Photography can be a challenging art form, especially in poor lighting conditions. Often, cameras struggle to find focus, resulting in blurry or out-of-focus images. However, by using a simple tool like a laser pointer, you can quickly achieve focus even in very poor light, making it the ultimate night-time photography hack.

The basic idea behind using a laser pointer for camera focus is to use the laser as a reference point for the camera’s autofocus system. This night-time photography hack works by shining the laser onto the subject you want to photograph, thus creating a point of contrast that the camera can use to lock onto and focus.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to using a laser pointer to achieve camera focus in very bad light.

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Step 1: Set up your camera

The first step in my night-time photography hacks method is to set up your camera for the shot. This will vary depending on the camera model you’re using, but in general, you’ll want to set your camera to manual focus mode. This will allow you to take control of the focus and prevent the camera from continuously searching for focus (sometimes called “hunting”), which can be problematic in very low light conditions.

Step 2: Attach your laser pointer

Next, in order for the night-time photography hacks to work, you need to attach your laser pointer to something, usually your camera, but anything that does’t move will do. You can do this in a few different ways, depending on your camera and laser pointer models. If you have a hot shoe mount on your camera, you can attach the laser pointer using a simple hot shoe adapter. Alternatively, you can use a tripod or other mounting system to secure the laser pointer to your camera. If you can’t attach it to the camera try resting it on something near by or taping it to something. The laser dot needs to stay still on the target but it’s not essential for it to be shining from directly behind the camera.

Step 3: Find your subject

Once you have your camera set up and your laser pointer switched on, you’ll need to find your subject. In very low light conditions, this can be a challenge, so it’s a good idea to have a flashlight/torch or other light source with you to help at this point. You can use a red LED torch or a bit of red cellophane over a white bulb so as not to ruin your night vision.



Dark interiors, like this French chapel, can pose real challenges to auto-focus systems.

Photograph by David Robinson

Step 4: Shine the laser pointer

Now that you’ve found your subject, the next step in my night-time photography hacks checklist is to shine the laser pointer onto it. This will create a point of sharp contrast that the camera can lock onto and focus on. Be sure to shine the laser pointer onto a clear, unobstructed part of your target where you want the focus to be. If focussing on a person or animal always avoid the eyes. I find that asking them to turn around and shinning it on their back is the easy way to stay safe. Once you’ve nailed the focus, they can turn around again.

Step 5: Focus the camera

With the laser pointer shining on your subject, focus onto the laser dot. This should be relatively easy, as the laser dot will be a clear and distinct point of contrast that the camera can easily focus on. If auto-focus won’t work, you can use the manual focus controls instead. If your camera has a back viewing screen this can be used too.

Step 6: Take the shot

It’s time for the last night-time photography hacks step; with your camera now in focus, it’s time to take the shot. Be sure to double-check your exposure settings and other camera parameters to ensure you’re getting the best possible shot. Once you’re ready, switch off the laser, press the shutter button and take the photo. Since the light is low you can use a remote release to trigger the shutter without bumping the camera.

While using a laser pointer to achieve camera focus in very bad light is a simple and effective night-time photography hack, it’s important to remember that lasers can be dangerous if not used correctly. Never shine a laser in the eyes or on another person who isn’t expecting it. In fact, it’s best to avoid shining the laser pointer directly onto your subject when there is an alternative target, as this can cause discomfort or alarm. Instead, try to shine the laser pointer onto an adjacent surface the same distance away as your target. Additionally, check local laws and customs – if you unexpectedly shine a red dot onto a hunter or member of the military their response might not be a pleasant one!

Laser torches, although more expensive than cheap laser pointers, can be focussed tightly as well as used as a red torch.

Photograph by David Robinson

Final Thoughts On These Night-time Photography Hacks

Using a laser pointer to achieve camera focus in very bad light can be a fantastically helpful method that saves a lot of wasted time and effort. By using these night-time photography hacks, you can create a point of contrast for the camera’s focus system and you can quickly and easily achieve sharp and clear focus, even in challenging lighting conditions. However, it’s important to use lasers responsibly and always take precautions to avoid any potential risks.

Be careful where you shine a red laser beam – the consequences might not be pleasant.

Photograph by David Robinson