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How do you do that? Well, here’s how the experts handle night street
First, you need somewhere to go to get those shots. Of course, cities are obvious locations, but really it can be anywhere people congregate. It can be a small town annual fair or a local festival, for example, and within the city or town, there are also a number of possible locations you can utilize.
The temptation is for the photographer to stay out on the street where the action is, but there are other locations as well. The alleyways, backstreets, and vacant thoroughfares have stories to tell, too.
The absence of activity in a deserted downtown commercial district at midnight, for example, contrasts nicely with the daytime hustle and bustle in the same location. It tells a story about the daily life cycle of the site–the birth of the day, the growth of activity, the peak of its intensity, followed by the slow waning of its life energy as the night progresses. As the iconic line goes, “There are eight million stories in the naked city,” and they’re not all found on the busy streets.
One caveat about location–always stay safe. Be careful about venturing into dangerous areas alone. You should be aware that you might be a target since you’re distracted by what you’re doing, and you’re carrying expensive equipment. Take appropriate precautions, such as working with a colleague, a friend, or a group, so that you can stay safe.
Preparation is key with any genre, but it is particularly important for night street
You’ll need to prepare the right equipment for the night shoot, but you’ll also need to prepare yourself. First, you want to dress appropriately. You’ll need to dress for the weather you might encounter, and you’ll need to dress for the job.
Aside from the clothing you’ll need for the weather you’ll experience, you want to dress comfortably. You’ll be moving around and perhaps shooting in various positions, so your clothes need to be loose enough for you to do that. You should also wear shoes that are appropriate for a LOT of walking!
Additionally, you’ll want low-key clothing. You shouldn’t wear anything too eye-catching. First, you don’t want to call attention to yourself–you want your subject to be the center of attention. And then, if you’re working with a flash, you don’t want to wear reflective clothing materials, as those can contaminate your image.
You’ll also need to prepare your equipment. The minimal equipment you’ll need is the camera body and a good lens, but you may also want to bring additional lenses. A 50mm lens is the preferred choice for night street photographers, but an 85mm lens is good for portrait shots, and a 35mm lens is great for handheld
While there are occasions where you might want to use a tripod–such as when you’re doing long-exposure
Whatever equipment you bring, you’ll also want to prepare it for any weather you might encounter. Rain covers aren’t very expensive, and they’re definitely worth the money. They can also protect from the snow, but you’ll need to consider other factors if the temperatures are cold.
Battery life can be cut in half by cold temperatures, so you should bring extra batteries. Also, condensation can form on your equipment, so bring some cloth to dry the gear, and be sure to keep your memory cards warm and dry.
3. Lighting for Night Street
Well, you can’t use the sun, so what light sources do you have? Clearly, you’re limited to artificial light, but this can come from a number of different sources.
Streetlights can provide dramtic lighting, which is the standard for taking night street
There are also neon signs. When you think of Las Vegas, you often think of the strip lit up with neon signs at night. These can create an almost ‘steampunk’ atmosphere, which can make for some very interesting images.
To Flash or Not to Flash
Finally, you always have the option of using a flash. Some experts say you should not be afraid to use the flash because it clearly illuminates the scene. They argue it won’t draw too much unnecessary attention, and it will give you more creative options.
Other experts say to leave the flash at home. They feel that it not only might draw unwelcome attention and possibly lead to confrontations, it also detracts from the artistic style of night
In the end, you have to decide what works best for you. You might also try a variety of techniques. But, you clearly need to be aware of the light sources on the street and use those to your best advantage, regardless of whether you use a flash or not.
4. Camera Settings for Street Photography at Night
In general, there are three areas to discuss:
Because of the low light conditions, you’re going to need a large aperture. The largest aperture settings, however, will give you a very shallow depth of field, which means that achieving a sharp focus will be more difficult. If possible, you want to try to shoot at f/2.8. That will expand your opportunities.
The aim here is usually to have a fast enough shutter speed that you can freeze the action and avoid camera shake. The slowest shutter speed you can hold the camera at is related to the focal length of your lens. For a 50mm lens, that means the shutter speed can be held at 1/50th, whereas an 85mm lens will need 1/100th. It will help to have steady hands and a wide angle focal length.
You’ll need to raise your ISO significantly. Without doing so, handheld
5. Techniques for Photographing Streets at Night
There are a number of techniques the experts use to achieve a particular mood for their night-time street
One technique is the bokeh–or blurring–of the background or the foreground portion of the image. This is achieved by having a large aperture and having your subject positioned in front of the background objects. This helps to accentuate your subject or the background, resulting in a compelling image.
Once you have your main subject, it’s best to try to take a minimalist approach and minimize what else is in the image. It is, in a sense, the art of subtraction. Having too much going on in the image can detract from the mood you’re trying to create.
One technique is to look for leading lines. These might appear as a line of vendors, lights, or even architectural structures. You can use these to guide the eye through the image in the same way you read a story.
Shoot Close Up and from a Distance
Close-up images can create a narrative or a “moment” and result in striking photographs, but don’t be limited to just one method. Wider images of street scenes can also create a compelling illustration of nightlife.
Embrace the Darkness
Photographers are told ad nauseam to avoid dark images, but if you want images full of light, you shoot during the day. The goal of capturing street photos at night is to capture the feel of the night. You want deep shadows and areas that are almost too difficult to make out. That’s what it’s like at night, and you shouldn’t be afraid to portray it that way.
6. Inspirations for Night-Time Street Photos
Finally, don’t forget the reasons behind taking photos of the streets at night. It offers you a tableau of life after the sun goes down. It can be moody, almost mystical, or fun-loving and joyous. Moveover, it can be gritty and giddy all at the same time.
Single light sources, for example, juxtapose light with negative space and excite the viewer’s imagination. Bright lights and a lot of activity can create a joyous feel. Pairing the right backgrounds with the right people can inspire almost an ethereal mood. Using a slow shutter speed with a flash can allow you to produce light trails that will give your images a surrealistic appearance.
Set the mood for your shoot, and then look for locations that will give you the opportunity to get that inspirational image. Sometimes, you might find the background first and then wait for the right person to walk by. Other times, you might find the right setting and position yourself so you can photograph varying angles to capture the right mood.