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.
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,Â 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 preparationÂ and loosed control.
Click to view the others in this series.