Pardon perhaps a beginners question. I'm starting to experiment with night photography, as I like to take city shots at night when i travel. I took a sample shot of the palace of fine arts as shown here:

enter image description here

and I'm curious how night photographers balance several things, primarily, if I wanted to get even more blur in the water, there's already too much light I don't think I can tweak very much more, is an ND filter out of the question then? Other tips if i wanted a longer exposure for some effect but there was too much light?

Also I noticed the starlight effect from the lamp on the left, which is from smaller apertures, can I simultaneously solve for all of these?

Thanks for the help


3 Answers 3


The first and most important for night urban photography is to take pictures during dusk. If you photograph after the sun has fully set behind horizon, you will get dark, really black shadows (like in your photo above), and very bright spots of light. The best time for photography is dusk (or dawn, too). For examples of good timing cnonditions I am talking about, see here and here.

Urban photographs usually expect large depth of field, therefore are often shot with a small aperture. This is when the star trailing appears on bright spots of light, like in your photo above. You could, e.g., take another photo with the lamp in focus and then overlay it locally. Otherwise shooting both lamp without a star trail and smooth water surface with one picture is problematic.

Night shots are often done with HDR. Here when I talk of HDR I do not mean those acid HDR shots found often on the Internet. Any photo which has been constructed from more than one image with different exposition is considered an HDR. SO, you can take two photos, one of the pool with water with a narrow aperture and long shutter time, another of the building with a larger aperture, and later stitch them together in Photoshop using masks.

If you want to achieve a longer shutter time with a lot of light in the scene (e.g. a jungle waterfall), then you will not get around without an ND or a polarizer filter.


A few quick tips -- (1) Invest in a great tripod. Not one of those twisty/bendy tripods. You need a solid investment here.

(2) Shoot within 1-2 hours after sunset. Your best shots will come before it gets completely dark. Don't be frustrated if you have to shoot a scene more than once. The only time you need to be out shooting late into the night would be for stars.

(3) Bump your ISO to a manageable level.


If you need a longer exposure, and you reached the limit of stopping down the aperture to avoid the star lights, and your ISO is already the lowest possible (check if you can expand the low end), then an ND filter is the final step you can take.

The situation that is it night and not day doesn't change this, because the situation really is that you have more light that you can limit through camera settings, while getting the result you want, thus you need an ND filter to limit it for you.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.