Photo Exploration: Pier at Night, December 2012

This time of year I’m grate­ful for any chance to do a lit­tle night shoot­ing. Recent­ly on a trip to the Mis­sis­sip­pi Gulf Coast, where it was balmy mid-50’s at night, I took a series of night time pho­tographs. Below is a selec­tion from that ses­sion. Three or so min­utes at f/9, ISO 100. 5dmk2 and 24–70mm f/2.8L lens. Around 8:30pm mid-December.

Pier at Night, December 2012

I don’t know if this par­tic­u­lar pier was dam­aged by Kat­ri­na, although I imag­ine it was. And if it had been around then, it would have been com­plete­ly under­wa­ter for a sig­nif­i­cant amount of time. Enough time that I’m sur­prised at the qual­i­ty of the pieces that remain. And what remains pulled me towards pho­tograph­ing the scene,  not dur­ing the day but rather at night.

Night pho­tog­ra­phy is a well explored top­ic (I’ve even cov­ered it before) but the results usu­al­ly seem to involve (a) urban scenes or (b) starfields. With this ses­sion I was iso­lat­ed on a beach, only a few hun­dred yards from a gas sta­tion and bare­ly a half mile from my hotel, but it might have been total soli­tude. The beach was cer­tain­ly emp­ty. Even though it felt warm for Decem­ber to me, to the rest of the Gulf Coast it was a brisk night. Plen­ty of time to set­up and con­sid­er the shots.

When shoot­ing at night in this kind of dark, with bare­ly a moon and cloud cov­er, there isn’t a great way to know how long to make an expo­sure. The longer the bet­ter, of course, but once you start climb­ing above three min­utes there will be noise gen­er­at­ed in the dark­er areas. And at that point, for me, I had just bare­ly start­ed get­ting results. So there is a real­iza­tion and accep­tance that some pho­tos just aren’t going to be great out of the box and will have short­com­ings no mat­ter what the pro­cess­ing. But once that accep­tance occurred, I was able to start visu­al­iz­ing beyond the “full his­togram.” The above image isn’t real­ly all that great with “dark­est darks” and “light­est lights” but the midrange is, I feel, quite well rep­re­sent­ed. And it won’t ever be the sharpest, even though it was shot at f/9 and well focused.

Instead of con­cen­trat­ing on the tra­di­tion­al mark­ings of a well-exe­cut­ed pho­to, with piece and the oth­ers from this night time series, I’m savour­ing the flu­id­i­ty and soft edges of the work. Where the water ends and the wood ends, where the sky is bare­ly delin­eat­ed on the hori­zon. Let­ting this imagery wash over me as an exam­ple of a pho­to that can­not be tak­en every day but only by the merg­ing of inten­tion­al prepa­ra­tion  and loosed control.

Click to view the oth­ers in this series.