Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Outdoors at Night

Exercise -  12-20 photographs

The purpose of this night time project is to explore the variety of lighting effects and colour in artificial light.

Earlier this week I visited London and used the opportunity to take some of the images for this exercise. A few of the images were taken using a cable release and tripod but most were taken hand held which was only possible by increasing the ISO in camera.

Standard light bulbs use tungsten filaments which have a warm orange tone in photographs if not corrected. This can clearly be seen in the images below which were shot in auto white balance. Most street lighting is produced by sodium-vapour lamps which also produce an orange/yellow light which we often see as light pollution over city skies.
Harbour at Dusk
shutter speed 0.7sec, f/8, ISO400

GB Mini indoor shopping
shutter speed 1/60sec, f/4, ISO400

Date counter Harrods
shutter speed 1/60sec, f/3.5, ISO160

Bella Italia - St Andrews
shutter speed 0.4sec, f/10, ISO1000
All the images above show the warm tones of the indoor tungsten lighting. Of course our eyes and brain are very good at adjusting these colours so that they appear white even though the camera records them in warmer tones. Altering the white balance to suit the lighting situation is recommended however more than once I have made the mistake of forgetting to change this back. This is one of the reasons I shot in RAW format and tend to stick to auto white balance - mistakes can be rectified later. If you forget to alter the cameras white balance from tungsten and then take a picture in natural daylight the resulting image will have a very obvious blue tone.
Tower Bridge Light Trails
shutter speed 4 sec, f/11, ISO100
using tripod and cable release
London Eye at Night
shutter speed 5.6sec, f/8, ISO100
using tripod and shutter release
The Shard - London
shutter speed 10sec, f/6.7, ISO100
using tripod and shutter release
Piccadilly Circus at Night
shutter speed 1/60sec, f/4, ISO400
It's also recommended to take images that include night sky at dusk to maximise the detail in the sky. As I particularly wanted to emphasise the variety of colour in the lights and reflections I decided to wait until it was dark. This shows the vibrant colours of the lighting to greater effect and also the huge variety of lighting used in our cities at night.

One of my first attempts at night photography was with St Andrews Photographic Society. A more experienced member demonstrated the use of bulb mode to take long exposures of passing cars. By leaving the shutter open continuously but covering the lens with black card when there was a lull in the traffic you could increase the number of light trails recorded. In order to do this successfully you first need to calculate the correct exposure time so that you only "reveal" the lens for the correct length of time. It was a very interesting evening but unfortunately, as you can see from the image below, very quiet on the traffic front and I only managed to capture one usable image. 

Bulb mode. 14sec exposure.
Using vibrant coloured lights at night also helps create mood or atmosphere. E.g. the intense lighting of a store trying to entice customers inside or the bright energetic colours of lights at a funfair. In some instances though the lighting can also appear quite cool or neutral.
Cool Britannia
shutter speed 1/60sec, f/4, ISO640

Some more images that show the variety of light outdoors at night.

Waterloo Bridge
shutter speed 1/4sec, f/5.3, ISO800

The shard
shutter speed 3 sec, f/8, ISO100
using tripod and shutter release

House of Parliament
shutter speed 1/5sec, f/5.6, ISO800
Modern developments in street lighting means "white light" alternatives are becoming more popular and beginning to replace sodium-vapour street lights in some areas. These provide a lighting effect that is closer to our natural vision so in the not too distant future the yellow/orange glow of street lights may become less common, although I'm sure there will still be many other varieties and colours of lighting available to record.


  1. Very nice shots. I like particularly Picadilly Circus and the two of The Shard. Congratulations !!!

  2. Great photos Nicola, love the one of tower bridge. When you have a mo, can you pop over and have a look at my blog to see if i'm on the right lines! thanks Rich

  3. Thanks Guys, I appreciate the continuing encouragement.
    Rich, I did pop over a left you a wee message.