Most cities look amazing at night, with lights on buildings and landmarks. But trying to take photographs of them without good technique can lead to photos that don’t do the scene justice.

To get shots such as the above you can use settings such as below to get well exposed and sharp images using a decent Canon, Nikon SLR or similar camera.

You would also need a decent tripod. This is because night photography often requires long exposures, so hand shake can cause the photos to be blurry.

Basic Settings:

  • Camera Mode: Aperture Priority (AV Canon, A Nikon). This is so that you can set the desired depth of field.
  • Shutter speed: 10-30 seconds set by Camera. If the picture is still coming out dark, use Bulb mode and extend the shutter speed past 30 seconds. It may be a case of trial and error to work out how many seconds you need here.
  • Aperture: F/4-F/16  – a smaller aperture such as F/11-F/16 will introduce an attractive star effect from lights. A higher aperture than F/16 may cause diffraction which is an unwanted softening of the image (image less sharp) so it’s best not to go too high.
  • ISO:  100 (To keep noise to a minimum).
  • Focus: Manual Focus using Liveview if you have it. I often focus on a building or object that I want to be in focus. It helps if there’s text somewhere on a building to ensure you have the perfect focus.
  • White Balance: Auto. If you shoot raw you can change this later if it doesn’t look right. Sometimes shooting around street lights can cause the picture to look quite orange, it’s often worth correcting this in Lightroom or a similar program at a later date.

Other settings: 

  • Set Mirror lockup, this reduces any vibration from the camera moving the mirror up at the start of exposure.
  • Image stabilisation (IS Canon, VR Nikon) off (This is because when set to on, the camera will try and find movement that doesn’t exist.

Taking the shot

Using the settings above, use the remote or self timer to take the photos. Here are some more examples of images taken using these techniques.

Amsterdam at night
Settings: f5/6 | 30 sec | ISO 100 | Amsterdam canals at night
Prater in Vienna
Settings: f/6.3 | 10 sec | ISO 100 | Prater in Vienna
Montreal skyline at night
Settings: f/10 | 25 sec | ISO 100 | Montreal skyline at night
Toronto skyline at night
Settings: F/8 | 30 sec | ISO 100 | Toronto skyline at night

I hope this helps you capture great photographs at night. If you have any questions feel free to send a message or leave a comment below.

Other posts you may like:

Ultimate Tips for Travel Photography
Photography Tips – Shooting in the Golden Hour
The Best Places In Europe For Travel Photography And Instagram

More posts on Travel Photography

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5 comments

Reply

Useful article, Mike, thanks. I can’t do everything you say with my Canon Rebel T3 camera body, but at least I have a good Tamron lens. I’m going to try to take some photos of Rome’s Castel Sant’Angelo this evening and hope things don’t look too brown this time! And I’m going to upgrade my camera box asap!

P.S. Nice pic of Montreal, my hometown!

Reply

Hi Liz,

Thank you for the comment. I guess a few features won’t be available on the Rebel T3 but some of the techniques should still work.

How did the shots of the Castel Sant’Angelo come out?

haha, and also glad you like my Montreal pic 🙂

Reply

Hey, Mike! Four months late, but Castel Sant’ Amgelo turned out so so. I should have stuck to blue hour. However, I’ve now got a Canon 70d and also a new Tokina wide angle, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to take better night shots of cities — and night skies now too. I’m going to check out how to do mirror lock up and how to turn image stabilization off. Thanks!

Reply

Awesome, well good luck and I hope you get some good shots in the future. Let me know if you have any trouble or want any more tips/feedback. Two other things to ensure you have good shots is the timer and also a tripod. 🙂

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