Nikon photographer Flash Parker shares his travel-tested techniques for shooting photos as vibrant as the night scenes you want to remember.
When the sun goes down, street lights flicker and cities come alive with a whole new energy. But capturing this electric buzz in photographs can be challenging. Light often changes quickly and unpredictably, and moving objects can resist staying sharp and in focus. With a little patience, a camera that performs well in low light, like the new Nikon D7500, and a few technical tips and tricks, you can up your night photography game.
1. Have a Plan, but Be Flexible
My plan for the Disney Concert Hall in L.A. was to photograph it in the dead of night, assuming the contrast between the shiny architecture and the black sky would be striking. That didn’t work out; my images were flat and dark. I tried again just as the last light of day was waning, and the result was a vivid image of one of LA’s most well-known landmarks.
2. Experiment with Silhouettes
Where there’s dark, there’s a silhouette waiting to be captured. When the night sky is completely dark, I look for high-contrast scenes that offer up atmosphere and character. In Yangon, Myanmar, I came upon this crossing lit by oncoming traffic. I waited until a pedestrian walked into the frame, lined him up with the headlight from a motorbike, and shot this image. The result would be totally different if I’d exposed for the pedestrian; the silhouette lends an intrigue to the scene
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3. Compose Dramatic Vistas
I took the next image during my “Dark Knight phase,” when everything I shot seemed to be dark and brooding. Countless skyline images are taken at Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak; I knew I wanted mine to have a cinematic, constrained quality. To achieve this look, first I had to deal with the buildings in the foreground; if I exposed for them, the towers in my second layer (and background) would be blown out to near white, and the image would seem lifeless. Instead, I exposed for the buildings on that second level, so that only a few lights in the distance were overexposed. Then I used a slow shutter speed to add just a touch of smoothness to the clouds and the water in the bay. The result is a moody frame that suited my taste at the time.
4. Read and Adjust for the Light in Every Scene
During an annual festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, thousands of paper lanterns are set ablaze, flitting into the air like a flotilla of fireflies bent on conquering the dark skies. I had my camera at the ready but had to decide which part of the image I wanted exposed properly. If I chose the sky, my entire image would have been washed out to white. If I chose the white paper lantern, my image would have been too dark. I knew the matrix metering would struggle in this situation, so I switched to spot metering, and exposed for the light on the hands; that’s what helped take my sky to black, and gave me rich, even light throughout the scene. To keep my subject sharp, I lowered my aperture to f/2.8, pushed my ISO all the way to 4000, and shot at 1/500 of a second. Nikon cameras can deliver amazing results at high ISOs, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
5. Experiment with Light Trails and Motion Blur
Light trails are an effective way to add color and dynamism. All you need is a stable shooting platform (this is where a travel tripod comes in handy), a handle on your camera’s shutter speed, and good timing. I set up on a street in central Seoul to take the next photo. Shooting in manual, I dialed in a shutter speed of 4-seconds, an aperture of f/9 (so my image would be sharp from front to back), and ISO 200. I waited until two buses were about to enter my field of view, and then clicked the shutter; the buses streaked through the frame, leaving only their lights behind.