Capturing photos at night is difficult, and taking photos of friends and family at night is even more difficult!

However, it is conceivable. Aside from the standard approaches such as increasing your ISO and shutter speed, there are some basic things that everyone can do to produce better night photographs.

Here are seven step-by-step instructions for taking better night and low-light images of your friends and family, shot with the Canon EOS 760D with my friend Cordelia Daphne.

1. Photograph during dinnertime

One of the finest times to take ‘night’ shots is shortly after the sun has set and it isn’t fully dark.

Here are three explanations for this:

  1. The light is fading, but there is still some, so you can see your friends and family as well as the background.
  2. Outdoor and indoor lights are being turned on, providing you with more light to illuminate your objects.
  3. The yellow lights stand out nicely against the dark blue sky, which is not yet a murky darkness.

Compare the shot above to the photo below, which was taken at the same location but at a different hour. The background is darker, and the sky is a pitch-black expanse.

To photograph after the sun has gone down:

  1. Use your smartphone’s Clock or Weather app, or simply go online, to find out when the sun sets.
  2. Shoot quickly because you won’t have much time before the light goes out.

2. Locate the light and face it

How many times have you seen somebody discover something beautiful, such as a Christmas tree, and pose for a photo in front of it?

There’s nothing wrong with it when there’s good light, but when shooting at night or in low light, you have to pay attention to where the light is. Your face will be under shadow if the thing behind you is brighter than you are.

The trick is to discover the light and then face it. This manner, the most vital feature of your friends’ and family’s faces will always be illuminated. They may need to turn sideways to face the light, which is a more fascinating stance than standing straight at the camera.

3. Zoom out (not in) to capture the most light

The aperture setting on your camera relates to how wide your lens can open in order to take a photograph. The smaller the number, such as f/3.5, the larger the opening and the greater the amount of light the lens can catch in a second.

When the lens is not zoomed in, the greatest aperture setting on most lenses is only available at the widest focal length.

For example, the greatest aperture available on the Canon EOS 760D’s 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens at 18mm is f/3.5, and the largest aperture available at 135mm is f/5.6. As a result, as you zoom in, the aperture narrows and less light enters the lens.

To compensate for the loss in light, the camera will increase the shutter speed and/or the ISO level.

4. Don’t be scared to experiment with dark colours

One of the interesting things about shooting in low light is that you may capture situations with a lot of contrast between light and dark. When you observe a scene with contrasting lighting, don’t be scared to explore with it and make use of the dark.

To make the above photo more moody, I purposefully underexposed it. To ‘underexpose’ a photograph means to take it with settings that make it darker than usual.

Here’s the same image, but this time it’s been ‘correctly’ exposed using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Which do you think is better?

To underexpose a photograph in Program (P), Shutter-priority (Tv), or Aperture-priority (Av) mode, locate the exposure compensation setting and adjust it to a negative value.

You may do this easily on the Canon EOS 760D by using the back LCD panel:

  1. If the screen is switched off, press ‘Info’ to access the Shooting Function Settings menu.
  2. To access Quick Control, press the ‘Q’ key.
  3. To adjust the exposure compensation, use the d-pad.
  4. To alter the exposure compensation settings, use the fast control dial.
  5. Turning the exposure compensation dial to the left (with the ‘-‘ symbol) darkens the image.
  6. Turning the exposure compensation indication to the right (with the ‘+’ sign) increases the brightness.
  7. Remember to return the setting to ‘0’ so that you don’t underexpose every image you take that day!

5. When and how to use flash, as well as how to make flash appear better

How do you know when it’s appropriate to use flash and when it’s not? Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: There is a distinction to be made between low-light and no-light.

The majority of the photographs you see here were taken by finding the light and then facing it. Even at night, there is some light can be found, particularly in cities and inside.

But, as seen in the image above, there isn’t always enough light. This is when you must carry your own lighting, i.e. utilise flash.

After I popped the flash, I obtained the shot below. However, we can understand why people dislike using flash here: It casts a bright glow and obscures the background.

6. Make use of a quicker prime lens

If you want to improve your low-light photography, one of the best investments you can make is in a fast, prime lens.

When a lens can open up to huge apertures like f/1.8, we call it fast. The more light it can capture in a single shot, the larger the maximum aperture setting.

The difference in outcomes between a smaller and larger aperture is seen below. This image was captured using the EOS 760D’s 18-135mm kit lens at 50mm (80mm in 35mm equivalent), f/5.0, 1/80th of a second, ISO 1600.

Here’s another snapshot taken in the same location with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens. Because the aperture opens to a wider f/1.8, the ISO is reduced to a more manageable ISO 250. I could have shot at a faster shutter speed if I had upped the ISO sensitivity.

If there is one disadvantage to using a prime lens, it is that it does not zoom. But it also gives you the potential to capture more light and generate gorgeous background blur. Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens is reasonably priced and compact, making it a useful tool to have on hand for shooting at night.

Shoot against sources of light to generate fuzzy circles for stunning hazy backgrounds like this one. Allow some space between your companions and the background to accentuate the blur.

7. Increase the motion blur!

Here’s one creative approach to make the most of the darkness. To add some more oomph, use a flash, a longer shutter speed, and intentionally blur the photo.

You never know what you’ll get with these types of photographs, so it’s just a matter of experimenting with different settings, playing, and getting some good images amid the bizarre ones. Here are some pointers to get you started: