Cities become very different places at night, some good, some bad. A quiet shopping area suddenly becomes alive with club activity. A busy business district takes on a ghostly creepiness. Shooting in the urban outdoors can be dangerous but rewarding.
Working in the urban outdoors at night is an experience unlike any other. One never is quite sure whether they are alone, who might be watching or what might be hiding in the shadows. At the same time, the colors and lighting of the urban landscape at night are wholly unique, dramatically different from the long exposure shots taken in more rural areas. Here, there is a beauty and an intrigue that is very different from other forms of photography, but there is also an element of danger.
Over the years, we’ve often taken to the streets at night with tripod in hand, ready to see what the camera might capture that the naked eye didn’t see. Some nights we might only get interesting light flares. Other nights we’ve had rocks thrown at us from unseen sources, frightened those in the act of committing a crime, stumbled across hidden lovers, and possibly crossed paths with a ghost or two if one believes in such things. We’ve attracted the attention of police, but, fortunately, have never needed their services. Armed escorts are a necessary precaution, but we’ve never needed them to draw their weapon.
For shots such as this one, planning and knowledge of the area are critical. We knew we wouldn’t have much time, so we carefully chose our location and discussed posing before we arrived. I also made a solo trip to the area on a previous night so that I wouldn’t need to waste time getting light meter readings. I was very familiar with the street and had a sense of what to expect. None of that quelled my excitement or anxiety as we walked through the shadows of an adjoining neighborhood on our way to the location. We dropped ten frames and were done.
Long exposure night photography is interesting and fun no matter where it is done, but shooting at night in the urban outdoors can be an experience in excitement unlike any other and results in some of the most unique images one is likely to take. While the inherent dangers are not something to be dismissed, a little planning and caution delivers results one can’t achieve anywhere else. Go ahead, experience the night; a whole different world of imagery awaits.