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Meaning in Night

There's something striking about night scenes such as these. Their lonely, mysterious and fascinating as your left wondering about the location and asking yourself the question. 'Where is this and what was its purpose?' Well, wonder no more, I’ll provide some background details and information on some of my favorite night photographs as well as discuss what drove me to create these images.

Turning Back Around
Turning Back Around 

Night photography is an intimidating subject for some because of the inherent low light environment so, I've left some tips for beginners at the bottom of the article. I’ve always found the night compelling, the world looks startlingly different without the sun lighting it especially, in urban and industrial areas. What I feel distinguishes these locations is the variety of light sources. The soft highlights created by several forms of lighting like incandescent, fluorescent and LED change the nature of a scene, directing your focus toward the details important to the operation of a structure while bringing to mind questions as to its purpose. For example, the photograph above is of a district heating plant. This building produces the steam used to heat dozens of surrounding buildings spread over hundreds of acres. In the daylight, this scene would be dominated by towering reflective windows and white painted concrete. At night however, this scene is dominated by the mysterious machinery behind the windows-illuminated by artificial light. 

Semblance of Order
Semblance of Order - a reference to the history of the site.

The illumination that a site or object receives isn’t only fascinating in that it highlights an important structure, but also in the manner that the given feature is highlight. For example, looking at the image above, the light over the doorway is incandescent and the hallway lights are all fluorescent all in a building dating to 1931. The door light has a warm tone while the interior lights appear cold and light blue in comparison.

I noted in the caption below the photo that the title is a reference to the history of the building, this doorway leads into the Crease Clinic at Riverview, the site of a former psychiatric hospital that closed in 2010. The orderly geometric structure contrasts with the social environment of a psychiatric hospital and Riverviews chaotic closure, which involved in some cases discharging patients into East Vancouver homeless shelters. 


 Penultimate, is the second to last of something in a series. This was the second to last site I intended to photograph and the second to last building major building constructed on the Riverview lands. The four major buildings that comprised Riverview psychiatric hospital are well built. They may appear to be brick buildings but the brick is merely facade concealing reinforced concrete, even the peaked roofs are strong-tiled in slate. These buildings were designed to represent permanence, yet they’re anything but permanent the Riverview grounds are an endangered site. The land these buildings are sitting on is valuable and as a result a target for destruction and redevelopment, all to feed an overheated housing market. 

An interesting side story…many doors inside this building lock as they’re closed. When Untold Stories of the ER was being filmed inside the East Lawn Building, a contractor working overtime on the set was locked in a staircase when a substitute PA decided not to check that whether or not the building was empty before closing and locking up. Luckily there was a window in this staircase, I called Bob the production supervisor for her and she was rescued by security shortly after. 

Night Photography: General-Tips

Night Photo Examples, hover mouse over the image to cycle through. 

           Generally, when photographing at night its best to use manual settings on a digital SLR, point and shoot or even mobile phone. On automatic settings, a camera will tend to both lower the shutter speed and increase the ISO settings resulting in an noisy and often blurred image. Even with a tripod stabilizing the camera when set to automatic the ISO may not be optimal creating distracting noise in your image. I recommend using a tripod or nearby object to provide a stable surface for the camera to rest upon additionally, you should use either a remote shutter release or a timer to avoid jostling or moving the camera while pressing the shutter release.

           When setting, your exposure using manual settings, lengthen the shutter speed and lower the ISO as much as possible this will reduce noise. Additionally, you may want to select an smaller aperture to keep more of the scene in focus with a wider depth of field. Remember however, for every f-stop that you decrease the aperture you will need to add more time to the exposure or increase the ISO to avoid underexposing the image.

            Use you’re in-camera metering, a light meter or trail and error starting with an aperture such as f/8, with ISO 100 and a shutter speed of say 10 seconds to begin. Also, note, when taking photographs of the night sky or while photographing scenes in which it is prominent remember, that exposures longer than 30 seconds may cause star trails to appear in your image. Whether they appear or the degree to which star trails are visible can depend on factors such as the direction your facing. 


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