We report the growth and low-temperature photoluminescent characteristics of well-aligned Ni-doped ZnO nanoneedles and V-doped ZnO nanostructured thin film grown by a modified pulsed laser deposition technique. Low-temperature photoluminescence spectra of the as-grown films show the presence of free excitonic as well as bound excitonic transitions, whose relative intensity changes with increasing temperature. Ni-doped ZnO films show a characteristic fine structure in the visible range (2.6-2.9 meV) attributed to either exciton-polariton longitudinal-transverse splitting or the splitting caused by electron-hole exchange interaction. The excitonic and visible region emission can be clearly seen as can the phonon replicas produced from longitudinal optical phonons. Different possible attributions of the various peaks in the emission band at low temperature have been discussed. The as-grown nanostructures of Ni- and V-doped ZnO thin films also clearly show the effect of doping on the microstructure of ZnO. © IOP Publishing Ltd. and Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft.