It all started in December of the darkest year most of us can remember. It was certainly dark for me. I had just switched to night shift at the lab and was really struggling with getting into a sleep schedule. Because of my schedule, I went days, sometimes weeks without seeing the weak New England sun. Add in COVID isolation and darkness took on a new meaning.
I sat on the couch, crying over how isolated everything felt. My creativity had drained away. I desperately wanted to make some art, but simply couldn’t. My boyfriend sat on the other side of the couch watching me with a helpless expression on his face. It was 5:30PM, I had woken up an hour before from 3rd shift, just in time to watch the last rays of sun slip behind the horizon. After weeks of no creative spark, I had finally planned a self-portrait but couldn’t create because it was already dark out.
He grabbed the controller and pulled up some night photography videos on YouTube. We watched a few and ideas started to form. I grabbed light stands and started to charge various strobes and continuous LED lights.
We went outside in the bitter cold armed with lights and dresses and set up near a cove of trees in the backyard. First I list the scene, and then I lit myself. I didn’t have enough light and had to crank up the ISO on my camera. I loved the finished product, but there is a big discrepancy in image quality between me, the subject, and the background.
Take away from the first image: I learned a lot, the flicker of creativity was reignited, and it really helped me with one of the most difficult winters in recent memory.
It got me thinking about night photography. This was a technique that had the potential to quite literally open up a whole new world for me.
My second foray into night photography was actually with a client. I’ll talk about that in a separate blog post. But I will say this. It wasn’t quite night, more, very late into the blue hour. I still had enough light to keep my ISO low, focus on the subject, and use one strobe to bring enough light in. We ended up finishing the shoot just as the last rays of light were waving goodbye for the day.
My third attempt was more intentional. Tatiana and I were camping and I knew I wanted to try night photography. Conditions were perfect. It wasn’t windy so I was able to use both strobes. I was just focusing on lighting her, not so much the background. Once again, we still had some ambient light. However, once that was gone, I had no means of focusing on her and that was the end of that.
My problem was not having enough ambient light once the sun went down to focus on the subject. So, I decided to invest in some quality light. I have one LED panel from Lumecube (that I didn’t bring on the other occasions) and I decided to purchase their professional kit.
Tatiana and I decided to try night time photography once again. This time we waited for true night to fall and went deep into my backyard where there was little to no ambient light. I began by using the three Lumecubes to make a perimeter of light around her. I made sure the lights weren’t casting heavy shadows on her, but were still illuminating the tree to her left and creating shadows on the bark, which added texture to the image. I used an octabox on her left to softly illuminate her face, the tree and a smaller octabox on her right. My focus was keeping the ISO low enough to preserve the image quality, while keeping the shutter speed high enough not to cause blur. It was also raining during this shot, and rather gusty, so we were moving fast and time was certainly closing in on us!
I have more gear arriving soon which will make night photography even easier. Next time, I want to focus on illuminating her surroundings and then illuminating the subject using the same camera settings, instead of cranking the ISO up as I did on my first attempt.
In the near future, I’ll write up a gear post discussing what I have, what my limitations are, and what changes I’m making to really bring my vision to life.
I’m so excited about the possibilities of night photography. A whole new world opens up at night, and I can’t wait to explore it more!