Contemporary Fine Art Photography: How to Photograph Night Landscapes

Yale MFA Gradutate Steve Giovinco Offers 7 Tips on Creating Fine Art Photographs at Night

About ten years ago, I attended my first Yaddo artist residency for five weeks.  I had no idea what I would do there once I arrived, however.  Yes, I had some ideas in my mind: do some reading, write a new artist statement, ruminate.  But I wasn’t really sure what kind of photography I would create, and this was scary yet exciting.

I wondered around at night time after the first two weeks and began for the first time photographing in the dark.  This was winter, andSaratogahad mounds of snow—in March and even early April.  I’ve loved it so much that I began creating photographs at night since then.  Here are a few tips that might be helpful.

  1. Keep it simple.
    This includes the camera equipment and your approach.  Don’t lug multiple lenses, camera bodies, and anything additional than you really need to take the picture.  I personally only take my camera, lens and simple, lightweight tripod.  Also, don’t over complicate the shoot by thinking too much.
  2. Keep exposures minimal.
    Depending on the digital camera, an exposure of thirty seconds or several minutes can be adequate.   I often bump up my ISO from 200 to 800 or even more.  More than 1200 and you can see noise on larger sized prints.
  3. Know your area to photograph.
    When photographing at night time, try walking around during the day time to see what might be of interest.  While its usually impossible to know what is inspiring under moonlight, its good to understand the basic feature of the area.  Drive around first to scout an area and return at night.  Also, the best area could be just down the road—it often is.  I try to go back to the same place several times if it feels right.
  4. Let it happen.
    Don’t push it.  The photograph will emerge when its right.  Trying to force a solution will just create bad work.
  5. Feel the place when photographing.
    The intuitive feel of a location is extremely important for me, especially when creating fine art photographs at night.  I try and capture a mystery and lyrical feeling and the only way to attempt to get this kind of work is to connect to the location—the road that curves ahead in the dark; the moon coming through the trees.
  6. Work hard but stop when ready.
    It can be exhausting working at night time.  I usually take a nap during the day and kind of wait around until it feels right.  For me this could be after a later dinner or around 10pm to midnight or even until 2 or 3am (rarely).  But when its not working, pack it in.  Don’t torture yourself about it.
  7. Edit work later.
    I rarely look at work immediately afterwards, at least with any credibility.  I look at the images in the camera as soon as I get home and try and transfer them to my computer as soon as I walk in the door.  But I know that I am very critical just after I have taken them, so I try not to edit or offer judgment until some time has passed.


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