Exposed! :: Light up the night ::

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Most photographers consider magical light to exist when the sun is near the horizon. It's true - the sun beams beautifully when low in the sky. But the really fun magic happens when the natural light of the sun goes out completely.

In this month's edition of Exposed! we explore the wizardly world of shooting without the sun!

Light Painting


The extraordinary lights at night!

At night, extraordinary lighting illuminates our world transforming daytime scenes into wild and wonderful, enchanted lightscapes. The sun is replaced by fluorescent, tungsten, halogen, and many other fiery light sources. Conditions are perfect for introducing easily manipulated light sources like flash lights. The magical realm of night time photography is a whole new world of fun to photograph.

Harnessing the Magic

The first step to conjure the night magic demands creative observation. Turn on your creative brain and watch the light patterns, the intensities, the colours and the movement. What starts to sparkle in your imagination? Always remember the creative power of observation! It is the first ingredient in new and exciting photography.

Quality of light

By quality of light I refer to the visual effect the light source will have on your film or sensor. Tungsten light will appear yellow, fluorescent will be green. The different light sources can create a colourful and exciting scene in your creative cauldron. Using daylight film or adjusting your camera to "auto white balance" will allow these bizarre colour schemes to jump from your photos.

Non daylight films, such as, tungsten and Kodak's Infrared colour slide film (HIE - there is a rumour it may be discontinued) provide amazing alternatives.

Quantity of light

One challenge for a nighttime photo wizard is recognizing different quantities of light and making their collective, combined effects shine. Because artificial light sources can differ so wildly with respect to amount or quantity of light it takes extra practise to balance the levels of night light creatively.

Light painting

Another wild effect is light painting. A powerful police style Maglite flashlight can be used to illuminate individual elements of your picture. The photo, anove left, was illuminated by many sources, including a big flashlight for the tulips! Fun, wild and challenging!

Film vs digital

While digital has come a long way film is often still used commercially to capture night scenes. The long exposures are demanding on your camera's processing power. The funky qualities of light can be captured with more true hues on film, many photographers say.

Night Light!

Night Light!

Pro Perspective

Shooting at night opens a whole new realm of options. The photo at right was shot, on assignment, to showcase the rustic charm of skiing into a cabin for a candlelit dinner in Gatineau Park, near Canada's capital. The whole shot was lit with many tea candles, a few propane camping lanterns and one flashlight to paint the map with light. It's a fun shot using simple light sources. It's been sold many times.


Photographing cars at night provides a fun challenge. Often you will only see streaks of headlights - where's the car? On my Creative Fundamentals course I often say "What are you exposing for?" It's a good question to ask.

For your homework this month experiment capturing the trails of headlights without the benfit of sunlight. Experiment with long shutter speeds and different exposures. Remember to be aware of your surroundings for safety's sake!

Need more help performing the magic? Consider the
Night Light Photo Workshop in Ottawa in March!

Final Frame

Wizards have been performing magic for centuries. With some practice and simple techniques you can cast your own spells with the help of the night light, your camera and imagination.

Take photos. Have fun!


Samples of our work