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.
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.