by Lindsey Welch
About three years ago I wrote a blog post for my former company about shooting urban based night landscapes, titled “Photographing the Night” . I was about a year into obsessing over them, and have obviously, thanks to AAU, expanded my interests and depth. For this blog, I'd like to revisit the entry and broaden the scope of the topic while looking at what I've learned.
I've since moved beyond the purely aesthetic, and have tried to take a deeper look at these artificial landscapes both conceptually and expressively. I now more readily make images at all times of day and night, and can safely say it’s taken a while to figure out what works and what doesn't when considering the kinds of locations I work in.
Gear (or lack thereof)
Unlike many photographers, I have minimized my gear greatly as I’ve gained experience. My entire camera bag weighs around seven pounds, and it is typically missing many of the 'staples' from other's bags. I do keep an 'overflow' bag in the trunk of my car for just-in-case scenarios, but to be honest, it gathers dust. My camera and lenses have also gotten smaller, as has my need for the very best equipment. I have started using cheaper lenses because they are lighter, a point that has gained importance above all else. Doubly, the smaller camera helps me to more easily blend in as a tourist, and no longer be regarded and feared as a 'pro'. Lightness and ability to not look like a photographer have been my primary goals in my kit selection, as I need to be able to cover a lot of ground on foot and not draw attention to myself when I get to where I am going. Also, I do carry a decent amount of cleaning equipment because I am usually working above f/8, where dirt and dust on the sensor can become visible. Working outdoors means every time I change a lens I get something on the sensor.
Items I don't have in my bag:
Items I do have in my bag:
350 or more lumen flashlight
Travel lantern (night only)
Visible Dust filter blower
5 total batteries
Extra batteries for lantern and flashlights
4 16gb SD cards
35mm, 55mm and 85mm prime lenses
Techniques (swiftness gets the shot)
I have found that the faster I can set up, the least attention I can draw to myself, the better chance I have of getting what I’m after. Further, the least amount of energy I can expend getting somewhere, the more energy I will have for creativity and clarity when I arrive. As noted above, I use the most compact yet forgiving equipment I can. I tend to find myself in areas where ownership may be questionable, and even when it is clearly public land, I need to be able to get the shot before drawing attention to myself or causing obstruction. The image below is an example. I stopped along the highway to make this shot. This isn’t exactly allowed, so I needed to be able to make the shot in very little time.
This is one of the reasons I have all together stopped using remotes. Despite most often working from a tripod, I have found the less fiddly the set-up and breakdown, the better. Less cables to sort out and find outlets for is what has worked best. Instead, I now use the timer in my camera, I have it set to a custom button as do I have the timing choices. Two seconds to ten seconds depending on the wind, local vibrations, and time of exposure. This give the camera enough time to settle after I have removed my hand.
Obviously for landscape work, flashes aren’t ideal. However, I have found a very bright LED flashlight to be imperative. In images like the one below. The camera can become confused when registering the focus is locked. As anyone who had shot with digital knows, it’s very hard to nail manual focus unless the light is optimal or you are using a very narrow aperture. I have found that an LED flashlight, anything over 350 lumens, tends to cast enough focused light for the camera to be able to lock onto. It works a lot like a focus assist beam. Shine it right where you want your focal point to be, focus, then turn it off. I also strive to never give into high ISO temptations. Unless there is movement you do not want to be evident in the image, image integrity will always be better with a lower ISO rating despite developments in camera technology.
Rights as a photographer
There are myriad of issues and concerns with shooting in public. While the moral considerations are those that the photographer is going to have to decide on, the ethics and legalities are ones that concern us all. Often, ideas and inspiration hit without much time to plan for permissions and permits, and for the most part these are not a major concern so long as images are not being used for commercial or advertising purposes. Still, it is often hard to discern when you are on private of public land, or if you can photograph. There are lots of resources out there for further reading on your rights in public.
This print out was made based on many of the ACLU tenants, who also has a page dedicated to your rights to photograph in public, and guidelines on how to handle certain possible situations . Basically, on public property, places tax dollars pay for, you are allowed to photograph anything you can see. Photographers are often accosted for various reasons ranging from no photographing infrastructure to worries of terrorism. This simply isn’t the law, though often, the authority telling you this also doesn’t know your rights. It may not always be advisable to argue though, which is why expedience in making the shot is so important. This image below was shot from across the street on a public shoulder. Despite the workers raising an eyebrow, I was allowed to be there because I could see this from the street.
Though, as an outdoor photographer of manmade spaces, it’s often hard to avoid private property at some point. I have found, generally, people do not mind you being there if you are in an area accessible by the public (parking lots and the like), and if you are quick to wrap up and not impeding traffic or causing danger to others.
Safety (or how to stay out of the way)
As I do make images from private property some times, it’s important to know how to respect the property and the owner’s rights. If asked to leave, do so, don’t be a jerk. However, I cannot stress enough the importance of looking like a tourist, and not a professional. People tend to be threatened by professional looking photographers because they don’t know what you may use the pictures for or what your intentions are. If you look like you are just making photos for personal use, they usually don’t even see you. When using a tripod, do not under any circumstances use it where someone could trip over it. You could hurt someone and destroy your camera. Be aware of what’s around you, if you are in the way of anyone trying to get by you and be vigilant of possible threats. This is a good reason to use a digital camera via the screen on the back, so that you can make use of your peripheral vision while working. Though it may be recommended to use safety reflectors when working at night, I have found that I draw less attention to myself when I don’t. I simply must be that much more careful about traffic. A final point, always know when it’s time to leave.
I’m sure in another three years from now, I’ll have learned a lot more about this photographic avenue I have chosen. In the meantime, I hope what I have learned along the way can help and inspire others to get out of doors to photograph. There is always something to discover in the world with your camera, and often you don’t even see it until you frame it up. There are a lot of considerations when leaving the studio behind, but it makes each photograph its own adventure.
. Photographing the Night. Linz Welch (self). UPA Gallery Blog, June 4, 2014. < http://www.upagallery.com/blog/2014/6/3/photographing-the-night >
. The Photographer’s Right. Bert P. Krages II, Attorney At Law. < http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm >
. Know Your Rights. ACLU.org. < https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/photographers-what-do-if-you-are-stopped-or-detained-taking-photographs