I'm very interested in doing night time shootings.

I'm using Canon 5d3 with 85mm at f/1.2, and at iso 2000 I'm able to get exposure times around 1/150s-1/200s.

However, the lighting in my city everywhere is an ugly shade of orange. It's ok if you're doing architecture, I think, but it's disgusting if you're shooting a person:

enter image description here [f/1.2 iso 1250 1/80s]

I've also got x21, and I've tried shooting when doing lighting with it, but it's color with temperature 5500K on the pictures looks bluish (and also ugly).

So I've tried placing color filters over the x21 (red, blue, yellow). The result is somewhat better after color correction, but I still HATE the colors.

So, when I'm looking at pictures like this:

night picture 1

or this

night picture 2

I'm starting that there must be a trick to it.

Is there a better way of taking nighttime pictures (placing some sort of color filters over lens or something) or is it just natural city lighting that does the trick?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually I think I mis read the question -- the 2nd two aren't yours are they? Only the 1st. Given that, I'd still say the temperature is too warm and try cooling it off in post... \$\endgroup\$
    – Mike
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 9:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ possible duplicate of What white balance settings do I need to capture the cast of a coloured streetlight? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 10:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also see this question on color rendering, which covers street lights with some great examples. Between those two, your question should be well-answered. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 10:38
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ FWIW, I think the first photo is amazing. It feels much more urban, perhaps even a little gritty, which seems much more true than the latter two photos, which look like they've had studio lighting applied.. \$\endgroup\$
    – naught101
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with the proposed duplicate - the other question asks about capturing the yellow cast, while this one seeks to avoid it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Imre
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 15:47

3 Answers 3


The trick is very easy, actually: bring your own lighting. The existing orange sodium-vapor lighting is missing important parts of color spectrum, so those colors will never be reflected from anything. Filtering will only further reduce the colors available for recording.

The "good" examples in the question look very much like one would get with a couple of off-camera flashes. I would also bring a softbox, beauty dish or umbrella, although the photos here seem to do without (considering the harsh shadow on woman's cheek / man's chin).

You could try setting your camera to Tungsten white balance and using a CTO (or CTS) gel on your flash to reduce the orange-ness of ambient lighting.

And if using your own lighting is not an option, there's always the classic alternative - ditch colors altogether by processing the photos in black and white.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That's pretty much the answer - bring your own lighting of change the white balance - or do lots of editing (and still get bad colours). \$\endgroup\$
    – DetlevCM
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 9:44

This is a difficult problem as in general those orange sodium vapour lamps give you little to work with, but there are some options

  • Lighting varies with location, it's probably the case that the lighting in the second two examples was better (more sources, broader spectrum), so move around and compare results.

  • By careful editing you can sometimes get a good result, even if your lighting is pretty much monochrome. You always can make the skintones look right (as skin is effectively one colour too), at the expense of making the background colours look off. If you have a dark enough background, or the background is lit with different colour lights this isn't hard to pull off.

  • Shoot slightly earlier when there is some ambient light around. You can still get the night photo look as you'll have dark skies and prominent artificial lightsources in frame, but everything (focusing, composing, avoiding noise, getting more natural colours) will be a lot easier!

  • Bring your own light. Imre's answer covers this one pretty well.

  • As a last resort process your images as monochrome, add a load of film grain and declare them to be "art".

Here's an example of a twilight shot, darkened to make it look a bit more "night":


Taking a custom white balance works well for me in some situations. If there is even a smidgin of fuller spectrum lighting in the scene in addition to the narrow spectrum streetlights, a CWB can work wonders.

I'm starting that there must be a trick to it.

Use an HSL (or HSB or HSV) tool to control the hue, saturation, and luminance (or brightness or value) of eight or so bands of color independently of the others. With sodium vapor lamps and human skin tones, the most critical channel is the orange band, and to a lesser extent the red, yellow, and magenta bands.

Here's a frame that was taken under high pressure sodium vapor lights on a city sidewalk at night. White balance was set using a 'CWB' shot of a styrofoam cup. The image was saved as a raw file and color was fine-tuned with Canon's Digital Photo Professional 4 (which preserved the in-camera CWB). DDP4's Hue-Saturation-Luminance tool was used to further fine-tune the color.

enter image description here
Canon EOS 5D Mark III + EF 50mm f/1.4, ISO 5000, f/2.2, 1/100


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