Night photography is some of the most rewarding and enjoyable shooting you can do. But those long exposures come at a price, requiring patience, timing, and knowledge of your gear. Everybody knows you need a tripod, that you need to shoot on manual settings, and that a self timer or remote control is useful. Instead of talking about the technical side of things, we will dive into a few more overlooked and creative aspects of night photography.
Cartography. Mapmaking? No. Driving around at night in your car can open up all kind of night photography possibilities. Better yet is to use your headlights to illuminate the foreground of the scene. I flashed my headlights for a short period of time during this 30 second exposure in the Virginia countryside. The fields on either side could use a little extra light too, and all it takes would be little quick maneuvering behind the wheel.
Clouds. Pay attention to the weather. If you are shooting in an urban area with lots of lighting, pitch black night skies can present a dynamic range disaster, giving your overblown foregrounds paired with blackened skies. I’ve found that a good cloud cover, usually after a rainstorm, provides the perfect canopy for the city to reflect it’s lights back down, giving you an interesting balance of color and light. Fast moving clouds can also give a pleasing effect to long exposures. In this case, the clouds were moving extremely fast during this 15 second exposure.
Artificial Light. Use it to your advantage. If placed properly, they can illuminate your foreground or your subject in a way that brings whole new dimensions to your photograph. You don’t need to lug strobes with you everywhere, just seek out naturally lit locations. In this 30 second exposure, the beach, plants, and boat in the foreground were lit by floodlights on the sanddunes above.
Go Wide. I can’t think of any kind of lens more suited to night photography than wide angle lenses. Their ability to take in ultrawide views is naturally conducive to shooting at night. Normal zooms and telephotos can do the trick to, but I find myself using an ultrawide more often than not. There are an abundance of affordable choices besides the normal offerings from Canon and Nikon. The shot below was taken with a Canon 10-22mm at 10mm (16mm equivalent), pulling in the stream of cars at the bottom up to the world’s 10th tallest bottom at the top.
Get High. Some of the better views are had from high elevations. I personally enjoy seeking out highly elevated rooftops and setting up shop with my camera. You can’t always gain access to every building, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Those who seek will be rewarding with stunning views and photographic potential. This 4 second exposure below was taken from the rooftop of a 33 story building in Guangzhou, China.
Twilight. One of the best times for night photography is not actually at night, but at twilight instead. This is the time just after the sun has set (or in this case before it has risen) and diffused sunlight creates warm, soft, pleasing colors in the sky. The same principles as night photography apply because you also need long exposures during this time. This shot was taken with a compact Panasonic Lumix camera with an exposure time of 8 seconds. Twilight only last for a few minutes, so jump on it while you can. The plants in the foreground were also illuminated by artificial light.
Next time you go night shooting, keep these ideas in mind and give them a shot. There are plenty of other creative techniques, such as light painting, zooming, and more, which we will save for a future post. Happy night shooting!
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