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Lights at Night
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Lights at Night

Nighttime is loaded with bright and colorful subjects to photograph—neon lights, theatrically lighted landmarks and monuments, carnival rides, fireworks, etc.

The stripes and squiggles of neon lights and signs are colorful and provide good results over a wide range of exposures. Sometimes the lights are bright enough that you can take handheld exposures with the camera set to a moderately fast ISO speed of 400 or 800. Sometimes individual signs work as a whole, but more often you'll create stronger images by moving in close to isolate patterns or abstract designs within a sign—a colorful slice of pizza in a restaurant sign, for example. In neon-heavy locales like Las Vegas or Times Square, use a telephoto lens to compress space and squeeze a number of lights into a brilliant abstract composition.

Carnival and amusement parks abound with night lights. You can get a bird's-eye-view by climbing aboard the Ferris wheel. Lighting will be fairly dim, so use a very fast ISO setting of 1000 to 1600 for sharp handheld photos, or use a tripod and long shutter speeds at ground level to capture the motion of the rides.

Bridges, fountains, and monuments are often more interesting to photograph at night, when they are theatrically lighted and the darkness hides distracting or unattractive surroundings. Use a tripod to steady the camera, and make long exposures so you can use small apertures for maximum depth of field. Exposure isn't critical; move in close, take readings of just the lighted areas (or use your spot-meter mode if your digital camera has one), and bracket exposures a stop or two in both directions using your exposure-bracketing feature. Don't fret about getting a correct color balance as most night scenes include a variety of light types and there really is no way to balance them all in one shot.

Next: "Using the Flash on Your Camera"