Shooting outdoors at night scares a lot of people, or they simply don’t enjoy it. They’re worried that their gear can’t stand up to the job or that their abilities can’t. When the sun goes down, their kit goes away. The day’s over, what’s the point? It’s dark, it’s miserable, and you have to ramp up your ISO to ungodly levels, and the “rules” seem to go out the window.
Surprisingly, one such person was Peter McKinnon. But, as all of us must do if we hope to push ourselves, Peter stepped out of his comfort zone. He went out to force himself to shoot photos at night. In this video, he talks about his experiences and offers some great tips for those wishing to try it for themselves.
Peter goes into quite a lot in this eleven and a half minute video. He talks about the differences between shooting during the day or at night, most importantly the light. Not just the lack of light, but making the most of what little light there is available at night. Even though it’s dark, there are all kinds of lights you can get at night, including shop windows, neon signs, traffic lights and even car headlights.
This post isn’t going to go into every detail Peter mentions, but some of the highlights. First up, gear. This isn’t essential, but it will definitely help to make your life easier.
- A tripod – Peter uses the Gitzo Series 1 carbon travel tripod. I really like the Manfrotto Element Carbon for this type of thing. But, cheaper is available, and it doesn’t have to be a tripod. Use anything you can to stabilise your tripod. If that means just sitting it on a wall, go for it.
- Remote trigger – These help to eliminate any risk of introducing camera movement by hitting the shutter on the camera itself. They’re handy for timelapse, too, but that’s not all they’re good for. I use the Yongnuo MC-36R, this gives me the option to go wireless to really eliminate the risk, but also has wired capability as a backup.
It’s a pretty short list. Aside from this, a fast-ish lens is definitely going to help, at least if you’re going handheld. Your f/4-5.6 kit zoom can be useful on a tripod for long exposures, but for handheld, you’ll want those extra 3-4 stops from an f/1.8 or f/1.4 prime. Even f/2.8 zoom lenses will give you a good 1-2 stops over your kit lens, and it’ll help to separate your subject from the environment.
Peter goes into some depth on popular nighttime techniques. He also breaks them down into simple explanations so you can really understand how and why the technique works. One common one is long exposures with light trails. This is where a tripod or other form of solid stabilisation becomes essential.
But blurring the traffic isn’t the only reason for long exposures. It can do fantastic things for city skylines or other buildings reflecting in water, too.
But you don’t just have to stick to cityscapes. You can use the nigh lights to photograph people, too. The trick here is to avoid the obvious. Stay away from overhead street lights. They’re not flatting and create very long shadows with dark black eye sockets. Instead, look for big soft light sources. Shop windows with lit displays, overhead lights, or even neon signs. The night time can also offer sights that you’d never see in the day, too, like vibrant reflections.
You might’ve recognised Matti from TravelFeels in the photo above. Yup, the pair of them went out together, and Matti also posted a video covering some tips for filming at night, too. Some of the techniques Matti mentions in his video also apply to stills photography, too, especially when it comes to looking for light.
Personally, I love shooting at night, especially for street photography. But it gets so cold and wet here that it’s not always fun. But if you wrap up warm, and plan a stop at a nice cafe or coffee shop while you’re out, it’s not so bad. And when you’re getting good images that you’re happy with, it’s totally worth it.
So, what are you doing tonight?