Light Sources

005_CampbellTreesOLightOne notable aspect of the night, not seen in the day, is a multitude of light sources.

They draw our eye and add to the visual interest of the night.

One of the great joys of night photography is the opportunity to include light sources in our images.

In populated areas there is a wide variety of man-made light, AKA artificial light. In the heavens there are numerous natural sources of light. Most nighttime scenes are lit by more than just a single light source.

Light sources can play a significant role in photographic compositions. They can be an important part of an expressive image, one that draws the viewer’s eye in an uncommon way. These visual elements highlight the difference between the nighttime and the daytime.

Photographing light sources directly has a number of challenges. We will examine these in upcoming posts, and offer tips and solutions.

IMAGE : Trees O’Light, Campbell, CA

This is one of my earliest nighttime images, taken on a damp winter night. I had ridden this bike path many times in the daylight so ventured out one night to check it out.

The light fog filled the air, diffusing and softening the light. The footlights portrayed the trees as characters on a stage, an effect unseen during the daytime.

I looked and beheld seven Trees, and at their feet, seven Lamps, each giving light to the Tree above. Then I heard a voice saying, “Come and see, for these are the Trees O’Light, each cradling a Mystery within.”

I looked and I saw the Lamps giving shape to the Trees. Then I heard another voice saying, “Come and witness the seven Mysteries sealed within the trees, each illuminated by the Lamp at its root, for these are the Mysteries O’Life that you long to see, and to hear, and to know.”

I looked, then said, “Nah … I’ll just take a picture.”

After bracketing I found that the best exposure was 30 seconds shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryGoldTonerLite

In the darkroom Gold toning creates image hues ranging from light to deep blue. Moderate Gold toning produces a bluish gray hue. This was chosen to evoke a feeling of the cold night air filled by lamplight.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App “SuiteProfiler”. The Profile was derived from the “GalleryGoldTonerLite” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Light Sources

Take your camera into the night and look for a simple composition which includes one or more light sources.

Pay attention to balancing the light sources with the other visual elements in your image.

Be sure to bracket, not only for exposure’s sake, but also to see how the light sources change in an image as shutter speeds increase.

Be sure to review the “Safety & Precautions” Page.

NEXT TIME : “Framing, Leveling & Focusing”


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The Great Diversity of Light

004_JemezMonumentMoonThe night is not just about darkness. It is about the Great Diversity of Light painted on a black background. It is about lighting possibilities and an abundance of photographic choices.

Unlike sunlight during the daytime, the night offers photographers a wide range of lighting conditions created by many varied sources of light.

Places take on a different personality at night, a different look, a unique feel.

Often I’ve studied places during the day to imagine how they might look at night. I am almost always surprised by the reality of the nocturnal scene.

Night light is so much more diverse than daylight. The difference is like, well … night and day. The night literally forces you to see differently.

IMAGE : Jemez Monument & Moonrise, Jemez Springs, NM

Every year the Jemez Monument has a holiday lighting of over 1500 candle-lit farolitos. When this was taken, the moon was rising and highlighting the clouds. The face of the monument was lit by nearby bonfires. The entire scene was awash with moonlight.

The difference in lighting among the monument, the moon and the moonlit clouds was extreme.

This image is the result of bracketing then blending a 4 minute exposure of the monument with a 4 second exposure of the clouds and a 1/30 second exposure of the face of the moon. All exposures were shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryBrownTone

The Brown tone was created to convey an organic sense of the ancient Southwestern earthen structure.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App “SuiteProfiler”. The Profile was derived from the Color Map “GalleryBrownTone” created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : The Great Diversity of Light

Go out at night and observe the diversity of light. Pay attention to the medley of light sources and variations in lighting.

See what kind of light and lighting captures your attention the most. Be aware of the impact this has on you, that is, the feelings, sensations, or thoughts this evokes in you.

Consider how you would compose an image to re-create your visual and inner experience.

Be sure to review the “Safety & Precautions” page.

NEXT TIME : “Light Sources”


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Exposure Guidelines

003_SanJoseHotelDeAnzaNight Photography can seem a little daunting at first, but not to worry, there is method to the madness.

The most practical approach to capturing good nighttime exposures is Bracketing, or as a friend of mine says “BLH”, meaning Bracket Like Hell.

The idea is to capture as much image data as you can through a wide range of exposures.

There are many reasons for bracketing. It is not just about getting the “right exposure” as in the daytime. We will discuss more about this in future posts.

For now, follow these basic Exposure Guidelines for both digit and film cameras:


  • set ISO to 400
  • set White Balance to Automatic
  • set Auto Focus (AF) to MANUAL (AF may disable camera if too dark)
  • set Auto Exposure (AE) to MANUAL (AE will under expose at night)
  • turn off Flash
  • set Shutter Speed to BULB for unsupported exposure times (e.g. > 30 seconds)


  • set ISO to the Film ISO, Film with ISO 400 is good for long exposures
  • correct White Balance for daylight color film with an 80A blue filter (optional)
  • do not use Flash
  • set Shutter Speed to BULB

EXPOSURE : Aperture

  • set Aperture (f-stop) to f5.6
  • do NOT change ISO or Aperture settings during Bracketing

EXPOSURE : “Starting Point” Shutter Speed

  • use Light Meter to establish the Starting Point Shutter Speed (if possible)
  • OR, set Shutter Speed to 1.0 second (if too dark for Light Meter)

EXPOSURE : Bracketing Shutter Speeds

  • make Starting Point exposure
  • make 3 to 5 subsequent exposures by doubling each exposure time

EXAMPLE : Bracketing Shutter Speeds

  • make Starting Point exposure of 1 second
  • make subsequent exposures of 2, 4, 8, 15, and 30 seconds
  • NOTE: do NOT change ISO and Aperture settings during bracketing

IMAGE : Hotel DeAnza, San Jose, CA

In 1991 I was living in the San Francisco Bay Area. One night in January, I looked out the window around midnight and saw fog, lots of fog. I grabbed my camera equipment and headed out.

I really had no idea what to do exactly. I just knew I needed to Bracket and hope for the best. I was so taken by Hotel DeAnza in the fog, I shot an entire roll of film to make sure I captured the right exposure, as well as the right composition.

That was the first time I had ventured out into the night to photograph. I did not get home until 6AM. No time for sleep, I got ready and left for work. I could not believe how much fun it was. I was especially excited after I developed my film. There was no looking back. I was completely captured by night photography.

The most successful exposures were 15 and 30 seconds shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. Bracketing gave me the result I was looking for.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilver

Silver toning was chosen to accentuate the soft sense of light created by the fog.

This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App “SuiteProfiler”. The cool tint was created to evoke a sense of the cold foggy night.

The Profile was derived from the Color Map “GallerySilver” created in SuiteProfiler. You can open the Color Map in SuiteProfiler if you have a Mac.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Exposure Guidelines

Go out into the night and find a low lit scene, something moderately challenging. Avoid places that are brightly lit. Set up your camera and tripod, then follow the Exposure Guidelines to capture a series by Bracketed exposures.

Afterwards examine your images for successful exposures.

If you think you did not succeed, do not get discouraged. Return to the same scene, follow the guidelines, but adjust your Starting Point exposure. If your images are all too dark, increase the Starting Point Shutter Speed. If your images are all too light, decrease it. Perform a series of Bracketed exposures again.

Be sure to review the “Safety & Precautions” page.


NEXT TIME : “The Great Diversity of Light”


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