Night shoot basics
Familiarise yourself with the fundamentals of night photography before heading out
While there are specific skills and gear needed for the different subjects you can shoot at night – as we will explain over the coming pages – many of them rely on the same basic gear, techniques and planning. Here are four things you should consider before you set out on any night photography trip.
1 be prepared for the cold
The temperature at night can drop dramatically, even during the summer months. During a shoot, you’re also likely to find yourself standing in one location for quite some time, so always take along some warm clothes, even if it’s balmy and bright when you set out.
Naturally a hat, gloves and an insulated coat are going to be essential, but also make sure that your shoes or boots are warm, waterproof and well insulated from the damp and cold. It’s also worth taking a flask of coffee or tea to help lift your spirits.
2 Watch out for condensation
As the temperature starts to drop during the night, you’ll often find that any moisture in the air will condense on any gear you have out in the open. With your tripod, bag or even the outside of your camera this doesn’t matter too much, but when it forms on the lens, viewfinder and rear screen it can be a real problem.
You can minimise condensation by giving your gear some time to gradually acclimatise, rather than taking it straight out of a warm car or house into the cold air. But on many evenings you’ll still find condensation will form, so take along plenty of camera cloths and a cleaning kit. Another option is to use a dew heater, which is an electric blanket that keeps the lens warm, and so keeps condensation at bay.
3 avoid light pollution
The glow from houses and street lights can make it almost impossible to see the stars clearly, so for many night photography techniques you’ll need to get away from large towns and cities. When shooting wide views of the stars you’ll find that urban glow will still be visible several miles away from nearby towns, and even small villages. You can incorporate this glow into your images, but for completely dark skies you’ll need to venture out to extremely remote locations.
4 Stay safe!
Going out to most locations at night isn’t much more dangerous than it would be during the day, but it pays to take a few precautions, particularly if you’re venturing off the beaten track. If possible, take someone else with you, or at least tell someone where you are going and when you’ll be back.
Make sure that you’re familiar with any potential dangers in your location, such as uneven ground, water and even cliff edges. It’s easy to miss these when you’re working in the dark, so make sure that you arrive in daylight so that you can suss out the area.
A torch is essential for a night shoot, not just for finding your way and making it easier to adjust camera settings, but for illuminating objects to focus on and for light-painting parts of the scenery (see page 25)