Urban night photography – Tips to improve your practice

Night photography tips to improve your practice

More tips on night photography? Not again ?!!

… Yes, but not just any night photography, mine! :)
There are indeed many variants to the pratice of night photography, and I rarely found on the Internet advices that applied to my personal work.
To be brief, I systematically photograph in wide angle, with a tripod, without flash, relying only on sources of light available on the spot.
I attach a preponderant importance to framing, I enjoy the urban environment and I like to stage myself in order to add a narrative component in my photographs.

You will find below my advices, sometimes very subjective, resulting from a specific and personal approach to night photography.

Tip n°1 – long exposure

Night photography tip n°1 : long exposure

Long exposure is my best weapon to deal with the lack of light in night photographs.
The intensity of the light sources is greatly increased and allows to accentuate the contrast with the areas that remain in the shadow.
The problem when you like to stage yourself in nocturnal compositions is that you must hold the pose, sometimes for several seconds without moving, so that the character remains sharp in the composition.
The uncomfortable positions are therefore not recommended, at the risk of losing one’s balance like here …

Bottom line : Do not exceed 2 seconds exposure, otherwise it becomes very complicated.

Tip n°2 – Freehand shot

Night photography tip n°1 : Freehand shots

The logistics that comes with night photography (setting up the tripod, adjustments …) can be quite heavy and as the night progresses, fatigue can hinder your creativity.
I trust my eye and instinct to quickly find the right placement and the right angle on a new spot.
Before calibrating the tripod and making numerous and tedious adjustments, I realize very quickly some freehand shots to make sure that the light sources are sufficient and that the location of the lens gives an interesting rendering .
Okay it’s blurry, but without further loss of time, I know there’s something to be done here. Otherwise, I do not persevere and I raise the camp.

Bottom line : Set up your tripod when you are sure it’s worth it!

Tip n°3 – ISO sensitivity and digital noise

Night photography Tip n°3 – ISO sensitivity and digital noise

Night photography is not a challenging practice, as long as you master the basic settings of your camera.
Facing a location with very few light sources, you have some technical leverage actions to achieve a successful photograph: Focal length, exposure time and ISO sensitivity.
Among these 3 settings, there is one I hardly ever touch: the ISO sensitivity!
Modern devices make it possible to climb very high in ISO (it has even become a selling argument), but it is another story when working in long exposure. Digital noise then becomes a real constraint (and it will be even more accentuated during the post-production!)
Personally, I photograph in ISO 200 max, with a focal length to 8. According to the sources of light, I then play on the exposure time.
If I stage myself in scene that involves an exposure time of less than 2 seconds (see Tip # 1), then I allow myself to change the focal length (but watch out for background blur!).

Bottom line : Increase ISO sensitivity only as a last resort !

Tip n°4 : Ugly by day ! Beautiful by night !

Tip n°4 : Ugly by day... beautiful by night

To paraphrase a Jedi master, “You must unlearn what you have learned!
Like me, by night, you have probably already got lost in a neighborhood that you knew like the back of your hand. The night makes us lose all our points of reference !
What was visible in the daytime vanished by night. On the contrary, a location without interrest in the middle of the day take advantage of the light of a lamppost or a neon to be sublimated by night.
With night photography, you have to learn to look differently and embrace this simple truth: at night, with good light, everything becomes more beautiful.
Thanks to the urban lights of the night, a building you pass by everyday without even noticing it, can become intriguing, mysterious, even fascinating.
This is how I became passionate about the Parisian night groceries, real urban oasis of light, once the sun set.

Bottom line : With night photography, rediscover locations you think you know.

Tip n°5 : …

Work in progress…

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