by Jonathan Smith
photos © Jonathan Smith, courtesy of the photographer
Photography is not just for when the sun is out. Step into the dark and discover a whole different world of picture-taking with these tips.
Photographing water at night can be a lot of fun; the reflections you get can be really amazing. To find a good spot near a lake, river or even the coast for taking beautiful photographs, look for areas with lights that are reflected in the water. They will bring your pictures to life with color.
You camera might suggest a high ISO (film or image sensor speed) when shooting at night. My recommendation is to avoid using high ISOs because the pictures can appear very grainy in dark situations or have a “digital” look. My advice is to keep the ISO low; I like to shoot at ISO 160 or lower when I can. This way the image will be clear and sharp. Lowering the ISO will mean that your exposure time will increase, but this really shouldn’t be a problem as you will have your camera set up on a tripod (right?). What’s a few more seconds! (but see next tip)
Avoiding Light Streaks
Light can be “painted” during a long exposure; car or train lights become bright red streaks as they cross the frame. But at the same time it can be frustrating when light streaks like this get in the way and ruin your shot. If you have a DSLR or other camera where you can control your shutter speed and can leave the shutter open, then a simple and easy way to avoid light streaks during a long exposure is to cover your lens when a vehicle is about to pass the frame. I like to just use my hand and not touch the lens to avoid any movement. Count in the seconds that you are blocking the frame, then add those to the exposure at the end to make up for the lost time.
Consider how you frame your night photographs. The focus or area of attention of the picture will have to come from an area where there’s light (so the viewer can see it!). One way to add interest is to frame the lit area with something dark, such as a window frame or through trees. Those framing devices can sometimes reflect the light and create a dynamic shot.
Sometimes the shot you want might be in a really dark space and it’s hard to focus your camera. One way to avoid this problem is to bring a small flashlight and point it at the subject you want to be sharp. This way you can focus your camera without any trouble.
One interesting way to photograph things at night is from behind. Signs, buildings, or statues can often give you a nice silhouette. When something is shot from behind like this you can frequently get a nice soft light that comes through or around the shape of the building or object.
To give your photography a different edge and feeling, try shooting at night. It’s a unique perspective!
About the Author
Jonathan Smith is a British photographer who lives in New York and is represented by Rick Wester Fine Art. He attended the International Center of Photography in 2000 and completed his studies in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism. In 2004 Jonathan was awarded the second “Design Trust Photo Urbanism” project fellowship. He produced “The Bridge Project,” a photographic study of New York City bridges throughout the five boroughs. He is recognized as a “PDN 30″ winner and was a recipient of the Magenta Foundation’s “Flash Forward” award. He was also a winner of Blurb’s “Photography Book Now” competition. Most recently he was nominated for The Santa Fe Prize for Photography and is a PDN Annual winner. For more information, go to: www.jonathansmithphotography.com.