light to cover more ground and see more opportunities for photos. You’ll get sharp results if you’re working with good light sources and a sufficiently fast shutter speed for the focal length.

7. USE MANUAL FOCUS

Most modern digital cameras have perfectly adequate auto focus, even in low light situations. However, there will be occasions when the camera will hunt for focus; when this happens, it’s often a good idea to use manual focus for full control. With practice, you’ll be able to manually focus just as fast as the camera’s autofocus.

Tip: use manual focus to gain better control and feel more involved in the process.

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