Since I wrote an 8-page article for Digital SLR User magazine in 2008, I’ve loved shooting at night. Once the unreliable ambient light has gone, you are in control. Photographers are control freaks….
Also since then, LED torches have massively improved, to the point where for as little as £50 you can buy a Cree torch which can light an abbey – which is how all the images here were created.
I bought a CREE with 3 LED “bulbs” and a claimed power of 3800 lumens. Always take this number with a pinch of salt – it’s probably never going to be THAT strong, but it is incredibly powerful and has opened an entirely new avenue for the night photographer.
Previously, the best solution was to use your flashgun to light subjects – you walk into the scene and mask the flash with your body. Then use the “pilot” button to trigger the flash; lighting what ever you like with a powerful brst of light.
Torches were only really useful for seeing where you’re going, and maybe light graffiti – like childhood sparklers, using them to write your name!
With 3000+ lumens, all that has changed.
Standing by your camera, you can light dark subjects 50-100 meters away. You can also use coloured “gels” – applying greens, yellows, blues etc. to the subject.
These are all taken in a 30 minute spell at Kirkstall Abbey, just outside Leeds – a pre-gym pit stop!
1 – The Main Tower (Above)
One of the first shots – bare torch at full power, just passed the beam over the dark abbey stone to light it. Even the high tower has detail in the stone!
This shot was again a bare torch pointed into the abbey through a side door. You can see a slash of light where I was stood. Quite spooky shoving your arm through a gate in a dark abbey, but need to do that to spread the light around the place. It gives the impression that someone’s home….
3 – Creepy Trees
So this one has me hidden behind one of the trees, shining the light from one spot in a hemispherical shape. It creates the light on the grass and that shadow in the foreground, and also the sinister look to the inner side of the branches hanging over me head
4 – Red & Purple Gels
The sky was clear so made the most of the stars – 1 minute exposure doesn’t give much “movement” but makes them bright. The red and purple gels are pretty “thick”, they’d take 3-4 stops of light off a flash. So I’ve never been able to light anything with previous torches. Here we see that they both created some light. It does tail off near the top of the towers – they are pretty dark so would need a longer pass of light on future shoots.
Moving clouds are your friend – we see the orange clouds, from city light pollution, have left a blurred pattern on this shot. They were moving pretty fast, and over the 1-minute exposure created this amazing sky.
Plain torch was used on the abbey itself, and the foreground had a blue gel.
These torches are pretty amazing really – you can stand with you camera and light most things within 100 meters. You can walk into the scene and light individual things. You can work far faster if you like – no need to do 5 minutes of walking around in the dangerous dark, flashing a speedlite.
Evening’s are dark for a few months, so if you’re looking for inspiration this winter, maybe worth getting yourself one and seeing what you can paint.