The weather last week hasn’t been great. A layer of grey, light-robbing clouds has been lying over the city nearly every day. Barely finding time to photograph anyway, this didn’t exactly motivate me to go outside. So what could I do? Well, at night it doesn’t really matter if it’s overcast or not. You get light from so many lanterns, storefronts and cars that it’s actually surprising how bright a city is at night.
Photographing at night is a wonderful thing. The light is so different from the sunlight during the day and you have other people walking around. So last week I grabbed my camera around blue hour and went for an hour-long walk through the city. I’ve been photographing at night before but that was mainly last summer. Over the winter however I kind of forgot how many great opportunities present themselves at night.
One shot I especially liked was this one.
It was a night club that has a window towards the street. I’ve passed it many times without noticing it during the day but with that red light and the reflections in the window, it instantly caught my eye. A situation that would have never crossed me during the day.
Think like a moth
Even an image with nothing besides people just being lit by artificial light looks beautiful. They don’t necessarily have to do something interesting.
An important thing to find opportunities for good images I think, is to always stay close to some source of light – almost like a moth. With a large aperture you’ll find more than enough light for your images to be properly exposed. At night I usually don’t go below f/2 or otherwise you have to raise your ISO too high. A fast prime lens such as a 35mm, f/1.8 isn’t too expensive, so if you’re planning to go out at night more often it might be worth getting one. Another plus you get from a large aperture is the bokeh which looks beautiful when you have lights in the background.
Lately I’ve been drawn to shooting through windows of cafe’s, food joints or small shops during the day. At night this becomes even more beautiful. You’ll get reflections on the windows you’re shooting through, combined with the artificial light from the inside. Many shots taken like this automatically get a cinematic feeling and a certain atmosphere which is hard to get during the day. Windows almost like a soft and subtle filter lying over your image and giving it that extra bit without exaggerating like actual filters these days.
Of course – Silhouettes
I’m a big fan of silhouettes. When done right their outline gives them some character without telling too much about the person. This way they often show enough to tell a story but there’s always some mystery involved.
Shooting at night is a paradise for silhouettes as everything is basically covered in a huge shadow. Just find a bright background and wait for someone to walk by and voilà.
Lastly some tips
I’ve mentioned the camera settings but apart from that another important factor to consider is safety. Depending on where you go, you should be a lot more careful than during the day. Don’t try to obviously sneak up to people as they might feel threatened. Only get close if you have a silent shutter. Often you can’t exactly make out the people your photographing and don’t know how they’re going to react when the notice you.
Also important is to stay aware of your surroundings. Always know who and what’s behind you and what’s coming from the side. While you’re taking an image you’re in a pretty weak and defenceless position. I’ve had someone attempt to steal my camera before, while it was on a tripod and it ultimately broke when I was chasing the guy to get it back. So paying attention to what’s going on around you is a must when outside at night.
But if you use common sense and are a bit more careful than during the day, it’s wonderful to go out and shoot when it’s dark.