Happy snaps in the dark are often a frustrating experience. Loss of detail, blurry images or photos washed out by a flash. Fortunately with a few tips and some camera app upgrades, it’s possible to get surprisingly good nighttime smartphone pics.
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Like anything, practice makes perfect. Don’t just grab a new app or learn a technique and expect to be an expert instantly. Play around. Test different setting. Take endless photos of the dog. When it comes time to get the photo you really want, the practice will pay off.
And don’t forget to try light painting!
What are your favourite apps and tips for taking better low light photos on your smartphone?
Even the slightest wobble when snapping a picture is the mortal enemy of night time photos. With the low light levels, the camera has to compensate with a longer exposure. Any shake during the process causes a blurred image.
You might think you can hold your smartphone still enough, but you really can’t. For better night time photos, a tripod is a great investment. You don’t have to get anything too big either – there are plenty of pocket size models available from places such as eBay.
Of course, it’s not always convenient to carry around a tripod. Instead, try resting your smartphone against a table or wall. Alternatively, prop it up and use a camera timer to take the photo.
To Flash or Not to Flash
Smartphone camera flashes are getting surprisingly good, but they are not a magical cure for bad night time photos.
Too far away and the flash won’t do anything, leaving a dark photo. Too close and the bright LEDs will tend to wash out the subject, or leave the background hopelessly underexposed.
Flash can be useful at a medium distance, but it’s still best avoided unless there is no other option available.
Instead, try and maximise existing light sources or change location slightly.
Use HDR Sparingly
HDR is great and is built into a lot of default smartphone apps. It works by taking a bunch of photos very quickly with different exposures, then combines them into a single picture with a better dynamic range.
In other words, it helps bring out more detail in the shadows, while avoiding overexposing brighter areas.
The problem with HDR in low light conditions is that it tends to produce slightly blurry or indistinct photos.
If you want to experiment with HDR, then combine it with a tripod. Otherwise, look for a night photo mode on your camera app instead.
Digital zoom on smartphone cameras is a bad idea t the best of time. Don’t even bother at night.
The problem is that the zoom isn’t actually bringing up any more detail. Instead it’s just cropping the picture down. The result is usually a blurry shot.
Instead of zooming, crop your pictures later. You can get the exact same effect, but have more choices in how you crop.
It might be tempting to apply all sorts of fun filters or effects as you take your images, but these don’t usually help your night time shots.
Instead, edit the pictures later. You don’t even need a computer to do so – there are a range of editing apps available for your smartphone.
Available for Android and iOS, Snapseed is a simple yet powerful photo editing tool from Google.
Crop, edit, adjust and tweak your pictures until they look exactly how you want.
You can also selectively adjust the brightness, apply different filters and effects as well as tweak the contrast.
Most importantly, Snapseed it totally free.
PicsArt Photo Studio
Available on iOS, Android and Windows Phone, Picsart Photo studio is a comprehensive image editing app.
It’s free to install, or paid if you want to avoid in app advertisements.
You can import photos, edit them, apply filters and effects and so much more. Imagine photoshop for your pocket.
It’s not just limited to editing photos either – the app has camera functionality too. It’s got a host of manual options and can help you get the best low night images.
Upgrade Your Camera App
Getting your low light camera skills down pat is important, but an app upgrade can also help.
From manual exposure controls to dedicated night modes, premium camera apps can help you take better pictures at night.
Most of the better options aren’t free, but a few dollars is a small price to pay for photos you might keep forever.
Camera Zoom FX
With a range of different options for low light shooting, Camera Zoom FX is one of the most popular paid camera apps available.
It’s also got one really cool feature for low light photos — you can trigger the shutter with voice commands. That might seem cheesy, but it makes taking shake free photos very simple.
The app goes beyond just a camera as well, with a powerful photo editing suit.
We covered this app back in our guide to painting with light, but it’s just as good for photos in the dark.
The Android app is one of the most comprehensive cameras available, with full manual options.
For low light happy snaps, you can adjust the exposure, ISO or do a long exposure.
A Better Camera
This Android app is one of the most installed smartphone upgrades and has a huge range of features available.
The dedicated night mode makes low light shooting easier, while you can also use HDR, time lapses and manual tweaks to get the shot you need.
The app is free to try, but the full version is a paid upgrade. Right now it’s just 0.99c over at the Google Play Store.
From the same company, you can also get Night Camera, which is a camera app just dedicated to low light photos.