So you’ve got your phone out taking photos at night, but it seems like every photo comes out blurry. I’ve been there. Let me show you a few simple tricks that anyone can use to take good night photos on your phone.
And yes, all the photos in this post were taken on my phone!
But first, what’s the problem with my night photos?
My photo is blurry/shaky
Because there’s not much light at night, the camera shutter needs to stay open longer to let light in. While your phone doesn’t have a traditional shutter, it takes longer to take a photo at night, and the longer the shutter is open, the more camera shake comes into the picture. This is especially visible when you’re taking hand held photos.
Don’t confuse shutter shake with motion – if you’ve got moving objects in your photo, chances are that’s motion, like this photo below.
My photo looks really grainy
That my friend, is noise. Noise is a result of taking photos with low light and comes from the camera sensor trying to compensate. Because phones aren’t as sophisticated as a DSLR, they tend to have more noise in low light situations. However, there are plenty of ways to edit this in Lightroom or Snapseed. And sometimes grain is a good thing, as it can give your black and white photos a classic feel.
How to take good night photos on your phone
Tip #1 Stabilise your phone
Use a structure for stability
I’ll let you into a little secret. Most of my night photos taken on my phone are stabilized using the ultimate tripod: my arms! Lean against a railing, a wall or a pole to stabilize your body before you take the photo. Lock your elbows into the side of your body and then take the photo.
Use a window
If you’re trying to take photos through a window at night, it’s your perfect chance to stabilise the photo. Stick you phone right up on the glass, even easier if you have a rubber case on your phone. Then take the photo. This will reduce glare and reflections from the inside, like these photos of the Docklands Wheel in Melbourne.
Use a tripod
If you want more stability, or you’re using the manual controls on your phone camera, I’d recommend using a small phone tripod like the Manfrotto PIXI Smart Tripod with a universal phone case.
Tip #2 Use a timer
If you’re using a tripod or setting up your phone on a steady surface, use the timer so that you don’t bump the phone while you’re pressing the take button.
Tip #3 Use the flash
Are you trying to take portraits at night? For example, friends against a beautiful night skyline? If the photos are turning out shaky and dark, then you probably need to use the flash. Don’t be afraid of it! It’s almost impossible to take portraits in dark locations without it.
Tip #4 Experiment with movement
Night photography is always fun to experiment with, so don’t be afraid to try new effects with movement. For example, this photo was taken as a long exposure while I panned the phone camera with the movement of the car. You’ll need to check if your phone camera has manual settings, but if it does, dial the shutter speed down to 1/10 or lower and play around.
Tip #5 Take several photos to get it right
Shhh… don’t tell anyone but I don’t always get it right the first time. In fact, I only show people my best shots, even if I’ve taken a series. Take a few photos to make sure you’ve got one that’s not shaky. Or even use the shutter burst mode if your phone has one – a lot of the iPhones shoot in live mode, meaning you can pick the best option.
Tip #6 Clean your lens
A dirty or smudged lens is more visible at night, because it will enhance the glare from street lights. If your photos are turning out glowy lights, rub a dry, soft cloth over your phone camera lens and try again.
Tip #7 Look for reflective lights
Night photography is especially beautiful when you can capture light reflections in water or on shiny surfaces, like the featured photo of Melbourne reflected in the Yarra river at night. Puddles, wet roads, windows, mirrors, rivers, still lakes are all great places to look for reflections.
That’s my top seven tips for taking great night photos on your phone. Got any more questions about night photography? Let me know in the comments below.