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Night Photography Fundamentals

Lesson 6 of 13

The Color of Night


Night Photography Fundamentals

Lesson 6 of 13

The Color of Night


Lesson Info

The Color of Night

We're gonna be talking about the many colors of the night. Again this is applicable to every scenario that you can think of with night photography, in whether it's a city-scape, and there's rich yellows, and whites, and blues and oranges, and reds that are kind of moving and pulsating throughout the scene, or going out again and operating under the moonlight and operating with the night sky. There are many colors tonight, and how do we balance them? This is a scene shot in upstate New York. And the fog is emphasizing the sodium mercury, it's emphasizing the mercury allied light to the right which is that greenish blueish light, and it's also emphasizing that typically orange, or now the fog is turning at that pinkish color of a sodium vapor light. So two different color street lights on the same scene and the fog is just really kind of emphasizing and changing those colors even more. I like this image, it's a little painterly, I did struggle with my white balance to kind of figure out ...

what color to choose from, and in the end, I really looked at, there's the back of a stop sign in the back of the scene, and that's a neutral gray point, so I used that as sort of my base point to then balance out the colors of the night. But white balance, this is a big factor on how we judge our colors in a scene. Again, if we're shooing raw, we can manipulate those colors later. If I'm shooting black and white, I'm gonna make sure that on the back of the screen I'm seeing in black and white so I can not only see in it but I can feel in it and shoot that way. The same with white balance. I wanna get to how I see the color, whether it's a cool, rich blue or whether it's a warm red or orange, I wanna be in that zone and playing to that in the field, so shoot raw. We can sometimes use live view to kind of toggle through the many white balances to see which one fits to you. A general rule of thumb to start out with most night scenes is to shoot in either a tungsten or incandescent and we can always remember that symbol for it is a light bulb so it's a good idea to start shooting with tungsten or incandescent at the night. I feel that cools down my sky nice and also has a rich warm color to it, too. Milky way photography, a good starting point, is 4800, and we can achieve that, unfortunately there's not a little Milky Way icon in the white balance, but we can go into the K for kelvin mode and we can dial in any color temperature we'd like. So a good starting point for Milky Way is 4800, and then cook to taste. You might see things in a richer color than I will. I've gone through my blue phase, maybe you're on a blue phase and I'm on a purple phase right now. So again, play to the colors. Night photography, we can be capturing things but we can also be creating things, and one of the things that we can play with a lot, again, is the colors. I like to really, understand your color wheel. Because I like to play the complementary colors against each other. One of my favorite color combinations is again orange and blue, and if we look at them on our color wheel, they are opposite each other on the color wheel. And when you see colors opposite of each other on the color wheel, they play well to each other, they complement each other and they have a rich contrast to each other, so it's a really nice way to kind of play with color at night. So how do we complement, and how do we balance all the different light sources that the world presents to us? Obviously the city has a variety of light sources, and now we're seeing a lot of the cities switch over those, I like, those beautiful, warm, rich, sodium vapor lights but you're seeing a lot of cities now go to the LED technology and it's kind of for me, that boring white light. So how do we balance those colors? Well let's take a look in the field on how we can play with and manipulate those different light sources in the field. There are so many colors in the night. Just take a look around you. Your eyes do a very good job of adjusting and correcting to all the lights, but the camera is much more sensitive. Right here we are just in downtown anywhere, and look at the lights, we have white LED lights, which are taking over the cities now, and they're replacing those, I find, those really warm, full of character sodium vapors. So those orange or yellow streetlights that you'll see around. So here we have a perfect blend of actually both of them kind of coming together, so let's take a picture to see what the camera actually sees. So when we have these complex lighting scenes where we're getting mixed lighting coming from different directions, we really have to again take manual control of the camera. Auto white balance might do it, but I just like to take control. Knowing that those warm sodium vapor lights are around 2700 kelvin and LEDs tend to be a little bit bluer, so they're going to be a little bit around the 3000 range, so not much of a difference, but I think you'll see a big difference on the back on the screen here. So let's take a picture and see what we get. Now I have it, right now, again, priority for shooting streetlights is different than anything else we've shot so far. We've been really trying to push time along. And hold on, we got a bus coming, so I wanna get this for a little bus trail. But priority for shooting streetlights is aperture priority. That's what we're gonna be thinking of the most. Because apertures make streetlights less like blob lights. If you're shooting wide open or anywhere maybe to 5.6, you're really just gonna see a blob of light there. The more you stop down the aperture, the more you're turning the streetlight almost into a star light. It's like putting a star filter over it. And we make those smaller apertures, and there's a big difference between F11, F16, you'll have more spikes of that start light the more you stop down. So right now I'm shooting aperture, on manual mode, but again, thinking aperture, so I'm shooting at F16, and again, keeping that ISO is moderate, so I have an ISO of 200, and that's putting me at a 10 second exposure. And 10 seconds, I mean there's not much traffic going on right now, but it gives me a little time for movement, like that bus that just went by, I think that's gonna be a good one. A couple of minutes earlier we had a firetruck went by, and that was pretty cool. Let's see, yep. So this half of the scene is kind of basking in this blue-green LED light, then this half of the scene is in this very warm, tungsten light. So just knowing that, being able to see it, and then play it to your advantage. Like, what can we do right now? Each of these colors creates a mood, so how do we emphasize and bring out that mood in your photography?

Class Description

There’s more to night photography than stars and hikes. The vibrance of color can be found in capturing the stars, a city skyline at twilight, or even car trails amidst a forest. Gabriel Biderman is a self taught photographer who enjoys the process of taking an image. In Night Photography 101, he’ll cover how to get started taking photos in the dark.

You’ll learn:

  • What gear you’ll need and the fundamentals of using it safely in the night 
  • How to capture stars for dynamic landscapes 
  • How to capture the sky and urban settings at night 
  • How to photograph car light trails to create more motion in your night photos  


Christiane Menelas

This class was perfect in preparation for my trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon next week. I can't wait to put all this great information to good use! Very easy to understand, and fun to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed it!


This class was super helpful in what to buy and then how to get the pictures you want. Loved all the other stuff that I knew nothing about. I knew very little about light painting. Thanks for sharing this class with us. This class was one of the best I have seen.


This course is fairly comprehensive, and offers a good intermediate/advanced intermediate examination of night photography (NOT just astrophotography, which is only one form of night photography.) I don't necessarily agree with everything he's saying here, but that doesn't make it wrong - it's just a matter of preference. He is fairly equipment-centric, but getting into many forms of night photography DOES require some specific equipment. There's a lot of useful information contained here, and I can see myself consulting this course in the future to help solve and understand certain situations and problems that are unique to night photography. Recommended.

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