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Low Light

This assignment ran from Nov 2 to Nov 23, 2015.

We are heading into fall here. Days are shorter, nights are longer— at least in the Northern Hemisphere—so let's embrace the season and look into the night.

For this assignment I’d like to focus on shooting in low light.

It used to be that when the sun went down we used to have to stop shooting. Not any more! Modern digital cameras (both DSLRs and smartphones) have opened up new times to shoot. They see into the darkness much more like our eyes do. In some cases even better.

So for this assignment I want you to concentrate on shooting in the dark. Anything after the sun’s gone down but before it comes up again is fair game. One of my favorite times to shoot is twilight, after the sun is gone but before it is completely dark. Cities in particular come alive in that mixed light.

But don’t limit yourself. Shoot anything you can think of. The night sky, stars, urban life—let your imagination run wild through the night. Experiment! Try high ISO, try long exposure, try shooting when you don’t think you can. You might be surprised what the camera will do. Feel free to use some flash in your photos. But remember when using flash that less is more. We want to see into the night.

You might want a good tripod for this assignment but one is not necessary. You can always steady your camera by putting it on a table, or chair and using the self timer. Also try long exposures without a tripod, and pan with things that move.

Good luck, have fun, and be careful in the dark!

In return for the Sponsor's support of this Assignment, National Geographic may provide images from the Assignment to the Sponsor for its use on its website, social media platforms, and other outlets to promote and publicize the Assignment.

Curated by:

Stephen Alvarez
National Geographic Photographer
Assignment Status
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Published Dec 2, 2015.
Thank you for your contributions!

Embrace Movement

Posted nov 18, 2015

Wow, what a great assignment. I am stunned by how people are embracing shooting in low light. Isn’t it amazing the photographic horizons that new camera technology opens up? Modern cameras see into the night much like our eyes do—and in some cases far better! My job as your assignment curator will be next to impossible, and going into the end of the assignment I want you all to make it even harder. We’ve seen stellar images of cities and landscapes at night, plus the aurora borealis and the Milky Way. We’ve looked at what that dim light is falling on: people, portraits, and places. All beautiful.

Photograph by Murat Bergi

What I’d like to see going into the final days of the assignment is the fantastic. What do cameras allow you to see that we can’t? Embrace movement! Move the camera, pan with your subject. Keep the camera still and let the subject blur. Draw designs with lights. As I told participants at my photo walk in D.C. recently, “Don’t be afraid to be ridiculous.”

Photograph by fisheyes alex

As always, be safe and have fun. I look forward to seeing how you close this assignment out. (The assignment ends on November 23, 12PM EST)

Photograph by Damian Walker

Beyond the Landscape

Posted nov 13, 2015

I’ve seen some great low-light images on the Low Light assignment. Isn’t it amazing what cameras will do? We can use them to look into the night so very deeply. Like this image below by Adam Dorn, there are times shooting in low light that I swear the camera is seeing things that my eye cannot!

There have been fantastic photos uploaded so far and my job judging is going to be really difficult. Some of the nighttime landscape and aurora borealis images just blew me away. But I’d like people to look beyond the landscape and try to look at what is happening in the low light. The camera not only will capture a dimly lit landscape, it can capture everything that’s happening when the light gets dim.

Photograph by damaris m.

By all means keep shooting those dimly lit landscapes but let's try to elevate them. What elements can you add to the scene? How about some action in the frame as well as a beautiful scene? Embrace the skewed spectrum that artificial light sometimes gives us. The strangeness of that light can elevate a photo.

Photograph by Ryusuke Komori

Also remember that low light applies to more than just nighttime. Anywhere the light is dim, give photography a shot.

Stephen Alvarez

Stephen Alvarez

National Geographic Photographer
Photographer and filmmaker Stephen Alvarez produces stories of global exploration, adventure, and culture. Since 1995, Alvarez has worked with National Geographic magazine to create a number of stories that call on his caving expertise and lighting capabilities, including the discovery of an Incan mummy in Peru, the exploration of the world’s deepest cave near the Black Sea, a jungle expedition through Central America’s longest cave, the whitewater world of New Britain’s caves, and an exploration of the world below Paris. Stephen’s images have won numerous awards, from markets including Pictures of the Year International and Communications Arts, and his work has been shown at Visa pour L’Image in Perpignan, France. His collaboration with NPR on underground Paris won a 2012 White House News Photographers Association award.