How to photograph at night

How to photograph at night

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 29/03/12

When the night has come and the land is dark, wrap up warm, grab your camera and head out – the witching hour is the perfect time to experiment. Professional photographers share their tips for shooting in low light…

Get steady 

Remember that the light changes throughout the night, so you can decide when to go out according to the effect you’re after. “Get a bit of colour, contrast and mood in your images by shooting just after sunset or around that time,” says Andrew Gilpin, who teaches night photography with The Culture Club Photography Workshops. But whether you’re out at dusk, dawn or anything in between, you must ensure your camera is steady. “In a lower light the camera uses a slower shutter speed, which increases the chance of shake,” says Andrew. “To get a sharp image you have to support the camera, but,” he adds, “it doesn’t have to be a big expensive tripod [that you use], it can be a GorillaPod or just leaning your camera on something.”

 

Hang out with the stars 

Babak Tafreshi, award-winning photographer and founder of The World at Night, an organisation dedicated to astrophotography, recommends you swot up on astronomy and stargazing beforehand. Ultimately though, “You need to be out for starry adventures,” says Babak. “The secret in nightscape photography is being in the right place, at the right time.” While he encourages experimentation, Babak advises against making composite images of the night sky. “The challenge of nightscape photography is to capture the beauty of the earth and sky, avoiding montage or altering the natural view and colors,” he says.

 

Shooting in the moonlight

“Go out shooting under a full moon and you’ll see the world in a totally new light,” writes photographer Alex Bamford in the book 52 Photographic Projects, edited by Kevin Meredith. “You can shoot two to three days either side of the full moon, depending on the amount of cloud. As a rule of thumb, if you can see the shadow cast by the moon, it's bright enough to take a picture.” According to Alex, the finest moonlit images can be found in a rural setting. “For the moonlight to really have an effect on the scene, you'll need to be away from the urban sprawl,” he writes. But try to bring a friend along: “As much fun as it is to sit by yourself in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, it’s safer not to be alone.”

 

Learn to paint with light

You can create cool effects by using a flash with another light source, such as a torch or LED bike lights. This technique is known as light painting. Kit Oates and Mike Massaro of photography company Double Negative, run light painting workshops from their studio. “Use a low ISO – 100 or 200 is good – so you get a better quality image and can make a longer exposure more easily,” says Mike. “The exposure can be over a number of seconds, so you can draw something with the light sources and then use the flash right at the end to freeze the image.” For added impact, cover your light source with different coloured gels.

Kit recommends using an exposure of around 10 seconds. “It’s a good amount of time to be able to play and draw something without feeling like you’re rushing.” But this can be even longer, if you’re keen to highlight an interesting background. Mike again: “People like to do light painting in nature spots so you can see the sky or stars, in which case you might have an exposure of 10 minutes.”

 

Image: Cage fight © Alex Bamford

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