But before how, let's talk about why.
Why take night photos? While they're not difficult, they can be a challenge. Photography by definition is writing with light, and at night...well, you get the picture.
When we spoke to pro shooter, Nikon School instructor and night photography enthusiast/advocate Reed Hoffmann, we asked him to share some tips for best results, but we first asked him, "Why night photography? What's the big fascination?"
"Partly for the challenge," he says, "but also because not many people do it. Everybody shoots pictures during the day; it gets dark and they stop, or they turn on their flash units." And when you're taking pictures that most people don't take, your photos might be a bit more interesting, dramatic, even mysterious attention-getting images. "Night photography is not a question of getting a picture in low light," Reed adds. "In night photography you're trying to do something special."
Reed's final comment on the "why" of night photography involves the very nature of photography itself. "We teach in our [Nikon School] programs that one thing you want to do in your photography is play to the strengths of how cameras see the world in ways that are different from how humans see it. Pick up a camera at night and because you can do long exposures, you'll see the world in a way you never see it other than in pictures."
And now, how.
First, a Tripod
When there's only a little light, you call on every method possible to make the most of it, and using a tripod is first on the possible list. "You're almost always going to need a tripod," Reed says, "especially for creating selective blur with slow shutter speeds—like moving lights writing their magic lines and shapes." And even with a tripod, to prevent even the slight vibration his finger on the shutter release might cause, Reed often uses the camera's self-timer or a cable release to trip the shutter. "And," he adds, "when you're using a tripod, make sure the VR function of your lens is turned off."
No tripod available? Then take advantage of the fact that most Nikon D-SLRs will allow us, in Reed's words, "to shoot at ridiculously high ISOs and get very good-looking pictures...even astounding results. Boosting ISO is a valid way to go." (An ISO-related tip for scenes involving the night sky: setting shorter exposures at higher ISOs will prevent star trails in the photo.)