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10 Tips for Shooting Photos at Night with Your Phone

By EyeEm - 9 min read

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Tools, apps and ideas for great night shots.

After the sun has set and the city lights come to life, you have a choice: put your camera aside until the daylight returns or take on the challenge of shooting in the dark. Night photography with your smartphone can be daunting: you’ll face low light, extreme contrast, and pesky camera noise. But luckily, you can creatively work around those limitations to capture beautiful, sometimes beautifully surreal photos of the night. Here are 10 tips for night photography with your phone!

1. Use Apps for Long Exposures

When shooting in low light with a film camera or DSLR, your answer to getting the right exposure is a long shutter speed. The smartphone’s answer to controlling shutter speed (or simulating it)? Apps! Try Manual (iOS) or Manual Camera (Google Play) – both let you control how long the shutter on the camera stays open.

night, illuminated, low angle view, building exterior, built structure
 Building Exterior,  Built Structure,  City,  Cityscape,  Day

2. Keep It Stable

The best way of preventing motion blur and getting a tack-sharp photo during a long exposure is to keep your camera stable. In this case, you’ll want to use a mobile tripod or a portable alternative like the Glif stand.

night, illuminated, street light, men, silhouette
 Architectural Column,  Architecture,  Art,  Art And Craft,  Brandenburg Gate

3. Capture Motion

One thing that comes out to play at night: car lights. Set your phone to a long exposure and frame a road busy with cars. It’s an idea that can be infinitely varied: boats on a bay, cars crossing a bridge, or even planes flying overhead. Here’s a great project by Kevin Cooley that captures the light trails of airplanes overhead and Tsuneaki Hiramatsu’s photos of the firefly flight paths. Check out this tutorial on photographing firefly light trails.

illuminated, lighting equipment, fiber optic, technology, black background

4. Dare to Be Astract

Darkness may prevent you from getting the perfectly-lit shot. But the long exposures and big contrasts actually make for a great opportunity to take abstract or surreal photos: Consider the darkness a backdrop in front of which you can isolate shapes and colors – it’ll make your photos more mysterious, weirder, and also more wonderful.

illuminated, lighting equipment, night, decoration, celebration
indoors, illuminated, close-up, no people, technology

5. Get the Best From Your Phone’s Flash

When it’s dark, you can always use extra light on what you’re shooting. Your phone’s flash is convenient, so why not put it to use? Since the flash will be somewhat harsh and flat, there are a couple of ways to adapt it. Try placing tissue or paper over the flash to soften the light, or use a color filter to give it a different feel. You can also use your flash to dramatically lighten up an object close to you – which will make it stand out, but has a great effect.

6. Use an Outside Light Source

These days, there are all kinds of amazing mobile accessories, in particular those that will allow you control the lighting in your night photos better than your phone’s built-in flash. See The Pocket Spotlight and the Smartphone Ring Light. Don’t limit yourself there: flashlights, lamps, bike lights are all handy ways to get extra lighting into your photo. Find some DIY photography lighting ideas in our guide.

lighting equipment, illuminated, communication, text, low angle view
night, architecture, copy space, built structure, building exterior

7. Edit With a Photo-Editing App

When shooting in low-light, exposure and contrast are your friends in the photo editing toolbox. Try the editing tools in the EyeEm app – you’ll find everything you need in there.

illuminated, lighting equipment, night, indoors, no people
arts culture and entertainment, music, real people, illuminated, nightlife

8. Stylize Your Photo With Grain and Black & White

Low light and high ISOs can lead to noise in your photo. But a little grain doesn’t ruin it: Edit your photo to turn those flaws around. For example, grain is often valued by photographers for its dramatic effect. Got a photo that’s too grainy and doesn’t have great colors? Just make it black and white, maybe brighten it up a little and you’ll be emulating a very classic photographic style.

night, illuminated, built structure, architecture, outdoors
City Life, Crowded, Diminishing Perspective, Large Group Of People, Market

9. Take Advantage of Backlighting

Night can be a time to find extreme lighting situations, and backlighting is just one way to get a creative visual effect. Catch silhouettes in front of store windows, street lights, or wherever lights conveniently shine behind your subject.

 Arts Culture And Entertainment,  Audience,  Crowd,  Enjoyment,  Event
 Architecture,  Bicycle,  Building Exterior,  Built Structure,  China

10. Embrace Night Lights

City lights and storefronts, neon signs and strobe lights – you simply can’t get this during the day, so take the time to see how you can creatively use them.

 Blue,  Capital Letter,  Close-Up,  Communication,  Dark
 Beauty In Nature,  Building Exterior,  Built Structure,  Business Finance And Industry,  City

Get more inspiration in our night, urban, and fireworks collections.

Header image by DusanGalbavy.