Find Art Photography

030_KennaHomageToBrassaiOne of the best ways to learn to see through our own eyes is to learn to see through the eyes of another.

We have all been inspired by the works of other artists, but we can also learn from those who have gone before.

We must learn to see to learn to do. Being inspired by one who has mastered the art of seeing photographically at night can further our own visual discovery process and artistic development in a very practical way.

This is true for any art form, but especially true in night photography, because nocturnal image making is not as commonly practiced as other areas of photography.

But we can go beyond just being momentarily inspired. We can adopt a muse to guide us along our path of developing a sense of night vision.

Selecting and following a muse motivates and challenges us to not only view  examples of nighttime work, but to also see differently, to see more deeply, and to see more distinctly.

Exposing ourselves to another’s body of work, past and present, offers more than just a technical education. By focusing on the work of another in a concentrated way we begin to assimilate a better knack for seeing and capturing our own inner vision.

In the same way that formal martial arts training prepares our bodies to respond in a more focused way, viewing and absorbing our muse’s imagery trains our eyes to recognize and respond to the subtle visual nuances we encounter when photographing at night.

Interestingly this does not teach us to duplicate another’s work. Instead it trains our mind’s eye to respond in a more conscious and personal manner.

But we need to give it time to develop. This is not an over night exercise. It is neither casual nor constant, but somewhere in-between. It’s something we dedicate ourselves to visit and revisit over time to track our changes in perspective.

By acquainting ourselves with not only what another sees, but also how another sees, we familiarize ourselves with the development of a visual journey, and become more intimate with our own artistic quest.

Over time we can adopt many muses, but the best approach is to commit to only one at a time in order to see another’s talents as purely as possible, both technically and artistically.

By amusing ourselves, we expose ourselves to greater possibilities that can be easily overlooked as we advance our personal perspective of the night.

IMAGE : Homage to Brassaï, River Thames, London, England © Michael Kenna

In the mid 1980’s, I bought this image from the Friends of Photography in California. It was my introduction to night photography, and motivated me to eventually venture into the night with my camera. Over the years, I have followed Michael’s nighttime work as a source of insight and inspiration along my visual journey.

About this image Michael Kenna said, “One evening I was staying in a friend’s house just outside of London, the very place that I had lived for three years when I was studying at the London College of Printing. As it was getting time to go to bed I noticed a rising mist from the River Thames, which was just visible from the window. I went out to photograph and did not return until after sunrise the following morning. It was an exquisitely cold, winter’s night. I imagined that Brassaï might have done the same thing when he was photographing along the Seine in Paris. Much of the subject matter was similar: bridges, boats, embankments, and water. I have often emulated photographers that I particularly admire and I try to pay homage to them in titles for my own photographs.”

You can view Michael’s body of work on his website.

EXERCISE : Find Art Photography

Find a photographer whose work inspires you. Select one or more of your favorite images created by the photo artist. Take the time to study the work, and look for the details that capture your attention and imagination the most.

Be sure to select vintage as well as recent images to get a good cross section of the kind of work that inspires you. Revisit the images from time to time to see how their impact on you changes, taking note of the effect certain visual elements have on you.

FEEDBACK : Find Art Photography

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Paying Homage”


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The Eye in Discovery

011_StanfordPointsOLightThere is more to night photography than meets the eye.

Pioneer photographer Philip Hyde said, “A photographer has to look around.”

Not the most inspiring quote I’ve come across, but still a good reminder.

Unfortunately, he left out the main ingredient, “… and take notice”.

Because looking without noticing is like hearing without listening.

It is our intention that matters the most when we are looking around, so we should also ask ourselves, “What am I not noticing?”

This is the visual discovery process in a nutshell.

With short exposures, we usually capture what we notice with the naked eye. Our images pretty much reflect what we observe in a single moment, a snapshot in time.

But when photographing at night, “noticing” takes on a-whole-nother dimension. Spotting our subject matter in the dark is only where the challenge begins.

We have to look into the night with our mind’s eye to anticipate how changes in light and lighting will unfold during a long exposure.

We must train our mind’s eye to see beyond the current moment, to view the not yet seen. And learn to visualize the possibilities in time, to capture the not yet scene.

One of the best ways to train our mind’s eye for discovery is through experimentation.

During nighttime exposures, we have the time to survey our surroundings, envision how movement and change will affect the final image, then dream up experiments with light to expand our photographic intuition.

It is with this eye towards change and the expanded moment, that we open the door to a much richer spectrum of image making.

IMAGE : Points O’Light, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

This is one of my images I call “experiments gone right.”

The Rodin Sculpture Garden is dramatically lit at night. When I noticed three street lights in the distance, I composed with them in mind to see how the camera would treat them.

I beheld a trio of lights at the tip of his finger.

The lights grew brighter, and I heard them saying,
“Come hither, share what is in your heart.”

I gave pause, then asked,
“How do I learn to photograph at night?”

The lights burned, turned to stars, and spoke again,
“The answer lies within your question.”

I pondered on this, then replied, “Huh?”

The stars decreased, the lights dimmed, the voices whispered,
“Sorry, you only get one question.”

My discovery: Since aperture starring occurs in the camera, the stars advanced forward in the image. The result: The 3 stars seem to emerge from the finger tip of the sculpture.

My experiment taught me something to look for in the future. Plus it added a personal touch to the image (pun intended).

This image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 2 minute exposure shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilverLite

A light silver tint was applied to the image to accentuate the sculpture’s metallic highlights.

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

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

EXERCISE : The Eye In Discovery

The next time you go out at night, look around and notice any movement or change in light. Imagine how that might appear in a long exposure.

Entertain ideas on how to capture the changes that are visually compelling.

If you are uncertain how these changes might materialize in a final image, think up some experiments to try the next time you photograph at night.

This is a great way to practice seeing the possibilities with your mind’s eye.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions Page.

NEXT TIME : “Lens Flare”


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The Expanded Moment

007_BelenCrossingTrainWhen you take a long exposure, “what you see ain’t what you get”, at least not what you see with your naked eye.

What you do get is an Expanded Moment, including all of the changes in light seen by your camera.

French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson adopted the term “The Decisive Moment” to describe his personal style of photography. Essentially “being in the right place, at the right time” … in the right frame of mind.

About the creative moment, Cartier-Bresson said, “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.”

With long exposures, the “creative fraction of a second” becomes an Expanded Moment, an event which includes an element of time as well as space in the final image.

The trick is to learn to anticipate how your camera will record the changes you witness during a single exposure.

The challenge is a strange mix of anticipation and recognition. In the right frame of mind, we want to anticipate the moment without expectation to recognize the potential.

Image possibilities increase exponentially as exposure times increase. We are given greater opportunities to capture both our experience and our observation of an event in an uncommon way.

It’s kind of like shooting a short film then showing it as a single image. It’s a different way of telling a story.

IMAGE : Rail Crossing & Train Lights, Belen, NM

It was very dark. I had just completed one round of multi-minute bracketing of the rail cars and signal lights when I heard train whistles in the distance to my right.

I said out loud, “Here comes the magic.” After all I was alone in the dark so nobody could see or hear me talking to myself.

I opened the shutter as the oncoming train began to light up the rail cars and tracks in front of me. About the same time an all terrain vehicle came from the left on the other side of the tracks, highlighting the signal stands. I watched as the engines approached and passed, then closed the shutter after a dozen or so rail cars had gone by.

Turns out the vehicle was railroad security coming to tell me I was on private property and not allowed to take pictures. Little did he know he contributed to the shot.

This is a good example of being in the right place, at the right time, and making some quick decisions to take advantage of my good fortune. My original composition was a quiet scene but I ended up with something far more dynamic.

This turned out to be a 30 to 40 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySteelGray

A slightly cool gray tint was applied to the image to convey a steely look, a better rendition of my visual experience than the neutral grayscale.

The image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GallerySteelGray” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : The Expanded Moment

Next time you go out at night without your camera, take the time to look at the light that is changing around you. This may range from very subtle to quite dramatic.

Pay attention to how long these changes take. Imagine how you would capture these changes with your camera, and when you would open then close the shutter.

Begin breaking the habit of seeing the world as things, and start thinking more of just seeing light.

NEXT TIME : “Aperture Settings”


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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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Welcome to The Art of Night Photography

001_CarlsbadFountainLightningWelcome to The Art of Night Photography, the Blog dedicated to the practice of night photography.

This Blog draws on my 23+ years experience of photographing exclusively at night, as well as my 10+ years experience in teaching classes and workshops on night photography.

Through regular posts, we will explore a wide range of topics dealing with both the technical and the artistic challenges inherent in nighttime and low light photography.

On each post, I will share my experience on a single topic of nighttime image making, and present one of my images as an example. I will also suggest an exercise to help you learn from your own experience.

We will examine black-and-white and color images. We will also cover the technical aspects of capturing images with film and digital cameras. Occasionally we will delve into image production techniques in Adobe Photoshop.

Creating nighttime images is not just a technical venture. We will spend time discussing approaches to image content, composition and impact.

Typically I enhance my black-and-white images through tinting and toning. I do this digitally with custom color profiles created in my Mac App “SuiteProfiler”, which is available in the Mac App Store. I will share my thoughts on this from time to time.

This Blog is designed to address all levels of photographic experience, but we will keep it simple. You will need no expensive or specialized equipment to do the exercises.

So stay tuned, there is a lot to learn about this discovery process called “The Art of Night Photography.”

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