Night Nature Photography Tips

Simple ways to capture stunning images of nocturnal wildlife

  • Photographer and Author Rob Sheppard
  • PhotoZone
  • Jun 01, 2015

NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY can connect you to a part of nature that is otherwise rarely seen. That’s particularly true for spiders, moths and other small nocturnal visitors. Digital cameras and lighting devices help you capture great photos. These tips may also help:

Subjects. To attract moths and other insects, hang a white sheet from a branch or clothesline and shine a light on it. Ultraviolet (UV) light is especially useful because insects see and are attracted to UV light.

Tripods. Set your camera on a tripod to steady it and keep subjects in focus. If available, use the camera’s built-in timer to trigger the shutter and limit shake. A wireless remote shutter release acts even faster.

Use a wide aperture (start with f/4 for landscapes or f/8 for close-up, lighted objects) to let more light through your lens and a high ISO (at least 400) so your sensor captures low light better. Try shooting in RAW format to gather as much information as possible.

Light. Bright moonlight may suffice for landscapes, but close-up portraits need more light. For small creatures, a strong flashlight or headlamp and a high ISO may be all you need. If you have access to a plug or battery power, try studio portrait lights or work lights. LED lights are good because they use less power and won’t burn you. But because bright light will scare away some animals, try putting a red filter over your light until you have the subject framed and in focus.

Angle. When photographing relatively stationary animals such as spiders, place one light above and at an angle to the subject. Keep the light away from your camera so the light will create shadows that add dimension and texture. Lighting from behind can create a dramatic effect, which is enhanced if you place a second light or a reflector by your camera, opposite the light behind the subject (done for the spider above).

Experiment. Try “light painting” by focusing the camera on an object then sweeping a flashlight across it as you trigger the shutter. Start moving the light before the exposure and keep it going until the shutter closes. Use an exposure of at least 30 seconds and try f/5.6 and ISO 800 to start. You may be surprised at what light in the night reveals.

Learn more tips from nature photographer, writer and teacher Rob Sheppard at

See amazing photos and enter your own in the 2015 National Wildlife Photo Contest!

More from National Wildlife magazine and the National Wildlife Federation:
Nocturnal Creatures
NWF Kids and Nature Blog: 9 Tips for Watching Wildlife at Night
Wildlife Gardening: Enjoying the Nightlife
Outdoor Activities: Things That Go Bump - or Hoot - in the Night

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