8 Essential Tools for Night Photographers

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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.

Thank you for joining our journey into night photography! For more Visualizing the Night content, please click here: Visualizing The Night and share your enthusiasm for the art below in the comments section or reach out to us on social media using #visualizethenight. Thanks for reading!

53 Comments

Why in all the discussions about night photography, are mosquitoes never mentioned? They are the bane of night time photography in warmer weather, and yet I have never seen an article about how to protect against them (I know the obvious answer is to use repellant spray, but is that it?

Hey Jim,

My guess is that one reason that mosquitoes don't appear in all night photography articles is because mosquitoes are not an issue in every location. If you live near mosquitoes, consider yourself unlucky...or move!

When I lived in Southern California, bug spray was never in my kit bag. Same thing for New York City when I am out on the streets (my back yard is another story).

I recommend any store-bought bug spray, but there are a lot of "homemade remedies" online as well like using dryer sheets. After you get bit, use the hot spoon trick to stop the itching!

Thanks for reading!

How do you focus in the dark on some nearby objects to something mid-distance into a landscape scene? Are there there any handy tools or methods for that?

Hey dshailen,

For focusing on nearby objects in the dark, one of the best methods is to use a flashlight or hand torch to illuminate the object so that you can either manually focus on the object, or provide a better target for your auto focus system. You can also use a focus scale on your lens (if it has one), or use a hyperfocal focusing technique to ensure that everything beyond a certain distance is in virtual focus.

I hope this helps! Thanks for reading!

Depending on the environment, lots of Bug Spray!

Also, get a Timer Remote Shutter Release. Here's an excellent example that will work with almost any camera:

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/1005413-REG/energizer_ens_lcdu_multi_fit_lcd_timer_remote.html

As to the night vision issue, the best to see detail (reading camera settings, etc) is a fully dimmable white light. Red is something of a myth, possibly because dark-rooms have red lights. If you read detailed descriptions of what our eyes and neural pathways do, all 3 colors have disadvantages. Also, with most cameras, they will light up during various functions and reduce your night vision. So, to see camera function details, a white flashlight with the dimmest possible setting to get done what you want to get done. That will keep your night vision as active as possible to see critters and such...

Gene

Hey Gene,

Thanks for reading and thanks for the tips! I was not aware of that Energizer release. Thanks for bringing my attention to it!

You are correct, all light has its advantages and disadvantages when it comes to preserving night vision. However, certain colors are more friendly to producing light that the rods in your eye need to create an image.

Today's glow-in-the-dark digital cameras are definitely not friendly to night vision! Some modern cameras with "retro" controls allow you to manipulate the camera's settings without viewing and LCD or looking at a bright electronic viewfinder. This could be very advantageous, depending on your environment.

White, green, red, blue...use whatever you have, but keep it dim!

Thanks for reading!

Great article & comments, BUT cum-mon now; no one suggesed bug spray or repelent as an absolute necessety? There was a good suggestion for the bear spray in big anal country, but one of my worst night sessions included being eaten alive by the bugs! It makes trying to get set up & getting your time lapsed shots a bit more difficult when you're doing the "Shake, Shake your Booty Twist" even with a long lanyard on your wired remote. 

Hey Jim,

Yeah, bug spray is good to have if you live in a place with lots of bugs. In New York City, there are mosquitos in my back yard, but I rarely see them on 6th Avenue. Also, I don't remember spending a dime on bug spray when I lived in San Diego. I guess it all depends on where you are doing your night photos!

Thanks for reading and sharing your experiences!

For those worried about problems with cable releases, they might want to check out apps that connect DSLRs wirelessly to your smartphone. If your DSLR is wifi capable and/or has an Infra-red blaster (i.e. can function as a TV remote), there are apps that will allow you to control your camera from a distance. No cable needed. 

Nothing beats sitting in the warmth of your vehicle sipping coffee while remotely putting your tripod-mounted camera through its paces!

Hey Zak,

Great tip! Thanks for sharing. I have used the smartphone remote with good success. However, one drawback I find is the power drain on the phone and camera with the WiFi connection. Also, sometimes you will find that making the connection is difficult (depending on your camera and phone).

My advice: have multiple remote ways to trigger the shutter with you while working out in the night!

Thanks for reading!

A number of people have stressed scouting ahead in daylight. Double that and quadruple that in foreign countries. In Australia where I live don't put your hands anywhere you can't see them at night unless you really want to experience some world-class toxins and our rocks are very crumbly. Do you know how far crocodiles can wander at night ? Did you know they can leap ? A lot of Europeans have found that out the hard way. yOh and remember a lot of folk like to be really private at night - like dope growers and the military.

Hey David,

Great advice for those shooting Down Under (and anywhere else)! Thanks for reading and writing in!

Hi Todd,

Great basic article - for the person that has a coiled cable release, a short piece of velcro or similar product attached to the cable release back and the tripod will be handy to prevent movement during exposure, especially if exposure is set with a shutter release delay.

Regards, Peter

Hey Peter,

Thanks! This is definitely the basics. Once I sat down to think about it, you really don't need a lot of specialized equipment for night photography. You definitely need the essentials, but after that you might be chasing your Gear Acquisition Syndrome affliction!

Great advice about the hook-and-loop fasteners. I really need to do that, myself!

Late in joining the conversation. First, thanks for the tips, not only in this article, but others. Quick question: Instead of a remote to trigger the shutter, why not use the self-timer function? Any reason not to do so? Granted, it's mainly for situations where you want to be in the photo, a family picture, for example. It can take a few seconds, 10 on my camera before the picture is taken. So that could be a factor. Also draws energy from your batteries as it counts down, then clicks. But it's what I've used in my few attempts at night shots, such as the Supermoon photo opp recently. Don't have a remote, and ever mindful of inadvertently bumping the camera or tripod in triggering the shutter myself. Thanks again. 

Not sure what the ***** is all about, but it should read (as written) "as it counts down," etc. 

Hey Richard...

Yep, don't get me started. Our software blocks words that might be common misspellings of other words that might not be family friendly. Sorry about that! Don't ***** the messenger!

Hey Richard,

The self timer is certainly a great thing to use if you don't have a remote release. However, the caveat is that, if you are trying to use the mirror lock-up feature of a DSLR to avoid mirror vibration, the self timer will generally not let you use that feature. For mirrorless and point-and-shoot cameras, mirror lock-up will be as effective as a release, albeit with the pre-programmed delay.

I've been known to be caught out without a release (don't tell anyone), and I have used the timer in those (rare) situations.

Thanks for reading!

Hey Todd...Thanks much for this as I'll be using this article (bookmarked) as a checklist later this year in preparation for my first ever trip to Yellowstone in January where I'll definitely be doing some night photography. At the top of the list will be a remote shutter release and a tripod (mine is too big for my suitcase and will remain in China). B & H will get an order from me in December so that the goodies will be at my initial destination when I arrive. 

Hey Tom,

I look forward to seeing your Yellowstone pics! Thanks for getting your supplies from B&H!

As always, thanks for reading!

2 more pieces of advice: if you're by yourself, tell someone where you're planning to go. 2nd, if you're in crazy big **** country, I wear a bear bell and have bear mace with me as a little piece of mind. Its unbelievably scary out there at night and piece of mind is huge!

Suppose to be animal

Thanx for the correction. Disturbing mental images there......

I can't stop laughing. Thanks for making my Friday even more awesome!

Hilarious typographical error. Or was it?

Great advice, D, for travelling in that very particular type of environment.

As the ranger at Banff said, the way to tell grizzly scat from black bear scat is, the grizzly has bells in it— and mace only gets their attention and heightens their resolve.  In hiking preparedness classes, the training is, hike in parties of 3 as a minimum.  If someone has an accident, and going for help is a reasonable thing, one goes, and one stays with the injured.

Hey Norwood,

More great tips! Thanks for sharing! Safety first!

lThanks for lots of good tips, but no mention of lenses nor helpfull techniques? Also a real good idea is to not be alone with all that $$ equiptment at night!

Hey Richard,

Yep, definitely keep safety and security at the forefront of your thoughts! Thanks for reading!

I bought a wired remote a short while ago and I had a chance to use it recently for some night shooting.  Unfortunately, the cable from the camera to the remote is coiled and though it will stretch quite a distance, that will pull on the camera - something I don't really want to do.  I don't really need to get particularly far away, but that coiled wire really does tug on the camera, even when I was trying to be very careful not to let that happen.  There probably is a technical fix possible for this problem.

However, in the mean time I would suggest another essential tool - a chair or stool.  It's easier not to tug on the cord when you are comfortably seated - and not so much when standing, waiting for that long, long exposure to end.  That probably goes as well for kicking the tripod leg or bumping into it. 

Hey Paul,

I know exactly what you are talking about with the cable pull. I often wrap the cord around the camera and, if your electronic cord supports it, you can put a delay in the cable release to allow you to let go of the cord before the shutter opens. Also, many readers and night photographers recommend using a piece of hook-and-loop fastener on the cable and tripod to keep the cord from tugging.

Good tip about the stool! I have sat on many dirty somethings while waiting for the camera to do its task! Thanks for reading!

I have the ends of my tripod legs tipped with a wrap of highly reflective red and yellow tapes, the better for avoiding tripping, day or night, by yourself or a passer-by.  At Miller's Outpost Army-Navy store I found a backpack that incorporates a quickly removable folding seat;  in soft soils, as we have in the desert, it is important to have legs with tips that can be poked into the ground and won't slip sideways, and a cross-bar an inch or so higher up, to distribute the weight and prevent sinking into soft ground.  A remote release that has a receiver that slips into the camera hot shoe, and plugs into either a stereo or usb socket on the camera, with a wireless sender that works from several yards away— with help of a red light on the lip of your hat, it can be operated without shining light into the camera lens or off nearby foliage or structures.

Hey Norwood,

I have also put reflective tape on my tripod legs in the past. Be sure to only tape the ends or the top section, as the others will need to telescope into the higher sections!

Great tips! Thanks for sharing and reading!

I bought a wired remote a short while ago and I had a chance to use it recently for some night shooting.  Unfortunately, the cable from the camera to the remote is coiled and though it will stretch quite a distance, that will pull on the camera - something I don't really want to do.  I don't really need to get particularly far away, but that coiled wire really does tug on the camera, even when I was trying to be very careful not to let that happen.  There probably is a technical fix possible for this problem.

However, in the mean time I would suggest another essential tool - a chair or stool.  It's easier not to tug on the cord when you are comfortably seated - and not so much when standing, waiting for that long, long exposure to end.  That probably goes as well for kicking the tripod leg or bumping into it. 

I had read about the red light to preserve night vision.  Is there a difference witht the blue and green lights?  Or do you use different colors in different circumstances?  We used the red to read star maps, but I didn't even know about the blue or green.  Thanks!

Hey Melissa,

Red is the traditional color used to preserve night vision - think of old submarine movies, car dash boards and airplane cockpits. I honestly didn't know about blue and green until I started flying in aircraft that had "night vision goggle compatible" cockpits. But, if you think about it, a lot of cars have featured blue and green dashboards for years.

Red does not get along at all with night vision equipment, so aircraft cockpits were modified with green lighting instead of red once NVGs were introduced and green is friendly to preserving your night vision.

It is important to know that intensity and brightness have a role to play, too. A super bright red, blue, or green light can impact your night vision just as much as a bright white light, so use red, green, or blue at low power to keep your eyes dark adapted!

Thanks for reading!

A sign that our photography knowledge and experience is becoming good is that the night time list is exactly what we (my wife and I are both photographers) bring every time. That said, with the long exposures often needed and not always cooperating weather, something to weigh down the tripod can be priceless. Also, if you can do a day trip first (be prepared) and playing with the Photographer’s Ephemeris or Google Earth Pro can be helpful. We are now in our 70’s so we also need to be mindful of our hike back to our car on those moonless nights.

Hey Dan! 

I am glad you both have the essentials covered! Great advice regarding the apps! I use them too! Thanks for reading and writing in!

I second the essential day trip first as a requirement (whenever possible). Take some time to really scout out the locations, the terrain you will have difficulty seeing in the dark (even with a flashlight), and take a lot of trial composing shots to use for planning your night excursion. This helps when trying to find wildlife, too. You can hunt for the places where the night-roaming animals are likely to appear and get set up ahead of the sunset.

Hi Linda,

Thanks for commenting. Yes, scouting is often the key. I would say that 3 of 4 of my night photo excursions start because I see some place during the day where I think to myself, "I need to come back after dark to photograph this place."

Thanks for reading!

I read all of the comments and can add: The Beret or a hat with a soft brim is best. I have a Beret, you can also pull it down over your ears. You may also what to shoot at night with a flash... Huh? And, I am sorry but, if there are no signs and no fences I shoot first and remove the memory card if I hear someone coming. 

Hey Geoffrey,

Good idea with the beret. Maybe we should start selling cool B&H logo'ed versions! Flash is good, depending on the subject and what you are trying to achieve, but I wouldn't put it on an essential list...not too many flash bulbs going off at night photo workshops!

Be careful out there and 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!

Hi Todd,

What do you mean "definitely don't wear wool"? Wool is the ideal fabric for any outdoor activity, hot or cold or in between. It keeps you cool when it's hot and warm when it's cold. And it doesn't stink even if you wear it for a week. Choose an appropriate weight fabric and layer according to conditions and you're good. Active people living in cotton and synthetics need to check out wool. It is pricey, but it performs.

Cheers,

Matty

I don't know, Matty. I have been riding my bike in 90+ degree weather lately and wool is the last thing I think I want on my body! In fact, I have considered not having any clothing at all for the commute!

You are correct, it is very versatile and multi-climate friendly, but I will keep forgoing it for my summer bike rides!

Thanks for reading!

It was long considered good advice for hikers to wear a super-thin synthetic sock next to the skin, and cover it with a wool sock, because the latter wicked moisture away from the body.  The thin sock blocked the irritation some feel from direct contact with wool.  However, I don't think it is the wool, cotton, or synthetic that develops the scent from being worn for a week;  and natural wool, rich with lanolin oil, when oxidized during use and exposure to heat, certainly develops a scent— tho the wearer may become inured to it, others are not.

Thanks for sharing, Norwood! I'm pretty sure odor-proof socks have yet to be invented! If they had, someone would be rich!

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!

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