Night photography is an art that allows us to see the nocturnal world in a way that our naked eye cannot perceive it. Through the use of long shutter times the camera magically records the world; exposing shadows and trails of light. The equipment you need is not much different than any other type of photography, but there are a few pieces of gear used for long exposures that you cannot live without.
Obvious, but there are some settings your camera must have to be able to work well for night photography. An SLR (single lens reflex) camera is your best option, whether digital or film is up to you. The reason behind needing an SLR is that it offers you the most flexibility as the artist. Some point and shoot cameras do offer the features I am about to discuss, but they are few and far between. The features that you will need in a camera to are:
- Manual Mode
This allows you the flexibility to set your own shutter speed and aperture. The high contrast of lights and shadows at night make it nearly impossible for any cameras exposure system to determine a correct exposure.
- Adjustable ISO
Most cameras with a manual mode also have this. Having the option to to set your ISO will help in situations where you don’t want to sit for extended periods of time or need a test shot to check things such as framing or light flare.
- Tripod Socket
This might seem obvious, but should be pointed out. For any exposure longer than 1/60th of a second you should be using a tripod.
- Infrared Sensor or Remote Terminal
The best ways to trigger your shutter for night photographs is through the use of a cable release or a remote.
There are many different styles of tripods available. Honestly, any type will work. My first tripod was $9.99 at Target. I have since purchased a more durable, heavier duty tripod, but the cheap one allowed me to learn and figure out what options I wanted in a tripod. I have a few different styles of tripods for different situations. I have a standard heavy duty tripod that I use most. Being a heavier and more durable helps it to stand up to windy nights. I also have a Joby Gorrilapod that is absolutely wonderful when I want to get low to the ground or attach my camera to a poll or railing with it’s flexible legs. The one I use least, but comes in handy on some occasions is a suction cup tripod. Start with what you can afford.
A Cable Release or Infrared Remote
Either or will work, and each has advantages. Both eliminate camera shake from your hand pushing the shutter button. Personally I buy third party products for either. Typically they are at most a third of the price of the manufacturers product and do the same job. I would rather buy three generic ones over a long period of time than break an expensive one as they do get bumped/knocked around in use and in my camera bag.
- Cable Release
The traditionalist in me loves cable releases, though I now only use them when shooting film. Cable releases work wonderful and unlike remotes you can keep the shutter open as long as your camera’s battery will last. These also do not use batteries, so therefore are always working.
- Infrared Remote
Infrared remotes are very convenient. The fact that you are no longer tethered to your camera is wonderful, and there is no possibility of accidentally shaking the camera by pulling on the cable like a remote. The limitation is that most cameras will only keep the shutter open for up to 30 minutes with an infrared sensor, which is only an issue if you are in areas with absolutely no moonlight or city lights. Remotes also require batteries, and though they need replaced rarely it is still something to be aware of.
If you are inclined you can check out some of my night photography work: