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
But getting a great picture that you’re really proud of isn’t just a matter of waiting for darkness and getting your phone out – you’ll still have to put in some work to get photos that will get those Instagram likes.
Here are my top tips for getting great photos on your phone at night.
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 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 that you should use to get the best low-light photos.
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.
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 in the image to create a compelling 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 as you’ll find light sources in the form of street lamps, shop windows and maybe even some festive lighting during the holidays.
If you are going to populated areas, make sure you take all necessary precautions against Covid-19.
Wait for your moment
Major city and street photography often includes a person as the subject in your shot, and nighttime 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.
For example, imagine you are 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 release. It may take a few minutes, but eventually someone can walk right through that pool of light and you can take your shot. Patience in this way can really pay off.
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.
If nothing is around, you have to keep it completely under control. Even then, 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 obtaining a sharper image.
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 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 you don’t go 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.