Night photography is slower; it takes more time to execute a photograph at night. That pace allows photographers to observe, consider, and form a relationship with the subject that is more intimate and careful, versus the fraction-of-a-second exposure durations of daytime photography.
Paired with this is the expansion or dilation of time. This comes with a level of unpredictability not found in daytime photography. The movement of objects, water, clouds, light … they all accumulate into a final image that our minds cannot predict or comprehend. Our lives are of the moment; we cannot hold all that three hours contains and then compound it into one image.
And that is where the magic of night photography lies. It’s unmapped. The unexpected happens on a regular basis. And therein is my fascination and delight for decades.
What makes night photography special
Night photography is different than daytime photography simply because it looks different. The colors are shifted, usually more towards blues. The sky is dark instead of light. The sky may have stars, either points or trails or even light streaks from airplanes or drones or things you throw up in the air.
The next level as a photographer is when you have that inspirational moment about how that expanded length of time is important to you and how you capture that with light, time, and motion. You focus on how that result will give the viewer pause to ask, “What is happening here, why, and how did they do that?”
Crafting an opportunity for another to be curious, perhaps delighted, and possibly connected with something larger than their own present is the gift of a wonderfully rendered night photograph.
Why you should buy night photography
From a technical point of view, night photography pieces have a strong sense of place, combined with a level of craft that demonstrates the artist’s connection to the location, dedication to being able to capture what occurred, or manufacture the right ambiance via lighting.
From an emotional point of view, I find that art buyers are seeking a story, not just the art. When you look at the art and share it with visitors, you want to recall and relate to this story. When you are seeking night photography for your collection, look for titles and descriptions that inspire a relatable memory, especially of adventure, calmness, introspection, preservation, kinetic light, and/or motion.
I find that the most successful night photography as wall art has a high visual impact. It can be bold or subtle, and it must have proper contrast, composition, and a clear focus. For instance, if there is a comet in the sky, it’s clearly the focal point. But what about a scene with a Joshua Tree? Or many? When photographers apply proper light painting the photographic technique of adding light to long-exposure photographs and post-processing, they make the hero of the scene the brightest and everything else leads the eye to it.
How to capture night photography
If you’re interested in attempting night photography on your own, you can use any camera. Even phones are now capable of certain forms of night photography.
Professional photographers intent on quality images worth sharing on a screen larger than Instagram, perhaps printed and for sale, often use an interchangeable lens camera either mirrorless or DSLR. They also use a sturdy tripod, a fast lens (for star points such as the Milky Way), a memory card, and a spare battery or two. Also necessary are flashlights, one dim for changing settings on the camera in the dark without burning out one’s night vision, and another warm one for light painting and navigation while moving around.
Owning a piece of this captivating genre of photography means owning a truly original image, and investing in the patience and gear required to capture these magical scenes.
Celebrating the best of night photography
WINNER Clearsky Astrofoto
Clearsky clearly has a deep passion for astro landscapes and a devotion to practicing the craft. Their time investment in making photos, using advanced gear to capture greater detail in the cosmos, and a concentrated focus on post-processing these images into a cohesive body of work is clearly evident. The spare, Danish dolmen, land- and seascapes are perfect complements to the night sky panoramas.
WINNER: Eric Thacke
Eric’s perfectly-timed moonset controls highlights very well and frames the stalwart Twin Lights location in New Jersey. The details contained in this portrait of a lighthouse truly describe it in perfect detail. A gentle sepia-toned edit brings together all the other situational elements to describe the lighthouse. His choice of lens, positioning, and end result demonstrate a mastery of the craft.
WINNER: Rachna Jain
Rachna’s compositions leave room for the imagination to flourish. Her technical ability to control highlights and shadows during capture and postprocessing is clear. She employs a light touch during post-processing to maintain the feeling of night, which lends magic, calm feeling to her body of work. And the breadth of subject matter demonstrates a dedication to night photography that I hope continues for a long time.
WINNER: Angie Purcell
Angie’s night photography is calm, collected, and rich with color. The clear passage of time with crisp details and motivated lighting compliment her ability to capture and process the images in a tasteful manner. I feel the peaceful contemplation of the scene in her presentations.
Matt Hill (b. 1975) is a professional night photographer, artist, and educator. He chooses time-bending art to search for a connection to a seemingly infinite universe. In late 2015, he and his four partners launched National Parks at Night, a night photography workshop series taught exclusively in national parks, and only once per location. Learn more at matthillart.com.