Night Photography

Departure

an image from the earthrise gallery 

There’s something about photographing at night that gets into the psyche and loosens the imagination. It’s one big creative playground where everyday sights become something that little bit “darker”, an alternative vision. Open spaces can feel enclosed, built up areas lose their boundaries, and busy streets become silent. Taking images can be pretty straight-forward, nearly all the same subjects are available to you and you don’t need any extra equipment. Don’t expect results to be predictable, but that’s the fun!


Good subjects for night photography can be striking architecture, moonlit landscapes, and car light trails. Industrial estates become alien and abandoned places surreal and atmospheric. Portraits gain a new dimension, and reflections emphasise. All round the dark increases the subjects emotional impact.

The eye sees differently in low light, the rod cells in your retina take over most of the work of vision, and you begin to see the world in white, grey, and black. Your camera on the other hand will continue to capture the colour given a long enough exposure.

Exposure is the key to a good night shot and experimenting with different shutter speeds to see what effects can be created is the easiest thing to try. For speeds longer than 1/25s, unless you’re looking for that hand-held look, you will need to support the camera in some way, so a tripod is useful. On digital cameras the LCD on the back is great for getting instant feedback but tends to be brighter than the actual image, so take the scene at more than one exposure. If in doubt, expose less. You always can lighten the shadows, but once a highlight is blown out to white there is no comeback. Over exposing will turn the image like a noisy underexposed daylight image. To get an even tonal range try balancing the light sources in the frame, if you have light hotspots recompose the image so they are behind other objects.

Digital cameras have a hard time with extremes of light and dark and film can be unpredictable, and though you can take images with any camera, the more you can override the automatic settings the more opportunities will open up. For example, if the camera is struggling adjusting the ISO setting will help at the expense of noisier images. The camera’s autofocus may not work properly in low-light conditions, so you may have to focus manually. It may actually be difficult seeing the image to take through the view finder, so keep a torch handy to help.

And Finally…

You don’t have to record the subject realistically, capture the dark!

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~ by Alan Humphris on October 30, 2009.

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