Urban Night Shots are In Demand!

I recently had a pleasant encounter with Paolo Gallo, a fellow-microstocker and author, also based in Milan. Over a pizza (of course), we exchanged ideas on everything from the future of the industry, including which agencies are going to bring in the most money and which be cannibalised, to Print on Demand and finally, our mutual love of Fine Art.

Suffice to say that I have a LOT of work to do in the next few months!

Colourful Architecture

At one point we discussed how Italy is so colourful. However, I shared my frustration that my colourful Italian architecture pics are not huge sellers, which he concurred about his own sales. Then came the lesson…

Under-performing. In fact, it’s never sold and its available commercially!

“Shoot at night to earn more”

At first it didn’t register. I mean, why not shoot in the best light which is golden hour and blue hour? He then elaborated – shoot at night! “Not golden hour, not blue hour, shoot black hour!” Wtf was this crazy Italian going on about?

Then it hit me! There are considerably fewer night city images for sale, compared to day/sunset shots, for the following now-obvious-reasons:

  • Tourists that go on city-breaks rather shoot during the day and relax at night, especially if they’re not travelling solo;
  • Increased element of danger if you’re not familiar with the city (related to above);
  • Having to carry that tripod around and babysit during long exposures;
  • In your town, general personal inconvenience if you have a family and full-time job, live far from centre, etc.
A couple take a selfie picture at Milan, Italy's Navigli Grande
Tourists rather shoot during the day and relax at night

Less Competition with (Long-Exposure) Night Shots

Now, it’s not because night images are necessarily prettier, it’s all about the competition.

If everybody is shooting similar subjects at golden hour, you’re going to struggle if you decide to shoot the same subject, unless you do something extraordinary like use a model.

In addition, clients sometimes want variety, which means offering them different choices such as breaking rules and shooting in the harsh noon sun during the height of the summer!

Spritz aperol drink in Milan overlooking Piazza Duomo
Strong sellers despite / because of the harsh summer sunlight

Checking out whether this theory is true

I did a quick search on Shutterstock for pictures of Milan during golden hour (“Milan” + “golden hour”) and the result came up with 4,408 images.

milan sunset
Duomo cathedral featuring heavily in the most popular results

Another search (“Milan” + “night” + “long exposure”) yielded just 82 hits.

milan night

Key takeaways from shooting at night

If you do decide to follow my advice, here’s some tips:

  • First and foremost, stay safe. Some parts of town are best avoided, even during the day. If you do decide to risk it, take pepper spray with you (just in case);
  • Use a high-quality tripod – this is obvious. I recommend Manfrotto;
  • Wide angle lenses work best in the range of between 10mm and 24mm;
  • A lens hood will help to reduce lens flares;
  • Capture movement from people, cars, if possible, to introduce impressive light streaks to make your image pop. Reduce your ISO and close that aperture to reduce the shutter speed. Since you’d be shooting after blue hour there’s less light around which means you can achieve longer exposures;
  • Submit those images with proper caption and keyword to maximise your chance of success.

Having said the above, I’ll be venturing out more often at night and will let you know how I get on soon.

See you around!


P.s Thanks Ian (Shutterstock portfolio link here) for your comment below and sending me over the pic you took of the Battersea Power Station and new US Embassy. The latter makes for great editorials, especially if you can get a closeup clean shot and with that sky…wow! Must have been a cold night too so great job for the effort standing around in the cold.

Thames River with the US Embassy and Battersea Power Station at sunset by Ian Stewart




  1. Hi Alex – once again, interesting information. I must critique one element of the story though! Why did you include the term “long exposure” in your Milan night search? Without that phrase there are 5871 images on SS. I tend to think of long exposure as providing a specific type of image – like a blurred waterfall or fountain possibly. You wouldn’t use the term to describe a night time shot of a static city.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Steve,

    Thanks for your message.

    You’re right. I need to think of a better way to compare day/sunset/blue hour shots with purely night shots to support this theory.

    I think the best thing for me to do instead of relying on search results is go out and shoot at night and see myself how they compare in my own portfolio. Have you manage to spot any trends within your port between day and night shots? To be continued!



  3. Thank you for a great article Alex!!!
    I think you’re right about setting yourself apart in the city photography range. And night photography will definitely do that. Since I’m entering Brussels each morning before the break of dawn, I’d better start using that 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bjorn,

      Thanks for your message.

      That’s a good idea. I trust that the Grand Place is done to death but some dynamic night shots of the EC buildings could be strong sellers…both editorially and commercially.

      My pics in Brussels have always been disappointing, in large part due to those strong beers haha



  4. Hi Alex,

    I took your advice and stopped off after work in central London and grabbed a blue hour shot of the Thames with the new US Embassy and Battersea Power Station all lit up. Lugging the camera and tripod all the way to work and back was a pain so I hope the shot made up for it.


    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Alex, I found interesting this article. Out of stock photography, lately I have the impression that my night street photos in Instagram get more likes and interactions than others. This reinforces to me this thought.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Hola Enrique,

      Thanks for your comment. I think it makes perfect sense…plus those light streaks can be quite impressive and helps it stand out (blacks, yellows and reds).

      Few people take night travel shots. Let’s say you travel to Paris for the weekend with your girlfriend, are you really going to leave her at the hotel room while you’re out taking long exposure shots of the city? Or with young children. That’s why I often prefer to travel alone….

      Speaking of night shots, I need to get busy but the past few weeks have been bitterly cold so waiting for higher spring temperatures in a few weeks.

      What’s your instagram handle? I’ll follow you 🙂

      take care



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