adventures in night photography
My adventures in night photography began this summer. Prior to meeting Karl and Roma, I had never really ventured into that world. Besides the fact that I used to be in bed by 10pm and spent most evenings in front of the television (such a waste), the idea of a tripod and night settings seemed daunting, especially given my particular dislike for the mighty flash. The flash is “in your face”, obnoxious and unflattering. Unless you are going for the Urban Outfitters meets American Apparel look, nothing says cold more than a flash filled photo. But beyond the settings, beyond the tripod, beyond the blinding beast… with night photography comes adventure. There’s a whole other world out there after midnight. And that is my guiding principle while I learn to hone my skills.
Karl and Roma took me on my first rooftop excursion this July. We left the house around 11pm and biked across downtown towards a silo complex located at the mouth of the Lachine Canal overlooking the famous Farine Five Roses landmark. We climbed the bridge that sits atop the train tracks and sat there for a good hour taking in the cityscape of buildings cutting out the night sky. Cities by night look like Christmas year round with a thousand tiny balls of light.
After the last train crawled beneath us, after the crowds disappeared and the city quieted down, we made our way to one of the buildings they climb regularly. We quickly scouted the area to make sure nobody was around then slowly pulled down the fire escape staircase. One by one, flight by flight, we made our way to the top.
We are not hooligans. We don’t deface public or private property. We silently climb to the top of roofs, play quiet music on our iPod dock, listen to the night, lie near the edge, look at the stars, pass the whiskey, set up tripods and once in a while, someone snaps a shot (can you believe I forgot to put a battery in my camera that night? thank god for my friend’s point & shoot), we watch the city from up above, wait for the sun to rise, bike home at dawn, stop at a greasy spoon, fill up, then go to sleep as the rest of the world wakes.
It is not a party night. It is a night of conversation and silence and contemplation. It is a different way of seeing the night, the urban stillness at 3am, the complicated beauty of abandoned buildings and parking lots.
My second rooftop adventure was this past Halloween, which is always a good time to explore night photography. Wrap your tripod to the back of your bike, go down alleyways, pick up a pizza, encounter zombies and drag queens and 80’s aerobics instructors and giant bananas along the way, climb up the fire escape, drink that wine, eat that pizza, listen to the sounds of people cheering and shouting during the Rocky Horror Picture Show. It’s a different way of participating in the spooky festivities.
So, if you ever feel stagnant and are lacking inspiration… there is a whole other world waiting for you after the sun goes down. It’s like Alice’s rabbit hole. Dive in and try it at least once in your life. Turn your routine on its ass. Trust me, you won’t regret it. Also, night photography is probably one of the best things you can do to get to know your camera intimately. Because the truth is, you can’t really count on automatic settings to pump out good night shots. And all I can really suggest is to go out there and play.
The tools you will need:
a flask of whiskey
or a thermos of coffee/tea/hot chocolate
a bottle of water
an iPod with mini speakers
a bicycle will get you there faster but walking shoes will do the job t0o
a blanket to lie on
a place to eat when the sun comes up
a cup of coffee before leaving the house
a willingness to stay up way past your bedtime (or a night owl friend to get your ass out there)