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Dark Materials

Photography implies light. The word "photography" means to "write with light". What happens when the key characteristic of a photograph is the absence of light?

Digital renders the dark materials of night in ways that are different from what you might expect. This is the world as a rock or plant might see it. Moving at its own time, in its own space. Had we but eyes to see beyond a narrow spectrum then we might be able to see the world rendered as digital day for night.

Here are some techniques for deploying the dark materials of the night in digital photographs...





Upper Yosemite Falls

Waking up, I glanced at the clock. It was 3:49AM. The kids were sleeping peacefully in our room at Yosemite Lodge.

I dressed for winter, and headed out into the night. The paths were icy but the stars were crisp and bright. I made my way to a clearing in the woods below Yosemite Falls.... Read more

Upper Yosemite Falls

Cosmic Swirls

As dusk darkened to night, my exposures got longer and longer until the swirl trails of the stars echoed the swirls in the rock of the Wave.

To take this photo, I needed to wait until darkness out in the desert with the ordeal that was to come. But, I say, since allís well that ends well, well worth it! Read more

Cosmic Swirls

Starry Night

Many of my night photos are created in homage to Vincent van Gogh, who wrote in a letter to his brother Theo, ďIt often seems to me that the night is much more alive and richly colored than the day.Ē The star swirl in this image seems particularly van Gogh, so I thought Iíd name this one Starry Night, after one of his most famous works.... Read more
Starry Night

Edge of Night

Against the backdrop of pounding surf and a light mist on the ocean, I photographed star trails behind Point Reyes Lighthouse in this portrait of the edge of night.... Read more
Edge of Night

North Fork

The north fork of the Point Reyes peninsula stretches through historic dairy farms and rolling green hills towards Tomales Point. Caught between the Pacific Ocean and Tomales Bay, this spit of land faces across the water towards Bodega Head and the northward marches of the California coast..... Read more
North Fork

Exposing the Night Landscape

Photographers often ask me how to get the right exposure with night landscapes. Itís a tricky topic. My experience is that the light meter in my dSLR is pretty much worthless for anything that is dark enough to need an exposure of longer than about 15 seconds at ISO 100. This can be OK for night cityscapes, which typically come in at between 15-30 seconds at ISO 100. But it does mean that the internal light meter is useless in darker landscape situations. Read more
Exposing the Night Landscape

Bridge Time

Coming up the trail from Kirby Cove, it was fully night. Not a pitch black night, because there was a sliver moon and light pollution from the bridge and city. But as dark as it was going to get. Up on the fortifications of the Marin Headlands, I decided to see how long a time exposure I could make of the Golden Gate Bridge. Read more
Digital Darkness

Night for Day

If you look at the Exif data for this image, you can verify for yourself that this was a long exposure, thirty seconds, with the 10.5mm digital fisheye lens wide open at f/2.8. But it really doesnít look like a long exposure in almost complete darkness should look. In fact, I bet if you were shown this photo and didnít know any better, you would think it was taken in the daytime, perhaps the late afternoon (with the incoming storm). Read more
Digital Darkness

On Night Photography

Photographing at night can be literally a trip into the unknown, dark and impenetrable. Often you can see neither your photographic subject nor your camera controls. You may be flailing around in the murk and gloom, at some risk of tripping over obstacles or falling down unseen cliffs. Read more
Digital Darkness

Digital Darkness

OK, letís start with two questions. Would you think this photo was taken into almost complete night? And why would someone go to a great deal of trouble to hike out into the wilds somewhere, mount their camera on a tripod, and take a long time exposure into total darkness? Read more
Digital Darkness



Twilight Turns to Night

Setting Moon © Harold Davis. Four minute exposure @ ISO 100.

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