Photo by David Pritchard
Whether it's a line of lampposts on a dark street, light glowing from the windows on the front of your house, a night sky bursting with stars or a panoramic cityscape showing the twinkling lights from the homes, shops and streets that fill the city, there's something for every photographer, no matter where you live, to photograph at night.
Your most important piece of kit if you're heading out at night is a tripod as it's impossible to work hand-held when you're dealing with very long exposures. If you have one, pack your remote release to help minimise shake or make use of the camera's self-timer if you don't. Your standard lens will do just nicely but take a telephoto along to get you close to lights on top of buildings and illuminated signs. Pack a torch, wear suitable clothing and take a watch along for timing when using the B setting.
Have fun experimenting with Bulb as you'll be able to produce some interesting and creative results.
It doesn't have to be totally dark for you to have a try at night photography. Late dusk, when there's still a little light left in the sky, will give you scenes with less contrast as the light that's still in the sky will illuminate areas not lit by artificial lights. If you do want to head out when most people are tucked up in bed take someone else with you for safety and they can keep you entertained while your long exposure ticks along. If you're not very patient you could, of course, use a higher ISO however, sticking to ISO100 or 200 will give you better quality images.
Photo by Joshua Waller
How long your exposure is will depend on what you're photographing. If the light, such as street lamps, is your focus you'll have a much shorter exposure than if you were photographing an illuminated building when you're photographing light that's reflected. If you have both types of light in one scene go for the longer exposure as if you don't, the only detail will be the lights, you won't see a building. This does mean you'll get flare from the street lights, but this isn't necessarily a bad.
Overexposed street lamps, particularly if it's a damp night, can look really good.
You may get a few metering problems as areas of darkness which are occasionally illuminated by bright lights can confuse your camera. If you find your scenes too dark or the lights have washed the scene out use the compensation setting to adjust the exposure and try again. Don't meter from a dark area either as this will just cause lights to be overexposed.
Keep an eye on your white balance as different lights can have different colour casts. Shop windows will be fluorescent while street lamps and buildings lit by flood lights are often tungsten which give a yellowish cast to images. But you may find the colour cast adds to your image anyway.
Photo by David Pritchard
Other techniques to try at night include:
- Light trails of moving traffic
- Light painting
- Star trails
- Fairgrounds at night – use a slow shutter speed to create pictures a wash of vivid colours.
- Cityscapes taken from an elevated point to give you a sweeping shot of twinkling lights.
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