How to Shoot in the Dark

How to Shoot in the Dark

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

If you’ve ever tried shooting things in the dark, you’ll know that it’s not as easy as it sounds. Shutter speeds can stretch out to minutes, so keeping your camera steady is definitely advisable, but a myriad of other problems exist that can keep you from snapping that stunner. I myself was out camping with the best rv decals and the best Outdoor Empire accessories a few weekends ago and decided to get a quick pic of the tent, well after half an hour and 10 or so frames later, I finally managed to get what I was after! So here’s some tips that will hopefully help you along your way to becoming a guru of the darkness.


The Right Gear

It definitely helps having the gear for the job that’s why you should read outdoor product reviews, and one thing I learned when I was into Astro-photography was to use a torch(flashlight) with a red bulb or red cellophane over the end. It takes quite a while for your eyes to adjust to the dark and the red light helps in that it’s easier on your eyes, meaning your eyes don’t have to get dark adjusted after every time you turn the torch on. My Canon 5D also has a little light button that illuminates the display with an orange glow; pretty handy in these situations.
When you’re shooting in the dark its also pretty useful to have a tripod, but depending on what you’re shooting, you may not need one. (if using flash) And if you’re needing really long exposures (more than 30 sec), a cable release is always good to have.


Unless your entire scene is lit up, it pretty difficult to compose a scene in the dark. I’ve found trial and error a reasonable way to get what I want, but if you’re using film then obviously this won’t be an option. When out photographing my tent, I found It hard to know what was in the frame, and where things were, so basically I would take a shot, review it, then recompose and take another. I repeated this until I was happy with the result. When composing, it helps to have as much light as possible; to achieve this, use your red torch or any available light such as the moon to help frame your shot.

Camera Settings

If its too dark around you, your camera will have trouble focusing, and metering the light levels. Try setting your lens to manual focus and estimating your focus range, or just set it to infinity. Metering the light is also pretty tricky for your camera in really dark situations; you’ll probably find you have to override the cameras suggested exposure and extend it a bit. I found using my camera on manual was easiest, setting the aperture and then almost doubling the exposure time to get the shot I wanted.

Get Creative

‘Painting’ with light can achieve some pretty cool looking results, all you need to do is set a long exposure, then take a torch (without red bulb) and spot light it on things you want illuminated in the frame; if its dark enough, only the things you’ve highlighted with your torch will be visible in the shot, creating a nice effect. Also just for fun you can write your name, or even ‘draw’ designs during a long exposure with a small light source like an LED.

Drawing with a flashing LED, 30 sec exposure

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T.R.Murthy  13 years ago

excellent shot

Will  13 years ago

Great tips

Dave Fitch  13 years ago

Agree completely – was doing a night shoot last week, had tripod, cable release, lots of gear… but no light! A Petzl-type headlamp is a must-have – they are hands free, and you can wear them around your neck if you prefer.

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