My introduction to long exposure night photography found me standing in a cemetery in Chancellorsville, Virginia at three-thirty in the morning. It was stone cold quiet. Next to the cemetery, in the trees, was a small white church. Every morning on the way to work I would see the church highlighted by a single parking lot light. I wanted the image. It had become a friend in the night.
My friend and mentor was giving me a lesson on his first love … long exposure night photography. Shutter speeds and aperture openings filled my head along with wisdom passed on by hands-on experience. My friend, a former commercial photographer knew his business. I was ecstatic about the images I got that first night. Of course, I was also hooked on night images. There was a quality and clarity that appealed to me.
My night excursions started shortly after that first night. The last year I lived in Fredericksburg, Virginia I was out many of the weekends shooting the city. It was a learning process; what to carry, what to leave home and how to see and pull a photograph in the darkness. It was a wonderful experience but at times nerve racking.
I learned early to “Go to the bathroom before going shooting”. There is nothing like getting an image all ready to shoot and you get one of those “Go to the bathroom right now” messages. At three-thirty in the morning there is no place to go and nothing to do but gather up everything and head home. Despite the darkness of the great beyond, you have to remember you are never alone. Someone will be watching. One of my best night images came on a second setup. I had gotten the message don’t you know and had to scramble all the while learning the meaning of the term “Turtling”.
Another thing I learned quickly was to avoid drunks and the benefits of running away, circling back, and setting up later. I also learned if observed by the police … let the officer or officers see your hands, tripod, camera and make no sudden movements. Also, police dogs, like their owners, have no sense of humor and keep your hands away from their mouth and face.
I got quite comfortable shooting images in the deep parts of the night. I even got to the point where I forgot all about the percentage chance of a small, sharp-toothed critter coming out of the darkness and ruining my night … though I did start sporting my bent wood throwing cane during my shoots.
Shooting night photographs was a challenge. I shot all of my photographs at f/22 with a fixed 50 mm lens and varied the timing according to available light. Timing was accomplished with an Ipod Touch. I did get fairly good at getting the timing close on the first try. Generally, I started at around thirty seconds and worked backwards or forwards with the timing as necessary.
All in all, it was a memorable experience and I cannot wait for another season of night shooting. I have come a long way from that first night shot taken while standing in a cemetery in the very, very early morning hours.
Next week … Mr. Andrew …
To see more photographs go to oldguyphotography.com