The Right Lenses to Use for Nighttime Photography

by | Jan 19, 2021

As a young photographer, I wanted to try every type of photography and in every condition. It was my goal to understand what I could and couldn’t do with my camera and lenses. But the most challenging time I had while undergoing this process of exploration was with nighttime photography. I say that because you are trying to us a tool that is designed to capture light, in the form of an image, but in low to very low light conditions. So I had to experiment with different settings and lenses to see what type of nighttime photography I could actually capture with the setup I had at the time.

What I came to realize while doing nighttime photography was that there are two different photography techniques you can use in those low light conditions. First, long exposure photography, meaning you are using a long shutter speed to obtain your frame. Second, capturing photos with very thin focal plains and taken at faster shutter speeds, typically used in portrait photography to isolate a subject. This technique will allow you to capture as much light as you can within a short period of time. Also, you can use a combination of these settings as well to get the photo you are trying to capture. 

So how does this relate to nighttime photography and what type of lenses you should use to capture these types of frames?…I mean that is the point of this blog…right! 

Alright, simply put you need to look into using prime or fixed lenses. Most of the time, these lenses will allow you to capture a lot of light in a very short period of time while maintaining sharpness. However, these lenses do have their downfalls. First, you have to move in order to control what is in frame, unlike a telephoto lens. A telephoto lens can control what is in frame by moving a mechanism on the lens itself. Second, you will need to purchase multiple lenses and change them frequently while out shooting. This can be a choir for some because they have to constantly change out lenses compared to having one telephoto lens that can zoom in and out. 

So now you know what type of lenses you need, let’s discuss what focal length’s you should consider purchasing for nighttime photography. 

When I started, I bought a simple 50mm, also known as a nifty fifty, it did the job very nicely. However, I would find myself in very unique situations while out shooting where this lens would not work due to the focal length. So I purchased other prime or fixed lenses that would do the job. Before I cover those, let me just say that a 50mm is an ideal focal length to start with if you are considering getting into this type of photography. With that out of the way, let’s continue on with what a more advance nighttime photographer, like myself, has in their bag. 

Currently, I have two lenses, a 35mm and 85mm, that I use while I am out doing nighttime photography. I use the 35mm as a wide angle lens so I can get into tight places. The 85mm is used in locations where there is room to move around and so I can get the effect of distance in my photos. Having both lenses in my bag allows me to play around with wide and narrow angle lenses while at the same time allowing me to capture amazing nighttime photos. So in the end, It does not matter if you are using your camera to capture short exposures, long exposures or a combination of the both, having prime or fixed lenses will allow you to do any type of nighttime photography you want.