A Viewfinder Darkly

Photography tips and tutorials

Photographing the Fair at Night

August 29 2007

by Philip Northeast

The attraction of photographing streetscapes at night is the bright lights or the fun of the fair. Digital cameras can capture this color and atmosphere from your trip.

The digital camera used for this short photo essay is a basic Digital SLR camera typical of the sort many travelers take on holiday.

Yellow ducks

Yellow ducks ISO 200 Shutter speed 1/15 second manual exposure unknown f stop

All the example shots used available light and the camera was hand held. The shots aim at typical scenes found while travelling. They show it is possible to capture the atmosphere and spontaneity of street photography.

Forget The Light Meter:

There is no correct exposure; it will always be a balance between overexposing very bright light sources and leaving darker areas underexposed. In this sort of photography, use the digital camera’s LCD screen and the exposure histogram, if it has one, as aids to judging acceptable exposure.

Experience of how your LCD screen relates to the exposure is the best guide. Take plenty of shots and keep experimenting. For example, take a number of the same shot with a range of shutter speeds. The great thing about digital cameras is they record the camera settings on the picture file so when reflecting on the merits of each shot the settings are readily available.

Wide Angle Lens for Focus:

In dim conditions, the autofocus may struggle, and even manual focusing can be difficult in a dimly lit scene. A wide angle or very short focal length lens or zoom setting will give a large depth of field, helping to keep the scene in focus.

Food truck

Food truck 1/90 ISO 800

A wide-angle lens helps in shooting scenes crowded with people and buildings.

Forget the Flash:

The attraction of night streetscapes is the surreal atmosphere created by the colored lights contrasting with mysterious areas of darkness. Using a flash will kill the colors with white light and reduce the area of view. Another issue in candid travel, or street photography, is remaining inconspicuous so people continue acting naturally, rather than posing or becoming self-conscious knowing a camera is present.

Holding the Camera Steady:

Partly to remain inconspicuous and keeping camera gear to a minimum while travelling, these shots need to be hand held. Using a short and light wide-angle lens makes this easier than a telephoto zoom, but still requires practice and technique.


Dodgems: 1/30 ISO 800

Get balanced and brace your elbows onto your chest, breathing gently and then squeeze the shutter button when it comes time to take the picture. Walls, poles and fences, or anything solid to lean against, will help keep the digital camera steady during the shot.

For the last photograph, a handy post provided a steady support for a two second hand held exposure. The lights on the moving ride paint a pattern in the image making any minor camera shake unimportant.


For reasons of space on the media card and convenience, the example digital images were saved as in-camera jpegs. The only drawback is in the yellow ducks photo the white balance is not correct, as the ducks have a slight greenish tinge due to the color temperature of the lighting as the auto white balance did not get it quite right.

Waiting in line

Waiting in line: 1/30 ISO 800

Saving the picture in RAW format allows simple adjustment to correct this on the computer. However, part of the charm of these night scenes are the weird colors produced by the lighting displays, so the slight color cast adds to picture’s atmosphere.

originally published by suite101.com


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