twelve Tips for Beautiful Low-Light Scenery Photography

12 Tips for Gorgeous Low-Light Landscape Photography

tips for beautiful low=light landscape photos

Low-light landscape picture taking may seem hard – but it doesn’t have to become.

With a few tips, tricks, plus simple techniques, you can easily:

  • Nail low-light exposures, consistently
  • Keep your camera steady to get rock-solid images
  • Work with the light for gorgeous long exposures
  • Select the perfect low-light surroundings settings
  • A lot more!

And in this article, I’ll share it all with you! So if you’re ready to become a low-light master, then let’s get started.

1 . Get in position before the light drops

If you’re shooting low-light landscaping images, you’ll likely be out in the early morning, late evening, or even during the night. Unfortunately, it’s tough to compose beautiful photos during these low-visibility periods, which is why I highly recommend you find out your image composition before the twilight hour; this way, you know what to photograph, and how, without needing to fumble around in the dark.

I’d recommend heading to your location at least an hour or two before the low-light photography begins in earnest. Check various compositions, and even grab some shots to make sure the image works and is free of distracting objects.

Consider elements that will add range, interest, and context for your photos. Also think about the sunlight, and how it will change position as your photo shoot strategies.

And remember: Whenever twilight occurs, you’ll just have around 20 to half an hour of optimal light, so be ready with your gear setup, your aperture , shutter speed , and ISO dialed in, and a few spectacular compositions in mind.

2 . Shoot during the golden hour and the blue hr

While low-light landscape photography offers plenty of fun, not all times of the day are equal – specially when it comes to the quality from the light .

The optimum time to shoot a low-light scene begins half an hour before sunset ( golden hour ), up to around a half hour approximately after the sun has fallen below the horizon ( blue hour ).

These times will offer the best colors, and when you stick around for glowing blue hour light, you won’t be disappointed; it’s ethereal and stunning and awesome all at the same time.

Also, the glowing blue hour is perfect for long publicity landscapes, as the light is low enough to allow for lengthy shutter speeds, but not so low that you’ll be forced to crank the ISO way up.

three or more. Bring a sturdy tripod

Do you own a sturdy tripod? If not, then you absolutely, one-hundred percent have to buy one.

Low-light photography offers (unsurprisingly! ) very little light to work with, so shutter speeds are long – and if you are not careful, your images will end up ruined by camera wring or high-ISO noise.

I’d recommend a comparatively lightweight carbon fiber tripod whenever you can afford it, though make certain not to skimp on quality. There is nothing worse than buying a wobbly tripod, capturing numerous soft images, and only then realizing that you should’ve grabbed a good product all along.

Bottom line: Get a nice tripod, one that’s solid and easy to work with. If you pick correctly, then it’ll become your new best friend.

4. Choose the right low-light landscape photography settings

Every image differs, but here are a few landscape camera settings to get you started:

  • Dial in a shutter speed of 15 to 20 seconds (though it may take some trial and error to find the maximum value, and if you’re capturing before sunset, this is probably far too lengthy)
  • Lower the ISO to 100 to minimize noise
  • Select an aperture wider than f/8 and f/16 or so (though if you’re doing astrophotography, f/2. 8 is far more common)

I’d really recommend shooting in Manual setting ; that way, you can fine-tune your settings constantly, and you may clearly see the effects that each setting has on a picture.

5. Work with a fast, wide-angle lens with regard to eye-catching results

Naturally, most landscape professional photographers shoot with wide-angle lenses; that way, they can incorporate the whole gorgeous scene into the photo.

And for low-light photography, I recommend you accept that thought process. A wide-angle prime will offer great picture quality, will come cheap, and may offer exciting results. A wide-angle zoom, such as a 24-70mm, a 17-40mm, or a 16-35mm is also helpful, though more expensive, so think carefully before you buy.

Also make sure to look into the lens’s maximum aperture. For the purpose of standard low-light landscape photography, an f/4 or even f/5. 6 maximum aperture ought to be absolutely fine – but if you want to shoot stars at night, f/2. 8 is a must-have.

6. Physically set your white balance

Some professional photographers like to leave their white balance on Auto plus make tweaks in post-processing, and that’s a completely valid method of shooting – assuming you’re working in NATURAL.

Personally, however , I like getting my white colored balance right from the beginning. It indicates less time sitting in front of the computer, too.

I’d suggest setting your white balance manually (using your camera’s custom white balance choice, where you photograph off a gray card or natural surface). You might also try phone dialing in different values, then recording test shots until you get a result you like.

astrophotography landscape low light

7. Use a handheld remote control shutter release

When shooting long exposure landscape photos with a tripod, you can still cause camera shake – simply by striking the shutter button.

That’s where remote shutter releases come in handy; they let you trigger the shutter without ever touching the actual button. They’re also pretty cheap, especially if you’re willing to settle on a simple release.

You also have the option to use your camera’s self-timer, but if you are capturing time-sensitive long exposures (such as a wave lapping at the shore), the self-timer becomes a major hindrance. Plus, using a remote release is without a doubt far more convenient!

8. Use Live See (and your camera’s electronic shutter, if possible)

Every time you take a photo with a DSLR, the mirror slaps up and the shutter moves – each of which can cause blur. (On a mirrorless camera, there is absolutely no mirror, of course , but the shutter is still a problem. )

To prevent blur, I suggest shooting with Live Look at. This flips the looking glass up automatically so that it is out of the way when it comes time to take an image.

I also recommend shooting having an electronic shutter if your digital camera has one. Some digital cameras feature an electronic front-curtain shutter, whereas others offer truly electronic shutters; either type works. The point is to eliminate obnubilate due to the shutter, known as shutter shock .


Generally speaking, the lowest ISO is best – but there are times when you’ll want to boost the ISO, and that’s okay.

Particularly, a high ISO is useful whenever you’re shooting in near darkness and you want to maintain your shutter speed below thirty seconds or so. That way, you can prevent the stars from blurring across the sky, and you can catch a pin-sharp Milky Way image.

A high ISO is also helpful if you need to nail a certain shutter quickness – for a creative blur effect, for instance – plus you’re struggling to get the right exposure.

Never go higher than necessary, though. The higher the ISO, the particular noisier the image will get. Even though modern cameras can handle the lot of noise, retain it low, when possible.

low-light landscape seascape

10. Add a foreground element for added scale

I’ve talked lots about settings and light for low-light landscape shooting, but composition matters, too.

My best suggestions is to include some sort of foreground interest, like a rock, a log, or a river. Then let it catch the viewer’s eye and lead them into the frame.

In fact , landscape photographers love foreground elements , especially when combined with wide-angle lenses. But make sure you have an fascinating background element, too; the foreground technique is great, but only if the background element can provide a place for the viewer’s eye to rest.

11. Take plenty of check shots (and check your publicity with the histogram)

Low-light landscape photography can be unpredictable, so I highly recommend you capture as many test pictures as possible, carefully review the particular images you do consider, and do quick but repeated checks of the histogram whilst shooting.

(In fact, if you shoot mirrorless, you might even be able to get a histogram in real-time; that way, you don’t even have to fiddle around with direct exposure test shots! )

Remember, however: the particular histogram is a guide, not the king. You might spot the occasional tones pressing up against the bottom end of the graph, and that’s okay. All things considered, low-light scenes are supposed to look dark sometimes. And also you might notice the occasional shades pressing up against the top end of the graph, which okay; city lights will blow out, for instance, which often appearance very cool, especially when featuring a starburst effect.

Therefore pay careful attention to your histogram, and use it to ensure you’ve nailed your low-light shots. Yet don’t obsess if the histogram doesn’t show you a “perfect” curve.

bridge misty twilight landscape

12. Bracket your exposures for maximum detail

Landscape photographers, which includes low-light landscape photographers, are usually faced with an unique problem:

Capturing tonal detail throughout a scene, even when the particular scene features a bright sky and a dark foreground, or bright city lights and dark buildings.

In other words, landscape photographers need to learn to balance exposures in order to retain maximum detail. A histogram is ultra-helpful, as I mentioned in the last section – but what if you’re unsure whether you got the result you wanted, even with the histogram? And even more concerning: What if an excellent result is impossible, mainly because the difference because the brightest brights and the darkest darks in your photos are too significant?

That’s where exposure bracketing comes in. It’s an easy technique, but it’s the huge deal for the committed landscape photographer. Here’s how it works:

  1. Take a shot with a center exposure value.
  2. Adjust your settings (generally the shutter speed) to slightly underexpose the picture, then take a shot.
  3. Adjust your settings (again, generally the shutter speed) to slightly overexpose the scene, then take a chance.

To some extent, you’re creating backups, so that if you get the exposure somewhat wrong, you still have a well-exposed image to fall back on. However , exposure bracketing can do more than that; it is possible to blend several bracketed images together in Lightroom or Photoshop, taking the most fine detail from different parts of the images, so that the underexposed image contributes a beautiful sky, while the overexposed image contributes rich dark areas. That way, you get the best associated with both worlds (and a wonderful final result). Make sense?

And by the way: You can group as broadly as you want. Three bracketed images is pretty common (often with a margin of two stops), but you can also capture five, 7, nine, or more bracketed photos!

Low-light landscape photography tips: final words

Hopefully, at this point you feel much more confident – and you know exactly how in order to capture low-light landscape shots like a pro.

So head out in to the field and practice (though make sure you bring a trusty tripod and a remote discharge along! ).

Now over to you:

Which of those tips is your favorite? And do you have any low-light landscape tips of your own? Share your thoughts in the comments below!






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Natalie Denton (nee Johnson)

Natalie Denton (nee Johnson)

Natalie Denton (nee Johnson) is the former editor of Digital Photographer newspaper, and is now a freelancer journalist and photographer that has written for dozens of photography and technology magazines and websites over the last decade. Latest author and tutor as well.

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