As I go through the process of pulling together some work to post up on this site, something I’m starting to realize quickly is that I’m addicted to low-light photography. As an emerging photographer, one of the more enchanting and engaging times to shoot definitely has to be in the middle of the night. In trying to find and hone my perspective, I’ve definitely become obsessed with trying to document the strangeness of urban nights and trying to tame the overwhelming power of all the urban lights we use to flood our city into an extended daylight.
When romanticizing urban life, it’s impossible to avoid the transformative experience that happens when sunlight gives way to the glow of city lights. Quiet parks can become isolating spaces and the once alienating crowds can give comfort that the city is still alive and buzzing. For low-light photography, all motion becomes electric and the beat and pulse of the city becomes something tangible and immersive. Those rare, still moments when the streets are completely empty became so pronounced that it seems that time has suddenly stopped. There is just something incredibly compelling about exploring the city streets after dark.
Urban Lights: The Challenge
Part of what makes low-light photography and studying urban lights so compelling is that it’s full of challenges. There’s of course of the technical challenge of hitting the right settings with your exposure triangle to avoid producing images that are overly noisy or underwhelming. There’s also the challenge of finding the right white balance for your shots when the landscape is filled so many types of lighting – any shot can be a blend of incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, or LED (you definitely need to be shooting in RAW mode to navigate this in post work). Also, in order to convey a powerful sense of motion and energy, you need to keep your camera, your tripod and yourself as still as possible. I’m finding that the key to shooting at night is that you need to slow down so that you take it all in.
Then there’s the challenge of pushing your work without falling into a repetitive trap. While out shooting, I sometimes find myself wanting to keep practicing a similar shot in order to improve my technique. But, on the other hand, I often ask myself how another photo of a streetcar and its light trails will add to my perspective? Is there anything I can change about the composition so that the resulting image can offer at least some surprises?
Documenting urban night and urban lights is an area that I will be constantly exploring, and hopefully, will push my perspective into new areas. In the meantime, head over my to my portfolio pages (page 1, page 2) to see some of my work so far. And check back often! I’m confident that this will be a body of work that will grow and change in the years ahead.