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After Midnight

This assignment ran from Jun 9 to Jun 30, 2014.

For this assignment we're using the lyrics from J.J. Cale’s song “After Midnight” as inspiration. If you don’t know the song you might want to listen to Eric Clapton’s famous cover from the 1970s. The lyrics begin, “After midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang out.”

So how are you gonna let it all hang out? We’ve spent many a midnight hour making pictures—in fact, the night is such an amazing time to photograph: It's magical, mysterious, and metaphorical, whether by moonlight, ambient city light, or any light you find yourself in after the clock strikes midnight.

Ready to take on this challenge? June is a great month to do it, and the dates of this assignment include the full moon and a new moon. For those of you way up in the Northern Hemisphere you’ll have the midnight sun to work with. And for those of you way down south, who knows, maybe an amazing display of the aurora australis? For everyone else, use your imagination and your creativity to show us what “after midnight” means to you. More

Curated by:

Diane Cook and Len Jenshel
National Geographic Photographers
Assignment Status
  • Open

    Everyone’s welcome to contribute their best shot to open assignments. Learn more.
  • Closed

    Completed assignments—with our favorite photos included—will be published online. Learn more.
  • Published

    Once the submission period is over, we'll review all contributions and select our favorite images to be included in the story. Learn more.
Published Jul 11, 2014.
Thank you for your contributions!

Finish Big

Posted jun 24, 2014

Wow! Your Shot members, this assignment is getting some big time attention. Your photos caught the eye of National Geographic’s CEO Gary Knell, who tweeted this yesterday:

He is absolutely right. The submissions are amazing, so we retweeted his comment. Then the folks at National Geographic Creative retweeted our tweet.  So now there are thousands of important eyes taking a look at our assignment.  We have six days left to go (the assignment ends June 30, Noon EDT), so let’s go for broke and give all our viewers even more smashing photos to talk about. 

We love that you are taking risks, and going outside of your comfort zone. Here’s a couple of things we would like you to think about when you make your images.  Embrace the night. Pay careful attention to your exposure. Several of the photos are so bright that they are appear to be taken during the day. If you need to, you can also use slight toning in your editing software to bring down the brightness, but beware of over-processing.

Think about framing and make sure the edges of your frame adds to the image, and doesn’t distract from the elements within the frame. On that note, do make sure the elements within the image help create a visual pathway that draws the viewer into the photograph.  The photographer Robert Adams, in speaking about where to place the four edges of the frame wrote, “a tension so exact, that it is peace”.

The last question you need to ask yourself after you have made your best frame is this, “Now, how can I make this picture even better?”       

We can’t wait to see the next round of submissions!

Two More Uploads

Posted jun 17, 2014

From the back and forth discussions it looks like it is time for another update.  We thought it might be helpful to comment on some of the archival images, just so all would get a sense of what we like, or maybe you might be inspired by some of your fellow photographer’s work. We want this assignment to be fun, challenging and successful for Your Shot members. 

Based on our last update, we’re hoping that more of you will be submitting NEW images. For this reason, we have decided to increase the uploads for this assignment from three to five. For those of you who have already submitted archival images, you will get to submit TWO additional new images. However, we are sticking to all other rules; after midnight through 4:00AM with images made between June 9, 2014 and June 30, 2014.  For those of you shooting film, please mark the date and time in your caption. 

One other thing to mention here, the Your Shot editors may check with individual photographers regarding the EXIF data prior to publishing the story.

There is just under two weeks left to submit images, so go make some great photographs!  We’re looking forward to seeing what you submit.

How to Shoot at Night

Posted jun 13, 2014

We’re getting the sense that this time stamp issue is a distraction from all of you getting out there and making NEW pictures.  Initially we put that stipulation in, because on our assignments we absolutely must change our time stamp within the camera settings in every time zone we photograph in – our photo editors require us to do so.  They want to know with absolute certainty at what hour and on what day pictures were taken. This information or metadata comes with all digital photos and the time stamp is referred to in the data that follows the photo from camera to your digital device.  We’re not asking for a time stamp on the actual image. However, it is essential that you do not strip out the data so we can confirm the time.

We want to make this a true assignment in the realest sense of the word when it comes to editorial photography  Being on assignment is one of the hardest, but most rewarding experiences because we are constantly creating and challenging ourselves to make an image better than the last. Here is where we’re going to get tough.  We want to see you all making new pictures. This isn’t an assignment to show us what you have in your archive.  If night photography isn’t your thing, this is your chance to learn and grow.  Get out of your comfort zone; try something new.  That’s how we all grow creatively as photographers. We’re giving you all wide latitude on subject matter, so now go have some fun.

A lot of our work in the field involves problem solving and some of you have mentioned that where you live is too dark to photograph. Here is something we worked out while on assignment for our “Night Gardens” story for National Geographic magazine.  We call it our exposure “cheat sheet,” and we are happy to share it with you.  Let’s say you are in a really dark area and you don’t know what your exposure needs to be (so dark that the camera's metering system is of no help).  You are, of course, on a tripod, so you would like to keep the ISO below 800 so you don't get too much grain).  Or maybe you’re not even sure the picture is going to be good enough to warrant standing around for a long exposure (we did a three-hour exposure for one picture in France for our “Night Gardens” assignment).  We devised this chart to help us compute our exposure quickly and accurately . A larger version is attached below, so you can print it out.

Here is how it works (and this is for our camera, a Nikon D800, so you will have to make the exact translations to your camera).

1) Put your camera on a tripod and attach a cable release. 

2) As always, find your best frame. You can use a flashlight to light the scene as a guide. You can choose to either use the flashlight to “paint” the scene, or use natural light for the real exposure.

3) Focus: Use a flashlight to direct a beam on what is most important to your picture (called “critical focus”). You can magnify your image on the LCD screen, or, even better, we use a magnifier for our LCD screen. This is the best $79 you will ever spend because it also works wonders when it's bright and sunny. Find it here

4) Set your "mode" setting to "A" (aperture).

5) Bump your ISO to 3200.

6) Open your aperture to f/4.  

7) Make a picture: Let the auto exposure help you get close on your exposure. If the exposure is not to your liking, make an adjustment and make another picture. Continue until you like the exposure and the histogram is in the correct position. Important tip: Your eyes adjust to the darkness, and so what might look like a good exposure at the moment will appear quite dark when you see it later on your monitor. We often change the LCD brightness in the menu to minus one.

8) Now, use the cheat sheet chart to make the correct adjustment to the final ISO and aperture you prefer for the picture. For example, if the ISO 3200 + f/4 exposure came out to be 2 seconds, and let’s say you want your final exposure to be f/11 at ISO 400, the chart gives you a “6," which means a factor of “6 stops.” So what does that 6 mean? You do NOT multiply your 2 seconds by 6 to get 12 seconds—that would be way wrong. Instead you double the exposure six times. So your 2 seconds exposure doubled six times becomes 128 seconds. Simplified: 2 seconds x 2 = 4 seconds (first doubling); 4 x 2 = 8 (second doubling); 8 x 2 = 16 (third doubling); 16 x 2 = 32 (fourth doubling); 32 x 2 = 64 (fifth doubling); 64 x 2 = 128 (sixth doubling). So, in this example, 128 seconds would be your correct exposure, based on your cheat sheet test exposure.  

9) Now, change the ISO on your camera to the new desired setting.

10) Super important: you need to change the mode to “M” (manual) because most DSLRs will only go to a 30-second exposure maximum—and we already know that we need 128 seconds for this exposure.

11) Now that you are in manual, adjust your aperture to the new desired setting.

12) Adjust your shutter speed to “B” (bulb) if your desired exposure is over 30 seconds.

13) Get out your trusty timer (we use our iPhone for a timer). Set it for the cheat sheet exposure.

14) Press down your cable release—and if you have a lock on your release, you are fortunate, otherwise you will have to keep the release depressed for the full amount of time. 

15) When you're done, you should see your picture with the same exposure as the test, provided the moon did not go behind a cloud and your original test was with the moon (or someone didn’t shut a light off).

16) We also highly recommend setting your noise reduction setting in your menus to “on.” This will get rid of digital noise but will double your waiting time. What that means is that after your 128-second exposure, you will hear the shutter close (exposure over), but the camera needs another 128 seconds to process (you can’t use your camera for anything else). When it is done processing, you will then see your image on the LCD screen, as usual. 

17) When it comes up on the LCD screen, use a loop or magnifier to check the exposure and sharpness. Make an adjustment if need be.

18) Then do what we do: Assess the image and make a better picture.

We realize this is a lot to take in, so use it at your discretion. We want you to succeed and become a better photographer. You still have two and a half weeks left. Good luck and good night!

Stay Up Late

Posted jun 9, 2014

Wherever you find yourself, you'll have lots of interesting nocturnal potential. We won’t limit this Your Shot assignment to only natural landscapes—it’s wide open, except for one restriction: Your time stamp on your images should be made within four hours after midnight.

So when it’s all done …

We're gonna cause talk and suspicion
Give an exhibition
Find out what it is all about
After midnight, we're gonna let it all hang out
After midnight, we're gonna let it all hang out

Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

Diane Cook and Len Jenshel

National Geographic Photographers
Diane Cook and Len Jenshel are two of America's foremost landscape photographers, exploring issues of beauty, boundary, culture, and the control of nature. They were married in 1983 and began collaborating in 1990. They have worked for many magazines, published numerous books, and are the recipients of many prestigious awards and grants. Their work has been exhibited internationally in one-person shows and is represented in over a hundred major collections worldwide. They are currently contributing photographers to National Geographic, covering landscape and the environment. Recent stories have covered green roofs, New York's High Line, Night Gardens, Tumbleweeds, and The Wisdom of Trees.Their latest book Wise Trees was published in October 2017.