Photoshop for Night Photography / 16 comments + post
online tutorials

In many ways the post-production skills you need to process low light or night shots are no different to those you would use for images taken during daylight hours, but there are a number of technical and aesthetic issues that become more salient when processing this type of image. These include: visualising the final image, altering the white balance – either to compensate for sodium light pollution (common in many night shots, particularly in urban environments) or to creatively manipulate an image – shooting 'point' light sources, and merging multiple exposures.

In addition this tutorial also discusses a range of technical considerations relevant to shooting at night. These include: focussing (a non-trivial task when shooting in the dark), setting ISO, determining the correct exposure, and noise reduction.


oldest comments first
comment by salvatore_ at 09:36 PM on 31 October, 2008

According to me a very hot tutorial!
No words, only tks!

comment by Justin Photis at 08:15 PM on 1 November, 2008

You make it all seem so easy David and the clear step by step process really helps to explain how it's the incremental little, basic changes, make all the difference in the final complete image. Great as always.

comment by Martin at 11:20 AM on 3 November, 2008

I totally agree with Justin. With your explanation every step makes sense. I think that after taking this tutorial I´m gonna adjust my workflow and include a step where I question the balance of my images. Looking forward to the next tutorial!

comment by djn1 at 06:41 PM on 3 November, 2008

Thanks all.

Martin: one of the hardest things to get right when working in Photoshop is the balance of the final, not least because often the changes that you are making only affect part of the image. In other words, balance is something you need to work towards, making incremental changes to reach a final goal. As such I'd suggest that you asses the balance in light of each change you make; i.e. ask yourself how each incremental or partial change affects the image as a whole.

comment by YETi at 09:10 AM on 5 November, 2008

Oooo Been waiting for this one so thank you!

comment by Jean Eichenlaub at 12:48 AM on 12 November, 2008

A great tutorial. Night shots have frustrated me for some time. This information helped tremendously.

comment by Mike at 01:54 AM on 14 November, 2008

great work, very well explained, thanks a lot

comment by steve deer at 03:35 PM on 3 December, 2008

dave... haven't finished this tutorial yet (I like to go thru it slowly several times. but on p2 you use the channel mixer tool to increase saturation. I haven't noticed you doing this before on any other tuts, is there any reason why you have used it in this case other than using the hue/sat tool (which I know you have also used in the layer stack)?



comment by djn1 at 04:11 PM on 3 December, 2008

Steve: generally speaking the Channel Mixer method can produce better results, especially when making a large increase in saturation, as it produces an end result with slightly better colour separation. For moderate changes though the difference is a lot less noticeable so it doesn't much matter which technique you use. As with a lot of things in Photoshop, there's more than one way to get to the same end point.

comment by Stephen DesRoches at 09:40 PM on 13 January, 2009

In terms of balance of color and light. Are you judging it by eye or using the info palette and basing it on numbers?

comment by djn1 at 07:57 AM on 14 January, 2009

Stephen: for this sort of image I tend to judge it by eye; i.e. it's more a question of creative rather than accurate colour control.

comment by Mohamed at 04:24 PM on 9 April, 2010

Brilliant as always. So simple and so powerful. Thanks.

comment by dana at 06:25 PM on 5 April, 2012

I think all the tutorials are superb. I have just read the night shooting tutorial after being inspired by the full moon in the corner of our half-circle window in bedroom and wanting to capture the scene as it looked to me in our bedroom.

Based on the tutorial, the mass of the moon in the window and extreme brightness seem to dictate 2 exposures as described in the lesson. I am wondering how to best expose for the moon? Spot meter in DSLR? Also, is it hard to wind up with an image that looks like real life? Meaning, when I have exposed for moon before, I have gotten great detailed image but it lacked the glow that you see live--Was this just just due to underexposure? And are there any tips for getting right exposue for this kind of moon?

I'm guessing getting the nightime feel of the room and window is just trial and error with exposure. I don't want it to look like dusk. Any tips on that?
much thanks

comment by djn1 at 08:17 PM on 5 April, 2012

Thanks Dana.

As for your question, the problem with photographing the moon is that it's extremely bright in comparison to the rest of a night-time scene. For example, on a clear night, the correct exposure for the full moon at f/8 and ISO 100 is somewhere around 1/320s - settings which will pretty much throw the rest of the scene into darkness. If you're interested, there's a good moon exposure calculator here:

So, if you set your exposure for the moon everything else ends up too dark, while if you set it for the rest of the scene you inevitably blow out the moon. As such your only option, if you want to avoid this, is to blend two exposures; one for the moon, the other for the rest of the scene.

Does that help?

comment by dana at 09:36 PM on 5 April, 2012

Yes, that helps. I knew it would have to be 2 exposures. I was just wondering how to expose correctly and still get it too look as in live viewing, as some moon shots I get are those darker and detailed lunar view exposures but lacking the brite in the window I can't fall back to sleep look. I am thinking this is just trial and error with exposure to get the right feel.

Same thing I guess with the feel of the room--to expose to still make it look like night and not dusk. Gets to point you made in tutorial about tendency to underexpose at night--but I think with this scene, that's what I am wanting to do.

Make any sense what I'm asking?

comment by djn1 at 05:05 AM on 6 April, 2012

Yes, that makes perfect sense, and I think your trial and error solution is probably the best one, at least in terms of the exposure for the room. All you need to make sure is that you get the exposure for the moon correct - i.e. no blown highlights - then just shoot a range of exposures for the room. You can then decide which of these exposures would be the best to use during post-production and then merge it with the moon shot.

Does that clarify things?