Nighttime photography can be an exhilarating and adventurous experience. The contrast of dark shadows and bright lights create new challenges and dynamic outcomes. The photos are often evocative and create a sense of mystery and intrigue that come with the night.
The Spoon and Cherry were featured on photopigs last week to illustrate the rule of thirds. Here, it’s obvious that the photo takes on a new life during the night. The contrast was cranked in Adobe Lightroom to make a distinct separation from the lights and shadows. The highlights were lowered to bring out extra details on the Basilica that were otherwise washed-out, and shadows were lifted slightly to keep the shot visible.
With nighttime photos, new challenges present themselves. Lit areas may wash out easily, while detail is blanketed in the blacks, though that effect is sometimes desired for a silhouette. In this photo, the blacks were turned up to retain the texture on the ground. With a fifteen-second shutter speed, the lights in the photo pop out and create a twinkly effect. Contrast was lifted slightly and colors are deepened. The subject isn’t entirely clear, though environmental context is strongly present and the lit walkway leads the eye to the horizon– where the Basilica and the skyline cascade across the bottom-third crash points.
Retaining the silhouette effect is illustrated here. Rather than turning the blacks up and showing the details of the tree branches, the tree serves to frame the Basilica pushed to the side of the photo. Again, contrast was turned up to deepen the blacks and make a firm distinction from the lit areas. Highlights were turned down to preserve the sharper details on the Basilica. Many colors are at play, which is less distracting and busy in a darker photo like this.
Nighttime traffic is a keystone example of long-exposure night photography. With a five second shutter speed, the traffic on the freeway below is a stark blur– lacking in distracting details. If we tried an aperture of f/22 and a shutter speed of 15, the vehicles on the right side of the photo would also blur more significantly. A handful of colors are at play in this photograph, as well. Besides the light/dark contrast, a cool/warm contrast creates a dynamic photo of conflicting light, clearly well-defined from each other.
Skyline photos also represent fundamental examples of nighttime photography. While the environmental context (including blurred traffic, holiday lights, and a well-lit bridge) help to ground the photograph, the bright golden light at the bottom left is distracting and obnoxious. Much of the outer context was already cropped from this photo to fill the frame, and the contrast was magnified immensely. Even with an ISO as low as 400, some noise is still visible. ISO is ideally lowered to 100-200, leaving the exposure to be risen with aperture or shutter speed.
Holiday lights offer a festive, bright, and varied photograph at night. Captured late in twilight, this shot retains some of the ambient light in the sky. This effect offers a milder nighttime photograph without the sharp contrasts of full darkness. The moments right before the sunrise and right after the sunset casts a mellow glow over the picture, retaining many of the details that are sacrificed during the night.
When is your favorite time to shoot? Do you prefer bright and vivid daytime photographs, contrasted and crisp nighttime photographs, or vivid shots during twilight?