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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One thought on “The Eye in Discovery

  1. Pingback: Return to the Scene | The Art of Night Photography

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