The Way I Shoot Nightscapes

So why on earth would anyone choose to take photos when the sun has gone down... You got to be crazy eh!?

The truth is that shooting early evening or at night is a far better experience in my eyes than in the day. And any serious photographer will know technically (although not a written rule) there are only 2 good times to shoot during the day those being just after sunrise or just before sunset as the quality of light is far better then than that of during the day.

So where does this lead us to photographing at night? Again this falls into a choice of two categories, one being during the 'blue hour' this being 30 - 45 minutes before sunrise or after sunset, or one I prefer, shooting when it's actually dark.

Having been photographing nightscape's for some eight years, it's often debatable to what are the correct camera settings.

Firstly let me emphasise that I'm not here to say this is the only correct way to shoot at night, for everyone has their way of photography whether it be architecture, landscape or portraiture, and what works for some may not always work for others, and despite there being millions of photography books published, in most cases nearly everyone follows a guide to start with, and this is my personal guide to night photography.

I believe a few common mistakes are made when photographing at night and these being the following:

1) Setting the ISO too high.

Setting a high ISO only introduces more noise to the noise you are already getting by leaving the shutter open for an extended time, be it anywhere from 10 seconds to minutes. So unless you are photographing the Milky Way, and for that would need to be at around ISO 1600+ along with it being pitch dark, then anything over ISO 100/200 is not good for night photos.

2) Capturing photos to dark.  

I see a lot of photographs that (in my opinion) are shot too dark. Everyone can see a photograph that is shot a night, so emphasising that fact is just bad practice. I for one like detail in the sky and just because it's the night there are still clouds above. OK I realise some nights are completely clear, but having cloud movement whenever possible adds bundles to the overall effect of the photo.

3) under exposing (not quite the same as above)

One thing I notice in a lot of night photographs is that people are worried about blowing out the lights in streets or buildings etc, so whilst the street lights look fine the most important part of the image is too dark. When I look to photograph a subject I look at the most important parts of that particular scene I need to capture, the rest is irrelevant. No one will care if they can't see what's inside the 12th floor room of a building, or if that street lamp is a little over exposed but not blown out, but what matters, or at least to me is that if for example is if I am photographing London's O2 arena then I want to be able to see the all the detail on the roof as this is far more important than making sure that lights on the poles are correctly exposed.

Lastly when I'm out photographing a location, I'll compose my shot possibly the same way a landscape photographer does, the only difference being that it's buildings. I will also often return to the same locations at a later dates. (see other blog why-i-re-shoot-the-same-locations)

So this is my way of night photography, it may not be the same for everyone, but hopefully for those who have never tried it, this will help.