How To Do Night Photography

by William Lulow

Making photographs at night would seem to be a contradiction in terms, but since there is quite a bit of light in the city at night, it is easier than it sounds. The first thing you need is someplace to secure your camera so that it doesn’t move. A tripod works really well for this. You can also use a sandbag or a small clamp that will support the camera. You can also use a higher ISO speed in order to use faster shutter speeds. Sometimes this is not acceptable if you intend to make big prints, but it just might suffice if you just need web quality shots. The other piece of equipment I like to use is a spotmeter. I can get a reflected reading from the brightest highlight in the scene and usually come up with exposures that are right on the money. It’s almost impossible to rely on the camera’s built in metering system for night images. The camera will always try to give you an overall, acceptable exposure that will reveal as much detail as possible.

But, when you’re doing photographs at night, you want the exposures to be correct for the lights. You don’t want them overexposed and you don’t necessarily want to see all the details of the surroundings. You want the sky to be black as well as the parts of the image that are not lit. The best way to do this is to take your camera off AUTO, take a meter reading from the reflected lights and set your exposure accordingly.

This image of the city at night was made from a rooftop where I was able to find a suitable ledge to place the camera for stability. It was made at ISO 1600, f/2.8 at 1/13th of a second. Note how the windows are clearly defined and not overexposed. Also note that the street lights in the foreground are revealing the detail, not blown out.