Owning the night

“Night is certainly more novel and less profane than day.” – Henry David Thoreau

My wife and I were driving home on evening after dropping our son off at a Boy Scout troop meeting. We needed a few grocery items so we stopped at a supermarket on the way home. We’ve passed by it many times during the day and never thought anything of it visually. It was in a normally drab, non-descript strip mall-like shopping center as many stores are. But at night the entire place took on a whole new look.

The dull brown exterior grew to a deeper, richer color highlighted by the warm glow of parking lot lights. The store and surrounding businesses looked livelier because of their interior lights shining through their windows and glass doors. Gone was the general dinginess and replaced by a scene that looked more of an exciting place to be. Such is the power of night photography and it brings us to our next Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Night.

In general the dirt and grime of urban scenes tend to disappear in the shadows during nightfall. Things tend to look fresher. Even air pollution appears less.

There are a couple of either/or situations to consider when shooting night scenes. The first is shoot during “blue hour” or not. The blue hour is the period of time just after sunset when the sky turns a deep indigo blue. Many night shooters live for this time because it can add that rich color to your photos. It can imbue that color to everything in the photo. When there are other points of light such as street lamps it can contrast against the warmer tones of the artificial illumination. Lastly it also can help to delineate something that is darkly silhouetted against that blue. On the other hand some people prefer the inky blackness of later in the night. True you won’t get the color or the detail of the “blue hour” but the deep darkness can add an aura of mystery to the photos.

The second either/or consideration is whether to use a tripod or not. Going without a tripod usually means employing a higher ISO (the camera’s light sensitivity) so that you can use a faster shutter speed to reduce the incidence of burry pictures due to camera shake. The trade off is that with the higher ISOs comes increased noise in your pictures. With a tripod you can use slower shutter speeds that come with the lower ISOs in dim light. But tripods tend to be bulky and you lose the ability move around quickly and the spontaneity that it brings. Going with or without a tripod is up to the individual photographer but you have to be aware of the pros and cons of each technique.

A long timed-exposure to used photograph a starry sky breaks the either/or rule on tripods: you’ll absolutely need one. Exposures can go from 30 seconds to several minutes there is no way that anyone can keep from moving the camera no matter how practiced one is at holding it still. Also you’ll need to get as far away from urban areas as possible. The light pollution from even small towns can overpower the faint twinkling of the stars and ruin your photo.

In urban areas the artificial light plays a much more important role. You can use it as your primary light source to illuminate your photos. If there are low clouds they can pick up an orangey glow from the streetlights below. Different light sources have what’s called different color temperatures. It means that the various types of artificial light will have different colors. Incandescent light blubs will tend to have a yellow/orange glow; fluorescent are, in general, green; LEDs have a bluish tint. Knowing the color temperature of the lights can either help you correct for it or used the color to your advantage.

I don’t recommend using a flash to anyone who is not skilled at using one. Light from a on-camera or built-in flash unit can be harsh and unflattering especially in portraits at night. It can also cause the dreaded red-eye effect. Advanced amateurs and pros might know how to combine a flash with a night exposure but it tends to beyond capability of the casual picture-taker.

A few safety concerns: First, despite the unseasonably warm and dry weather we’ve had lately, it can get still a bit chilly at night so be sure to dress appropriately. Second if you’re shooting near traffic make sure you’re visible to drivers by wearing bright colored or even reflective clothing. Lastly nighttime can bring out some unsavory elements of society in any neighborhood. It’s best to go with a friend or two. There’s safety in numbers. Be aware of your surroundings. If as place or situation seems a bit sketchy then pack up and find a safer area, preferably one with a lot of foot traffic.

_____________________________________

Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to coto@recordnet.com. Type in “Night” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between Feb. 17 and Mar. 2.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken and what’s it of (ie: “The Hotel Stockton on Weber Avenue in downtown Stockton.”)

4. If there is a recognizable person in the photo, please identify them (name, age, hometown)

5. The subject is up to you but it must be shot outdoors at night, any time after sunset to before sunrise. It can be a found situation or a created one.

6. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

7. The deadline for submission is Sunday, March 2. The top examples will be published on Monday, March 10 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

Have fun and good shooting!

This entry was posted in Column, Night, Readers Photo Challenge and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Blog Author

    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
  • Categories

  • Archives