The Pull of Nighttime Photography

Hello everyone and thanks for visiting the blog!

It has been quite a while since my last post. This does not come as a huge surprise since summertime is always the busiest time of the year at my end. What’s kept me busy? Well, for one, the completion of the Mountains in Motion time-lapse documentary short has required a good deal of attention, as have several outdoor photo shoots for a variety of clients here around Bow Valley. I also recently returned home from a 3-week stint to Alaska and the Yukon. I will be sharing the occasional photo from that magical part of the world in the coming weeks. Finally, summertime is also the time to “go for it” in the Canadian Rockies if one is into mountaineering, camping and such. Just in case fall is accompanied by heavy precipitation, one has to make the most of July and August to get high up and enjoy the hills, which is what I tried to do.

So, all in all, it has been a fantastic, exciting summer photography-wise. I was fortunate to be able to shoot in a wide variety of environments, from time-lapse sequences on the Waputik Icefield to aerials above the Divide, to lifestyle images on the trail, climbing photographs at 11,000 feet and landscapes in the Alaskan wilderness. One trend has emerged through this photographic melting pot however: night time photography.

Although I still enjoy shooting the “big landscape sunrises” in the Rockies or elsewhere, lately I have rediscovered how much the dark hours have to offer to the photographer. I would even say that this has been one of my most important realizations as a photographer so far. Everything, everywhere is so different at night, including the hugely popular, classic “photo stops.” Go to Vermilion Lakes at sunrise or Peyto Lake at sunset and you’ll likely have plenty of company. Yet if you return after sundown you’ll probably have the whole place to yourself. Part of it has nothing to do with the quality of the light or the physical elements that one has to work with; I simply find it easier to connect with the mountains when I am not surrounded by crowds. Stillness of place leads to stillness of mind and somehow I feel that the nighttime makes it easier for me to convey the emotions I feel as I am taking the photographs, be it awe, tranquility or insignificance.

There is no doubt that the appeal of night images also comes from the photographic elements that are not available in the daytime: the stars, the moonlight, the aurora and other celestial phenomena. Moreover, lakes in our area also often return to stillness after the sun sets. Stray sounds and movements are minimized and one’s environment becomes more simple. The mountains loom more than usual. Trees go black and colours fade down to just a few available hues. The effect that nighttime has on the landscape is similar to winter’s, in the sense that everything is simplified and somewhat “softened”. Whether night time photography is more challenging than daytime shooting is debatable. Perhaps the simplification of the scenes is compensated by the difficulties in focusing or exposing properly, or the need to be up and running while the rest of the town is asleep. To me, though, that is somewhat irrelevant if one simply goes after what inspires. Night time images are what get me most creatively excited these days and I can see that trend continuing, in the near future at least. With the gear getting increasingly high-performing in low-light these days, I’m sure others will feel the same way I do. Has anyone else felt the pull of nighttime photography? How do the dark hours impact your approach and your photo experience?

Here is a sample of magical night time moments experienced in the mountains recently. Happy night shooting everyone!

“The Fight”, Lake Minnewanka, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

“Silent Spectators”, Castle Mountain, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

“Midnight at Bow Lake”, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

“Starlit”, Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal.

“Annapurna Trails”, Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal.

“By The Millions”, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada.

“Waputik Flames”

“Aquarius”, Two Jack Lake, Banff National Park.

16 Responses to “The Pull of Nighttime Photography”

  1. drawandshoot

    Paul, these are just so gorgeous and full of peace. I need to do more night shots, obviously! Unfortunately the mountains are far away, for now…
    Annapurna trails, WOW!

  2. Denise J. Swick

    Yes, the Stillness, Peace, Subtleness, Beauty AND So Much More – are what has drawn me to do night photography for the past 17 years. It’s Whole different view of the World & Cosmos.
    (I wish I was digital, though. You’ve shown how easy it is to get your images online by being digital, that’s for sure)
    Fabulous Pictures.
    See you at your film screening next week =D

    • Paul Zizka

      Nice to see you on here Denise! Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment. I think we definitely share this passion for nighttime photography. See you at the premiere!

  3. RonB

    Hi Paul… The night shot of the star trails, is that Castle mountain in the background. Share to share the settings on your camera and the length of the exposure..?

  4. Chris ConwayChris Conway

    Thanks for this Paul. I have recently started exploring and experimenting with the opportunities of night photography and have been blown away by the results and the capabilities of the camera in very low light. I opened the door to this whole new world in large part due to the inspiration of your incredible photography.

  5. Jeff R

    Great shots Paul! I really enjoy nighttime photography as well. I find it so peaceful to be out on your own under the stars, look up and realize how small you are in relation to everything around you! Your mind gets to wander into many unknown areas…
    I just wish I could get the clarity that you do with your shots!


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