Five night photography tips for iPhone 12, Galaxy S20 and other phone cameras


Andrew Hoyle / CNET

Taking photos at night used to be something you need a proper DSLR for, using tripods and long exposures to get a good, great image. But the advent of night mode on newer phones like the iPhone 12 (829 USD on Amazon),, Samsung Galaxy S20 and a wide range of others means that it is possible to take crystal clear photos, even at night depths.

But getting a great picture you’re truly proud of isn’t just a case of waiting in the dark and scattering your phone – you’ll still need to put in a little effort to take photos that will garner those likes on Instagram.

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

1. Know how to activate night mode

If your phone has a night mode, it’s important to make sure it’s actually activated before you start recording. On phones like the iPhone 12 Series, night mode will automatically start when the phone detects that you are in a low light situation. On some Android phones like Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra you may find a particular shooting mode that you will 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 them – or if your phone even has them – then a quick model search and “night mode” on Google should answer your questions.


They made this night photo even more vibrant and dazzling with these amazing Christmas lights that adorn the columns.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

2. Look for light

While phones love new iPhones ($ 599 at Apple) and recent Galaxy phones can capture amazing images in low light, which you still have to have some light in the frame to create a compelling image. So going into the darkest part of the forest is unlikely to result in good results. Instead, try heading to populated areas like city centers (taking all necessary precautions against COVID-19) because during the holidays you will find light sources in the form of street lamps, shop windows, and perhaps festive lighting.

3. Wait a moment

Great city and street photography can often include a person as a subject in your frame, and night time can be a great time to take those shots. However, when light is limited, you need to make sure that person is exactly where you want them to be, and that may require a little patience.


I’m really pleased with both of these images in night mode and they both rely heavily on time – on the left it was about that lone figure walking through the main light pool on the ground. On the right, it was about capturing the cycling fast past.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

For example, imagine shooting on a road lit by street lamps. Each lamp casts a puddle of light and as someone passes through it, it will temporarily light up before it becomes effectively invisible again in the dark. In that case, my advice is to prepare the shot so that your finger hovers above that shutter button. It may take a few minutes, but eventually someone may go right through that pool of light and you will be able to shoot. Patience can really pay off this way.

4. Be calm

Although the night modes on the phones do not require a tripod in the same way as a long exposure on a DSLR, you will still get the best results if you keep the phone as still as possible while taking photos. If you don’t have a tripod with you, look for a low wall, trash can, or anything else you can keep your phone still on while shooting.

If there is nothing nearby, you can help hold the phone firmly by holding it firmly in both hands, holding it fairly close to your chest and pulling your elbows toward your abdomen. This will help reduce some of the natural sway in your hands and can affect getting a sharper image.

iphone-12-pro-max-image editing

I love the black and white montage of night photos. I think the natural contrast of bright street lights in shady backgrounds translates so well into a monochrome image.

Andrew Hoyle / CNET

5. Edit your recordings

As with any good photograph, shooting is only half the story; it’s the way you edit it, which can be the greatest way to transform it into a true work of art. I use most of my editing in Adobe Lightroom Mobile, but Google’s Snapseed is really really powerful and it’s completely free on iOS and Android.

By their nature, night photos can be quite dark, so you may want to start by raising the exposure. Be careful; images in low light, even shots in good night mode, will have image noise (blurred grain) that will get worse and worse as you beautify the image. You may need to reduce some of the highlights (especially if you’ve shot strong street lights) and enhance the shadows with a touch to balance things out. Pay attention to detail and be careful not to push it too far.

Since then, it all comes down to how you feel good, so spend some time playing with the available tools and see what you can come up with. Personally, I think that night scenes can often look great as black and white images, because the natural contrast of bright lights and dark backgrounds goes well into a monochrome conversion.