Prague – photographs of this magical city conjure up images of Christmas, churches and castles. How can I resist the glowing lights illuminating this historical town – I can’t wait to go myself – time to work on my travel photography at night.
Photography at night is a great skill – one often overlooked or viewed as difficult. I have been guilty of putting my camera away after sunset on many occasions, unless grabbing happy snaps of friends with the flash. Enter travel to Prague and I am up to the task.
There are a million tips out there to prepare for travel photography – some as simple as getting on line and looking at examples of what others have done! It is also worth while to do some advance planning and scope out where you want to go and when. Late dusk has the advantage of filling in the darkest spaces of your frame with the residual light of day, softening the harsh black of night. A tripod is also a must due to the longer exposure times. I have had success with placing my camera on boxes, books and anything I can to capture a slow shutter speed shot, but I know that this just won’t do for Prague! A dash to the camera store to pick up my newest toy – the Induro tripod, and an evening of practice.
The Peace tower proved to be a real challenge for me – had to play with the white balance to get a successful picture. The white face of the clock kept tripping up the light meter. A quick switch to the Tungsten light setting helped! I also switched to manual focus – this can help the camera when it can’t focus on its own in the dark. Old habits die hard – I kept expecting the camera to focus for me!
The tripod was a brilliant purchase as the exposure times meant I could not hold the camera myself. Remember to turn of the auto-stabilization as this will counteract the benefits of the tripod and may introduce some wobble into your photos.
F5.6 for 4 – 5 seconds proved to be a great combination for the photos of buildings. You can even see in the lower right corner the red lights of the cars on the street as the speed blurred the cars out of the picture.
Another tip I learnt in my research about photography at night is that water makes a great reflector of light, and adds real depth to your photos. The above photograph is of the Museum of Civilization, just across the Ottawa River from the back of Parliament Hill. The darkness of the water is broken up by the reflection of the building lit up at night. I was very happy with this shot, also taken at f5.6 – this one at 4 seconds.
This shot proved to be a bigger challenge for me – the light saturation from the city resulted in a number of washed out pictures. At least with digital, I was able to take a number of shots until I get what I want. I love how the traffic gets blurred out in the slow exposure time, and all you see is the red line of multiple tail lights. The statues give the appearance of people in the frame. You can even a party in the new Congress Centre in the top right corner of this shot.
What I learned about Travel Photography at Night
Get out and practice if you are planning a trip with this as a focal point! I had countless shots with poor exposure or where I forgot that I had switched the camera to manual – a practice run has given me a great opportunity to brush up on my skills so that when I am traveling, I will capture those precious moments!
A tripod is your friend! I selected a tripod with a rotating ball head – it offered me many extra angles to play with and once I got used to it – I loved it! Don’t forget a small flashlight so that you can see your camera controls in the dark.
Dress warmly, especially if planning to shoot in the cold. My expedition in Ottawa was perfect – a chilly 2 degrees is similar to what I can expect in Prague at Christmas.
Bracket your shots – some of the shots I thought looked best on my display screen on the camera were not as good on the computer – at least if you bracket your shots you will have more to work with.
Play with the white balance – the effect on your pictures can be considerable. You can add or remove warmth at the touch of a button.
Travel photography at night – just get out there and give it a try!