I was trying to take some pictures of the city night sky light with my Nikon D90 with its kit lens. Below are the settings I tried while taking pictures:

  • F-Stop: 22
  • Mode: Manual

I also tested with other F-stop values (16, 11, 5.6, etc).

Since it was a case of low light, I tried to adjust shutter speed and other aspects but was not successful. Light meter was showing 30 seconds as expected time to shoot that picture but when I tried to adjust exposure it stared showing me "Bulb mode" and no other reading was being displayed on the meter.

Is there any way to handle this case with kit lens or do I need full-frame camera?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Why are you using manual mode? Your camera has a light meter - use it. Certainly f/22 is not where you want to be, for all sorts of reasons. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 8:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Why did you use f/22? Are you aware that that allows an extremely small amount of light into the camera compared to apertures with smaller f numbers = larger apertures? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PhilipKendall: I have also mentioned that I have used other options also, even 5.6 and 4 also but still with not much success. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 12:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RussellMcMahon : I have also used other options but was not able to get desired success. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 12:19
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I would suggest reviewing What is the “exposure triangle”? to get an better understanding of exposure. \$\endgroup\$
    – Joanne C
    Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 13:18

5 Answers 5


I guess that the kit lens is a 18-55 mm f/3,5-5,6 and together with a D90 there is no reason to buy a full-frame camera. It wont solve any of your problems and you'll be able to take this photo with the gear you have without any problems at all.

Firstly, you would want to stay away from shooting at f/22. It will not give you sharp images nor the light that you need in low light situations. Remember a low f-number means that you'll let more light in so shooting at f/22 is the last thing you'll want to do. Also I can't see a reason to use manual mode unless you know what to set the different settings that you now have to handle yourself.

There are a couple of steps to take in order to take a good photograph under these conditions:

  1. Use a tripod - There's no reason not to. You're going to photograph a static subject and there is little light available. You might not be able to handhold it for the required shutter speed.
  2. Use a larger aperture - The aperture that you should choose depends on what focal length you're using and what effect you want to achieve but an aperture of f/8 is a good starting point. Read more about how the aperture affects your photo here.
  3. Bump up the ISO - Depending on the available light after setting the other parameters you've chosen you'll need to adjust the ISO in order to get a correct exposure.
  4. Focus manually - In very low light you might have to focus manually to get the result you're looking for.

When determining the exposure you can bump up the ISO to the maximum value for the test shots. That way you don't have to wait for a slow shutter speed. When correct exposure has been found you can turn the ISO down again and compensate by slower shutter speed. Using the light meter is not necessarily an accurate method in this case but it gives you some pointers at least.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your input and they are really helpful to me, this was first time I was trying with such light condition and some how mixed up things. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 12:24

Cities aren't that dark even at night, you equipment should be able to take the picture just fine.

Your first problem is that f/22 is a tiny tiny aperture, it lets very little light into the camera - so, to compensate the camera needs a very long exposure and the built in timer only goes up to 30 seconds.

I also think you might be mistaking about the meaning of the numbers you see on the camera, I don't know the D90 but most cameras, in manual mode, don't show the exposure length according to the light meter but only how many stops you are under/over (there's a scale with a little arrow, when the arrow is on 0 you are correctly exposed according to the meter).

So, start by switching the camera to A mode, set your ISO to something reasonable (don't know the D90 but try 400 or 800 as a starting point, if you get too much noise switch to a lower ISO setting) and your aperture to the lowest f number (f/3.5 if you are at 18mm, f/5.6 if you are at 55mm).

Take the picture and see 1. what shutter speed the camera's meter has chosen and 2. if you like the results, now you can switch to manual mode, the values you had in A mode and:

  1. To make the picture darker without changing anything else use a faster shutter speed or lower the ISO.

  2. To Make the picture brighter without changing anything else use a longer shutter speed or raise the ISO.

  3. If you want more in focus use a smaller aperture (larger f number) and use a longer shutter speed to compensate (each click on the aperture dial is equal to a click on the shutter speed dial).

  4. If there's too much noise lower the ISO and lower the shutter speed to compensate, if you half the ISO you need to double the shutter speed, for example if you start at 1 second at ISO 400 you can switch to 2 seconds at ISO 200


  1. For low light you want a small f number

  2. Use the camera's light meter in A mode to find what the camera's think is the right exposure, start from there.

  3. Set to brighter or darker based on your taste.

  4. You have your aperture, shutter speed and ISO, each has side effects, you can exchange one for the other without changing the overall brightness of the photo to control those side effects (high ISO is usually noisy, lights look like starbursts in small apertures, etc.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for your input, suggestion to start using A mode and than try to check camera's calculation is really good one \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 12:25

The answers so far don't seem to talk about bulb mode, which I think should be mentioned:

If you want f22 as the aperture, and you want a reasonable ISO so the image isn't too noisy, then the solution to me is to go over the 30 second exposure available with the built in settings, and going into Bulb mode.

You can experiment with it without one, but I would highly recommend getting a remote shutter release, either cabled or cordless, to suit your camera to prevent movement. You can get cabled ones that have a lock button so you can keep the button held down without tiring your thumb.

Bulb mode is where you hold the shutter button down and the shutter stays open as long as the button is down. If the pictures are too dark, then you would need to go into bulb mode to get longer exposures than 30 seconds if you want to keep the other settings the same.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ "If you want f22 as the aperture": you almost certainly don't. \$\endgroup\$
    – Philip Kendall
    Commented Aug 21, 2014 at 11:00

One factor not mentioned is that your light meter may be wildly misleading in this scenario. Light meters basically assume that your subject is averagely bright... the classical example is the 18% grey of a grey card; in most cases this will be reasonably correct but for a night-time cityscape consisting of a number of very bright light sources on a quite dark, almost black background, it probably will not be. I would expect the camera to tend towards rather massive overexposure in this case, assuming that you want what looks black to the eye to be black in the picture.

Look at it this way: You will not need much of an exposure to make city-lights bright enough for your purposes. The rest of the exposure just goes to make the black surroundings tend towards grey - and you know better than the camera how much you want of this. Experiment a bit and don't draw any conclusions until you get the pics up on your computer at home afterwards.

And just to point it out, as other posters have: Nighttime photography is a tripod exercise. You can't expect to handhold for this.


Bulb Mode means now it is upto you to hold shutter release button how long you want. Ideally in long exposure more, do this

  • Mount your camera on a tripod
  • attach a shutter release cable
  • keep ISO max upto 400
  • f stop 11 is good with Nikon D90 and kit lens 18-105
  • Keep it on Bulb Mode
  • Use stopwatch to time (1 minute, 90sec, 120sec)

Now Just shoot and analyse the result, which you like the most use it.

For Night Sky shoot, try to go outskirts of the city, where air and light pollution is less and for star trails you can click multiple photos and then stack them together to generate star trails.


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