By Duane Cassone, instructor for our upcoming Star Trails photography trip

star trails

What’s so special about night photography?  I’m drawn to night photography for several reasons, but mostly because I love long exposure times. Long exposures offer us a chance to bring a "special effects" feel to our photos. The camera records and absorbs light over time, something our eyes and brain together aren't programmed to do, and voila! Streaking clouds, misty oceans, taillight trails on the freeway, and, of course, dazzling star trails!

I’d like to point out two important technical aspects of night photography that intrigue me. First, it’s dark, so you really have to learn where all your buttons and features are – much by tactile feel and memory. Working with your camera gear in the dark provides a unique opportunity to spend quality time getting to know it more intimately.

star trails

The second aspect of night photography is understanding the behavior of ISO and the CCD sensor. From manufacturer to model, every camera’s sensor is different and will deliver diverse images from one to the next, especially when taxed with long exposure techniques. I like to say that the photographer has to “get to know the personality of their sensor”. What I’m saying is, with each camera I work with, I realize that exposure times and ISO combinations are different from one to the other. Getting to know the personality of the sensor simply means getting to know what combinations of ISO and exposure times work best with that particular camera in a particular scenario. Night photography is really the art balancing of noise, grain, exposure time, and ISO with the artistic side of composition, light, and scenario. You have to play with it.

star trails

Have fun! Don’t get caught up with exact measurements. Play with ISO, exposure times, light painting and don’t get caught up in the details. Often, when shooting with multiple seconds of exposure time I’m counting out the seconds of exposure out loud. Remember, it’s not always an exact science with night photography long exposures and there’s no harm in close. Close counts in horseshoes, with hand grenades, and also with long exposures.

**For more information about our upcoming workshop, Star Trails: Nocturnal Creativity with Bristlecone Pines, click here.


Night photography Los Angeles
Freeway shot from the City Lights Bus Tour at Paul's Photo.

City Lights Shooting

Photographing around town after dark

“Street Walking” at night is lots of fun with a digital camera.  Photography after dark while on vacation, in the city, at your favorite theme park or by the coast can yield fantastic results.  Let the movement and the color be your subject.  Look for the brilliant neon, flashing and moving signs or swiftly moving traffic.  Techniques are simple… let’s learn to do it! Most beginning photographers worry about shooting at nigh... it’s just like daytime except dimmer!

Low light photography requires one of two techniques… hand-held photo or tripod shooting.  For hand held pictures choose a high ISO film setting (ISO 1600 or 3200 on your digital camera) and use your lens at the brightest lens opening (2.8, 4.0 or 5.6).  With a compact camera zoom to the widest position where the lens is the brightest, turn off the flash and shoot!  For better color, more creativity and all around better photos tripod shooting is best.  Use 100 or 200 ISO setting sturdy tripod and remote release.  You may find your camera making exposure from 1 second to 30 seconds on the average scene.  Choose aperture priority with F-stop 8 to have the majority of the scene in focus and shoot!  The longer shutter sped will creatively blur moving items and equalize the “twinkling” lights.

night photography los angeles
Photographers in action during our City Lights Bus Tour.

Check the light for color and effect.  Daylight, tungsten or fluorescent lights will affect the color of your end result.  Your camera is most likely set to AUTO white balance.  “White” light bulbs with film come out orange, to correct for this choose the “tungsten” white balance to make white lights white.  Play with Tungsten , Fluorescent and Sunlight white balance settings as well as Auto to achieve the color you desire.

To make your photos more “exciting” choose to add a star filter.  A Hoya Star-6 filter, Promaster Cross-Screen or Lee Multi-Star add the “extra spark” to your City Lights photos by turning every pin-point of light into a star!

Photographing at night is a great adventure.  On most of our photo outings we’ll do a night shoot or go out after dark… just for the fun of it.  Try these tips next time you have a chance and don’t forget to send me a copy…. Sharing photos is the most fun of all!

redondo beach pier
A shot from our Night Photography Fotowalk at Redondo Beach Pier.

Here’s a check list to make it simpler!

1-    Use a tripod and remote release.  Our exposures will be 1 to 60 seconds!  Make sure the tripod is level and steady

2-    Matrix light meter

3-    Program exposure mode for beginners or Aperture priority if you’re comfortable!  Remember, F8 and be there!

4-    ISO 200 film or setting on digital cameras

5-    Turn OFF the flash, use the ambient light only

6-    Turn OFF Stabilizer or shake reduction

7-    Test Auto and Tungsten white balance on digital cameras… see what looks best!

8-    Fill the frame with your subject.  Avoid lots of “dark areas” with no lights in the picture

9-    Take the picture and enjoy!


**Get some practice during one of our night photography excursions! Join us for our City Lights Bus Tour in downtown Los Angeles on August 15, or for our Star Trails photo shoot with Bristlecone pines in the White Mountains on August 2-4.