Night Photography Tips - Volume I



East 2nd Street, Duluth, Minnesota, January 2011

Wintertime in the Northland. The time of year when the sun goes down at 5:00pm, and doesn’t show itself again until 7:00am. The perfect season for Night Photography!

Recently I acquired a Mamiya RB67 to replace my Yashica Mat 124G as my main night photography camera. Combine the fun of new hardware with the frequent encouragements on Twitter by Andrew Sanderson to get out and use it for night shooting, and what has resulted is a lot of enthusiasm to get out and shoot at night.

With night photography at the top of my mind, I thought I’d share a few practical tips I’ve learned over the years while shooting photos at night.

Mornings are dark too.

In the past when I’d hear the term Night Photography, I’d instinctively associate it with the hours right after the sun sets. I’d stay up late drinking caffeine to help force myself to stay awake so I could head out and shoot for a few hours starting at midnight.

These days, I find that about two hours leading up to dawn to be most preferable for night photography. Now I can get a decent amount of rest before heading out, along with a few other perks.

  1. The bars are closed. Less worries about encountering a drunk college kid who may feel the need to pick a fight to impress his popped-collar buddies. Less worries about people leaving the bar who really shouldn’t be driving crashing into me.
  2. Most people are asleep. Sleeping people are less likely to come outside and question what I’m doing. Most people who are up seem to either be on their way to work, or a morning jogger.
  3. Less traffic. Headlight streaks are a fun trick to teach to Photo I students. For my needs, I’d rather not have them. If fresh snow has fallen, it is also less likely to be trampled down at this hour.
  4. There is something magic in the air. The morning and dawn hours just feel less evil. People seem to be nicer at this hour.

Prepare your equipment in advance.

Get every piece of gear you’ll need together and in one place the night before. Then check the weather and get every piece of clothing you’ll need laid out as well. I find it easy enough to waste twenty minutes because I’m unable to crawl out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off. There is no need to waste even more time because I can’t find my cable release or my Incredible Hulk pajama pants that I use for layering.

Bring multiple cable releases.

Bring them if you have them. I’ve had moments in the past where I’ve framed up a shot, and then realized that my cable release has disappeared. For certain cameras this is a game over scenario.

Stay away from cab depots.

Cabs Galore!

This morning I went for a night photography session and kept having cabs buzzing around me like gnats. Not being a fan of headlight streaks in my photos, this was starting to get irritating. Why did so many people on this block need a cab at five in the morning? The answer—a launching point for a cab company was a block down the road.

I went to take a photo of some of the parked cabs which were being unused. About ten seconds into the exposure three cabs pulled in and the dispatchers started coming out to talk to the cab drivers. Too much action for me, so I bailed out before being spotted.

Buy a fedora

What? Buy a fedora?

Now that I think about it, a Stetson hat will work as well. Actually, and kind of hat. Fedora is probably a terrible choice. Pick which ever one matches your outfit better.

Now why would you need a fedora for night photography? Simple. The big hat serves the purpose of giving you something which can quickly be used to stop and resume the exposure without disturbing the camera in case a car comes rolling through the scene. Hold it in front of the lens until the car passes.

I don’t actually do this, but every single time I go out and shoot I think about how I wish I had one for this purpose. I find my gloved hand is usually adequate.

There you have my first set of practical night photography tips. I’m sure I’ll have more in the near future as I make more boneheaded mistakes during my night photography adventures.

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Category Gear & Technique  | Tags: Night Photography