Thoughts on shooting at night

Ken, at work

Night landscape photography is astonishingly peaceful and meditative.

I prefer to not use a flashlight and let my eyes adjust to the darkness. This also helps me avoid attracting attention to myself, which helps when I'm still in someplace that closes at dusk after the sun has set. More than once, I've had somebody wandering around making noise and carrying a flashlight and I knew where they were the whole time, but they never realized that I was there taking pictures.

At least once, I've interrupted a couple in an amorous moment, although I have yet to attract any attention to myself, nor have I encountered any wildlife that I wasn't clearly above in the food chain. Twice I've seen a shooting star, but it never happened to be where my camera was pointed.

I tend to make my exposures at least 10 minutes long, often times longer. So, much of a night photography session is watching the photons accumulate into a picture on film and thinking about what my next shot is going to be. Long exposure forces you to slow down and think about what you are doing because the penalty for failure is much higher. Even for those who shoot digital, there's still a significant cost in time and battery consumption involved in a bungled exposure.

Most of the best spots to take pictures are away from the more built-up urban areas, like an ocean beach at night or a hillside that overlooks a city, so I tend to be able to hear the sounds of nature. Both indoors and out in nature, there's constant sound, but it's different. Indoors it's the sound of air conditioning and computers and people talking. Outdoors, it is the sound of the wind blowing through the trees and animals calling and moving. It's different, more natural, and more relaxing. I never wear the hood on my coat, even when it's raining, because that ruins my ability to listen.

The part that amazes me the most is that I'm photographing in the San Francisco bay area and I'm between a half hour and an hour away from the urban core of the bay area, but I'm at astonishingly undeveloped areas. A half hour's drive away from San Jose is mountain properties with rusty broken-down cars in the front yard, a ghost town, and protected shorelines.

Sometimes I'll specifically plan out trips to visit favorite locations at night. Other times, I grab an hour or so on the way home from work. It's a great way to relax; by the time I head home, my mood is usually much improved.


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