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Home / Tips and Tricks / 5 tips for better night photos with iPhone 12, Galaxy S21 or other phone cameras

5 tips for better night photos with iPhone 12, Galaxy S21 or 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 Pro Max, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultrone and a host of others means it is possible to take crystal clear pictures even in the depths of the night.

You can see how well the 12 Pro Max fares against the S21 Ultra and Google Pixel 5 in our recent night mode shootout

But getting a great photo 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 may 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 night photo has been 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, which you still must have some light into the image to create an engaging image. So if you go to the darkest part of a forest, you probably won’t get good results. Instead, try going 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

In major city and street photography, a person can often be included 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 need to make sure that person is exactly where you want them and that may take some patience.

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I am very happy with both images in night mode and they both rely heavily on timing – on the left it was all about lonely figure walking on the ground in the large pool of light. On the right, it was about capturing the cycling by fast.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

Imagine taking a picture on a road lit by street lamps. Each lamp emits a pool of light, and when someone walks through it, they are 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 time 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, a trash can, or anything else you can hold your phone on while taking your photo.

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 is how you edit it that can be the greatest way to turn it into a real work of art. I use Adobe Lightroom Mobile for most of my editing, 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 streetlights) 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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