Working the Night

Another French Quarter night.
Another French Quarter night.

I like poking around the back streets at night. Or, at least during blue hour. I few of you were asking me about that. You were wanting to know a little bit about how to do that.  I thought I’d discuss that a little. I promised I’d teach a little. I really haven’t done that so much.


Remember my way of working. I talked about that a few days ago. Especially in an urban area. And, especially in a city where  crime is very high. There were two murders this past weekend. One was very high-profile. It made national news. For all I know, it made international news. The other happened in the 7th Ward and got about two inches of coverage on a back page of the local newspaper’s website. Too bad. Whatever happened to either everybody matters or nobody matters? And, to make matters even more complex, there were are least four armed robberies and four stabbings in the French Quarter while it was heavily patrolled by law enforcement during the French Quarter Festival.

I tell you this not to keeping pounding away at my city. I tell you this because it really informs my way of working. I don’t want to be shot, stabbed or robbed.


Night pictures. The first thing to know is that I never really work in the dead of night when the sky is already looking black unless I am in a pretty well lighted location and that’s a big part of the picture.

For night work, I usually work until the end of the blue hour, which begins slightly after sunset and lasts for about — you got it — about an hour. That’s how I made this picture. I also look for something  to silhouette against the sky like those roofs, gables and chimneys. I look for something to contrast against the blue, like those window lights. This is just one example. Just keep your eyes open. You’ll see more.

Technically. That’s another matter. I always try to keep the ISO as low as it will go. I’m old school that way. The lower the ISO, the better the quality. However, newer digital sensors and in-camera processors let you turn up the ISO to numbers unknown in the past. That’s all great, but do you really want to turn night into day? That’s not to say that I don’t turn the ISO up some. But, just until it allows the camera to do what I want it to do.

I try to keep my f-stop around f.5.6 and let the shutter speed go wherever it needs to in order to accomplish that. Of course, that creates some awfully slow shutter speeds. For me, anything much lower than 1/4 of a second creates motion blur. Some sensors and cameras have a kind of anti-motion software that allows you to sort of buy back some of that speed, but still…

Since I don’t use a tripod what do I do to brace the camera? Everything and anything. I lean up against building, light poles, sit on the fender of a parked car, brace myself against the parked car. Whatever it takes. That assumes that I’m already holding the camera properly.

And, that would be?

First, don’t extend the camera away from your body in order to use the LCD. That provides the worst possible shooting platform in low light. Use the viewfinder. Hold the camera up against your face. Grip the camera with your right hand so you can use your right forefinger to press the shutter release button. Hold the lens from underneath with your left hand, which means twisting your hand upward in a little cup. Pull your shoulders back against your body. Now, you have fairly stable shutting platform.

All if that is really old school. And, so am I.

One more thing. I used to say this a lot. Practice. Practice. Practice. You won’t get this on your first try. Or, your second. Or, third. But keep doing it until it becomes second nature. Then, you’ll get it.



    1. Thanks, Andrea. I promised I’d teach a little and I haven’t done much of that so… Mostly, I’d rather work at night or dusk, or dawn if I could ever get up for it. That’s when the light is special.


  1. I hadn’t thought of shooting at that hour – I’ll be practicing this week! And yes, safety is a concern in nearly any city. At times I don’t take my camera out of my bag because I don’t want to lose it.


    1. Hi. That’s one of the times that photographers cherish the most. For me, it’s even more important than golden hour — more like 20 minutes — when the sun sets. The other? I think you might as well not take a camera if you can’t use it. And, since a camera goes everywhere with me… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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