After Dark

F8 1/20sec ISO 2500. Focal length 87mm

I think I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I have deliberately gone out with a camera to capture images after dark – but when an opportunity arises then I enjoy the challenge.

Last week my local camera club – Horsham Photographic Society – planned an evening of ‘Low Light Photography’ in the centre of Horsham. About 25 of us turned out and after meeting up in the centre of town headed off in ones and twos to look for images.

Low light photography is a broad topic that includes flood lit buildings, funfairs and fireworks, shop windows and street scenes, traffic light trails, and star-gazing, to mention a few key possibilities.

What is possible is dictated by the environment. Shop windows after dark are rewarding in  London’s West End, but not particularly in places like Horsham. There are, however, opportunities to capture diners in restaurants and drinkers in bars –  there are no curtains and the public are viewed as if in a goldfish bowl –  but despite being 99% sure that they can’t see me, the idea of capturing them on camera feels voyeuristic.

F8 1/25sec ISO 2500. Focal length 60mm

What rapidly became clear to me last week was that the images that appealed to me were related to light spilling out from stairwells and windows and for an hour or so I roamed the town in search of inner light spilling out into the night.

On a night like this, one of the key decisions a photographer has to make is this: do I use a tripod, keep the ISO within sensible limits and allow the exposure to last as long as it takes, or, do I continue to hand-hold my camera, and wind the ISO up sufficiently to get sharp images? I chose the latter. (That question is of course a no-brainer if you are shooting the Milky Way or other work that involves prolonged exposures). I don’t like using a tripod if I can possibly avoid it, I feel restricted, and despite my age I can still hold a camera steady at slow shutter speeds. And it’s very often the case that there is a convenient support for your camera – a lamp-post, wall, or tree against which a camera can be firmly held; and De-Noise software is remarkably good at removing noise that is the penalty of shooting at a high ISO.

To give you factual information, I have added the metadata to each image. All images were shot using a 16-85mm (true focal length 24-127.5mm) Nikkor Zoom on a DX Nikon 7000. Processing in Photoshop involved correction in ACR in the standard way, removing noise using Topaz’s excellent De-Noise plug-in, a small adjustment using Topaz Adjust, and then a final clean up with a subtle use of Topaz Clean that helped to ‘smooth’ images a little more, and finally sharpening. In all images I adjusted Levels to ensure deep blacks in the shadow areas.

The top image was re-worked, using the clone tool to lower the vertical light shaft into a closer ‘elbow’ shaped relationship to the horizontal lit element. The final image in the gallery below originally had two small skewed windows to the right of the main tower of lights that I cloned out. What I like about that final image is the way the window lights on an invisible staircase resemble an abstract stack of simple ‘shapes’.

To view the gallery, click on the first image and navigate through.





About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'.
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19 Responses to After Dark

  1. shoreacres says:

    The red staircase really has some zing to it, and I kept going back to it. I like the abstract yellow-and-blue lights, too. Your comment about liking light spilling out into the night reminded me of winter nights in Iowa, when the light would fall on the snow. Especially at Christmas time, when candles would burn in windows, it was especially lovely.


    • LensScaper says:

      Light spilling out in winter is a lovely sight isn’t it. You sense the inner warmth, somehow. The red staircase particularly appealed to me, red suggests warmth and is the colour we use so much in winter – candles, holly berries, Santa’s coat etc.


  2. I’m in accord about the last image being the most abstract, as it turned into a stack of simple shapes.


  3. Chillbrook says:

    Superb images Andy. Low light photography can be a very rewarding challenge as these images show. I’m with you on feeling voyeuristic shooting people through windows in bars and restaurants. I lean towards a tripod with my D800e. It’s just too heavy for me now. Even at faster shutter speeds but my little Sony is a great substitute and the pictures I took inside the modern, abandoned building I posted recently you may recall I mentioned I shot hand held and they were sharp enough without having to up the ISO. Not something I like to do if I can avoid it.


    • LensScaper says:

      I’m getting some very sharp images with my Lumix LX100, but I find composing shots a lot easier with the heavier Nikon. I used to shoot .22 Rifles way back in the early sixties and still use the similar brace position for a standing rifle shot – elbow into chest and the barrel of the camera lens cradled by the left hand. Frame, stop breathing, and shoot. I enjoyed your images of abandoned buildings, got round to commenting on them a bit late (sorry), it’s taken me a while to get back into a normal routine (if there ever is one) after two weeks away.


  4. Dalo 2013 says:

    Great shots, and you capture the mood shooting at night creates. While I do not shoot at night often, I always have a great time ~ a challenge, but oh so worth it 🙂


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks for your comment and welcome to my blog. A challenge is always good for us, it persuades to escape our comfortable boundaries and confront something new and different. And in the process we learns something new.


  5. bluebrightly says:

    They’re all terrific, and I’m glad you used hand held, even at night….and let us in on all the details. My favorites are the last two – the second to last for the super-clean look overall, and the last one for the abstract interest it has. Thank you much!


  6. Wonderful series Andy. Thanks for posting the metadata and processing information, it’s very helpful. Did the rest of the photographers from the camera club have a good night as well?


  7. sixpixx says:

    I love your eye for patterns.


  8. The staircase in high contrast black and white did you try it? Great photos


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks James, and welcome to my blog. Yes, I did try a B&W conversion – I’m a great lover of B&W – but IMHO converting it to pure monochrome it lost a little of the subtlety of the shades of white. Sometimes a tiny bit of colour punches above its weight.

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