First, what is long exposure night photography?
Long exposure night photography is the process of capturing photos at in low light using a long duration shutter speed. There isn’t a commonly agreed upon definition for “long” but I would argue it is anything over one second.
Because we are talking about shooting at night, this means we are dealing with scenes where there normally would not be enough light to capture an image. Therefore, to capture an image, you have to use the manual settings on your camera to be able to let more light onto the image sensor, by keeping the shutter open for longer periods of time.
Once you understand that basic principle, everything becomes a lot more awesome. The reason? You can start to play with reality in your images. You have more creative control than with other types of photography.
1. The key to everything: length of exposure
What makes taking long exposures at night so much fun, is the fact that you are able to portray a scene in a way that is uniquely different from what your eye is able to see in real life.
Most photography consists of freezing a moment in time, by opening and closing the shutter speed in a fraction of a second, so that it capture just the light that was available in that instantaneous moment.
With long exposure night photography however, the goal is to keep the shutter open for significantly longer, enabling the camera to capture light as it moves through the scene – over a set period of time. Therefore, the photographer has tremendous creative control in determining how the final shot will come out, by being able to play with various shutter speeds (ie, length of exposure).
2. What does this mean? It means you need a tripod
To some of you this next tip may seem incredibly obvious, but it needs to be stated loudly: invest in a quality tripod. This is really what will set you apart from simply, playing around to actually trying to capture compelling images. You need a solid, sturdy, mobile platform to place your camera. You need the best tripod for night photography that you can get.
Many people initially try and get away with simply placing their camera on a solid surface. However this misses so many compositional opportunities, and dramatically increases the chances of having a blurry image from camera shake.