Do you leave after sunset and miss the fun of night photography?

Do you pack up and leave after sunset and miss the fun of night photography?

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There’s no question that the best light occurs during the golden hours, but does that mean that you should pack up your cameras after sunset and miss all the fun of night photography?

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Absolutely not!

Fun of Night Photography

Night photography offers so many great opportunities for photographers that it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact – I think it should be experienced by everyone.

Of course photographing at night means that you’re going to be pushing your gear to its limits. High ISOs, long shutter speeds, fast lenses, tripods, remote shutters, and patience are a must when it comes to photographing after the sun has set, but the results will be worth it.

So what is there to capture at night, and more importantly how do you go about capturing each of these subjects?

City Lights

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Cities are great places to take photos any time of the day, but at night, cities come to life. Just think of Times Square in NYC or the Vegas Strip for example. Of course, not everyone’s going to have access to such iconic locations, but that doesn’t mean that your local city won’t offer you the goods.

When photographing a city you have so many options open to you; from skylines, to the simple every day things that make cities run. Things like the traffic, the people, and the objects they use to get around are a great start. This photograph of a bike, chained to a parking meter, in front of a church lit up for the night, is a great example of what can be found walking the city streets.

For more tips and examples on photographing cities at night check out these great posts:

The Night Sky

When it comes to capturing the night sky there are two basic ways that you can go about doing this. You can either show the vastness of space and showcase the number of stars in the sky, or you can capture the motion of the Earth’s rotation by creating star trails.

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Night photography showing vast open sky and stars

The basic concepts for capturing both types of night sky photos are the same. You’ll need a tripod, a wide angle lens, and you’re going to be working with a large aperture in most cases.

When it comes to the shutter speed and ISO that is where things start to differ between the two types of shots. As the Earth’s rotation is what causes star trails to form, you have to limit your shutter speed in order to capture a single frame shot before this rotation creates the trailing effect.

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Night photography capturing star trails over a long period of time

A general guideline for this is known as the 600 rule which basically states that the longest shutter speed you can use is determined by dividing 600 by your focal length corrected for 35mm. So if you’re using an 18mm lens on a 1.5x crop sensor DSLR you’d take 600 divided by 27 (18mm x 1.5 crop factor) which would mean that the longest shutter speed you can use would be about 22 seconds. To control this you’re going to need to set a rather high ISO. However, with modern DSLR cameras being as good as they are with noise these days, this is becoming less and less of an issue.

However, if you DO want to capture the star trail effect, then the object is to capture the motion that you were trying to avoid before. Often times star trail photographs are created by stacking multiple long exposures of the same scene over a long period of time. Since shutter speed is not going to be an issue here it’s much easier to use longer speeds which will result in less frames in the end. You’ll also be able to use lower ISO and smaller apertures here if you prefer.

Here are some more great posts to send you in the right direction for taking better photos of the night sky

Light Trails

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Light trails are a lot of fun to photograph and can be done just about anywhere you can find a busy road.

In general any shutter speed from one second, to a few seconds, should be enough to give you the look you’re after. But it doesn’t just come down to finding a road with traffic and photographing it – make sure you’re aware of your composition as well.

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As roads make for great leading lines, try to use those to your advantage. You can either shoot from above the traffic on a bridge or a building, or your can try and get down low and shoot from a median or side walk. No matter where you’re shooting from you’re going to want to be super aware of your surroundings and never do anything that would put your life in danger – no photograph is worth getting hit by a bus over.

For more tips and examples on light trails check out these posts:

What else?

What else can you think of for night photography? I know I left at least one big one off this list and I did that on purpose as I have no experience in light painting – oops did I just give one away?

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John Davenport is the creator of PhoGro an online community that aims to help you grow your photography through engagement with other photographers. Join today! John also offers a free email course 6 Weeks to Better Photos. This course covers the most important techniques you need to learn when getting started with photography.