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adventures in night photography

November 21, 2009

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 camera
a tripod
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
warm clothes
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)

13 Comments leave one →
  1. November 21, 2009 3:11 pm

    this post is supa inspiring girl, and punctuates my overwhelming disappointment that i don’t get to shoot with you, let alone spend time with you, next week. sigh.

    beautiful shots honey, i need me a night time excursion! xo

  2. November 21, 2009 4:46 pm

    Love the Bokeh. Swoon.

  3. November 21, 2009 4:48 pm

    the first 2 and the third and 4th from the last are my favorites! these are so inspiring! it makes me want to get out and take some night photos… maybe i’ll climb out my window to the fire escape and see if i can capture any from here 🙂 beautiful.

  4. phil permalink
    November 22, 2009 10:09 am


    your nights on the town sound lovely.
    your pictures are pulchritudinous.


  5. November 22, 2009 1:51 pm

    lovely shots…and i love the world of nighttime photography – i need access to a few rooftops

  6. November 22, 2009 2:28 pm

    Mmmmm….now I need to start looking for a date 🙂

  7. aerussell permalink
    November 22, 2009 10:59 pm

    Oh such lovely shots!
    I haven’t tried much for night photography, but I think you might have inspired me to! 😀

  8. safstar permalink
    November 23, 2009 3:06 am

    you are such an amazing source of inspiration! i can’t wait for the rain to stop so i can get outside…

  9. November 23, 2009 9:30 am

    Beautiful. Lovely. And, most definitely, Inspiring. Merci!

  10. November 23, 2009 1:57 pm

    i heart night photography and have a couple of guys i always go with … you know when its really fun?? in the dead cold of winter, oh yeah baby 😉

    i really need to vacation in montreal again, sigh … xoxo

  11. vanessaweber permalink
    November 27, 2009 8:04 pm

    hello, stopped by from hula seventy. love this post, great photos! i’m totally encouraged to try out some night photography!


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