{Baton Rouge photographer Michael Tortorich} Don't be afraid of the dark: Night photography tips

November 13, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”

- Vincent van Gogh

Generally speaking, the sun is my favorite light source for photography. I love the natural light the great orb in the sky provides. I especially love how the qualities of sunlight change throughout the day, from dawn to dusk.

Just because it's night time is not an excuse to give up on photography. Often the darkness provides the best conditions for interesting images.

Truck photo taken for Tortorich Wrecker and Towing Service, Donaldsonville, Louisiana.

My family owns and operates a towing service. It's the kind of business that perfectly lends itself to the reality television genre in that so many wacky things can happen from day to day.

In fact, there are reality shows like South Beach Tow and Lizard Lick Towing, which focus on the profession. Every call is different, and you never know what will happen next.

One night I received word that they had a call to pick up a boat and a truck. Despite the time of night that it was, I went over to the wrecker yard with my equipment to set up a shoot, as I figured it would be interesting to get a photo of the truck fully loaded and lit against the night sky.

The qualities of night photography can be rich and dramatic. In the above photo, take a look at the color and tone of the sky. Also notice the qualities of the headlights and orange lights on the truck.

There is an added degree of difficulty to capturing images at night, but when everything comes together, it yields stunning results.

When I started to write this blog post, I thought about including some night photography tips and tricks that I've found useful in my experience. In researching for this article, I did a Google search for such phrases as "night photography" and "how to photograph at night." I found tutorials that were just all over the road.

I won't try to be preachy here. I will simply present the mentality that has worked for me.

First off, the best piece of advice I can give is to go out and experiment. It is through trial and error that I have learned to shoot in dark situations.

Know the limitations of your camera and equipment. Through experience, you will naturally figure out what works and what doesn't.

All of the general fundamentals of photography still apply. It is a good idea to bracket your shots. In other words, work in manual mode and try dialing around until you get the best exposure. This means fine-tuning your ISO, aperture and shutter. For example, if you think you've found the perfect shutter speed, it might be a good idea to dial it down and up to get a few insurance shots.

Bumping up ISO generally means sacrificing image quality, as added grain may be introduced to the image. This depends in some part to the camera. This could be a huge issue if you are using an older digital camera, which would deteriorate greatly at higher ISOs. The newer cameras have improved by leaps and bounds in the quality produced at even the highest ISOs. Recent "prosumer" and professional digital cameras can yield fantastic results beyond 1600 ISO settings.

As for aperture, the higher end lenses which can achieve 2.8 and wider, will collect more available light. Bear in mind that lenses don't produce the best results when used at maximum and minimum apertures. I usually start at one extreme or the other and then begin dialing it back as I see fit. Again, it all depends on the variables of the situation.

I sometimes shoot in aperture priority mode after adjusting ISO. The camera will then automatically adjust the shutter speed. If it's not where I want it to be. I will switch over to manual mode and adjust the shutter accordingly.

Pay close attention to the lights sources that you have. Even in the dark of night, there are generally some lights sources you can use.

If you don't have enough light, make your own. I use my flash to fill as needed. Generally speaking, using the flash off the camera yields the best results.

As you can probably tell, there is no one size fits all approach to shooting at night.

I've read tips on night photography that suggest leaving behind tripods. I can see this is a good idea in the interest of carrying less equipment, but I view the tripod as a key tool in capturing night images. A tripod allows for much longer shutter times and will eliminate camera shake. I view tripods and monopods the same as all other photography equipment; if it will improve my images, I don't mind carrying it.

Use anything you can to your advantage. If you need to set the camera's timer, do it. If you need to use a remote shutter release, do it.

Do whatever it takes to get the best shot you can. This is where the work comes into photography. Anyone can set a camera to auto mode and press a button. But nobody else can see things the way you do.

This is your story. How will you tell it?

If you have found this article helpful, please feel free to share it as you see fit through social networks and other sites. If you would like to connect with me, explore the links below:

Michael Tortorich on Facebook - https:/​/​www.​facebook.​com/​tortorich
Michael Tortorich Photography on Facebook - https:/​/​www.​facebook.​com/​MichaelTortorichPhotographyLLC
Michael Tortorich on Twitter - https:/​/​twitter.​com/​MikeTortorich
Michael Tortorich on LinkedIn - http:/​/​www.​linkedin.​com/​pub/​michael-​tortorich/​22/​35a/​a61

To reach me directly, call or text me at 225-717-0762.


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Based in the swampy confines of south Louisiana, Michael Tortorich Photography specializes in a variety of creative and artistic styles. {Contact: 225-717-0762}

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