Night Photography Fundamentals

 

Lesson Info

Capturing Car Trails

Did I mention that we've had some issues while we've been here shooting for this Creative Live show. We've encountered almost everything, including, well it is Seattle, so of course, we're gonna include, we're gonna have some challenges with some inclement weather, so yes, we've had to juggle places and times, and then sometimes, you just have to just embrace it, 'cause there's actually beautiful images that can be made in the fog, you know, in the rain, beautiful reflections in the rain that will just go all over the place and enhance car trails. I love shooting in the snow. My big tip for shooting in the snow, use your flash, not your flashlight. We need a big burst of light, and I put a CTO gel over my flash as well, 'cause otherwise I'd get blue snow as opposed to white snow, but using that flash to freeze the snow, and in this shot, I popped that flash about three times to freeze that snow. Now sometimes snow happens and we don't have all the gear with me, and you know, I've told ...

you all the rules about you need a camera, you need a tripod, you need a solid foundation. Well this is a shot, and I love this is one of my favorite shots and I took this just coming out of the subway with my point-and-shoot camera. I balanced myself up against a wall, and I put my camera into a burst mode because this is about a half a second or a quarter second exposure. I became a human tripod, and by going into this burst mode, we can keep our, basically, we're gonna press the trigger and keep our trigger on it, and the first couple shots will be blurry, but by the time we get to that third or fourth shot in that burst, it's gonna be rock solid and we'll get some shots. Well I took 50 shots and I got three sharp ones, but I love it. This is one of my favorite shots of confetti snow. What does snow look like when we freeze it, or what does snow look like when we elongate that exposure and just by a little bit. Filters, filters can be a cool thing. I use the filters a lot for my city shots. You see a picture of me with the variable neutral density filter? Those are fun filters. That's an all-in-one filter. I do tend to like the drop-down filters as I discussed before, but a variable neutral density does keep things simple with one filter. You can turn and twist it, and it will go generally from two to 10 stops that we can take away light. And so you can see the image of it on the screen. You can either see through it or as you rotate, it becomes more and more opaque, so it will extend your exposures for most common, for cityscapes, shooting in Vegas, or this image right here. This was shot at the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco. Most people go to Twin Peaks to overlook the city. Don't forget to look behind you. I went to one of the peaks of Twin Peaks, and I had an idea 'cause I knew cars were coming, and cars were leaving. It was a super windy night, but I was able to put my, I was able to nestle my tripod down, and so I was kind of blocked away, or at least definitely very secure from the wind, and I stopped down my, I put my settings, I stopped my settings to really optimal settings, but I was really only getting about a four or five minute exposure, and there wasn't enough cars moving through the scene to get the effect that I desired. However, I was able to attach my filters, my neutral density filters, and the perfect match was a six-stop neutral density filter. That got me to even more optimal settings and the right time, which in this image was 15 minutes, so 15 minutes was a great amount of time for the cars to come forward as the cars to leave, and it kind of balanced each other out. These can be super. Playing with cars and car trails can be a very expressive and unique way that we can reinterpret the city, and we did that in Seattle, so we actually went out to a really unique vantage point, and we tried some shots of the car trails with and without filters, so let's go take a look at that behind the scenes shot. The city moves in many ways, and one of the most exciting ways to capture it, the essence of the city is by getting to a high vantage point and hopefully, looking down upon moving traffic. If we can, it's now night, okay? Now we've passed all the twilights, and now, the exposure is sort of settled in, and if you can push those long exposures, guess what? We could have cars kind of moving through our image. We could be looking at 15, 20 second exposures and get the white lights of the car to streak through, and the red lights of the cars to streak another way, and create some really eye-popping images. So, we're setup here, looking over I-90 in Seattle, and we've got this. My camera is setup. I wanted to go at a lower angle to hopefully shoot through and get more of the cars coming through, but it just wasn't working. We're also, again, on a bridge here, and guess what? Bridges shake a little bit, and I'm feeling, I put my hand over here. I can feel some of the vibrations of it, but I'm not feeling it as much on the concrete. Now, the cars are going by, don't feel it so much, but if a bus does come by, we'll probably feel that and if the bridge shakes, that means you shake, that means the image shakes and you're gonna come out with a blurry image, so look both ways, you know, before taking these long exposures and just be aware of your surroundings. So let's walk through the exposure here. I've got my tripod set up looking down onto mostly oncoming white lights, the traffic. I've got occasionally, some uh, some red lights of the traffic going into the city. This, if we just think about what we're trying to achieve here, it's all about time, and getting to a longer exposure, so first thing I can do is lower my ISO. Might as well lower it all the way. We'll lower it to the optimal ISO, something like ISO 100 or 200 on your camera. Okay, so I've got my D750 at 100, and then I'm gonna play to the sweet spot of the lens. I'm gonna shoot at f11. I could shoot at 16 or 22, but sometimes, flare is more prevalent in those apertures, so I'm gonna shoot at f11. That's the sweet spot of the lens, and I'm getting optimal image quality with my aperture and my ISO choice. So where does that put my shutter speeds? Well, I'm in, again, manual mode. We're always gonna be in manual mode in night photography, and right now, it's saying I should be about 15 seconds, so let's see what happens. Well, we're gonna, no traffic right now, so also, again, it's all about timing. I'm seeing some cars come by, pressed it. I've got my self-timer on. We're going for 15 seconds. I'm seeing moderate cars come through. It's always nice when a bus kind of comes through, or different colored cars come through to add different texture and layers. Okay, so we got a pretty good shot. Again, I could use a couple more people coming over that ramp right there, but I'm limited right now at 15 seconds. It's overall a well-exposed image. I could go probably 30 seconds. Let's try 30. And 30 seconds, again, will give us more time to have cars come through the scenario. Or cars can come through the scene. It's too bad the moon just ducked away from the clouds there. Again, this is an ideal scene to shoot during one of the twilights because the ambient light of the sky will match the car lights a little bit more, so I might want to, you know, once I take this picture, I might crop more of the sky out of the image, 'cause it's just dark and black. Okay, 30 seconds is good, and I'm getting more traffic come through here. However, let's take it to the next level. 30 seconds, I bet you if I made it a minute or two minutes, I would get even more car trails. Now, I could do that, like I said, by stopping down my, I've already, stopping down my aperture, I've already gone as low as I could with my ISO, but I want to keep, again, that sweet spot of f11. We can use filters. Neutral density filters are a wonderful way. We just put them over the lens. They're an opaque filter, so it prevents light from coming through, and it helps extend long exposures during the day, but they're perfect for making longer car trails. So, I have a three stop, I have a six stop, and I have a, I believe a 10 stop neutral density. The 10 stop neutral density will keep us here for a couple hours, so let's probably start out with the three stop neutral density and see what we can get. Okay, so I've got my filter holder on, and now also, I didn't mention, I'm using their 20 millimeter lens, so it's a pretty wide-angle lens. I'm getting a lot of the scene. It takes a 77 millimeter filter holder, and then I put on my three stop neutral density filter, so when we last left, I was at 30 seconds at f11 at 100 ISO. We're going to go to add three stops to the shutter speed, which means we're gonna go into Bulb mode, because again, remember, our shutter speeds only go up to 30 seconds, so now, we're entering the Bulb mode, where we can program in any time we want with one of these ShutterBoss intervalometers. So if I add three stops to 30 seconds, it would be one stop is one minute, two stops is two minutes, three stops would be four minutes, so I've now programmed a slight delay, a two second delay from when I press the trigger, and a four minute exposure. It's almost 11 o'clock here now, so traffic is dying down, but four minutes should allow us to have plenty of cameras, plenty of cars to come through the scene, so here we go. Okay, and when this red light is on, that means it is working. It's taking the picture. And now, we play the waiting game. I really like, when we have time to play with now, I can just take in the scene, I can hang out with my friends, you know, and just really, look, a nice trailer went by. The different levels of cars coming through here. We did have a bus come through. We did have a bus come through, so I'm gonna take it, turn it off and turn it back on again. We can start the exposure again, and hopefully the buses, if I know Seattle, the buses are coming probably every 10 minutes so we're safe. Nice, we have some other, some buses moving this way. We're getting a lot of the red light, the red lights kind of come through it as well. And the moon is peeking out as well, so let's see, hopefully gonna hold out here for four minutes too, so we can get a nice little crescent moon on it. It's low to the ground and has a nice, warm color to it. And we're shooting straight down to Safeco Field, the baseball stadium. We're also getting the nice green hump of the Seahawk stadium as well. And for four minutes, what can play through the scene within four minutes? Hundreds of cars, looks like we're probably gonna have an airplane or two cruise through the scene. Airplanes will also leave a trail in the sky. Most of the time, that can be, people can find that annoying, but sometimes, it can add to the scene. It's not interfering with the moon, so it might look cool, and there's another one coming across. There's definitely many different ways to capture the car trails and getting, again, that vantage point high above, looking down, a lot safer than standing in the middle of the street. It is kind of cool to get down to ground level, to kind of have them go right by you if you can, and again, when buses or things with multiple levels go by you, they can create some interesting trails. So when you're out there looking for that pulse of the city, again, scout it out, look for different vantage points where you can get these exciting shots. So we've taken a couple of shots of the car trails and whether they're 15 seconds or whether they're four minutes or beyond, a thing to keep an eye on within the exposure is that the trails don't start to kind of, the car lights keep going onto each other, so they turn into less trails and more blobs of light, so that's something we want to keep an eye on, and listen, every shot is gonna be different. It's gonna have a different amount of cars coming through the shot at different parts of the frame, so definitely want to take a bunch of shots, keep clicking. We've recomposed a little bit. I put a telephoto lens on, so I'm gonna put a tighter shot, more compressed shot of the traffic really leaving and entering the city, so let's take a look here, and I've been going back and forth between 15 seconds and 30 seconds, again, depending upon, there's a lot of traffic leaving it, and I don't want those cars to keep overlapping each other and creating thick, thick lines. Now your histogram is gonna show again why it's gonna have, you're gonna have those headlights turn to blinkies, those highlights without detail. That's fine. We don't want any car lights with detail, but we don't want them to be overlapping each other and just forming a band of light, so that's the one reason to not go too long, and kind of keep those shorter exposures. Let's even try one for like 10 seconds here. See, and if you keep, every image is gonna be different and that's what's so exciting when we play with time. We can take 10 shots and each one of them, even though they'll have the same composition, each one will have a different look and feel to it. All right, so, lesson to be learned. Find a good vantage point where you can shoot cars coming towards you, going away from you. Use a wide-angle lens to get the grand shot, and don't forget your telephoto lens. Get in there tight and make a little abstract or compressed shot of those trails.


There’s more to night photography than stars and hikes. The vibrance of color can be found in capturing the stars, a city skyline at twilight, or even car trails amidst a forest. Gabriel Biderman is a self taught photographer who enjoys the process of taking an image. In Night Photography 101, he’ll cover how to get started taking photos in the dark.

You’ll learn:

  • What gear you’ll need and the fundamentals of using it safely in the night 
  • How to capture stars for dynamic landscapes 
  • How to capture the sky and urban settings at night 
  • How to photograph car light trails to create more motion in your night photos  

 
 
 
 

Reviews

  • This class was perfect in preparation for my trip to Zion and Bryce Canyon next week. I can't wait to put all this great information to good use! Very easy to understand, and fun to watch. I thoroughly enjoyed it!
  • This class was super helpful in what to buy and then how to get the pictures you want. Loved all the other stuff that I knew nothing about. I knew very little about light painting. Thanks for sharing this class with us. This class was one of the best I have seen.
  • This course is fairly comprehensive, and offers a good intermediate/advanced intermediate examination of night photography (NOT just astrophotography, which is only one form of night photography.) I don't necessarily agree with everything he's saying here, but that doesn't make it wrong - it's just a matter of preference. He is fairly equipment-centric, but getting into many forms of night photography DOES require some specific equipment. There's a lot of useful information contained here, and I can see myself consulting this course in the future to help solve and understand certain situations and problems that are unique to night photography. Recommended.