Low light photography at night

While visiting Rye, NY for a wedding, I found myself looking out over Milton Harbor toward New York City about 1AM. The view was beautiful, and the light on the horizon was enticing. The area was silhouetted by the distant lights of the city and I found myself intrigued by the beauty and the stillness of the night. Fortunately … I had my camera with me. It was a quick trip to the car to get it, and I borrowed a tripod so that I could go out to the edge of the property to setup the low light, slow exposure.

Low light photography at night requires a tripod, or some other means of creating a steady surface for the camera to permit a long exposure. Remember, even in the darkest spot, there is some amount of light. Given enough time to create an exposure, any scene can be illuminated to a great deal. So, the trick becomes, how much illumination is appropriate for the scene?

In this case, it was after all 1AM. Let’s take a quick look …

This first image is representative of what my eye saw at the time and remembers …

Milton Harbor Rye NY
This image represents what I saw in my mind’s eye as I was standing on the bank of Milton Harbor at the Wainright House in Rye NY after midnight. Larry Shapiro photo

Setting the camera to focus on and read a point on the horizon, the meter wants more light for the scene. Is it wrong … yes … and no.

Yes …. because it allows for additional illumination to create a beautiful image of the scene with great detail.

No … because regardless of the amount of light that can be captured, the dramatic scene that intrigued me appearedĀ darker in real life.

This second image illustrates how the scene can be made to look with a long enough exposure to raise the lighting values throughout the image.

Milton Harbor at night
This image reflects a longer exposure to brighten the values and create a different fell for the scene. Larry Shapiro image

A few creative enhancements together work to create a very dramatic image here of the same scene.