The Magic of Night Photography

July 6, 2018

Shooting images when the sun has gone below the horizon and the city lights or the Milky Way begin to appear can be both magical and challenging. The magic happens when the familiar daytime colors and bright vistas are replaced by deep, mysterious shadows, faintly illuminated by the fading sun, streetlights, neon, or even by the full moon. The challenges arise when the medium of photography, light, becomes scarce. Luckily, modern photographic equipment is more than capable of producing superb images of scenes under these conditions.

So, what kind of scenes are suitable subjects for night photography? Cities can be beautiful at night, and a long panorama of an illuminated skyline is simple to produce with a solid tripod.

An elevated view allows a sweeping vista of glowing streets and buildings fading into the horizon.

Faster lenses, higher shutter speeds, and higher ISO’s are needed when shooting street scenes with moving people at night. Noise isn’t much of an issue any more, and is pretty much accepted in street photography.

Other common night subjects include the Milky Way, fireworks, and light painting.

Night photography does not demand exotic equipment or expertise.

Shooting in very low light will require either longer exposures to enable your sensor to slowly gather light, faster lenses to transmit more light, higher ISO settings to amplify the light signal, or some combination of all of these. A sturdy tripod can extend exposure times to minutes when necessary. Vibration stabilization in lenses and/or bodies will permit hand-held images at surprisingly low shutter speeds. Fast lenses, usually combined with increased ISO settings, can enable higher shutter speeds to freeze motion in poorly lighted areas. Additional equipment, which will benefit the night photographer, includes remote triggers [either wired, wireless, or an app], a low-power, preferably red flashlight, and extra camera batteries. A camera with Live View or an EVF is invaluable in determining precise, manual focus in dim light.

Night photography can be enormously rewarding, even addicting. It can also be a little intimidating, especially when anticipating shooting alone at night in an urban environment. The best way to familiarize yourself with it is to participate in a Photowalk, where procedures and techniques are explained and demonstrated in the safety of a group.