The short, damp days of winter in Sacramento seems to lend itself to exploring a facet of photography that for me, has been up until now, mostly unexplored: the exciting world of night photography. Primarily photographing landscapes, my most engaged time of day to be out shooting as my schedule allows is typically at sunrise and sunset, with some post-processing in the middle of the day. I still have a day job to pay the bills, after all, and going in and getting off of work when it’s still dark can really put a damper on your spirits, particularly when you want to continue to be creative. So these past few weeks, rather than lament the short, overcast, rainy days, I tried some new things, and re-tried some old things.
Nighttime offers some incredible opportunities to catch city reflections in the water, in this case, San Francisco reflected in the bay, taken from nearby Treasure Island on an uncommonly crystal clear night in the city.
During a continued drought in California, the rain we received this December was a welcome sight, and also an opportunity to capture an interesting reflection of the State Capitol lit up at night in a mist-drenched Christmas ornament.
The holiday and traffic lights provided a unique opportunity to experiment with the zoom/blur effect using colorful artificial lights set against a black background. Zoom/blur is basically setting your camera up on a tripod, using a longer exposure (1 second or longer), releasing the shutter, and zooming your lens in or out while the shutter is open. Why the tripod and not hand held? I think the photos come out more interesting if there is a fixed point that is in focus or a central point in the composition that does not have movement. But that is a matter of preference.
Similar to playing with zoom/blur, having a sturdy tripod to take successful photos of light trails is really necessary. Using the camera’s internal timer or a cable release, and shutter priority mode set to a longer exposure, finding a safe place to capture the light trails of cars’ head and tail lights can be a lot of fun.
In these light trails of the freeway, I found a safe spot to capture them on a quiet street overlooking the I-5; traffic was steady and moving quickly so I could have used a shorter shutter speed, but since I wanted denser, thicker trails I chose an 8 second exposure.
In this photo of the bridge, there was very light traffic so I chose a 20 second exposure. The traffic from Marin towards the Golden Gate Bridge was very heavy the day after Christmas, but it did create an opportunity for long exposure light trails. The exposure had to be especially long (20 seconds or greater) since the cars were barely moving.
All of these tips can be done during the day, but there is something magical about photographing at night, and yield dramatic results while testing your own knowledge and limitations.