London Low Level Light and Night Photography

As I mentioned a few posts back, I recently attended a Low Level Light and Night Photography workshop in London.  My reason for this was to have a go at a photography genre I have not played around with much, and to pick up some pointers on the best way to achieve good results.

The company I joined for this workshop, The Hairy Goat, are a dedicated Photography Tour and Workshop specialist based in London, and a company I have used a few times now when out and about photographing in London.  As my workshop was conducted in late august, our proposed meeting at London Bridge Station was not until 7PM, so I took the opportunity beforehand to have a wonder around the area with my camera, the images for which will follow shortly.

There were four of us attending the workshop, all at different levels within our photography and all expecting something different for our money; there were brothers who were looking to improve their photography in general and a girl who was about to head off to Iceland on a photography holiday and looking for specific pointers.  Me, I was just there for the ride!

We started off on the Southbank, in fact we spent most of our time in just one place, which was a little disappointing as we more than exhausted the scenery, and when we were looking to move on, we just ran out of time.  My main reason for joining this workshop was to find out the best camera settings to use in order to achieve clear images at night.  The first thing we looked at was ISO, and our leader for the evening (a Nikon user himself) advised that for optimum ISO, I should always have my camera set at 200, apparently, the best setting for my camera.  Something I did no know, and writing this has prompted me to research into this a little more.

Next we discussed white balance, and we were all advised that using the fine weather or daylight setting would work well due to the combinations of lighting we would come across during our shoot.  Taking the knowledge of the teacher as said, I did this, but upon processing I have noticed that most of the images have an orange hue to them, which makes some of them look wrong – I should have stuck to my original thought of using AWB, which would have coped much better with the various light sources we were photographing; I am also very pleased that I shoot in RAW as I have able to rectify this.

At the beginning, we were advised to set our cameras to Auto Exposure, take a few shots and see how our camera’s assumed the situation.  As advised, I did this but found that those initial images were not that great, so I moved my settings back to manual and started clicking away.

Although this was supposed to be a guided workshop, we were mostly left to our own devices, with our leader coming to check on our work from time-to-time, advising on settings and pointing out some of the scenes he thought were good for us to shoot.  This worked okay; I feel confident enough in my photography knowledge to be left to get on with things, but apart from a booklet given to us when we first met for the evening, there was no real teaching, which was a little disappointing (this booklet can be found in my sketchbook).

When I took this course, I was still thinking in monochrome, so my camera was set to record black-and-white JPEG images.  I think that this helped me during the workshop as although the sunset was stunning this evening, I was still looking and thinking in mono, and therefore more aware of image composition and of shapes, tones and textures over the colour of the sky or the fact that a nice iconic London bus was present in some of my images.  Although that said, during processing I did find that some of the shots actually came out better in colour, so this image of St Pauls Cathedral, which was composted for black-and-white and works really well;

St Paul's Cathedral & London Bridge Black and White

St Paul’s Cathedral & London Bridge Black and White

also looks really good in colour.

St Paul's Cathedral & London Bridge Black and White

St Paul’s Cathedral & London Bridge Black and White

Of course, being a Low Level Light and Night Photography workshop, we were dealing with slow shutter speeds and narrow apertures, so my trusty tripod was a vital piece of my kit that evening, allowing me to shoot some competent images of milky water and streaming lights.  Also, by keeping my ISO at its optimum performance setting of 200, in these ‘speedy’ images there is hardly any noise present, and the detail within is crisp and clear, but when we did start to move around, in order to manage handheld shots, I increased my ISO to 25,600 which has generated some very grainy images, which work better in black-and-white;

Noise present at a higher ISO

Noise present at a higher ISO

but not so well in colour.

Noise present at a higher ISO

Noise present at a higher ISO

All in all, I am glad that I took the time to attend this workshop as it gave me the opportunity to go and take some interesting images of London in low light and after dark.  The thing that became quiet apparent to me as the evening wore on was the fact that I could already this this kind of photography; I have learnt enough over these past years studying to understand how my camera works and what settings should be used to capture decent images when the light is low.

Now it is a case of building on this knowledge and getting out there to practice taking these kinds of shots; to be a little more adventurous and to push things a little more outside of my comfort zone.

When processing my work from the evening, it is apparent that some of the shots work better in Colour and others better in Black and White, although there is a small selection where I think both genres work well.  A selection of the images I took during this workshop can be found under the photos I have taken tab of this learning log, and I have included both a colour and black-and-white version for comparison … enjoy.



Hairy Goat.  (2013) Low Level Light and Night Photography Workshop [online].  Hairy Goat TM.  Available at:

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