NIGHT STREET PHOTOGRAPHY

When Sun is gone, darkness arrived, and now artificial light is your new mate! Yes, it is true that photography is about drawing with light, but even when we lost the biggest source of light (Sun), we still can rely with any artificial light out there. The best part is many artificial light have different in colours, which is we can get even more creative than sun light, because now we can do colours match to make photo looks more exciting and catchy. So shooting at night actually could be even more fun than at daylight!

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Train Station, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2017

The core key of shot at night is we need to understand how light works and how our camera reacts to it. Yes, we shot at night, but when we point out camera to any strong source of light, camera will read it as the sensor got plenty of light level, therefore we can use higher shutter speed, smaller aperture or lower ISO. In the photo above I captured train that slowed down to stop in station. I pointed out my camera to train’s head lamp and I can get relatively high shutter speed to freeze the moment (light star in this case) without being blurry. To make the light star looks longer I even managed to use smaller aperture even though the area around there is really dark. Once the camera pointed out to train’s headlamp, camera will no longer care about its dark surrounding and only will calculate light based on train’s headlamp. In this case, for camera it was just like shooting at daylight, plenty of light to play with.

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Bangkok, Thailand, 2017

The best part of bright light in low light area is everything that passed the light, will become silhouette (which is my personal favourite in visual art street photography!). Silhouette with strong geometry or gesture will create unique story line that infuse reality and our imagination. We need to point our camera to the light source, and with enough light level we can use higher shutter speed and lower ISO noise as well. The trick to create silhouette shot at night actually we need smaller aperture as well. Remember that we focus our camera to the light source, so if we use big aperture like f1.4 then the silhouette objects will a little bit blur (foreground bokeh effect). To avoid that usually I use f4 – f8 to create silhouette image in front of strong light source like advertising light board. Shutter speed also plays big role here, as too slow shutter speed will make silhouette objects blur as well (could be a benefit too, more on that later), generally I set my shutter speed no less than 1/125 second.

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Jakarta, Indonesia, 2018

Low shutter speed effect can help us to create sense of movement. To create this effect we need to shot moving object with low speed, and use panning technique. Panning is about we move camera manually to follow the movement of an object. In the photo above I panned my camera hand handled to focus on door mirror. Low shutter speed create movement effect that made the car moved really fast though in reality it was slow moving. We still can see the car relatively sharp, with long blurry light as movement effect. Get colourful light in background is the best part when we do street photography at night.

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Jakarta, Indonesia, 2018

To add more dynamic effect to silhouette photo (or any photos actually) we can get help from geometry effect. Generally any triangle or diagonal shape will make photos have stronger dynamic composition and help our eyes to focus more to an image. One of the trick to find a good advertising light board, bright colour like Red is really a good start. Red has the longest wavelength and it makes red colours as the most visible colour compare to others. It is easily attract our eyes the most, and make image has stronger looks as well.

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Reflection of Brooklyn Bridge, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2018

Another photo from advertising light board here. When there is strong light we do not only need to prepare some silhouette shot, but also to find a reflective object around. I found that find reflective objects much easier at night compare at daylight. On the photo above I used a car as a reflective object. Silver window film with shiny black paint in front of advertising light board made a perfect reflection scene.

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Jakarta, Indonesia, 2017

Shoot at night definitely is a bit more challenging than at daylight time. We really need to pay more attention to our shutter speed and ISO level. I found that most of Auto Setting from cameras are not reliable enough to get kind of image that I like. My camera that I used the most right now is Fujifilm X100F, and my setting in camera for low light is:

  • Manual shutter speed at 1/250s or 1/125s for moving objects, or 1/60s for still objects. To create movement effect from panning I usually use 1/8s or 1/4s. Panning is something we need to learn first as we need to predict the speed of objects. Do not just make a single try and give up, fail rate definitely is not low to do panning.
  • Manual aperture control, for movement object usually at f2 or bigger (if able). To make silhouette usually at f4 or f5.6 or f8, really depend on how bright the light source is. The smaller is better to create sharper silhouette.
  • Manual or Auto ISO. For Auto ISO I limit to ISO 6400 maximum. Some of my friends said that it is still ok to do ISO 12,800 shot, but personally it is just too much grain. I know that grain in Black and White shoot can become a good effect, but I prefer to add grain in Lightroom if needed compare to add masking or noise removal.

That is all for my tips to shoot street at Night. Remember that shooting at night could be more fun than daylight time as we can mix a lot of colourful light sources to create a more creative image, and also there are plenty of chances to get silhouette or reflection effect at night. Until next time!

Keep shooting and stay inspired,

Nico Harold