Evening_Bangkok_Thailand

Leica M9 camera and Leica 24mm Summilux-M f1.4 ASPH lens. 1/15 second @ f 6.7 ISO 800.

I love photographing the urban environment, particularly after the sun has set. The afterglow, when the sun shines from below the horizon and lights up the clouds above, can be wondrous, particularly when some of that light reflects down onto a body of water below.

Twilight is a beautiful time of day in the city. As the street lights and interiors of buildings are turned on any remaining natural light works to fill many of the deep shadows where the artificial lights do not reach. The combination of both light sources work together to both lower the contrast and introduce beautiful, sometimes surreal, mixed lighting situations.

Nighttime offers great opportunities for photography. Unless a great deal of light is reflected from the city, up towards the sky above, the night sky will photograph very dark. The important thing then is to fill the frame, as much as possible, with subject matter that is illuminated. There's no point photographing a building unless the building's exterior is also lit.

The above image was made, just a few days ago, in downtown Bangkok on a balmy January evening. I wanted to photograph the bridge on the left of the frame so I moved to a position where the bridge was illuminated by light from the shopping centre across the street. The wide-angle of view created by my fabulous Leica 24mm Summilux-M f1.4 lens allowed me to include both the bridge and the shopping centre facade within the frame in a way that emphasised 3-dimensional space and depth. I also like the bizarre colors produced by the variety of artificial light sources within the frame.

As far as setting your camera's White Balance for night photography you might like to start off by setting your camera to Daylight/Direct Daylight/Sunny (different names for different brand cameras). This will allow you to photograph the colors that are actually there. You'll likely be surprised by the result as your brain is doing its best to white balance (neutralise) the color of the artificial light and, as a result, most folks can't see the actual color of the light under which they're working. Putting your camera on auto white balance will cause the camera to try to neutralise the dominant color it reads. Imagine a wonderful red sunset reduced to a neutral white light. Not very clever your Japanese camera is!

So as well as a great learning exercise, on the spot in real time, I feel your image making will improve by getting something close to the right white balance before your camera's shutter is tripped. Of course with one dominant artificial light source, such as fluorescent, you may not like the "correct white balance" produced by setting your camera to Daylight/Direct Daylight/Sunny. In this case setting it to fluorescent (or to one of several fluorescent settings on many Nikon or Sony cameras) will produce a more neutral result in camera.

Just remember if you set your camera to JPEG it is essential that you get your white balance right in camera. While its possible to adjust an image with significantly out of whack white balance on the desktop, it's unlikely you'll be able to completely neutralise that color caste.  

Of course many folks shooting RAW reset the white balance during image processing on the desktop. Fine, but what you see on your camera's LCD screen should affect the next images you make. That's one of the reasons I like to at least put the camera's white balance in the right ballpark before I walk up to the plate. White balance on the desktop becomes more of a tweak, rather than a complete re-working or re-discovery.  

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Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru