Photography is all about the light: chasing it, capturing it, using it to make an image that brings that light to life in someone else’s eyes. Light, good or bad, can make or break a picture–think the golden hour, that magic span of breaths before the sun goes down, or the low, soft light right after sunrise.
How, then, to make a photograph at night, with no sunlight at all? And why would this be worth doing in the first place? Our eyes, it turns out, are but poor guides: things are happening at night that we can’t perceive, seeing as we do in tiny bursts of time that follow on each other’s heels but never quite connect to tell a longer story. At night, the long exposures needed to make images without added light stitch those fleeting bursts into a quilt of mystery, suspense, and revelation: you never know quite what you’ll see after the shutter’s been open 10, 20, even 30 minutes at a stretch.
The answer, often, is nothing like what you imagined. Over many minutes, moonlight, stars, and the play of shadows compress and combine to make a strange and unexpected beauty. Perhaps most surprising is the color: hues lost to our eyes in the dark loom extravagant in night-time photographs, luxuriant and ripe as orchids.
Next full moon, go out and find the night, wherever you may be. Sit, or stand, with no goal, desire, or thought in mind for 10 or 20 minutes–just listen, watch, and feel the night around you for a time. Let your ears take in its sounds, your eyes grow accustomed to its subtleties, and your skin absorb its complex texture. Now, if you’re really feeling bold, get your camera, a tripod, and a timer. Frame your shot, open up the shutter, and see what magic you and the night can make together.