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Night Photography Fundamentals

Lesson 13 of 13

Photo Challenge and Critique


Night Photography Fundamentals

Lesson 13 of 13

Photo Challenge and Critique


Lesson Info

Photo Challenge and Critique

Welcome back to the Night Photography Week here at CreativeLive, I'm Gabriel. And I'm Matt. And together, we are the founding fathers of the National Parks at Night. How did this come together, Matt? Well, it kinda started when we both went to National Parks and we happened to shoot at night, and I came back from one, I went to Arches, and I just came back raving. M-hmm (affirmative) I said I had such an amazing experience that not only did I wanna do more of that, but I wanted to be able to share the enthusiasm I had for it. And then you said... Let's make this whole, let's really share it with people. A lot of people, we love the National Parks, and Matt and I, we've been shooting together for how many years, like ten years? I think we just celebrated our ten-year anniversary. (both laugh) And we definitely were bonded early on with photographing and photographing at night and we taught workshops at historic locations in New York, like cemeteries and all these other reall...

y super-fun locations, but we also have a passion to get to those dark places, those dark skies, which, the National Parks, so many of them, give us that opportunity, and we started doing it on our own, but then we started taking road trips together. Right. And I think one thing that both Matt and I love, we love doing this, we love night photography, and we love the challenge of it, and we love sharing it, and we also love again, sharing it with other people and helping other people what do you call it, level-up-- Level up. Their night photography and really get to understand it and learn it better. So that's how the National Parks kinda came together, the idea of it, and then we shared it with a few more of our night friends and it just grew, and right now, there's five of us that lead these workshops, and here's the key thing, folks, we're going to, every night, we're going to hit every National Park, but we're only gonna do it once, so it's a one-and-done thing. In the United States alone, there's over 50 National Parks, and if we average five to seven a year, that's gonna take us ten years. And plus, there's National Parks in other countries. That's exciting too, so that's how National Parks came together, but let's also talk about the benefits of photographing together, whether it's the day or the night. And so many people are taking pictures more so than ever before, but how can you elevate your photography? And oftentimes, both Matt and I in our travels, the free time that we have, we work during the day, so in the beginning, it was, night was often the only time we could shoot. And the night, just again, offers more opportunity to reinterpret the place. And so we were doing these again, on our own, but then when we started working together, it's a wonderful thing to share a spot for safety, and just for sharing that whole comraderieship and experience together, but we're also, there's a challenge to it and we don't wanna come home with the same pictures. Yeah, the beautiful image that El Capitan might be right there and yes, you've gotta take a picture of that, but there's so many other ways that we can reinterpret that place and capture, but even better, create-- M-hmm (affirmative) A more richer, fuller, and unique capture of that place. So there's a challenge that, and while Matt and I were shooting a lot, we would hardly ever cross our tripods and stand next to each other. Oftentimes, I'd see him and be like, "Okay, he's getting that shot, "so let me look for another shot." Or, "He's using that lens," and that would either inspire me to be like, "Hmm," I was thinking, "Why is he using the telephoto lens? "How is he seeing things?" Right? And I think you would often look at me and be like, "What are you doing over there? "What's over there?" (both laugh) So you can play off of each other in the field. It's gonna force you to see the whole place and then come back and share a richer interpretation of that place, as well, and then here's another thing, is giving each other feedback, which again, we're giving each other that little bit of that subtle challenge or critique in the field. Oftentimes, we can look at the back of the screen, but then afterwards, and I gotta hand it to you, Matt, you're always posting them way before I do. Tell us about that, what's your--? I like making decisions. (Gabriel laughs) So when I go to bed, I often don't want to wait. I'm impatient, and I need to see what the images were, and that keeps me up, so I'm just like, "Ya know what? I'm gonna ingest," and then I'm like, "Eh, I might as well process now." So I might as well process, and I'm like, "It's only one more step to post about it," so I spit 'em out and I go post 'em on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter and all the good places. And I wake up to so many likes and hits, it just, it makes me feel good, and I might have a couple more hours' sleep, 'cause we're not getting home, oftentimes, until, if we're lucky, 1:00 in the morning, but a lot of times it's 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, and this guy's staying up, and I understand that excitement. I don't know, I a lot of times, sometimes, have that A, that post-phobia or that edit-phobia 'cause I'll know exactly-- I know I'm gonna spend a dedicated time and I wanna make sure that I'm in the right space to do it, and dedicate that time to do it. But then oftentimes, if we keep moving, we keep going to these locations, boy, I'm not going back to that work, so I gotta take a page outta your book and do a little bit better job of editing and posting my images. I think you're fine just the way you are. It's just that I have that start-up mentality where I just wanna ship it and move on. All right. It's just what I do. What do you guys do? Do you mull about it, do you take your time? Does it take you over an hour to craft an image? Or are you wanna get it our there and you have your presets and you have your vision for it, and you're getting it out the door and shipped ASAP? The important thing of putting it out there is getting that feedback, and whether it is feedback in the field or feedback from Facebook or all the other social avenues, that's really, really important, 'cause you can't be the only critic of your image. As much as we understand the craft, we need that feedback, and sharing with friends is more important than ever. And I understand a lot of the social things, it's all about the thumbs up and the hearts, so really taking that feedback and leveling that up. Right. And sharing that with friends, meetups, sharing a portfolio, getting a portfolio review, getting a critique in class or something like that, or taking a workshop and getting that really one-on-one, direct feedback, that's super important and that'll just make you a more productive and better photographer. Can I add something to that? Go for it. I think that when, just like when you teach something in addition to doing something, you get better, because you have be able to articulate it to somebody else. The same thing goes for feedback. When you have to say, "I'm gonna look at this "in a critical way, and provide somebody "with something constructive that can help them "see something they didn't see before," that helps you also, look at your own images the same way. It's a gift that gives back to you. Yup, you gotta keep open. Yup. I love teaching our workshops, I learn something new from the students almost every workshop. Exactly. Ya know, they're seeing it in a different way than I'm seeing it and that you're seeing it, and it's funny, we were talking about creativity in a lunchroom with, what was the gentleman's name? That guy. That guy, well, we were talking about creativity in the lunchroom and one of the guys said, "What's your take on creativity? Right. Right? "And how do you keep pushing it?" And oftentimes we reach a plateau, we're working, we're striving, we try to be-- We have that foundation of knowledge, but we wanna keep pushing and pushing and pushing, and then once we kind of control, we have a good sense and we're comfortable with our creativity, it's a happy moment, but it's also a very scary moment, 'cause now what's next? We climb up this mountain, now we gotta explore the next range, I guess. It's time to level up. It's time to level up, it is. So keep on pushing, don't be comfortable with your shots and keep on pushing that creativity along and once you get-- Get comfortable, but get uncomfortable really quick. So, we were just in Crater Lake doing our workshop. And it was really funny, and this is, again, Matt and I can be at the same location and we get totally different interpretations of this place. So we're along Crater Lake and Matt, why don't you show us your interpretation? Sure. And walk us through it, what were you thinking? What did you see? Well, I'm one of the last guys to stand up in front of the camera and do that flashlight in the sky thing. M-hmm (affirmative) It's very popular right now. Yup. I also made it really easy, and there's a lot of interest in the Milky Way, and I can understand why, it's gorgeous, right? There's something wonderful about the scale of a human being and the Milky Way next to each other. And when you hold that lantern up the sky, whatever it might be, it can say a lot of things, on a metaphorical level, it can say it on a personal level, it could say, "Hey look at me" level. M-hmm (affirmative) It works in lots of ways, and I wanted to work with all of these lines that we're working with, so there's a windswept tree that was growing not straight up the Milky Way, it wasn't straight through the scene, there's that little bit of fire and smoke from the forest fire over there too. (Gabriel laughs) And, I said, "Ya know what? "I just wanna see how far the beam of my flashlight goes." That was a what-if moment, ya know? So I said, "All right, let's do this." And I deliberately aimed it so it was parallel to where the Milky Way was, so that I could, just for kicks, see how far it went. And that was just a curiosity, and I wanted to see what could I do to do my interpretation of the "Hey, look at me, I'm holding "a flashlight in the sky" moment, so-- Yup. That's what happened. Man versus Milky Way, right? Yes. And I think, I really love this shot, this is a great interpretation. A little bit, sometimes people shine the beam on the Milky Way to reveal it, you're going sort of, "Hey, this is my light, "and this is the universe," right? And I love that you shot vertical. With this, obviously, it plays to it, and I love your composition on that. That glow really does make it that really wonderful, rich, and complementing color really kinda separates and shows us that foreground of the rim. And you did a little light painting on that tree, as well, I believe, right? Actually that was you. Oh, that was me, that's why I remember it, exactly. So working together. Yeah. Right? Working together. Collaboration. Collaboration to create. Yeah. That's good. So at this same location, I walked on the other side of this tree about 20 or 30 feet along. I said, "Ya know, Matt's got this shot, and it's "a great shot, but I wanna look for what I can see." And oftentimes when I go into a scene, I won't set up my tripod at all. I don't wanna go, "I know the Milky Way is right there," and you can be like, "Okay, throw it on the tripod, "Milky Way's there, shoot vertical, done, check." However, take your time, be open to it, and really walk around the scene and see how everything is playing together. And when I saw the Milky Way, I said, "I don't think I can capture this in one shot." I was like, "It's just too big." And it wasn't doing the perfect arch, I was not able to get to a location safely and get the whole arch of it, but what I did do was I did a 10-shot panorama and got this shot. So I went up high and I saw as high as the Milky Way was arching, and I actually coulda gone a little higher. My one self critique on this is, when you're really wanting to do the arch shots, the Milky Way arch shots, you really gotta make sure that arch is at the most, going through the middle of your shot, so I could've literally leveled up a little bit more on this one, but I like showing, again, a different and more, for me, a fuller interpretation. Crater Lake, it's all about that volcano, the caldera, and I could show more of that rim by shooting, and I shot vertically, and I think this was about 10 shots, so I went five shots across and then I shot five shots down to include the foreground, 'cause again, like you said, playing that space against the night sky. One type of astrophotography is all about just shooting all the stars in the sky and no reference, but I think you and I, the type of night-sky photography that we really like is really interplaying it against the world we live in. And whether it's the National Parks or whether it's manmade topography. Right. It really plays up against that, so that's what I was hoping to achieve with this one, as sort of a big picture. I saw how big you were going, so I had to level up. Well done, well done. I'll tell you some other things that I like, where I didn't choose to creep up on the edge of the caldera, because I wanted to show that tree. Yeah. I couldn't show Lizard Island, I couldn't show the lake that's in the caldera. You found a really great vantage to show that, and you got a wonderful reflection off of it, which is the Milky Way, right? And a little bit of south rim down there. Having that reference there, you have the curve of the Milky Way on the bottom, you got the curve of the lake on the bottom, there's a nice echo of reversed imagery there. I like it a lot. You didn't give me any criticism on my photo. Thank you very much, (Gabriel laughs) but I'm gonna provide a little bit-- Okay. Of criticism on yours. I agree with you about getting a little bit more on top on the Milky Way, and there's a little bit of tree on the right side that normally you'd crop out. Ooh. Ooh, yeah. I did, I did give 'em the final. You threw me a softball. I gave you a softball on that one. Yeah. You gotta do that border patrol. Yeah, border patrol. Yeah, exactly, border patrol's to crop that out. The distracting edge right there. And that's... Yeah... Yeah. Otherwise, that is an amazing stitch, well done, sir. Thank you, thank you, so, we were telling CreativeLive about just the interplay that we have, the comraderieship and these sort of, how we always challenge ourselves in the field, and they say, "Well, why don't you up your challenge, "and let's do something in the field?" So last night, when we were out and it's a very-- We were out at Mount Rainier, but we couldn't see anything at all. It was this overcast, cloudy night. For most of the night, we decided to give ourselves a challenge, because really, we had an empty canvas, so what can we do? So why don't we take you out and you can see how our challenges worked out in the field. Okay, so welcome to the night photography challenge part of the episode. So Matt and I, and this goes for anyone, you go out shooting together, and you go to the same location, and yes, there might be that National Park, that epic thing, the Milky Way right in front of you, and yet, you've gotta capture that, but you've also gotta challenge yourself to create. And when you set up side-by-side with someone, yeah, again, that shot might be there, but then look around or try a different lens, but you've gotta always, you don't wanna come away always with the same pictures, right? As the person next to you, you wanna challenge yourself to interpret the place in a new way or step up or, as Matt likes to say, level up your creativity. So we're gonna do a challenge here to inspire you guys to challenge yourselves at home as well. So, Matt, I've got a challenge for you. Uh-oh. So my challenge to you is called "The Picasso Challenge." Now, you remember that sort of... It was one of the first light writing images ever, and there was a picture of Picasso making a bull, so he made his art with a penlight, I believe it was, and then they flashed 'em and froze 'em. Okay, so what I'd like you to do, and what the audience, I think you already know, Matt is a very talented cut paper art, but now I want you to make the art with light and be in there as a self portrait. Boom. Boom. Challenge accepted. All right. I have a challenge for you. Wait, I thought it was just me giving you a challenge? No, fair is fair. (Gabriel sighs) Yes. All right. My challenge for you-- Yes? Is to create a portrait-- Okay? Of your hat. What? (laughs) That also shows a distinct passage of time. I think I can do that. What are the parameters here? All right, so ten minutes, has to be done in camera. Hmm. All right? You're on. Let's do this. All right, let's rock. Okay, so my challenge is to make a light painting with light writing in the style of my cut paper art, thank you, Gabe, and I've decided to use the following tools, my Coast flashlight with the red gel on it, I'm gonna set up a Profoto B over there and I'll put a grid on it, 'cause I remember this Picasso picture, it's engraved into my brain, and I'm gonna set that up, I'm gonna use that fade on my camera, ISO 100, 'cause I like quality, and I know that that's perfect for my flashlight pointing into the lens, it's not gonna be too bright. So I'm gonna make a red painting, and I'm gonna have that flash fire on me at a critical moment, and I'm going to use the wireless trigger to make that happen. My flashlight doesn't turn on and off really quickly, so I'm going to end up just covering it when I wanna end a shape. Here we go, I'm gonna set up the flash first. I'm gonna grab my Profoto B1 out of the bag, here. Clock's ticking. All right, I got a grid here someplace. There it is, all right, this is a five degree. Excellent, I want it tight. Now we're going to turn it on, now we're going to turn on the modeling light, perfect. I want this angled right down the curve and only at my face, and I'm about that tall. Let's test it. And we'll turn the modeling light off. There we go, all right, the flash is set up. Oh gosh, I have very little time left, so let me set the camera. Okay, first things first, bulb, F8, 100, looks like I'm already there. I was shooting something good last time. Enter velometer, I'm just gonna use the manual slider on the back here, where I can press up and lock it like that. It's gonna beep the whole time, until I come back and shut it off. It won't matter, 'cause it's gonna be pitch black here. So, I think I'm ready to take my first shot. Let's do this, could we cut the lights? All right, are you ready, camera? I'm ready, okay, let's do this. All right. Shape, shape, shape, shape, shape. (equipment beeping) Survey says? Portrait. Oh man! (Matt laughs) Okay, so Matt's challenge to me was to take a portrait of my hat showing the passage of time. All right, so this is now-- I immediately thought, we just sit here and do a six-hour exposure and just see what happened to my hat against the ledge there, see it slowly cripple up or whatever, but we don't have that kinda time. 10 minutes, we said, all right, so what I'm gonna do is I'm going to do a triple exposure in a single exposure, whereby using flash to arrest the image. Now, this is taking a little something out of Matt's book. We're gonna do portrait with flash at night. So, I thought that would be a cool thing. And I'm gonna use these tools. I have a flash connected to a battery pack. You're gonna use the battery pack because I wanna have-- I wanna show a burst of three flashes. One, wait for it, I don't wanna wait for the recycle time of the flash, I wanna get the better recycle time of the battery pack. So we're gonna have these, and Matt, if you don't mind, can you run this for me? Because I don't wanna have a whatever, I don't have the triggers for it and I like to move, so if you don't mind being my trigger? That'd be great. Absolutely. Here ya go, now I also have set up here, I've got the D750, I'm going with a tighter shot, this is a portrait, so I'm using a portrait lens, I've got the 70 to 200, I've already got my focus checked. I took a model in there and did test for the distance, so I've auto-focused on that, then I put it to manual focus. So I'm ready to go, I've got my spot marked. And now, you think, what's the exposure on something like this? Well, this is light painting to a certain degree, that we're adding in our own light. There's no other light out here that we have, so the exposure, I have it set for bulb, okay? And I have it set for a two-minute exposure right now. But basically, the exposure's gonna be done when we're finished putting the flash, flashing it and freezing me three times with the hat in the scene. After that's done, I'll walk out of the scene, we'll stop the exposure, and see what we get. All right, so Matt, if you could take your position? I'm gonna trigger the remote, camera on. Wait for it, it's on. Okay, here's my position, all right, Matt, hit me. And everyone's always wondered what's under my hat. Go to the second position. Matt, hit me. Okay, and we're gonna go to the third position. All right, Matt. All right, let's see what we got. Take the exposure off, and there we have it. One, two, three, and we see the hat and me. Sorry, I had to throw me in there too. I couldn't resist, but we're showing time. And let's just check the focus. Well, I'm in focus each time. What do you think, Matt? I love it. You like it? Good interpretation. Almost like monkey see, monkey do, money hear. (Gabriel laughs) Exactly. All right, so we've done the challenge. Let's see what you have? I really enjoyed giving Matt this challenge. I thought it was perfect, I couldn't resist, I had to get a sneak peek out of it in the field, but here we can see his, Matt's Picasso. Picasso self portrait out in the field, and I thought this would be perfect for you when we said we were gonna do this photo challenge, I was thinking, "What can I do to challenge you?" 'Cause you're always asking, "What if?" Ya know, and "What can we do with it?" So I was like, "What hasn't Matt done?" Ya know? And I know you love your cut paper art, but I was like, let's see what we can do now with drawing with light, which is something that we both love doing and a good artist, you get a good artist to draw with light, you're gonna get a lot better images than my squiggles every now and again. But let's talk about this image, I really like it and one of the challenges when doing an image like this is knowing your boundaries of your shot and I think you did a pretty good job of staying within those boundaries, it's so hard to write with light, and you gotta remember where everything is and purposely cross over, and you got a lot going on here, and I can't believe it, I mean, look at that arch there, of the three arches on the left-hand side. It's not touching that other piece. You used a Profoto light to give yourself a little self portrait. I would like to see you a little bit more in it. Maybe a stunt more of light, but I know it's a delicate balance between blowing out what you're drawing and making it subtle or soft, but when I look at it, and when we look at it closely, we see ya, but I just wanna see a little bit more of you in it, and I wonder what it would look like-- Nope, forget it, that's the only way you could do it. My wonder is, I answered my own wonder, but ya know, where you place yourself, and that's a tricky thing, of course, to remember, so where you place yourself and how you light it and how you reveal it, interplaying with that. If I had a second chance to do this, I would've deliberately left a dark area for my face. Right. Marked that in my mind and returned to it and then fired the flash in that space-- Yup. If I remember correctly, Picasso drew a bull-- Yup. In the air with a single completed stroke. Yup. And he started and ended in the same place. My work is a little bit more complicated with multiple shapes, so I had to remember lots of coordinates, which, for a first time, I'm pretty proud of what I did. First time. (Gabriel laughs) The second one, I woulda done exactly what you did, and I have the same self criticism. All right, so it's interesting, when we draw-- If I remember the Picasso image as well, is you gotta draw, he was drawing around him, so you can either draw around you, you drew, you used the whole space as a canvas and then threw yourself in there, so again-- You only gave me 10 minutes. I only gave you 10 minutes and one shot, that was it, one and done, end camera. Right. All right, so what was your challenge to me? My challenge to you was to make a portrait of your hat. It was another one, not this one. Oh, right. That showed the passage of time. All right. Let's see what happened. Let's see what happens. When I gave you this challenge, I had an idea of how I woulda done it, and you surprised the heck outta me. (Gabriel laughs) So, yeah, I like this. I like the comedy here, because, I think I said on set that it looks like the-- Right, see no evil-- Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil, it sorta looks like that, except it's like... I don't know what the variation is, but I like it. I was thinking that you might actually put your hat on a stand. So that's what you would've thought of-- Yeah. So first off, I was thinking, "Oh, he wants a portrait "of just my hat." M-hmm (affirmative) And I just was like, ya know a hat on the bench or something like that, and then obviously either move it or crush it or crumple it to show the passage of time, either with a long exposure or with flash, but then once I said flash, I'm like, "Wait a minute, "I can move the hat throughout the scene." Yup. And, ya know, the best, easiest way to move the hat throughout the scene is to do it with your own two hands, I guess. Truth. So again, I sorta blocked out the area I needed it to be in. M-hmm (affirmative) And then did my monkey see, monkey do. You nailed that one. You totally nailed that one. And you get to see what's finally under Gabe's hat. That's right, surprise! Another hat. It's like one of the dolls, you keep opening, there's another one-- Russian nesting hats? Nesting hats, exactly. Guess what? Now, it's your turn. All right, so we want you guys to go buddy up with someone and challenge yourselves to reinterpret the scene or, again, if you're working with someone and if you know what type of photography they're comfortable within, flip the coin, give 'em a real challenge. Thank you very much. I hope I've laid a solid foundation to help you explore your night visions, whatever they might be. If you wanna follow me, my website is I'm also on Facebook under Gabriel Biderman, Twitter @GabeBandH, or Instagram @ruinism. Or if you haven't got my book on night photography, this is a book I wrote with Tim Cooper, "From Snapshots to Great Shots," you can find it at any bookstore, and then also, if you want to learn more with us in the field, come follow us at If you sign up for our mailing list, we give you a free e-book on 20 tips of night photography, so you wanna sign up for our mailing list at, follow us on Facebook at National Parks at Night, as well as on Twitter, and then also on Instagram. Give us a follow and we hope to see you and seize the night.

Class Description

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  


Christiane Menelas

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.

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