Take Amazing Night Photos: Pro Tips for iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Pixel, and More

The best camera phones you can buy in 2023, including the iPhone 14 Pro, Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra Y Google Pixel 7 Pro, they have night photography modes that allow them to capture beautiful photos even in the middle of the night. I put these phones side by side to see which one is the best, and they all delivered beautiful pictures in the dark.

This type of night photography used to require a DSLR on a tripod to take long exposures over the course of several seconds. But nowadays, even some fairly affordable phones can take great-looking pictures at night without any additional equipment. And that’s great, as it means you don’t need to carry a heavy camera and tripod into town every time you want to get a good after-sunset shot.

Boat in a river at night

The night mode of the Galaxy S22 Ultra is consistently good.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

But getting an image you like enough to print and put on your wall isn’t just waiting until dark and pulling out your phone. You’ll still have to put in some effort to take photos that rack up those Instagram likes.

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

Read more: The best camera phone for 2022

1. Know how to activate night mode

If your phone has a night mode, it’s important to make sure it’s turned on 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 a low-light situation. On some Android phones, you can find a specific shooting mode, called simply Night on the Galaxy S22 range or Night Sight on the Pixel 7, which you’ll need to use to capture the best images in low light.

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

Example shot of building columns covered in festive lights

This night photo has become even more vibrant and dazzling with these amazing Christmas lights adorning the columns.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

2. Seek the light

While the new iPhones and recent Galaxy phones can take amazing images in low light, you still need to have Some light in the shot to create an attractive image. Therefore, you are not likely to get good results when heading into the darkest part of a forest. Instead, try heading to populated areas like city centers, as you’ll find light sources in the form of street lamps, shop windows, and maybe even some festive lighting around the holidays.

3. Wait for your moment

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

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

Both night mode images are highly time dependent: on the left, the lone figure is seen walking in the main pool of light on the ground. On the right it was a matter of capturing the cyclist who was passing at full speed.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

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

4. Steady yourself

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

If nothing is nearby, you can help stabilize the phone by holding it firmly with both hands, holding it fairly close to your chest, and tucking your elbows in toward your stomach. This will help reduce some of the natural wobble in your hands and can make all the difference in getting a sharper image.

long exposure photo of a car with streaks of light

A long exposure night image taken with the Pixel 7 Pro.

Andrew Lanxon/CNET

5. Use movement modes, if you have them

The Pixel 7 and 7 Pro can take great regular photos at night, but they also have a long exposure mode that lets you get some creative shots that could normally only be achieved with a tripod. While the mode works well during the day for blurring things like waterfalls, it also works great at night, especially for subjects like cars driving down city streets.

The long exposure blurs the headlights and taillights, transforming them from static balls of light into ethereal lines, meandering across the scene. You will need to use the phone’s motion mode to get this effect and make sure long exposure is turned on. Long exposure photos like this work best when you hold the camera steady and take a photo that includes both stationary subjects (like buildings and streetlights) and moving subjects (like cars, buses, or cyclists). It can take a bit of practice, and the results can be hit or miss, but when it works, it works really well and adds an extra creative element to your night shots.

However, not all phones have this as standard, and while there are some third-party apps that claim to replicate it, I haven’t found many that actually work or come close to the quality I’ve achieved with the Pixel 7 Pro.

Before and after editing image examples

I 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 shots

As with any good photo, taking the photo is only half the story; it’s how you edit it that may be the most important way to transform it into a true work of art. I use Adobe Lightroom Mobile for most of my editing, but Google’s Snapseed is also very powerful and is completely free on iOS and Android.

By their nature, night photos can be dark, so you may want to start by increasing the exposure. However, be careful; Low-light images, even good Night Mode shots, will have image noise (a blurry grain) that looks worse and worse the brighter the image. You may need to tone down some of the highlights (especially if you’ve captured bright street lights) and push the shadows up a bit to balance things out. Pay attention to details and make sure you don’t go too far.

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

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