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May 2020

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Morning Flight

It was morning, and the new sun glimmers across the sand of the desert floor.  “Clear!” beams Suzie, as she pokes her head out the twin engine’s open window.  Flashing a mischievous smile at me she asks, “Are you ready?”  “Of course,” I respond, thinking nothing of her facial expression.

Like several times before, the plane’s engines rev causing a slight vibration on the floor board as we slowly roll toward runway one at Santa Teresa’s Municipal Airport.  The buzz I feel in my feet and legs always has a calming pre-flight effect on me, though little did I know this take-off would be different.  After negotiating the slight curve onto the main runway, I vaguely hear Suzie’s voice through the headset,  “Mark, it’s your turn to take off and fly.”  As the words quickly register in my brain, no doubt my eyes widely pop open and my heart thumps as if it will burst from my chest.  No thoughts race through my head except, “Good Lord, please let my fly today!”  There is no time to second guess her decision or my ability; or lack of ability, as I’ve only ever been a passenger during these flights.  Keeping outwardly calm, yet tightening every muscle in my body, I intently listen to Suzie’s instructions.

I reach for, and pull the throttle with a slight tremble, causing the plane to move faster.  Reaching a speed of 60 mph, I steadily draw the steering column towards me as far as it will extend, and with this movement, the plane gradually sails upward into the morning’s blue sky.  “Tower, this is Lima Papa. We’ll be flying around Kilbourne Hole this morning for aerial photography,” are the next words I remember as my breathing and heartbeat regain their normal rhythms.  There is an instant feeling of relief and peace inside me as the sky opens up its cobalt tent; the space beneath stretching as far as an ocean.  The weight of the world swiftly lifts off my shoulders allowing me to connect with the desert below as I navigate towards Kilbourne Hole, an 80,000 year old inverted volcano crater stretching nearly two miles long and well over a mile across.

A remnant of an ancient volcanic explosion, Kilbourne Hole is a crater in southern Dona Ana County’s desert basin between the New Mexico’s Potrillo Mountain Range and the Rio Grande River, approximately 40 miles northwest of El Paso.  The “hole,” or crater, is roughly elliptical in shape, and is known as a Maar; a pit or depression caused by a volcanic explosion with little material emitted except volcanic gas.

Circling around Kilbourne for a bird’s eye view, Suzie takes over the plane’s controls descending and looping until we swoop hundreds of feet deep into Kilbourne.  The curve causes the plane to slow until the wind seems to whisper around us, until the walls of the crater encompass the plane.  The exposed rock, in a near plastic state, is dull black or brown though erosion reveals a brilliant, sparkling yellow and green interior of olivine glass granules like treasured jewels in a sunken ship.

Looking forward, I see the crater’s end wall racing towards the plane’s front with great speed before Suzie noses the plane swiftly upward till the flat undisturbed desert plain lay calmly below.  Her playful smile returns as she glances toward me and there were no words needed to show my appreciation for this episode.  Exploring the desert southwest can always be an experience, though one just might find the adventurer sleeping inside one’s soul along the way.

Bali is known as the “Island of Gods” for good reason.  Take yourself away from your lush resort for a few hours and visit a Temple Ceremony.  Ceremonies in Bali Temples include offerings to the gods, colorful processions, prayer, dances, music and abundant feasts.   All members of a community – men, women and children play roles during a multi-day ceremony.  

Stay more than a few hours and you’ll be part of the family – the village family that is.  The Balinese are genuinely friendly.  They are just as curious about you as you are about them.  Strike up a conversation and you might be invited to a cremation ceremony, tooth filing ceremonies or a birth celebration.

The video in this blog post shows a group of children playing music you’ll hear at almost any Bali Temple Ceremony.  Mothers watch with pride and encourage their sons to make beautiful music. This particular ceremony was a full moon ceremony, or Purnama.  There are actually seven important ceremonies or religious festivals throughout the year in Bali and they are described below.

Full Moon

A Full Moon is believed to be the day when God answers prayers and it is considered to be a favorable day to plant things in the garden, especially fruit plants. Purnama helps to obtain an abundant harvest the following year.

The Balinese prayers includes honouring the shadow and light to find balance in life. This play of opposing forces and the acceptance of light and dark, joy and sorrow, benevolence as well as maliciousness is called Rwa Binneda in Balinese culture.

Nyepi Day

The day of silence across Bali.   The month of March brings Nyepi – the day of silence throughout the whole of Bali.  In the Balinese lunar calendar (Saka), Nyepi is New Year’s Day.  It is a day wholly dedicated to rest, staying in, turning off the lights and keeping quiet for 24 hours.  It is one of the biggest and most unique ceremonies of the year, where staying in and resting is enforced by law.  It is practiced island-wide where the Balinese dedicate an entire day to introspection and spiritual cleansing.  No businesses are open, no transport is allowed on the roads (except for emergency services) the airport even shuts down for 24 hours.  Nyepi is a sacred day to give the island a break from 364 days of human activity, so Bali can replenish and recharge for the new year.  Nyepi is a 6-day long festival, the ‘silent’ day falls on day 3 and is the most important and sacred Hindu holiday in Bali.  It is also a public holiday for the rest of Indonesia.

Galungan and Kuningan

Galungan is a Balinese holiday which celebrates the victory of dharma over adharma (the triumph of good over evil).  It marks the time when ancestral spirits of deceased relatives visit the Earth. The last day of the celebration is Kuningan, when they leave earth.  The spirits of deceased relatives return to visit their former homes and the Balinese have a responsibility to be hospitable and welcoming to their past ancestors through prayers and offerings throughout their home.  The most obvious sign of the celebrations are the penjor – bamboo poles with offerings suspended at the end which line the roads.

Tumpek Kandang

Tumpek Kandang is the day to worship Sang Hyang Rare-Angon, the God of animals.  The name of Tumpek Kandang is derived from two words, “Tumpek” meaning Saturday and “Kandang”, the Balinese word for the household animals such as cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, dogs, and birds – all of which are highly valued by the Balinese.  On this day, pigs are usually decorated with a white cloth wrapping their bellies.  The animals are then fed with special foods, sprinkled with rice and holy water and prayers are offered.

Tumpek Landep

Nowadays Tumpek Landep is a ceremonial day at which offerings are made for objects that are made of metal.  The ceremonies start in the morning hours at the village temple when people gather for special prayers and blessings.  Afterwards, at the home compounds, additional ceremonies and blessings follow at which offerings are made for the holy family keris that most families own, but also for cars and motorbikes.  In these modern times, also other objects that contain metal, such as computers, may be subject to these ceremonies.  Most Balinese people truly believe that these ceremonies and blessings will bring them luck and keep them safe in traffic.  Tragically, at the day of Tumpek Landep the hospitals in Bali show a peak in the treatments of especially motorbike accidents.

Pagarwesi

Pagerwesi is the day when the Balinese strengthen their minds and souls against evil forces. Pagerwesi is also called “rerainan gumi” by the Balinese and means the holiday for everyone from every background – from the families of priests to the common families.

The Balinese celebrate the Pagerwesi ceremony every six months according to the Balinese pawukon calendar, the celebration is usually three days after Saraswati.  Pagerwesi derives from the two Balinese words pager and wesi, which means fence and iron.  The iron fence is a symbol of strong self-protection and on pagerwesi the Balinese focus on building a strong personal fortification to ensure that evil doesn’t enter their minds, speech and deeds, to avoid harm to their surroundings.

Odalan

In Bali there are over 4,500 temples where ceremonies take place almost every day of the year and Odalan is the celebration of each temple’s anniversary.   Temple festivals are held on the anniversary of when the temple was consecrated and usually on a new or full moon.

An Odalan or temple ceremony usually lasts for three days, but larger ones, which occur every 5, 10, 30 or 100 years, can last for 11 days or longer.  The gist of what is happening here is that the Balinese are honoring the deities that rule over the temple by giving them a myriad of offerings, performances of vocal music, dance and gamelan music.

 

Destination:  Bali

Our world is under a lot of pressure these days.  This is true on either side of the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans.  I’m unsure what’s happening to be honest except everyone is beyond stressed and no one can say anything right.  If you want an escape from the madness, there is a tiny little Buddhist Kingdom at the base of the mighty Himalaya Mountains called Bhutan.  Some refer to Bhutan the Last Shangri-La.

You know you’re in a special place even before landing at the airport in Paro.  Pilots skillfully navigate between massive mountain ranges as if they are meandering on a mountain road.  It’s incredible.  If you’re lucky enough to sit next to a window, you’ll have a delightful landscape show that you’ll never expect.

You’ll also know you’re in a one of a kind destination when you pick up your luggage from the one and only carousel in the airport terminal.

Your Bhutanese experience will only continue to get better day by day.  What I’m really saying is you won’t have a bad experience in Bhutan.  The Bhutanese are beautiful, peaceful and well beyond friendly.  Their smiles will make you melt.  Do keep in mind the Bhutanese enjoy their quiet so keep your Western voices down to a minimum.  

Schedule your journey to Bhutan to coincide with one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year.   You’ll be treated to traditional Bhutanese music and dancing.  The most intriguing part of any festival is the display of devotion to Buddha and the Buddhist ceremonies that take place.  

Typically, festivals take place at a town’s dzong, which in olden times were large fortresses.  Today the dzongs are home to local government councils and offices.  Besides the glorious Himalaya Mountains that surround you in almost any place you find yourself in Bhutan, the Bhutanese architecture is just as grand and incredible to see.  Be sure to pay attention to the minute details as most buildings feature brilliant woodcarvings and intricate painting designs.

Allow yourself enough time to travel beyond Paro and Thimphu, the capital city.  Once your driver takes you past Thimphu, you’re basically on Himalayan mountain roads.  Believe me when I say – you’re in for a ride of a lifetime.  There is no straight smooth road through the mountains but the scenery is well beyond anything you’ve ever seen.  And if you’re lucky, you’ll find your head in the clouds as low clouds move in at dusk.  For me, having my head in the clouds was surreal and one of the most memorable travel experiences I’ve ever had in my life.

It was in Bhutan on the long uphill trail to Tiger’s Nest when I first realised selfies had grossly infected society.  I was only a few hundred yards from the pinnacle when a youngish American tourist whipped out his phone and declared – “It’s time for a selfie.”  Needless to say I was taken back and in disbelief that someone would think to take a photo of himself before considering he was at one of Bhutan’s most sacred sights.  Since then, of course, selfies have become more than common and might I add more than annoying.  Tiger’s Nest, however, remains a majestic sight and well worth the three hour trek it takes to reach it.  You can’t be disappointed, nor will you be.

Consider these iPhone travel photography tips so you can capture the best possible travel photos during your next adventurous journey.

LANDSCAPE PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Few styles of photography grant solace to the wandering soul like landscape photography. It invites us to seek out the wild, lonely places of the world. It can also be challenging to do well.

SHOOT DURING THE GOLDEN AND BLUE HOURS

Any professional photographer will tell you that lighting is one of the most important elements to landing a great shot, and with landscapes the most superb lighting occurs during the golden and blue hours of the day. The golden hour is the hour just after the sun has risen or just before setting, when the light is warm, soft, and creating pleasant shadows. The blue hour is the hour just before dawn or just after sunset, when the light is fading but not yet fully dark. This is when some of the most glorious sunrise/sunset effects happen. It’s also the best time to photograph cities, as there is still light in the sky yet the lights in the city are also on. Both of these hours will make for stellar shots. Conversely, the worst time to shoot is at noon (unless it’s a cloudy day), as you’ll get some harsh, unwelcoming light.

INVEST IN A TRAVELER’S TRIPOD

Some of the most dramatic landscapes can only be captured with longer exposures.  Blue hour, night time, and HDR photography will all need some form of camera stabilization, yet traditional tripods are both heavy and bulky.  That’s where a traveler tripod comes in.  Traveler tripods range from the small, flexible like the Gorilla Pod(which will fit in a small daypack), to the larger, near full-size tripods that are built light and collapse into a small bundle meant for traveling.  Which tripod you choose to add to your travel photography gear will depend on your budget, photography style, and the types of places you like to travel to, but having one will open up huge vistas of photographic opportunity for you.

DON’T FORGET TO USE THE FOREGROUND

It’s often challenging to capture that beauty in a 2-dimensional photo without something in the foreground to help put things in perspective. Incorporating a strong foreground into your photo will not only give context to the larger scene, it will also lend a sense of depth to your image that can be the difference between a flat, boring snapshot and an exceptional photo. Look for leading lines, interesting rocks, hill formations, or even just flowers. Just make sure that the elements you want to be sharp are in focus (which might mean using a higher f-stop).

ARCHITECTURAL PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

If you love traveling, you’re probably not immune to the immense beauty that lies in some of the world’s human-made structures.  Whether you like the technical aspects, the culture it represents, or just admire a fine building, it’s hard to avoid wanting to land some great architecture shots.

WATCH YOUR LINES

One of the most challenging aspects to photographing buildings is making sure the lines go where they’re supposed to.  Often we’re looking up at architectural elements, and that can cause the vertical lines to start to converge, making the building look like it’s falling backwards.  If you find this happening, try stepping back from the building or moving to a higher point of view.  Also make sure you edit your photos in a program that fixes lens distortions.  This will often clear up lines that you thought were straight but came out crooked once you’ve clicked the shutter.

DON’T FORGET THE HUMAN ELEMENT

Most travel photographers try to avoid having people in their architectural images, yet including them can really add a whole other dimension to your image.  After all, buildings were designed for and by people, and if we really want to capture the spirit of a place, then it makes sense to see it from the perspective of those living and working in it.  On a practical level, including people will lend a sense of scale and depth to the image.

EXPLORE THE DETAILS

If you’re looking for a more unique shot, trying capturing the individual elements of a building.  There are often plenty of details and geometric patterns in even the simplest of structures, whether built in or a product of light and shadow.  Notice how the lines interact with each other, how the light illuminates textures, where the shadows fall.  A little bit of exploration might not only grant you some fantastic shots, but may also lead you to discover something new or interesting about the building’s construction or history.

STREET PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS

Street photography and traveling are pretty much a match made in heaven. Wandering the streets of a strange town or city is one of the primary pleasures of traveling, and capturing the real-life stories of the streets can be some of the most meaningful photos you bring back.

Contrary to popular thought, one of the most tried and true methods of street photography is to find an interesting spot, compose your shot, and spend time waiting for something interesting to happen. One of the early masters of street photography, Henri Cartier-Bresson,  often waited hours for what he called “the decisive moment.” But whether you wait for half an hour while you sip a coffee or lie in wait for hours, you’ll probably find this style of street photography less invasive than other forms, as the subject will be entering your space, not the other way around. You’ll also be more prepared, which means more opportunity to land the shot successfully.

BE RESPECTFUL

While capturing truly candid moments is at the heart of most street photography, it’s important to remember that not everyone wants their photo taken or to have their image bouncing around on social media.  So while everyone in a public space may seem like fair game (which is legally true in the US), both individuals and cultures as a whole may not appreciate the “shoot from the hip” method or other forms of surreptitious photography.  From focusing on the whole scene to creating a connection with your subjects, there are many unobtrusive ways to capture real life on the streets, and if you are in doubt about a shot, try and talk to people that are identifiable and ask their permission if you plan to publish it.  It may not always be practical, but it something to consider.

HAVE YOUR CAMERA EASILY ACCESSIBLE

There’s nothing like seeing something amazing (or even merely interesting) happen directly in front of you and not being able to get your camera out in time to capture it.  The solution?  Always have your camera handy.  If you’re not wanting to lug around a bulky DSLR, consider investing in a lighter camera—the best street images aren’t amazing because of their megapixels, but because of their content and composition.  Conversely, if you love your DSLR, try investing in a camera bag that gives you super-quick access.  

BE SURE TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT GEAR

Believe it or not, drones actually do come in a size that you can take with you on a trip, but you’ll need to do your research to find the one that’s right for you.  The larger, more expensive ones will be able to take better photos, but tend to be, well, large.  (And therefore hard to pack.)  If you want one that fits in your bag, consider models like the DJI Spark or the GoPro Karma.  Both are reasonably priced and can fit into just about any travel bag.

STAY CHARGED UP

Like with any electronic device, having enough battery power and some to spare can prevent a lot of mishaps.  While a single battery can cover a lot of territory, it’s always a good idea to have at least one backup.  This give you peace of mind.  You’ll also want to remember any travel adapters or converters you’ll need for juicing up in other countries.

PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY
LOOK YOUR SUBJECT IN THE EYE

The eyes are a great place to focus your photos – whether you can see them or not!  By focusing on the subjects eyes and capturing the light you help bring life to the image and if taking portraits of children get down to their eye level to produce a more natural shot (rather than them looking up).  You can experiment with having your subject looking directly into the camera or looking at something beyond the camera to create a sense of intrigue, or removing the traditional ‘eye’ element completely whilst still focusing at eye level (below).

BACKGROUNDS AND FRAMING

The background can make a huge difference in a portrait shot.  Bright colours, stark whites, muted blacks etc but the background doesn’t have to be everything.  If you can’t find what you are looking to use try and incorporate branches or other natural elements in the foreground of the frame for a different effect.  If you can’t find either, be sure to use a wide angle lens and a longer focal length to blur your frame so all focus still falls on your subject. 

GET CLOSE TO YOUR SUBJECT

You’re allowed the break the rules of composition (shoot with reference to the rule of thirds) when it comes to shooting portraits.  Placing your subject away from the middle of the frame can create a dramatic effect.

 

Long exposure photography can create dynamic, and sometimes, surreal images full of motion. Whether there is a sense of tranquility, apprehension with regard to the unexpected, or an element of surprise, night images can also evoke a true sense of emotion. 

Photographers who specialize in night photography are indeed a special breed. This should not be so surprising when one realizes how much in-depth understanding of light is necessary to capture that perfect photograph. Additionally, there are some rather basic tips any newbie night photographer should know. This, and more, will be covered in this edition of “After Hours Photography,” with a few night photography exercises tossed in to allow you to practice that which is covered. After all, practice – and I do mean a lot of it – will enable you to create magical night imagery! 

First thing first, and that is – Know Your Camera! Whether shooting landscapes, or urban settings, trundle through the darkness not only looking for the perfect scene, but experimenting along the way. A thorough understanding of your camera, and what all of the buttons do, is essential for night photography. The last thing you will want, with little light with which to work, is to fumble with your camera and its controls. Not knowing can only make for stressful, difficult photography. 

** Take a moment, and have a look at your camera controls. Pay close attention to the Mode Dial. This is where you will set how you will photograph. M = Manual, and this is where I assume you have your camera set. Most DSLR’s today only allow you to keep the shutter open for 30 seconds. For longer exposures than 30 seconds, you will need to know B, or Bulb. 

The Exposure, or Shutter Speed dial will be essential to locate, as well as Aperture. If you choose to experiment with ISO (ASA), you will need to be familiar with this button. A more in depth explanation will follow a bit later. 

NIGHT PHOTO OF DOWNTOWN EL PASO

 

After this, the Playback function may be important to you, and the LCD Screen can be your illuminated guide to all you need to know to make proper image taking decisions.

RING ROAD IN ICELAND AT NIGHT

Invest in a Camera with Low Light Capabilities

Must you buy a top of the line DSLR? If you can, great. If not, what is essential is a camera with Manual Mode, film or a memory card, and a tripod. 

LOW ANGLE VIEW OF PALM TREE AT NIGHT

Additionally, you will find a wider-aperture prime lens will allow more light in while capturing an image, and bring down noise levels. For instance, a 24mm f/1.4 is fantastic for night photography, but can be a bit pricey. If you are just starting out, consider a 50mm f/1.8 lens, which is typically reasonably priced. The difference between f/2.8, and f/1.8, is quite remarkable as the wider aperture allows an abundant amount of light in for ideal night images. 

ST PAUL'S CATHEDRAL AND MILLENNIUM BRIDGE

Cable Release. Remote Control. Self-Timer!

With long exposure photography, even the press of the shutter button can cause slight camera movement. The result will be image blur. If you want a clear, crisp image then do not take the chance by pressing the shutter release button with your finger. 

BUCKINGHAM PALACE REFLECTION PHOTO

The use of a cable release, remote control, or self-timer (10 seconds is good) will fix this. 

Tripod! Tripod! Tripod! or any Steady Surface.

Night photography requires a slow shutter speed, which means the camera must experience no movement to avoid camera blur. None. Nada. Zilch! 

LONDON MILLENNIUM BRIDGE AT NIGHT

There is no human being around who can hold any camera firmly steady below 1/60th of a second. Once the exposure time is below 1/60, a tripod or firm surface is most definitely required. Go ahead, try it, and see what happens. 

ILLUMINATED VENICE ALLEY AT NIGHT

The truth of the matter is, I rarely carry a tripod while exploring a busy city at night. I find them cumbersome, and a nuisance when amongst the crowds. I am no super-human to hold my camera steady, so I use what is around me – walls, railings, poles, benches, and even the pavement. Typically, more interesting composition is possible using these things. Sometimes, a little breath control is necessary as well. Yes, I hold my breath! Just be creative. 

RADIO CITY MUSIC HALL AT NIGHT

Lens Hood, or some means of shielding a lens from let’s say, the light light from a light post. Night scenes with bright lights, like cities, require a lens hood to prevent lens flares, or streaks, from the light. 

 

Flash Light, or even Light from a Mobile Phone.
While you want to be able to find your camera controls with your eyes closed, some sort of light will be a great help to see the camera buttons, and equipment in the dark. 

ADRIATIC SEA DURING FULL MOON

Turn Off Auto Focus

As much as you may love auto-focus, when you are in a low light situation this may not work as nicely as you hope. Manual focus is the way to go. 

Turn out the lights in the room where you are so that you are in complete darkness, then gracefully make your way to the door. Do you reach, and touch, in various places to find your way? Your camera’s auto-focus is doing something very similar, and often can not “grab onto” anything to achieve true focus. 

WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK AT NIGHT

Is it difficult? Sure it can be, though with enough practice, focusing will become easier over time. One trick is to put the focusing ring at infinity ( ∞ ), then adjust from there, if necessary. 

Turn OFF the Image Stabilizer!

When shooting from a tripod, leaving your image stabilizer turned on can often work against you, especially if there is motion in your chosen scene. Perhaps this motion are moving vehicles, moving water, or leaves rustling in the wind. The image stabilizer attempts to stabilize these movements, which results in blurring the entire image. 

THAMES BARRIER AT NIGHT

Do not confuse image stabilization with holding your camera steady. Seriously, can your camera make you not move? 

Exposure Tools

The metering systems in all cameras are designed for use in daylight conditions. Therefore a meter reading can only be used as a “starting point”. There are a few factors in night photography that make camera meters unreliable. 

SAN JUAN MOUNTAINS DURING FULL MOON

There are features on all DSLR cameras that make photography at night possible. Due to the lack of lighting exposing the image generally takes much longer. This is where the slower shutter speed settings become a valuable asset. Most cameras have shutter speeds up to 30 seconds. Often indicated as 30″ on the camera. 

B or Bulb setting – Once the shutter dial is adjusted to “B” or BULB, the shutter will stay open as long as the shutter button is pressed and will not close until the shutter button is released. 

BATTERSEA POWER STATION AND THAMES RIVER AT NIGHT

On film cameras, one way to see this effect in practice is to open the back of the camera when there is no film in it. Then, set the shutter dial to “B” and press the shutter button. The shutter will stay open until you decide to release it. This operation cannot be seen in the same way with a digital camera but the effect can be viewed on the LCD screen after an image is taken. Using this setting may take a small bit of practice because we automatically tend to release the shutter button as soon as we press it. As your confidence with long exposure techniques increases you will want to move beyond that and take photos with shutter speeds of several minutes of more. 

GRAND TETONS MOUNTAINS AT NIGHT

T or Timed setting This setting is used in a very similar way to the “B” setting and the same effects can be achieved. The difference between the two though is that using “T” the shutter is pressed once and released to open the shutter. The button is then pressed again to close it. The advantage of this over the “B” setting is that your hands are free, and the risk of camera shake is reduced. Unfortunately, very few cameras have this setting. 

AURORA BOREALIS IN ICELAND AT NIGHT

When using either setting the timing is done manually by the you. Rather than depending on a cameras shutter timer, you must count off the desired seconds (or minutes) the shutter is to remain open. Often, I use the “stopwatch” on my iPhone. The risk of camera shake, especially with the “B” setting is extremely high.

COLORADO LANDSCAPE PHOTO AT NIGHT

In order to avoid blur from camera shake using either the B or T setting, some sort of remote release is almost essential. 

THUNDERSTORM AND LIGHTNING AT WHITE SANDS NATIONAL PARK

ISO Setting: It is a common belief that the lower the available light, the faster the ISO rating needs to be to record enough light. Usually this is true, however, fast ISO settings are not always necessary for night photography. 

Normal ISO settings (100 to 400 ISO) can be used successfully. The exposures needed would just be longer, sometimes for several seconds. Hence, the need for a sturdy support such as a tripod! 

CROSS AT A CEMETERY NIGHT PHOTO

Play with the Aperture

In addition to shutter speed (which determines exposure time), you can play around with the aperture size of your digital camera. There are two scenarios here. If you set a long exposure, try to use a small aperture, such as f/16 to avoid overexposing any stationary lights. in the picture. On the other hand, if you set a short exposure, try using a larger aperture such as f/3.5 to avoid limited motion in your shot. 

TRAFFIC ON OXFORD STREET IN LONDON AT NIGHT

The more you practice, the more you will know how to develop your own nighttime photographic style. 

LONDON TRAFFIC AT NIGHT

Artificial Lighting (White Balance)

With night photography, the lighting you are using is all artificial except for any residual daylight at dusk or dawn. To complicate matters different man-made lighting sources give off different color casts. A typical night image may have numerous different types of light sources lighting the scene. These would be of different strengths and colors. This fact often adds to the impact of the night photograph. 

The color casts given off by artificial lighting can be changed through the use of the White Balance setting on a digital camera. 

CARRIBEAN SEA AT NIGHT

Have you ever taken a photo at night, and there is a yellow/orange hue dominating the color? This is because your white balance setting is set to daylight, or cloudy. Change your white balance to the “light bulb,” and see the difference. If you are a bit more advanced, you can manually adjust the color temperature right in the camera. 

WRONG WHITE BALANCE DURING NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY

Composition

Now that you have all the necessary tools to confidently head out into the night, let’s touch upon composition. Part of the appeal of long exposure photography is that it helps you practice your composition skills. Keep in mind that composition is key, and when using a tripod, it is best to adjust the height either above, or below, eye-level. Stand on higher ground to get a broad perspective of your scene, or use a smaller tripod to look slightly upward for a majestic feel.

Find Interesting Elements to Create an Artistic Interpretation

As you observe a scene, you will find that the elements of your composition comes in all shapes and sizes. Perhaps there is a rugged, or funky-looking, tree, a group of jagged rocks alongside calm waters, or an architectural feature in the city. These elements do not take away from your main subject, but instead adds a focal point that draws the viewer into the entire image. 

NIGHT PHOTO JENNY LAKE AT GRAND TETONS

No matter where you find yourself, play around with your surroundings, and don’t give up if you do not see the ideal composition right away. Move around! Avoid eye level, get high, get low, turn sideways: whatever it takes to create a stunning image. Do not expect to create fabulous night images without experimenting, and learning by trial and error. 

Follow the Lines
It would be better for you to apply the same rules that are applied to landscape pictures. Lead with lines into the main part of the scene so that the viewers are lured by your impression through the darkness. You can consider the streetlights, the light from moving traffic, or even brightly lit fences as lines. 

REFLECTION OF MONT SAINT MICHEL AT NIGHT

After all, lines and curves and shapes are prominent aspects of photography – from architectural to fashion. Follow them to compose your image. Frame it so that a line literally starts at one corner of the frame and extends diagonally. Instantly, you are following the rule-of-thirds, which is essential to any good photograph. 

REFLECTION PHOTO OF ST MARK'S SQUARE AT NIGHT

Know your Light

Light is the main ingredient of any photograph. Without it, we all would have a lot of empty frames to show off to everyone. 

Continuous Circles Selfridges Buliding

Choose any one particular area, and have a walk around during various times of the day, or night. Notice, at these different times, how the light is different, and how it effects a potential scene. Make a note of this, and again walk around, but this time with your camera. Take some photographs during these different times, and compare the difference in light, and how the light affects your scene. 

Here are the four lighting situations you will most often see used in long exposure photography:

Sunset or sunrise. It’s fairly obvious why. These are beautiful times to take photos. A good time to take long exposure photos is when the sun is below the horizon (before sunrise or after sunset) as there is less contrast and the light levels are lower, allowing longer shutter speeds. 

MOUNTAIN AND SUNSET PHOTO

Twilight. Also known as the blue hour because of the color of light at this time. This is the period between sunset and night (or night and sunrise) when light levels are low and the fading light illuminates everything in a brilliant glow. 

ROAD PHOTO AT TWILIGHT

Overcast days (for landscape photography). This is popular with photographers who use nine or ten stop neutral density filters to obtain long shutter speeds during the day. If the sun was out, especially during the spring and summer months, the light would be too harsh for good landscape photography. But on a cloudy day, moving clouds add interest to the sky. 

OVERCAST SKIES ADRIATIC SEA

Sunny weather (for architectural photography). Some photographers take long exposure photos of buildings during the day. A requirement is that there are clouds in the sky. Moving clouds create the contrast between the buildings and the changing sky that you need for a successful long exposure photo. 

MOTION PHOTO WHILE DRIVING

Look for Interesting Lighting Sources

Look for bridges, piers, city buildings, boats, the stars and moon. All of these emit light that’s excellent for reflecting off the surface of the water. Experiment with different locations to get different colors and shapes. 

THAMES BARRIER AT NIGHT


For instance, light from the sky will reflect and brighten up the water smoothly and uniformly. But look at the reflections of buildings and you see something more abstract. Geometric shapes appear because of the angularity of the buildings. Whether you want the simplicity of a clear night sky to light up the ocean or lake or the complexity that man-made structures brings, find interesting lights to enhance the look of the water. 

VENICE NIGHT LIGHTS REFLECTING ON WATER

Capture Motion

With a long exposure, you have many creative options when it comes to photography. This includes capturing motion. For example, have you ever wondered how professional photographers shoot pictures of trails of car lights as they zoom down the highway at night? It is all due to long exposures. Try to keep this in mind the next time you’re taking a night photo – you don’t have to restrict yourself to still images. 

Traffic in Motion Waterloo London UK

With extremely low light levels, moving subjects such as people walking will not register in the image so long as there is very little light shining upon them. Cars are a good example of using this technique. 

DOUBLE DECKER BUSES IN MOTION LONDON

With long shutter speeds and moving cars, the headlights and taillights will register as streaks. The cars themselves will not register on the image. This effect can also be used at fairgrounds where amusements lighting can be recorded while moving. 

CARNIVAL RIDES IN MOTION

Fast Shutter Speed – If you want the movement in your night photos to be clear an in focus, use fast shutter speeds. Because of the low light, a larger aperture/higher ISO will be needed 

Slow Shutter Speed – If you want to blur the motion, use slow shutter speeds, smaller apertures, and a lower ISO. 

TRAIN IN MOTION WITH BATTERSEA POWER STATION IN BACKGROUND

Remember that when you lower the ISO, you should be setting a longer exposure to maximize the available light you’re working with. Nighttime images also tend to look very grainy because photographers bump up the ISO to compensate for the lack of light. But in doing so, you limit yourself to the amount of time you can expose a scene. The longer you leave the shutter open, the more the motion of your subject will appear. 

MONT SAINT MICHEL REFLECTION AT NIGHT

So, there you have it – the basic tools to get you started with night photography. It may seem a bit intimidating at first, but I guarantee, with practice, you can produce absolutely fabulous night images. Of course, daytime is fantastic for photography, but it is after hours when the magic begins.

Shadows become wildly different, and the twinkling lights of any urban setting, large or small, create an ambience like no other. I often photograph London at night. This bustling cosmopolitan city becomes almost vulnerable after the sun goes down, and there is a tranquility about her during this time like no other. The architecture shows off beautifully as it is illuminated in the night sky, not to mention the mystery of what might be around the corner.

Landscapes, too, offer brilliant opportunities during the night hours. There is a bit more difficulty as there may be very little light, unless the full moon shines brightly above. The solitude of nighttime landscape images can evoke emotions that can create beautiful stories. Mountain ranges, or rolling rivers, and the calmness of lakes offer a sense of serenity that I completely adore.  

PALM TREES ON A BEACH AT NIGHT