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Home / Tips and Tricks / 5 night photography tips for iPhone 12, Galaxy S20 and other phone cameras

5 night photography tips for iPhone 12, Galaxy S20 and other phone cameras



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Andrew Hoyle / CNET

Taking pictures at night used to be something you needed a good DSLR for, with tripods and long exposures to get a good, clear image. But the arrival of night mode on recent phones like the iPhone 1

2 ($ 829 at Amazon), the Samsung Galaxy S20 and a wide variety of others means it is possible to take crystal clear photos even in the depths of the night.

But getting a great image that you’re really proud of isn’t just a matter of waiting for darkness and getting your phone out – you still have to put in some work to get photos that will get those Instagram likes.

Here are my top tips for getting great visuals on your phone at night.

1. Know how to activate night mode

If your phone has a night mode it is important to make sure it is actually activated before you start shooting. On phones such as iPhone 12 series, night mode is automatically activated when the phone detects you are in a low light situation. On some Android phones, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra You may find a specific shooting mode to use to capture the best photos in low light.

Different phones can have different options, so if you’re not sure how to use yours – or if your phone even has one – a quick Google search for the model and “night mode” should answer your questions.

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This nighttime photo is made all the more vibrant and dazzling by these incredible Christmas lights adorning the columns.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

2. Find the light

While phones like the new iPhones ($ 599 at Apple) and recent Galaxy phones can take stunning low-light photos that you still need some light into the image to create an engaging image. So if you go to the darkest part of a forest, it probably won’t give good results. Instead, try to head to populated areas like city centers (take all necessary precautions against COVID-19) as you’ll find light sources in the form of street lamps, shop windows and maybe even some festive lighting during the holidays.

3. Wait for your moment

Major city and street photography can often include a person as the subject in your shot, and the night can be a great time to take those photos. However, if the light is limited, you have to make sure that person is exactly where you want them and that may take some patience.

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I’m really happy with both images in night mode and they both rely heavily on timing – on the left it was all about getting that lonely figure in the big pool of light on the ground. On the right, it was about capturing the cycling passing by.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

For example, imagine taking a photo on a road lit by street lamps. Each lamp emits a pool of light and if someone walks through it, it is temporarily illuminated before they become effectively invisible again in the darkness. In that case, my advice is to have your photo ready, with your finger above that shutter release. It may take a few minutes, but eventually someone can walk right through that pool of light and you can take a picture. Patience in this way can really pay off.

4. Hold yourself

While night modes on phones don’t require a tripod, as with a long exposure on a DSLR, you will still get the best results if you keep the phone as still as possible while taking your photo. If you don’t have a tripod with you, look around for a low wall, trash can, or anything else you can hold your phone on while taking your picture.

When nothing is around, you can help keep the phone stable by holding it firmly with both hands, holding it reasonably close to your chest, and pushing your elbows toward your stomach. This will help reduce some of the natural wobble in your hands and can make all the difference in obtaining a sharper image.

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I like black and white editing of nighttime photos. I think the natural contrast of bright street lighting in the shady backgrounds translates so well into a monochrome image.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

5. Edit your recordings

As with any good photo, taking the photo is only half the story; it’s how you edit it that can be the best way to turn it into a real work of art. I use Adobe Lightroom Mobile for most of my edits, but Google’s Snapseed is also very powerful and is completely free on iOS and Android.

Night photos can be quite dark by nature, so you may want to start increasing the exposure. Be careful though; images in low light, even good night mode shots, will show image noise (a faint grain) that gets worse and worse as you brighten the image. You may need to reduce some of the highlights (especially if you’ve captured bright street lights) and boost the shadows a bit to balance things out. Pay attention to the details and make sure you don’t push it too far.

From then on, it all depends on what you look good on, so spend some time playing around with the available tools and see what you can come up with. Personally, I think that night scenes often look great as black and white images as the natural contrast of bright lights and dark backgrounds lends itself well to a monochrome conversion.


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