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Weekend assignment June 16, 2006: Available light night photography

Capturing light is the essence of photography. So what do you do when the sun goes down? Fortunately, light is ever present, be it the sun, moon, stars, a single flashlight under the covers, or the glow of a city at night bustling with activity. Making photographs at night is a strange and wonderful thing.

For this assignment, try taking some photographs at night using whatever light is available (that is, no flash or other photographer supplied lighting). You’ll find that the darker the scene, the longer your shutter speeds become. Shutter speeds can be many minutes long when it is very dark out but they’ll typically be in the 1/4s to 30s range. To prevent camera shake from ruining your shots, you’ll want to keep the camera as still as possible using a tripod or something similar. Increasing your ISO setting will give you faster shutter speeds but will also increase the digital noise visible in your photo.

Santa Monica at Night. 15s @ f/13
Santa Monica at Night. 15s @ f/13
A narrow aperture (for increased depth of field), ISO 200, and
relative darkness combine to make a 15 second exposure.

There are as many photographic opportunities at night as there in the daylight. Indoors or outdoors, night photography is as much about showcasing the light itself as anything else. Make the visible light one of the subjects of your image. Night photographs should appear somewhat low-key. Overexposing can overpower the subtlety and mood that light can bring to a scene.

Candles. 2s @ f/16
Candles. 2s @ f/16

Long exposures also lend themselves to unusual special effects. Vehicle lights, water, smoke and other moving objects create ghostly impressions and trails that can be quite beautiful.

Super Slab. 15s @ f/14
Super Slab. 15s @ f/14

Please contribute your shots to the Photodoto discussion group. We’d love to read about any successes or problems you had completing this assignment. The Photodoto community is a friendly group always willing to help out a fellow photographer. Be safe and have a happy weekend.

John Watson

John is the original founder of Photodoto, but after running it for 4 years he had to focus on different things. If you’re interested in what John has been up to recently, you can check is personal blog or browse his photo blog.

  • Jason

    I have never taken night shots yet, I have a D300 and I am excited to see what it can do for a night shot! Anyone here shoot night photography using a D300?

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