Take Incredible Night Pictures: Pro Tips for iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Pixel, and More

The best camera phones you can buy in 2023, incl iPhone 14 ProAnd the Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra And the Google Pixel 7 ProIt has night shooting modes that allow them to take great pictures even in the middle of the night. I put these phones side by side to see which one is better – and They all gave great pictures in the dark.

This type of night photography required a DSLR on a tripod to take a long exposure over several seconds. But today, even some affordable phones are capable of taking great-looking photos at night without any extra equipment at all. And that’s great, because it means you don’t need to lug a heavy camera and tripod into town every time you want to get a good-looking after-sunset shot.

A boat on a river at night

The Galaxy S22 Ultra’s night mode is consistently good.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

But getting a picture you like enough to print and put on your wall isn’t just a case of waiting for it to get dark and get your phone out. You will still need to put in some work to take shots that will increase your Instagram likes.

Here are my top tips on how to get great night photos on your phone.

Read more: The best camera phone of 2022

1. Find out how to activate the night mode

If your phone has a night mode, it’s important to make sure it’s already activated before you start shooting. On phones like the iPhone 14 series, night mode will automatically turn on when the phone detects that you’re in low-light mode. On some Android phones, you may find a specific shooting mode — simply called Night on the Galaxy S22 range or Night Sight on the Pixel 7 — that you’ll need to use to take the best low-light photos.

Different phones may have different options, so if you’re not sure how to use your phone — or if your phone has one — a quick Google search for model and “night mode” should answer your questions.

Example shot of building columns covered in festive lights

This night picture is made more lively and dazzling with these stunning Christmas lights decorating the pillars.

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2. Find the light

While the new iPhones and recent Galaxy phones can take amazing low-light photos, you still have to get it some The light in the shot in order to create a convincing image. So heading into the darkest part of the forest is not likely to yield good results. Instead, try heading to populated areas like city centers where you’ll find sources of light in the form of street lamps, store window displays, and maybe even some festive lighting during the holidays.

3. Wait for your moment

Great city and street photography often includes a person as a subject in your shot and night can be a great time to capture those shots. However, when the light is limited, you need to make sure that this person is exactly where you want them to be and that can take some patience.

Two examples of night mode photos, taken on dark city streets

Both of these night mode photos depended heavily on timing – on the left was a lone figure walking in the main pool of light on the ground. On the right, it was a matter of catching the speeding cyclist.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

For example, imagine you are taking a shot on a road lit by street lamps. Each lamp casts a pool of light, and when someone walks through it, it glows temporarily before becoming effectively invisible again in the dark. In this case, my advice is to have your shot ready, hovering your finger over that shutter button. It may take a few minutes waiting, but eventually someone will walk right through that pool of light and you can take your picture. Patience can really pay off.

4. Stand firm

Although night modes on phones don’t require a tripod in the same way that long exposures on a DSLR camera do, you’ll still get the best results if you keep the phone as still as possible while taking your photo. If you don’t have a tripod with you, find a low wall, trash can, or something you can hold your phone on while you take the photo.

If there’s nothing nearby, you can help steady the phone by holding it firmly with both hands, holding it close to your chest and tucking your elbows in toward your stomach. This will help reduce some of the natural shaking in your hands and may make a difference in getting a sharper picture.

Long exposure photo of a car with light streaks

Long exposure night photo taken with the Pixel 7 Pro.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

5. Use motion positions, if you have them

The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro can take excellent regular photos at night, but they also have a long exposure mode that allows you to get some creative shots normally only possible with a tripod. While the mode works well in the daytime to blur things like waterfalls, it also works very well at night, especially for subjects like cars driving through city streets.

A long exposure dims the headlights and taillights, transforming them from steady balls of light into ethereal streaks, threading their way across the scene. You’ll need to use the phone’s motion mode to get this effect, and make sure to turn on long exposures. Long exposure photos like this one work best when you hold the camera still and take a picture that includes both stationary subjects (such as buildings and streetlights) and moving subjects (such as cars, buses, or cyclists). It can take a little practice – and the results can be hit and miss – but when you succeed, it works really well and adds an extra creative element to your night shots.

Not every phone has this standard although there are some third-party apps that aim to replicate it, I haven’t found many that really work or come close to the quality that I achieved with the Pixel 7 Pro.

Before and after photo editing examples

Love this black and white edit of a night photo. The natural contrast of bright street lights against dark backgrounds translates well to monochrome.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

6. Edit your snapshots

As with any good photo, taking the picture is only half the story; It’s how you edit it that can be the biggest way to turn it into a real piece of art. I use Adobe Lightroom Mobile for most of my editing, but Snapseed from Google is also really powerful and is completely free on iOS and Android.

By their very nature, night photos can be dark, so it’s a good idea to start by raising the exposure. Be careful though; Low light photos, even good night mode shots, will have image noise (a blurry grain) which will look worse and worse the brighter the photo gets. You may need to reduce some of the highlights (especially if you’ve shot bright street lights) and boost the shadows a touch to balance things out. Pay attention to the details and make sure you don’t push them too far.

From then on, it’s entirely up to what you feel looks good, so spend some time playing with the tools available and see what you can come up with. Personally, I find that night scenes can often look just as great as black and white photos, as the natural contrast of bright lights and dark backgrounds lends itself well to monochrome conversion.

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