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Home / Tips and Tricks / How to Shoot Great iPhone Photos at Night or in Low Light

How to Shoot Great iPhone Photos at Night or in Low Light



Someone taking a picture of a sunset at dusk with an iPhone.
Adi Purnatama / Shutterstock

Modern iPhones can take breathtaking photos in low light. Even if you don̵

7;t have the latest and greatest model, these photography tips can help you get better photos after the sun goes down.

Use night mode (if any)

Night mode is available via the built-in iPhone camera app. You can access it by tapping the icon on the home screen, via the shortcut to the Control Center or via the lock screen.

The function is activated automatically on supported models when a scene is dark enough. Currently, only the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max support night mode. You’ll know it’s active when you see the yellow moon icon and the number of seconds it takes for an exposure.

The night mode icon on iPhone 11.

Technically, the night mode only works with the standard 1x wide-angle lens. The ultra-wide 0.5x lens doesn’t support it at all. On the iPhone 11 Pro, you can shoot with the 2x telephoto lens in night mode, but the standard 1x camera with digital zoom is still used.

For the best results with any iPhone 11 model, take photos in night mode with the 1x wide angle lens.

You can’t force your iPhone to take a photo in night mode, but you can adjust the exposure as soon as the icon appears. Tap it to reveal a slider at the bottom of the scene. Drag the slider to the left to make the exposure longer. This will bring more light into your scene.

In the pictures below you can see how much better the night mode is for shooting in the dark. The cropped image on the left was taken with an iPhone X while the image on the right was taken with an iPhone 11.

Two images of the moon, one on an iPhone 10 and the other in night mode on an iPhone 11.

Apple designed Night Mode to work while you hold your iPhone, so a small movement won’t ruin your recordings. However, you will get far better results if you can keep your iPhone as still as possible. Distant highlights like stars look even better if your iPhone remains completely stationary during a shot.

That’s why iOS 14 added guides in night mode. They’re just like the guides that come up when you try to take a photo with the iPhone facing down. When you record in night mode, you will see two plus signs (+) on the screen. Keep these overlapping to reduce blurring in your images.

The guides overlapped a scene in night mode on iOS 14.

You can also mount your iPhone on a tripod for the best possible results. You can then use your Apple Watch as a remote shutter release or set the built-in timer to trigger so you don’t have to touch your iPhone and risk moving it.

No night mode? No problem!

Whether or not you have the latest iPhone, keeping your device as still as possible when shooting in low light will produce better results. Since the iPhone has to slow down the shutter speed to let more light into a scene, any movement will result in a blurry image. For this reason, we strongly recommend using a tripod.

It is also helpful to work within the limitations of your device. Smartphone cameras have notoriously small sensors that severely limit their capabilities even in poor lighting conditions. The larger sensors in mirrorless and digital SLR cameras can capture much more light.

Knowing all of these will help you take advantage of your device.

A nighttime photo of the Dumpling House restaurant's illuminated sign, taken with an iPhone 4.
A night scene with an iPhone 4. Tim Brookes

First, choose well-lit subjects and use light wisely in your images. Put your subjects under spotlights or use a candle glow to subtly light up parts of a scene when the rest is obscured in the dark.

In the Camera app, tap and hold to adjust the final exposure to lock the focus and expose a specific part of a scene. You can then slide your finger up and down the screen to increase or decrease the amount of light in the scene.

You won’t get results that rival Night Mode in terms of fidelity, but that doesn’t mean your photos won’t still look great.

Add night mode to any iPhone with NeuralCam

NeuralCam NightMode ($ 4.99) uses machine learning and computational photography just like the night mode on the iPhone 11. The app takes some images from a still scene and then blends them together to increase the exposure value and overall fidelity. The result is usable photos that were taken in very poor lighting conditions.

Apple’s technology is closely tied to the hardware of the latest iPhones. Therefore, do not expect identical results. The process can also take a little longer than an iPhone 11 depending on the age of your device. Older iPhones also have less advanced sensors and image signal processing, all of which affect the bottom line.

However, there is still enough reason here to justify the $ 5 price tag if you want to keep your current iPhone for another year or two. The app even improves photos taken with the front camera in low light.

Go completely manual for long exposures

When you’re ready to put a little more work into your shots, you can take photos in the dark by taking long exposures of 30 seconds or more. To do this, you’ll need an app like Slow Shutter Cam ($ 1.99) that allows you to take long exposures.

We tested some of the most popular manual camera apps, including Manual ($ 3.99), 645 PRO Mk III ($ 3.99), and ProCam 7 ($ 13.99). However, they only allowed long exposures of 1/4 second or less. This is likely a limitation of the Camera API provided by Apple.

How Slow Shutter Cam makes such long exposures remains a mystery. It is possible for the app to take several 1/4 second exposures and then blend them as the exposure increases. While this isn’t a true long exposure, the results speak for themselves.

When testing, we had to make sure that the scene wasn’t exposed for so long that the highlights were blown out.

To use the Slow Shutter Cam, just download and launch it. Then tap the Settings icon. Here you can select the recording mode (tap “Low Light” for night shots) and the total exposure time. Experiment for the best results. A tripod is also essential.

Tap the menu button to see some of the other features of the app. The customizable timer comes in handy to avoid touching the screen while recording. You can use the interval meter to record long exposure time-lapse sequences.

Flash is a last resort

Your iPhone camera has a flash. You can activate it by tapping the lightning icon in the camera app. While the flash will illuminate your scene to some extent, the results can be hit-or-miss. It is best to use it only for portraits and only when no other light source is available.

The flash menu in the iPhone camera app.

Because the flash is pointing forward, a scene will not be captured in a particularly flattering light. When you need to use the flash on your iPhone, stick with the front-facing selfie flash. This uses your iPhone’s screen to quickly cast a bright light onto your face.

Because the screen is slightly larger than the camera’s flash, the light is diffused more flatteringly. It fills in some of the less desirable facial features like wrinkles and blemishes.

The low light performance of the iPhone will improve

Night mode is a huge step forward for Apple. The iPhone 11 wasn’t the first device to include it, but its implementation is now among the best for creating natural-looking pictures.

However, if you really want to explore night photography, e.g. B. Cityscapes or even astrophotography, a smartphone is still a poor choice. The iPhone can capture the night sky, but it lacks manual controls and a sensor large enough to capture enough light.

That doesn’t mean you still can’t take amazing photos with your iPhone. The camera app can definitely help you with that.




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