Night photography usually means bringing a tripod and setting up for long exposures. This doesn’t have to always be the case, here are two ideas on taking some shots at night, no tripod required.
One such type of shot you can take without a tripod is bokeh lights. Bokeh is simply the aesthetic of an out-of-focus area, in this case a light or lights. Bokeh shots are popular because they tend to be minimal, offering an uncluttered and slightly different view of a scene with lights. The Brooklyn Bridge example above, or these abstract lights are two examples of bokeh light photos.
How to take a bokeh lights photo
To take a bokeh lights photo, it is relatively straight-forward: open your aperture up to as wide as possible. Set your shutter-speed low enough that you don’t get camera shake, usually around 1/60. Let the camera set the auto ISO for the right exposure. If you are all manual, try ISO 3200 to start.
The biggest part is you want to be in manual focus mode, because your goal is to purposely make the photo out-of-focus. Point your camera at your scene and lights and crank the focus to achieve the size of effect you want.
Here is an example set starting with the Empire State building in focus and then making them more and more out of focus. All shots were taken at f/2.4, 1/45, ISO 3200.
The second idea for taking photos at night without a tripod is to embrace the movement. You can still do a 3-4 second exposure without a tripod, you’ll get shake and blur but you can try to work with it. This is a bit trickier to get a result you’re happy with, but its fun to play around.
For panning, set your shutter speed to a 4 second exposure and adjust your aperture and ISO to compensate for the scene, you can try f/2.8 and ISO 1600 as a starting point. You want to move the camera slow and smooth as you go, I find it best to start moving and then press the shutter once going.
The following photos were all taken at Times Square around a 2-4 second exposure.
The second shot, Caffeine Jitters, wasn’t actually panning the camera; I opened the shutter and intentionally bumped the camera to get that jittery effect. You can get strange things when the camera starts moving, try it out and play around, see what you come up with.
Go out into the night
So, if you don’t have a tripod, or just don’t feel like carrying it around; you can still go out in the night and take some interesting shots. Get out there and happy shooting!