Photographing the City at Night

Landmark buildings reflected in the waters of the Moskva River on a summer evening in Moscow, Russia.

Travel and photography represent a perfect marriage for many creative souls. While travel is, arguably, the best way to learn about the world and how folks live outside of your everyday experience, photography allows us to record a lasting visual documentation of our journey.

But, just as the night offers the traveler a whole new range of experiences, a whole new world seems to come into existance for the photographer once the sun goes down.

Do You Need a Tripod for Night Photography?

While both photos in this post were made with the aid of a tripod, you can certainly embark on a night photograph adventure without one. However, you’d need to take into account the following:

  • Choose subject matter that is illuminated. Not only will your photo be more interesting, but the more light there is the faster your camera's shutter speed will become. And the faster the shutter speed the less chance there is of movement occurring. You may notice how quickly shadows blend into black when photographing cityscapes at night. Again, make sure you photograph subjects that are illuminated.
  • Increase your camera’s ISO to avoid camera shake. Remember, when using any exposure mode other than Manual Exposure, that every time you double your ISO your Shutter Speed will double. And the more quickly the image is exposed the less chance there is of blur (e.g., subject movement, or camera shake) occurring.

Zoom or Fixed Lens

A fast, fixed lens can be an advantage for night photography. Assuming, that is, you’re employing it’s physically widest apertures (e.g., f1.8 or f2). The compromise is that, as it’s a fixed lens, the advantage of a zoom lens (many focal lengths within the one lens) are lost to you.

Photography is a Physical Endeavor

However, the loss of the ability to zoom forces the photographer to move to arrive at a good composition. And, once you start moving forwards or backwards, you’re only one step away from moving left and right, or up and down. As a result neurons in your brain start to fire and the whole process of making a picture becomes more interesting as you begin to explore different viewpoints, angles of light, etc.

The photo at the top of this post was made in Moscow. I’m standing on a bridge photographing along the Moskva River towards the Kremlin.

An early morning view of a bridge being raised over the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The above photo was made near the banks of the Neva River in St. Petersburg, Russia. I was there to witness the raising of the bridge to allow a flotilla of Russian warships passage up the Neva as part of the annual Admiralty Day celebrations. While I did photograph the fast moving ships, this image was made after the event had finished and the thousands of revelers had gone home.

It had been a wonderful night but, with a change in the weather coming off the Gulf of Finland, it was a cold and quiet walk back to my hotel in the wee hours of the morning. But it was worth it and I went to bed, in a pretty crummy hotel where I’d been bitten and generally harassed by some kind of local insect continually the previous two nights, and quickly passed into the Land of Nod where I dreamt as I so often do, of travel.