Let There Be Night

Let There Be Night

By David Cobb


Night photography is nothing new; the technique has been around for as long as there’s been a camera to produce it. With advancements in digital photography however, night photography has taken on new possibilities for nature photographers. On still evenings, I’ve pulled some interesting and vibrant colors out of shooting digital. Water tends to get bluer and warm tones tend to become richer and warmer. I took the following photo just below Whitehorse Falls in southern Oregon, and you aren’t likely to be able to tell that it was almost pitch black outside. The added side effect to taking this image at night is the cobalt blue color of the Whitehorse River that my daytime images never had. This plays well with the surrounding warmer fall color. If it had been taken in the daytime this image would look much different, and I prefer the nighttime effects it has here.


A few tips about nighttime nature photography:

  • I usually use an aperture around f11 to f5.6 to cut down on the shutter speed
  • I turn on my noise control in-camera to cut down on the noise, so a freshly charged battery is a good idea
  • I don’t use a polarizer at night, since I find it helps little towards the photograph’s finished product
  • A sturdy tripod and cable release is required


The image of Fall Creek Falls below was recently taken while visiting Mt. Rainier National Park. I didn’t get to this falls until well after dark, but there was still some light bouncing off the atmosphere above. I kept the shutter open for 30 seconds at f11, and to my surprise this nighttime shot took on the look of daytime. As usual, the water went a bit blue, and I warmed up the surrounding landscape to play off the blue hue. I also like the highlighted tips of evergreen when I photograph in a forest at night; they almost glow in comparison with the rest of the tree. I would normally use a polarizer on a waterfall to cut down on distracting reflections, but again, at night I don’t find that necessary.


Of course there is always light painting for the nature photographer. The image below is made up of two shots. One taken at 1600 ISO and 30 seconds to capture the starlight without movement, and with the other I light painted the Utah Rocks for 30 seconds while shooting at 100 ISO. The two images were later blended for the effect. The “painting” wasn’t applied directly to the rock, but flashlight bursts were shot around the rock and into the night sky. A similar technique was used for the Bandon, Oregon sea stacks, but in this case I only needed one image since the lights of town lit the stacks for a nice effect.


City landscapes are always fun to photograph at night.  They’re certainly not “nature photography,” but hey “when in Rome…” Actually, the image taken below was in Dubrovnik, and when I noticed they polished their streets every morning I couldn’t wait until night to capture the hustle-and-bustle of city life. This image was taken at f5.6 for .6 seconds, to capture the movement that lends to the lively atmosphere.


Night possibilities for the nature photographer are endless, from star trails to moonbows. And once you get used to keeping the camera out in the dark, by sunrise you might be thinking “now what am I going to do?”


~ by photocascadia on August 2, 2011.

13 Responses to “Let There Be Night”

  1. Great inspiration for getting out in the dark, David! Thanks for your great insights and excellent photos. I’ll quickly add that for sharp wide angle star fields 30 seconds is max and 15 seconds is better. Anything more than 30 sec, and as you say, star trail blurring starts to become apparent. It really is an exercise in working with aperture and ISO to get the best results in the 15-30 second exposure range. Looking forward to our next night photography adventure together. Perhaps at the November coast workshop?

  2. So interesting! Except for the shots with the stars, and would not have known they were taken at night. Thanks for the great info, and I’ll have to give this a try some time.

  3. Awesome info. You know I am going to try it all!

  4. Great summery of night photography. I was out on the lake a couple of weeks ago doing some night shots. I had one good shot and will be back again next week to try some more shots. Very timely article!! Barb

  5. Very interesting! I am amazed by the first two shots. And a funny question… what WB you used for them? 🙂

    Definitely I gotta try this for myself.

  6. Thanks for the inspiration on night photography. I have done some previously, mostly in the city and/or with light painiting (see my blog http://joebeckerphoto.wordpress.com/2011/02/13/fun-in-the-dark/). It never occurred to me before that one could do images like your Whitehorse and Fall Creek Falls shots at night. I will definitely have to try some of that.

  7. […] photography certainly isn’t new, as David Cobb pointed out in his article on long exposure night photography. There have always been diehards willing wait hours to expose a single image for chance to […]

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