Photography / Tips and Solutions

8 Essential Tools for Night Photographers

For the night photographer, having the right gear can be crucial to a successful photographic outing after dark. Leaving something in the car, or suffering a malfunction of some sort, can ruin your whole night and cause you to miss that amazing shot!

Here is a short list of tools that all night photographers should have at their disposal.

  1. Tripod  Depending on your photography aesthetic, a sturdy tripod is a must-have for successful night photography. Even with better ISO sensitivities in today’s digital cameras, camera movement is the arch enemy of the night photographer and the tripod is just the first step in keeping your images sharp.

  1. Remote shutter release  Wired or wireless, the next step in keeping your tripod-mounted camera steady at night is the remote release. In the olden days, a mechanical release used to thread into the shutter release. Unfortunately, many of today’s cameras are not so equipped. Modern digital cameras, including those lucky enough to have a threaded socket for the old mechanical releases, are designed to accommodate an electrical or wireless remote release. Additionally, if your camera has a mirror lock-up function, use it judiciously along with the cable release.

  1. Flashlight  The night photographer’s multipurpose tool. It is dark after sunset. Get a red, green, or blue one to protect your night vision—or one that changes color. You need a flashlight for adjusting camera settings on external switches and dials, assisting your autofocus, light painting, startling that critter you startled in the brush over there, finding stuff in your camera bag, and not stepping into that big hole ov…!

  1. Headlamp  The headlamp does the same kind of things for you that a flashlight will do, except it allows you to do those things while keeping your hands free. Some of you may like the taste of your anodized aluminum Surefire, but there is something to be said for being hands-free and fancy-loose. Also, nothing makes you look hard-core like a headlamp. A warning! Many night photography workshop instructors despise the modern LED headlamp. Why? Because folks are not courteous when using them. If you are photographing at night with others, please be conscious of their images and their night vision. Also, if you are trying to move around in the dark discreetly, a bright headlamp is not going to be your friend.

  1. Hats  When the sun dips below the horizon, there is an associated drop in the amount of solar energy reaching your area of the Earth’s surface. Dress warmly for night shooting. When fully clothed, body heat escapes through your head, especially if you have a haircut like mine. Also, one of the benefits of night photography is the pleasure of getting to stand in one place for long periods of time and doing that keeps you un-warm.

  1. Gloves  You’ll want to keep your fingers warm, too. Unfortunately, the same R&D that goes into spaceflight, computers, and camera sensors has eluded the winter glove market, and we have yet to develop a truly multi-season glove that keeps your hands dry and warm while allowing all the dexterity needed to operate a camera. However, B&H offers some solutions that feature toasty-warm fleece and removable finger and thumb coverings.

  1. Layers of clothing  More of the same. Layer, layer, layer. Night photography isn’t always fashion-forward, so dress the part and dress smart. Nothing sucks the joy out of night photography like warmth getting sucked from your body. Stay warm, but know that a long hike with your gear might warm you up, so be prepared to peel or add layers as needed. You cannot add a layer you don’t have.

  1. Power & Memory  Long exposures and cold temperatures drain batteries. Make sure you have sufficient power to meet your photographic needs. Keep your spare batteries warm until they are needed. Bring more memory or film than you think you might need. There are few things worse than heading out into the dark and running out of juice, memory card space, or film. Also, bring extra power for your flashlight(s) and headlamp, too.

Bonus Tip: Bring common sense. Be smart. Respect others. Don’t trespass. Stay alert. Watch where you step. Don’t go somewhere at night that you probably wouldn’t go during the day.

Discussion 6

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A flashlight and a headlamp with a red beam should be on the list.  The red beam helps preserve night vision.  There are many headlamps that have provide both white and red beams.

Hey Kent,

You are correct. I did make mention of preserving night vision with a colored flashlight. Blue and green are also friendly for preserving your night vision and, if it is important to you, they are also compatible with night vision equipment.

Thanks for reading!

Respect others indeed. If you are out photographing at night you look somewhat dubious for sure. Make sure you ask first. 

Hey Michael,

Words to live by! The adage, "It is better to ask for forgiveness instead of permission," does not always apply to the night photography world. I have been told "no" many times, but being told "yes" and gaining special access makes you forget the "no's" of the night world!

Thanks for reading!

Excellent basic list. Those of us in warmer climates will enjoy shooting without a hat, but always consider the night time environment you'll be shooting in.  While you might be able to leave the gloves behind, you could need that space in your bag for insect repellent!  The shoot is always a lot more fun if you're not hot, cold, or being eaten alive by mosquitos!

Hi Chris,

Thanks for your comments! Yes, skip the hats in the warmer climes, but be careful in places like deserts where the nighttime temperature can drop significantly! I definitely don't wear wool and fleece in the summer time in NYC!

Thanks for reading!