Lessons, Melbourne, Photography, Weekend Wanderings

Weekend Wanderings – How I Take Night Photos 11 Days Before Christmas

Recently I have been getting some comments from people who are unsure about night photography.  Seems some people are not sure how to take night photos, so I asked one of them, Laura Macky, if she would like me to do a post on taking photos at night, and she said yes.  So hopefully I can help explain it.

Let’s start with the equipment that you need if you want to do them properly, or expertly.  I will also tell you ways to get around some of these after this.

LeanneCole-citynight-20131208-4228The above image, I showed it yesterday, so please excuse the double up.  Is an image that show perfectly how to take a night photo, and the circumstances under which most night photos are taken.  The focus of the image was the tree, having people around didn’t matter, so time didn’t matter.  I could take as long as I needed to get the shot.

My camera was set up on the tripod, and as I wanted the best exposure possible my ISO was right done to 100.  I usually always have my camera set on Aperture Priority, so I had my aperture set on 7.1, and according to my camera, I needed a shutter speed of 6 seconds, which is why the camera had to be on a tripod.  The long shutter speed is why the people seem like ghosts.

I know I am going to get people telling me I should have the camera on manual, but you know what, I rarely do.  If I can get away with aperture priority or shutter priority, then I go for it.  I know there are times when you have to put it on manual, and I used to find my old camera had to be put onto that when I got a shutter speed of more than a couple of seconds, but so far the D800 has proved to be a real trouper that way.

It is also advisable to use a remote shutter release, so you avoid camera shake when you press down the shutter button.  I have to admit, I don’t always use one, I have got a lot better at just pressing the button and not getting that camera shake, though, if I can and I have it with me, I always use it.  Better to be safe.


The above image was taken with a very long shutter speed, around 25 seconds, aperture f/11 and the ISO would have been 100 or thereabouts.  The slower the better to get the water to look smoother and to get the colours reflected in the water.

LeanneCole-townhall-20131129-0245When I was taking these the camera was on the tripod again, it was up high, so I had  a wireless remote shutter release on the camera, the trigger in my hand.  Time was a lot more important in these photos.  I couldn’t have long shutter speeds because then the lights would all blend into one another, I needed a faster shutter speed.

To achieve this, I set the ISO onto 4000, I was also curious to see how the camera would go with a ISO that high.  Again, the camera was on Aperture Priority, and the aperture was f/8.  I have looked at the properties of the image and the shutter speed was 1/5 of a second.  So fast enough for this show, but still too slow to hand hold the camera.

One thing to remember when you go up ISO is that you start to introduce noise or what used to be referred to as grain to your images, so you really want to use lower shutter speeds when you can.  It isn’t always possible though, so it can be a trade off at times.

LeanneCole-city-20131129-0234This image was done with me hand holding the camera.  These were the last photos I took for the night, and it was a last minute thing.  I had the 50mm lens on the camera, and decided to just see what I could get.  So the camera wasn’t on the tripod, which meant I needed a faster shutter speed.  I usually tell my students that they should always get something faster than 1/60 of a second, but I know myself I can go a little slower.  The ISO has to be turned up high enough to get a good shutter speed, my aperture was f/6.3, I could have turned it down more, but didn’t.  My ISO ended up being 4000.

I have found that people who start taking photos often forget about ISO, they will say I used the aperture I wanted, but I kept getting dark photos, what was I doing wrong?  I say, did you turn your ISO up, and they look at me with that look that says, I can’t believe I forgot about it.  The three most important things to use when taking photos, your exposure triangle, ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, they all have to work together.

So to take great photos at night you need a camera that will allow you to have some control over ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.  You should also use a tripod and remote shutter release.  So what happens when you don’t have those?

If you don’t have a tripod then find a solid surface to put your camera on, a car, a fence post, a bench, anything that stays still.  It will give you the same results as a tripod, except, you may not be able to manipulate and get the image you want.  A tripod you can adjust the head of it to get the composition you want.

If you don’t have a remote shutter release then you can use the inbuilt timer that is in most cameras.  You can set it to go off in 2 seconds and then you stop camera shake that way.  I have done this on some occassions.

So I hope that helps those of you who want to do some night Christmas photos and are unsure how to go about it.  This is how I do it.

I have some more photos of Flinders Street Station as well.

Please note all images have been taken for the City of Melbourne and they have exclusive use of them.


  1. Thank you so much Leanne! I was just about to head out in a few minutes even though it’s light here. i want to scope out some areas and take some photos of lights at dusk as well as at dark. And yes, you can use my name. :) Thank you for reminding me about the ISO. I don’t always turn it up since I’m usually taking landscapes. I’m excited to see what results I get. I’m only going to a local neighborhood and hopefully this weekend I’ll get over to SF to get some shots of beautiful Union Square at night!

    • Good luck with your photos Laura, I am sure you will find heaps of things to photograph. I hope the post helped, or at least made you realise you were doing everything right.

  2. AWESOmE Instruction!! Love your images …def professional..way beyond my capability. The city of Melbourne is very lucky to have found YOU!

    • I’m it isn’t Tonia, I’m sure, night photography seems hard, but it isn’t really, no different to normal stuff except it takes longer. Thanks Tonia.

  3. Leanne, have the lights always been like this for the holidays? I remember lights and decorations exactly 13 years ago when I visited Melbourne – but nothing like this! Great shots – I anticipated the tripod and long shutter speed ;)

    • No, they haven’t always been like this, this is pretty new, I think last year was the first time they did it, it is pretty amazing. Yeah, tripod is pretty important for night shots. Thank you.

  4. I honestly could hug you right now. I am pouring over this later this evening. You have given me a wealth of knowledge, and I for one, am very very grateful. Thank you, Leanne, for sharing you with us. Your photographs are superb! I know I need a tripod, so I put the request in to “Santa”.

    Big Grateful (((HUGS))),

    • Love hugs, so hand it over. :) I am so glad you got something out of the post, that is good. Santa can be very handy for those things, he got me mine too, but let me have it a little early. Thanks Amy.

  5. Jenny Overton says

    Great post, thank you! If I feel inspired tonight I might do a walk around my street and see what I can achieve.

  6. I can’t wait to get a new camera as my d80, while a fantastic camera, doesn’t like higher ISO’s at all. Nighttime photos are fine as long as they aren’t moving.. Thanks for the tips :)

    • I agree, when things are moving, then you have to do things a bit different and it can be harder. I hope you get the new one soon, thanks Livonne.

  7. Thank you Leanne. I’ve just got the new camera I’ve been saving for, Cannon 600D, and am looking forward to learning how to drive it. This is wonderful information, in words I understand. Please feel free to share anything like this when ever you like. I know I could have kept saving to get a 700 but I’m never going to go professional and the price was right. I’m very happy with it but miss the colour depth of my old faithful Kodak. Next saving goal is photoshop program to correct this I think. Lol

    • The Canon 600D is a good camera, and if it does everything you want, then it is the perfect camera for you. Glad the information is good for you Jillian, and hope you get a chance to use it. I don’t know much about the Kodak cameras, but I am sure you will come to love the 600D. Software is great, though photoshop isn’t the only option, there is GIMP, which is free and you can do quite a bit with it. Photoshop Elements is probably the one I would recommend the most, it does quite a bit a lot, and if you don’t want to be a professional photographer probably all you will need. Good luck with the new camera Jullian.

  8. I love that you explain in such detail how you do some of your pictures. Hopefully this will help me some. I have stuck with auto cuz I’ve not been sure what to do…. Do you mind if I show case some of your photos on a blog or use on with a poem? I’ll let you know before hand, and of course I’ll provide links where people can reach you. You can message me all the link you want posted on my FB page if you wish. Hope you have a wonderful & happy Christmas holiday! :D Hugs

    • Thank you Keli, I do hope you get something out of it, I never know if I have written it properly or not. I think a lot of people stick with auto for the same reason. As long as you provide links I don’t mind Keli, though I would also like you to let me know as well, if that is okay. I hope you have a great Christmas as well Keli. Hugs back, :)

  9. My gosh these are beautiful!! Thank you for the technical info, Leanne. Really appreciate it. Though it is your artistry that is incomparable. I have to tweet this. Merry Christmas!

    • Thank you so much Nia, that is such a lovely thing to say, I really appreciate it, you have a Merry Christmas too.

  10. leecleland says

    Great to see the photo and then have the talk through how you took it. And thank you for a Christmas city lights fix for a country girl

  11. Great post Leanne love the way you took us through the thought process on each shot particularly on the tripod shot with the higher ISO where you wanted to avoid the lights bleeding into each other – very informative post – thanks and have a great weekend!

  12. Thankyou Leanne. I want to take photos of our house lights and had planned on using the tripod and cable release but found your information on the higher ISO quite good. If this storm goes away before dark, I just might try it with the lights tonight. :)

    • Just be careful with the higher ISO it can make your images very grainy. Good luck though, hope you get some great shots. Thank you.

  13. Love looking at your photos ~ always so beautiful. Thanks so much for the night photography information. I have the worse time getting a decent photo at night and yet they are my favorite type of photos. This gives me a head start on a night photo class I’m planning to take next month.

    • Thank you, night photos shouldn’t be hard, it is just knowing how to make those three things work together. Good luck, I hope you get better shots now.

  14. Wonderful I -can -understand -this- no- problem -explanation as always Leanne :-)
    Just thinking it through at the time I have a tendency to rush … but you know what … Lights DO tend to stay in one place Lol I must remember that …
    Your great photos illustrate it brilliantly :-)

    • Brilliant Poppytump, I am so glad to hear this. :)
      Yes, lights do tend to stay in one place, and I think when you are taking night photos, you do need to be patient, very patient, 30 seconds doesn’t sound long, but it can be when you are waiting for that shutter to close.
      Thank you Poppytump. :)

  15. I love lowlight photography. When you can come up with an interesting subject, you can create amazing images and breathe new life into something that’s typically thought of as old hat.

    • I love that idea, it is great, and so true, I think I am always trying to find different ways to photograph things, it doesn’t always work, but it is great when it does.

    • I have never really done e-cards, interesting idea though, however I couldn’t do them with these images, I’m not allowed to used them for that sort of thing.
      Thank you Karen.

  16. great explanation and demonstrations! I really need to take the time to take a class so this info will stick in my mind! thanks for sharing your knowledge.

    • I think taking photos at night shouldn’t be that much harder than taking photos during the day, it just takes longer, I hope you figure it out, good luck and thank you.

    • You are welcome, I hope you find it useful and it helps you to take great night photos, good luck, thank you.

  17. Beautiful images as ever Leanne, and a very instructive post. I have a bridge camera so have only limited control over settings, which can be quite frustrating, but you have to just “suck it up” as they say.
    I’ve been experimenting a lot with light trails & long exposures with varying success, so use the self-timer a lot. One tip I read somewhere that I find makes a great deal of difference when shooting like this is to turn off image stabilisation, as that can cause camera shake while it’s trying to level things up. Now, if only I could remember to turn it on again when going back to hand-held! :)

    • I don’t tend to use image stabilisation anyway, so that isn’t a problem for me, though what you are saying is very interesting. It is not something I had thought about.
      Thank you so much, and yes, I guess sometimes we do just have to use the equipment we have, I’m sure that your bridge camera can deliver good photos, most can. Good luck

  18. What a great post Leanne, you’re great at explaining things :-)
    I’m so impatient when shooting, so my quick fix is with the iso, but your right it can leave the images blurry! I’m also too lazy to lug my tripod around, in the city as I find it heavy and bulky…..maybe I need a new one :-) thanks for the inspiration.

    • I can relate to everything you have said here, I tend to do the same often, though I am trying to get a lot better with the tripod. I find it so cumbersome to carry around and heavy. It is great for some things, but walking around the city, not so great. I would really like to get a smaller one for that kind of thing as well. Maybe you could ask Santa? ;)
      Thank you, I never know whether people will understand me or not when I write these, but good to hear that you did. :)

  19. This is a great post. Now I understand how long-time photographers take their photos. I’ve always had a problem with taking night photos – they always turn out really dark and colourful lights don’t show up. Then again, I’m only using a digital camera in night mode :/ I suppose I should try to set it to manual and turn down the ISO.

    • Thank you Mabel, I think that sounds like a great idea, try it and see what happens. I don’t use the preset modes that cameras have so have had to learn through trial and error, but it should give you better results. Good Luck.

  20. You truly are amazing Leanne. These images are fantastic, and you’re so wonderful in explaining how to capture these. Happy Holidays, and congratulations on such a successful year for you.

    • Now you are going to make me blush Emily, I do hope I explained it well, there seemed to be so many people who were frustrated with their night shots, that it seemed like a good thing to do. Merry Christmas to you as well, thank you so much, I have enjoyed this year, I hope next year is even more successful for both of us.

      • You are clearly a wonderful instructor and provide great inspiration to 20,000 THOUSAND people ! Now that is truly amazing, and you should pat yourself on the back for going gang busters this year.
        I truly have appreciated your kindness and friendship this year and look forward to sharing more in 2014.

      • Thank you Emily, I hope so, it does encourage me to do more. I am so pleased with how my blog has gone, it has been fantastic.
        I appreciate your friendship as well, here’s to 2014, cheers.

  21. Thank you for all the good advice, and so clear to understand! Lovely photos to prove you know what you’re talking about too. (Not that there was any doubt about it.)

  22. Thank you so much for this post. I was planning on taking photos of Christmas lights tonight. Am heading out now. Wish me luck!
    By the way, thank you for liking my Christmas post today. I’m very honored!
    Peace, Alexandria Sage

      • I did. It was freezing outside but my daughter was with me and held the flashlight and other gear. I got about five very nice ones, out of about 50. Always learning. Thanks again!

      • Well done Alexandra, that is a great, and wonderful that you got some great images, each time you do it you will get more.

  23. This is great information! Thanks for the post and those pics are fantastic! Have a great day and Happy New Year!

  24. I have nerve damage so sometimes I lose feeling in my hands or they shake which makes holding a camera steady a challenge but for some reason I still prefer holding it in my hand to using a tripod

    • There is something sort of clunky about using the tripod, I do if I have to, but if I can get away without using, then I do that as well. That must be terrible for you, but sounds like you manage which is great to hear.

  25. A nice piece. One of these days I’m going to have to put out for a nice Canon 60D. I know it’s not the newest, but the 70D is said to be not that much better for the price. I miss interchangeable lenses.

    • Thank you, I love my DSLR, they can be so good. I think your decision there sounds like a good one. I hope you get it soon.

  26. Marisa says

    Breathtaking shots. And thank you for stopping by eve’s apple!


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