Exposure Guidelines

003_SanJoseHotelDeAnzaNight Photography can seem a little daunting at first, but not to worry, there is method to the madness.

The most practical approach to capturing good nighttime exposures is Bracketing, or as a friend of mine says “BLH”, meaning Bracket Like Hell.

The idea is to capture as much image data as you can through a wide range of exposures.

There are many reasons for bracketing. It is not just about getting the “right exposure” as in the daytime. We will discuss more about this in future posts.

For now, follow these basic Exposure Guidelines for both digit and film cameras:


  • set ISO to 400
  • set White Balance to Automatic
  • set Auto Focus (AF) to MANUAL (AF may disable camera if too dark)
  • set Auto Exposure (AE) to MANUAL (AE will under expose at night)
  • turn off Flash
  • set Shutter Speed to BULB for unsupported exposure times (e.g. > 30 seconds)


  • set ISO to the Film ISO, Film with ISO 400 is good for long exposures
  • correct White Balance for daylight color film with an 80A blue filter (optional)
  • do not use Flash
  • set Shutter Speed to BULB

EXPOSURE : Aperture

  • set Aperture (f-stop) to f5.6
  • do NOT change ISO or Aperture settings during Bracketing

EXPOSURE : “Starting Point” Shutter Speed

  • use Light Meter to establish the Starting Point Shutter Speed (if possible)
  • OR, set Shutter Speed to 1.0 second (if too dark for Light Meter)

EXPOSURE : Bracketing Shutter Speeds

  • make Starting Point exposure
  • make 3 to 5 subsequent exposures by doubling each exposure time

EXAMPLE : Bracketing Shutter Speeds

  • make Starting Point exposure of 1 second
  • make subsequent exposures of 2, 4, 8, 15, and 30 seconds
  • NOTE: do NOT change ISO and Aperture settings during bracketing

IMAGE : Hotel DeAnza, San Jose, CA

In 1991 I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area. One night in January, I looked out the window around midnight and saw fog, lots of fog. I grabbed my camera equipment and headed out.

I really had no idea what to do exactly. I just knew I needed to Bracket and hope for the best. I was so taken by Hotel DeAnza in the fog, I shot an entire roll of film to make sure I captured the right exposure, as well as the right composition.

That was the first time I had ventured out into the night to photograph. I did not get home until 6AM. No time for sleep, I got ready and left for work. I could not believe how much fun it was. I was especially excited after I developed my film. There was no looking back. I was completely captured by night photography.

The most successful exposures were 15 and 30 seconds shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. Bracketing gave me the result I was looking for.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilver

Silver toning was chosen to accentuate the soft sense of light created by the fog.

This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App “SuiteProfiler”. The cool tint was created to evoke a sense of the cold foggy night.

The Profile was derived from the Color Map “GallerySilver” created in SuiteProfiler. You can open the Color Map in SuiteProfiler if you have a Mac.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Exposure Guidelines

Go out into the night and find a low lit scene, something moderately challenging. Avoid places that are brightly lit. Set up your camera and tripod, then follow the Exposure Guidelines to capture a series by Bracketed exposures.

Afterwards examine your images for successful exposures.

If you think you did not succeed, do not get discouraged. Return to the same scene, follow the guidelines, but adjust your Starting Point exposure. If your images are all too dark, increase the Starting Point Shutter Speed. If your images are all too light, decrease it. Perform a series of Bracketed exposures again.

Be sure to review the “Safety & Precautions” page.


NEXT TIME : “The Great Diversity of Light”


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5 thoughts on “Exposure Guidelines

  1. Pingback: Aperture Settings | The Art of Night Photography

  2. Pingback: Light Metering | The Art of Night Photography

  3. Pingback: Why Bracketing? | The Art of Night Photography

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