11 Reasons to be a Night Photographer

“What is there to shoot at night?” “You can’t photograph in the dark!”

Yep, I’ve been asked the question on more than one occasion and the matter-of-fact statement came from a boat captain who couldn’t understand why I wanted him to ferry me to an island in the middle of the night instead of waiting until sunrise like the “normal” idiot photographers he was used to transporting.

So, for these folks, and for everyone else who may wonder why people like me do what I do, I thought I’d write a scientific document that outlines the cause and effect of being a night photographer. To do so, I am drawing on my 40 years of experience as an analytical scientist in the fields of chemistry, quantum physics, cosmology, biology, geology, philosophy, psychology, and bicycle repair in order to make an empirical analysis.

I present the results here, in no particular order. Except for number 1, which really does deserve to be first.

11   You get to drink wine and photograph at the same time.

Night photographers know that the best time to shoot many of their subjects is during twilight. The problem is that twilight, at least at dusk, is also the time to eat and drink wine.

The solution is elegant: Do both at the same time! 

10   You get to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations.

Sure, photographers have been taking pictures at night since the beginning of the medium, but until the advent of digital photography, it was limited to the few individuals who were willing to overcome the hurdles inherent with using film. Today’s digital cameras have opened the field to everyone. And while night photography has exploded in popularity as a result, it is still very much in its infancy, presenting the opportunity for those with a creative mind to boldly go where no one has gone before.

Perhaps the first place we should go is to the library for a book on grammar, specifically split infinitives.

9      You become starstruck.

Cause: The light from the sun makes it difficult to see the stars during the day.

Effect: Instead of trying to see the stars during the day, we look at them at night.

Summary: Daytime photographers don’t get to photograph the stars. Anyone who gazes at the Milky Way from a dark location cannot help being awed and humbled. For photographers, the ability to share this with others in a photo, even if it only touches on the actual experience, is irresistible.

8      You get to photograph things you can’t see.

Unless you wear a blindfold, what you see when you shoot during the day is pretty close to what the photo looks like. Not so with night photography. Long exposures, low lighting, light painting, moving subjects, and all the other elements inherent with night photography often cause the resultant image to look nothing like what you see with your eyes.

It’s always an adventure! 

Light painting photo of burning steel wool
While walking backwards, I am spinning a piece of burning steel wool.

7      For men: You get to collect all sorts of cool flashlights.

Men need all the excuses they can get for assembling masses of stuff they really don’t need, which serve only to satisfy their primordial urges. This is a good one. I mean, let’s face it, if you’re going to be serious about this night photography thing, you really do need as many flashlights as you can get. One for distant light painting, one for short-range painting, spot beams and flood beams, red lights, blue lights, white lights, LEDs and HIDs, waterproof and shatterproof, just right for the pocket, just right for the backpack, just right for the console on the dash, etc., etc.

I realize that all you women are simply incapable of comprehending this, but in an attempt to somewhat enlighten you, I have a question. Would you wear the same pair of shoes to every function?  

6      For women: You don’t have to put on makeup or fix your hair before you go out.

Night photography = It’s dark outside.

Translation for women: No one can see me, so it doesn’t matter what I look like.

I do feel obliged to let all you women know that men night photographers don’t care what you look like in the first place. Just the fact that we see you out at night taking pictures makes us want you.

If you truly wish to escape us, you must take your pictures during the day. 

5      You can CREATE a photo instead of just TAKING one.

Ah, now we’re talking. None of this walking up on a scene and saying, “Oh, this looks good. I’ll shoot this.” With night photography, you are truly starting to think like an artist. You can start with a blank canvas of darkness and add to it as you like with your own light painting or incorporating existing lights. You can previsualize an image that exists only in your mind, then go out and make it happen in a photo.

Now THAT’s cool!

4      Lunatics can howl at the moon.

While you can see the moon during the day, let’s face it, it just ain’t the same. Just like werewolves, no self-respecting night photographer is going to be caught dead howling at the daytime moon. The nighttime moon offers countless opportunities for photographers, including using the light of the full moon to illuminate the scene and using the crescent moon as a complementing element.

Let’s face it, there’s nothing like mooning! 

3      You learn and do all sorts of exciting things.

When I first started taking pictures at night, I didn’t know anything about Iridium flares, zodiacal light, nebulas, or what happens when you set a piece of steel wool on fire and spin it around in circles. I did know a little bit about the stars and planets, but most of my education has come about as a result of learning to photograph at night. Night photography has enriched my life in countless ways. In fact, I’m now doing things in the dark that I never would have imagined in my younger years.

Some of those things even involve photography.

2      The photos are just really cool.

Of all the reasons, this is the one that got me started. Even the ability to drink red wine and photograph at the same time doesn‘t trump this one. For me, well-done night photos have an appeal that no other type of photograph can match.

1      You get to do it in the dark.

Nuff said!

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