Shooting landscapes at night is a great way to add variety and excitement to a landscape portfolio. Not many photographers are willing to venture out into the wilderness at night with their camera so it can really set you apart from the crowd.
Dramatic Long Exposures
Getting away from the artificial lights of the cities and towns and into the countryside is challenging in many ways. It’s a good idea to scout your locations in advance so that you know where you are going. Having an idea of the rough composition that you’re trying to shoot can be an advantage too, as it’s very hard to frame and focus through the cameras viewfinder at night. A powerful torch is also useful in this situation, using it to give your camera something to focus on and to finalise your composition.
For the beginner night landscape photographer filling the composition with a large proportion of sky can pay dividends. Unseen to the naked eye, the sky at night is full of beautiful clouds, colours and stars that can be picked up by a long exposure. Punching up the colours or even converting an image to black and white can increase the dramatic effect of a picture shot at night, it’s worth considering an online photography course in order to learn new post production techniques.
To shoot a traditional landscape at night requires an extremely long exposure, often between five and thirty minutes. You’ll need a sturdy tripod as well as either a remote release or the timer on your camera to prevent any movement ruining the shot. Noise can be introduced into digital images from these long exposure times, so it’s best to always shoot at the lowest ISO possible and be prepared to use a noise removal tool in post production.
When working with longer exposures it is well worth taking the time to do some test shots first with higher ISO and then recalculating your final image exposure times from those. There are plenty of exposure calculators to be found online or you could take an online photography course to brush up on your skills. Another way to ensure good results is to shoot RAW files, as they offer more latitude for pushing and pulling the exposure afterwards.
Once you’ve nailed the basic principles of long exposure night photography there’s scope to add variation to the theme. An easy way to highlight parts of the image would be to try light painting. With a powerful torch it is possible to light rock formations or features on the landscape and make them come to life in the darkness. Expect to take many images and stay up most of the night to get the perfect shot, but the results can be absolutely stunning and well worth the lack of sleep.
Alternatively try taking your camera and tripod into the city and shooting the urban landscape at night. Streetlights, building lights and vehicle lights can come together with spectacular results and the urban glow in the sky and lend interesting backdrops to the scenes. Don’t be afraid to experiment with dramatic and abstract framing for this one, architectural images can often benefit from brave compositions.