Night Landscape Photography
If you can consistently show your audience something they’ve seen a million times, but make them see it in a new way, you’ll have your audience for life. But how do you show someone a new POV? One way is through Night Landscape Photography.
Why night landscapes? you may ask. Oh, you didn’t ask? Well, you should have. Shame on you! Go ahead and ask.
What is something people see everyday? No, not that. Guess again. Right! Landscapes. Everywhere you go, at least if you’re on land, you’ll see landscapes. So if you want to shoot something people have seen a million times there you go. Now the challenge is to reveal something new about it.
Sure you could just slap a lensbaby on your image box (that’s cool guy talk for “camera”). You could also cough up a loogie and just spit on the lens. How about slapping a $2000 8mm wide angle in front of your sensor cage (even cooler guy talk for “camera”). Sure, why not?
I’ll tell you why not! Because soaking your camera with mucus or making something look like you’re staring at it through a peep hole doesn’t reveal anything new about it.
You could add some props or models and imply something more than meets the eye is going on. I’m down with that. In fact, that’s my mode of choice. But this is a post about night landscape photography so stop trying to make me change the subject!
This image is available light, two and a half seconds worth of the stuff (f/6.3 at 200 iso). It was shot on the UCLA campus. Once darkness wrapped its oily fingers around my head (cool guy talk for it getting dark) I probably fired off close to 20 images before the sky got so dark I couldn’t pull any light worth keeping to separate the tree from the sky. Of the 20 this was my favorite. There is a lot of planned luck involved in getting a keeper with night shooting. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First: find a location that has some man made lighting at night. Oh, you’ve already guessed that one? Well, if you can also find a place where the light at night transforms the landscape into an unearthly place, then the job is practically done for you.
What to look for?
Light bending. Foggy nights help splatter the light and create a menacing glow.
Light from below. The landscape we see all day long tends to be lit from the sun above. Finding a spot at night lit from the ground up can change an object from ordinary to sham-wow in no time flat.
Up or down, it doesn’t really matter. You just need light. And you don’t need a lot of light, either. It’s going to be a long exposure anyway. So don’t worry about the brightness of the light as much as the quality of light.
Daylight tends to cast crisp edges on landscapes. Night gives you the chance to expose the softer side of nature if the light is right. But don’t run from the shadows.
Night shadows can reach deep into your psyche and transform an innocent golf course into a playground of unrelenting horror (if that’s what you’re going for). Just lock down that tripod nice and tight and wear your plastic undies.
Don’t forget about composition and the other daytime niceties that help make a photo look good. They still work at night. Just remember you’re really trying to capture a mood here.
Exposure. Be prepared to try several different exposures to balance the light. Also, if you’re going for the deep blue of an early evening instead of the total blackness of night your light is going to be changing constantly, so get to your location early and find the compostion you want. Once it starts getting dark enough that the man-made lights pop on, lock down the exposure for those lights. Hopefully at this point the sky will be too bright. Now as the sky gets darker you just keep taking the picture. The man-made lights will stay the same while the evening sky shifts into cerulean. You can pick the best balanced shot later.
You’ll only get one of those kind of shots a night. But there’s no need to run home (unless you have to let the dog out). There are plenty of interesting shots to be had with just a gray or even black sky. Oh, you want examples? Check out the great night landscape work by Amanda Friedman (click on “night landscapes” about half way down).
If that doesn’t at least get you thinking about giving it a shot, I don’t know what will. Now get out there with your tripod and your sensor cage and find something new at night in the ordinary things you see every day.