Night photography became a possible medium just ten years after the first daguerreotype when John Adams Whipple photographed the moon in 1849. Photographers like Brassai, Bill Brandt and Steve Harper had a large impact on the medium of night photography and their work has stood the test of time. As the years have passed and technology has presented more ways to capture what happens in the dark, the art of night photography has grown.
The basics are simple, “The physiology of our eyes causes them to see very differently than the camera at night. During the day, the cones in the retina reveal the world in Technicolor. At night, the cone’s companions, the rods, work overtime to offer a picture of what is before you, which the cones relay with muted colors. The camera does not know the natural boundaries of rods and cones. It has the ability to capture color regardless of the level of ambient light,” explains B&H Photos Todd Vorenkamp.
Night photography requires patients and a vision. Most photos are snippets within a second and is exactly what your eyes see. Night photography is multiple seconds or even hours of a single frame. When a fashion photographer can shoot 500 shots in a single session, a night photographer will go out and come back with 8–10 good shots after spending the whole night out.
The night is associated with passion, love, secrets and the unknown. Night photography allows light to grow even in the darkest of moments and brings detail and color into a scene of darkness. I started taking night shots while in photography school and it quickly became my passion. Finding a quiet and dark place in nature where I could stand and really see what the world had to offer. Set up my tripod, put the camera on the correct settings, trigger my timer and then almost hold my breath as the camera captures moments and minutes go by.
Personally, I enjoy the night in a landscape setting where I can capture the changing color of the night sky but urban settings allow photographers to capture the movement of the city even in its darkest hours. The freedom that is found in the darkness is just something that is unmatched, anything can happen at night. The art really allows the photographer to bring passion, and depth into their photographs that flash photography and natural daytime lighting just can’t match.
Anyone with a camera that has a bulb setting can walk out into the darkness and capture what the mystery draped in night. You can start by walking out your door and seeing how your front porch light is captured after 3 seconds. Venture out into the neighborhood and shoot the intersection as the cars zoom by and watch the streaks of red and yellow light. Find confidence and move to a nearby lake to watch the water become glass as it moves in the night. Learn to love new places in the quiet of the night because you know they hold a secret that can only be find in the dark.
Lance W. Keimig at The Nocturnes.com said it best, “The most magical thing about the night is the element of surprise. One can never be sure of what will happen when the shutter opens after dark.”