How to Shoot Eye Catching Night Scenes

How to Shoot Eye Catching Night Scenes

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

Looking for inspiration, and spot of photography? Well why not try in the middle of the night! Ok it may look a little dodgy wandering about with a camera in the dark, but some of the best shots can be had while out and about in the witching hour.

Catching Motion

Movement is great, especially when the subject has lights on it. This makes for a more dynamic scene, and is perfect for creating something a little different and of course conveying the sense of motion. Some awesome shots have been taken in the past at motorway intersections and street corners, but try and get a higher vantage point so the vehicle lights paint a picture rather than just streaking across your scene at eye level.

Image by pear biter

Selective Lighting

If you’re shooting with a really long exposure time, then you may just have enough time to run about and paint parts of your scene with a light. ‘Painting with Light’ can be a really effective technique for highlighting certain bits, and great for creating a shot that has a some uniqueness to it. Just remember to set a long enough exposure time so you don’t have to rush about in the dark, and don’t worry about getting yourself in the photo; the little amount of light combined with your movement should be enough to avoid being captured, and keep people wondering just how you did it!



When shooting at night you are generally going to have slow shutter speeds, so a tripod or other support is essential for these types of shots and of course, you’ll need a shutter release cable if you’re going to be shooting at longer than the usual 30sec limit of most cameras, although with most shots you should be able to get by without one. Try using Av (or A) mode on your camera, that way you can set your aperture and check to see if your shutter speed is long enough. If it isn’t, try lowering the ISO, using a smaller aperture if you can, or alternatively, using an ND filter.

Shoot More Than 1

The problem with shooting night scenes is that quite often some light sources will be brighter than others, creating burned out patches in your picture. What I try to do is shoot several shots with different shutter speeds so that different areas are exposed the way I want, then I can combine them in Photoshop later using a simple masking technique.


Shot Ideas


Composing a shot in near pitch black can be tough, but when your subject such as a mountain isn’t lit at all it can be a real challenge, but worth the effort. Creating a silhouette of a mountain or trees against a starry backdrop can evoke the feelings of wonder in everyone, and are fantastic for showing the rotation of the earth, reminding us all that we are actually spinning around at thousands of miles per hour; how cool is that!


Fair Grounds

What better excuse to go to the fair than photography? Fair grounds can provide some of the best photographic opportunities, with the vast array of multi coloured lights and spinning rides its hard not to get an eye popping shot. And nothing tastes better than a fair ground hot dog afterwards!


Buildings and Cities

Some cities lend themselves better to being photographed than others; Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, London, New York and Sydney, just to name a few. But they all have one thing in common and that is the abundance of towering skyscrapers, all night long lights and all night long characters. It’s no wonder these sorts of places are the best in providing a smörgÃ¥sbord of photographic delights for us to feast our lenses on!

Image by Trodel


There’s nothing cooler than getting some great images of fireworks, although keeping shutter speeds long can result in some interesting streaks, its best to go for shorter times to capture the initial bursts, and to keep the fireworks looking more realistic.

sherwin andante

Got any more ideas that would make stunning night shots? Post them below!

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Jamie  13 years ago

OMG…I absolutely love the image with the stars moving!! I want to do that!!

Dietmar  13 years ago

@Jamie: Yes, this one is really the best! Anyway I need a stativ and more spare time, especially at the dark :)

Martyn  13 years ago

Some great pictures there – love the fireworks one!
I’ve already had a go at the startrails one myself: :-)


Lee Milthorpe  13 years ago

Great photo Martyn!

We do actually have a tutorial on how to make these. For those that want to give it a try, here’s the link:


C.D.A.  13 years ago

Seaside shots such as this one http://cdaphoto.blogspot.com/2009/06/potos-nights.html can be interesting. But I think startrails photos are really magnificent.

tanya golash boza  13 years ago

beautiful pictures! I LOVE the one under “selective lighting.” Great work!

blues  13 years ago

Hey, this site is really interesting, I’m gonna stick on it.

Jason Collin Photography  13 years ago

I do want to try the painting with light with a long exposure technique. I keep forgetting I want to! Maybe I’ll try it tonight.

I really like the moving star-type photographs as well. And the fairgrounds!

Terry Day  13 years ago

Great tips and great photographs..Very Nice.

XposurePro Photography Community  13 years ago

Owning a full time portrait studio I hardly ever get the chance to go out and shoot at night. When I do it’s like my special ME time.

ISHARA  10 years ago

Instead of using a shutter release cable, is it just as effective to set the timer on the shutter so avoid the shake?
I found it very hard to take photos from our rooftop due to the high wind factor (shook the tripod). Had to settle for one at dusk just as the lights were coming on but light enough to avoid very long exposure times.

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