Photographing The Big Tree At Night

This tree is about 200 meters from my place of residence in Clifton Hill, a northern suburb of Melbourne. Photo made with the Sony a7R II camera.

Don’t you love the night? Often quite and still, it’s like another world where time seems to move at an altogether different pace to what we’re used to during daylight hours. This is particularly the case when we’re outside.

The World Awakens While We Sleep

Have you ever noticed how differently things smell when there’s a bit of moisture in the air? It’s particularly pleasing when you’re in the landscape. Plants and grasses really seem to become alive at such times. And don’t animals like dogs and cats understand this so well.

Light Brings Life

Without light, there is no color. And that’s particularly true at night. At least in the way we perceive the world. Have you ever taken a walk in your neighborhood at night and been drawn to a building or tree that’s lit?
There’s no doubt about it the night can be a mysterious, eerie world. But introduce light and everything changes. Trees and buildings become alive; street lights seem to bring life with the light they project; and colors are revealed and saturate.

This photo was made, last night, around 200 meters from my place of abode. The lights are a relatively recent acquisition and allow for local soccer teams to train for a few hours after sunset. A great thing during those short winter days.

I’ve noticed how incredible the tree looks when illuminated at night. I headed out a few nights ago to photograph it, only to be plunged into darkness when the lights were turned off a few seconds before I was ready to make the image. I made sure I headed out a bit earlier in the evening to make this photo.

Practice Makes Perfect

The trouble is I was standing, outside of the light, in relative darkness. I’ve had a Sony a7R II camera for a week or so and am now at the stage where I can quite comfortably find and operate all the buttons and dials in the dark. It’s simply a matter of practice.

It’s the end of winter here in Melbourne and there have been days where either weather or the sheer weight of work commitments have prevented me from getting outside and making photos. On those days I simply made sure I messed around with the camera indoors so as to familiarize myself with it. And that included closing my eyes and ensuring I’d be able to operate the camera under extremely low light conditions.

It’s amazing how a relatively tactile experience like handling a camera is improved when your sight is removed. Years ago I went through a long process of injections to help desensitize me to dust mite, certain grasses and a selection of things that brought on an allergic response such as dogs, cats and horses. I still have to try and avoid contact with these things, and take medication (i.e., antihistamine) everyday of the year, but I can go about daily chores and interactions much more easily than I was able to back in the day.

I can remember that my eyesight seemed to dramatically improved towards the end of that desensitizing process. With my sense of smell diminished, my sight seemed to lift its game. If I’m correct it might be a built-in defense mechanism as the body compensates for the diminishment or loss of one of its senses by appearing to strengthening that of another.
By closing your eyes you’ll find that you're more acutely aware of your sense of touch, which is what you’ll need to navigate your way around your camera under very low light conditions.  

You’ll Never Know If You Never, Ever Go

It’s wonderful to know that, despite our busy lives, we’re able to make interesting photos very close to home and at times of the day we might not have thought would have produced a good result. It may not be as exotic as traveling abroad, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper. What’s more, making images like this will give you the practice you need to be able to photograph stunning scenery at night in more exotic locales.

What’s the point of going to Paris, the city of light, if you don’t get out and about and experience that city by night. And when you do, how wonderful would it be to be able to record your experience and then to share it with the wider world. Dare I say: practice, practice.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru