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

How to take better night photos: 5 tips for iPhone 12, Galaxy S21 or other phone cameras



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Andrew Hoyle / CNET

The arrival of night mode on recent phones such as the iPhone 1

2 Pro Max, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra and a host of others means it’s possible to take great looking photos even in the middle of the night. Best of all, you don’t have to worry about several minute exposures and a tripod like you should with a DSLR. You don’t really need any extra equipment at all.

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 an image you’re really proud of isn’t just a matter of waiting for darkness and pulling out your phone. You will 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 that it is actually activated before you start shooting. On phones such as iPhone 12 series, night mode is automatically activated when the phone detects that 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 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 great low-light photos that you still need some light into the image to create a captivating image. So if you go to the darkest part of a forest, it probably won’t give 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

Large 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 need 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 cycling racing 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 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 button. 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 do not 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 photo.

When nothing is around, you can help keep the phone stable by holding it firmly with both hands, holding it fairly 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 getting a sharper image.

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I love 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 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 have image noise (a faint grain) that gets worse and worse the brighter you make 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 not to push it too far.

From then on, it all depends on what looks good on you, so spend some time playing around with the available tools and see what you can come up with. Personally, I think 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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