Everybody loves them, but they are particularly difficult to capture. It’s pretty much hopeless if one doesn’t have a tripod or an extremely fast lens attached on a camera which is noise free at high ISO. Some times a nice flat wall instead of a tripod will do as well. Back in the day of film photography things were even trickier as you couldn’t see the result until days later. So figuring out exposure was for amateur photographers more or less a game of luck. You were lucky you got the shot, otherwise you either got a black photograph with white dots, or a completely blown out scene which didn’t resemble either night or day.
As a result, me being an amateur photographer who doesn’t usually carry a tripod around, my nightscapes are few and far between. My nightscapes from the film days that are worth mentioning and showing publicly are even fewer. To be precise, they are two. This next one shows the view from a hotel room in the Tsagkarada village on the Pilio mountain near Volos in Greece:
The photo was taken maybe around 10-12 years ago (?) using my old Canon EOS 650 camera and Velvia film. I don’t remember exposure time, aperture, lens, etc., but I do know that I only took this one shot (no bracketing) and I got lucky. I didn’t use a tripod, just rested the camera on the window sill. This shot has become one of my favorites due to the lit trees in the foreground and the blue – purple sky color.
In case you find yourself wandering in the general area of south eastern Europe, then Pilio is definitely an area worth visiting. Pilio is a mountain towering over the city of Volos in central Greece. The unique feature is that the mountain is situated on a narrow strip of land between Pagasitikos bay and the Aegean sea. So pretty much wherever you are on the mountain, you look down and you see the sea. On some ridges you see the sea when you look both at your right and at your left. Pretty spectacular stuff. The mountain has a small ski resort at the top. There you can ski while enjoying a wonderful view of the blue Aegean sea. Other than that, the mountain is covered with pine trees from top to bottom and from left to right and has several very picturesque small villages.
OK, enough advertising for Pilio, moving on to my next favorite nightscape. This one is a view of Thessaloniki taken from the hill of Seich Sou Forest National Park:
I think I had a tripod for this one but can’t be sure. I took the photo again several years ago on Velvia and then had it scanned (as the previous one). Both photos were taken just before absolute darkness fell, which gave them the beautiful colors and atmosphere. This is what I like most about them. Still there being city lights qualifies them to my eyes as nightscapes. In any case the suggestion here is that often just before dark makes for better photos than in complete darkness. But i am sure you already new that.
Thessaloniki is maybe my favorite city of Greece. In my mind it is connected with many fond memories because I spent five care free years there while studying in the university. The city is situated in the north of Greece, it is the second largest city in Greece and has been an important commercial center during the last 1000+ years. It is built amphitheatrically around the Thermaikos bay and offers many spots with a great view of the sea. It has a big sea front (all built, no swimming opportunities) and an old town and walls higher up on the hills (near to where this photo was taken from). The city has a large university with more than 100.000 students, which makes it a very youthful and lively place, particularly at night.
Anyway, back to nightscapes, things are easier now with digital cameras, which allow one to check, retake on the spot and then of course reprocess. I took this photo a month ago while on holidays at lake Como in North Italy (see post North Italian views).
The raw image was then slightly processed in Lightroom and a high tension electricity pole with cables were removed in Photoshop.
To take this one, I set up the tripod right next to the door of our hotel room and took a couple of shots while my wife was feeding the baby. This reminds me of a book I recently got my hands on, called “Guerilla Travel Photography” by Tony Page. I didn’t actually read the book, so I can’t recommend it. However, I completely identify with the author’s argument that most normal people have to “steal” whatever moments they can find to photograph stuff. Why do I like this shot? Because of the red house in the foreground and the reflections of the lights on the clouds in the background, which give it some color. So to recap, nightscapes need color too. This last photo was taken at around 10-11 pm. It might have been better if taken just before darkness as the previous two, but as Tony says in his book, we are practicing guerilla photography here.
© Epameinondas Stamos 2002