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Around Ottawa, Meandering thoughts, Photography tips and gear, travel

Travel Photography at Night

Prague – photographs of this magical city conjure up images of Christmas, churches and castles.  How can I resist the glowing lights illuminating this historical town – I can’t wait to go myself – time to work on my travel photography at night.

Prague Old Town Square Christmas Market – photo taken from Wikitravel.

Photography at night is a great skill – one often overlooked or viewed as difficult.  I have been guilty of putting my camera away after sunset on many occasions, unless grabbing happy snaps of friends with the flash.  Enter travel to Prague and I am up to the task.

There are a million tips out there to prepare for travel photography – some as simple as getting on line and looking at examples of what others have done!  It is also worth while to do some advance planning and scope out where you want to go and when.  Late dusk has the advantage of filling in the darkest spaces of your frame with the residual light of day, softening the harsh black of night.  A tripod is also a must due to the longer exposure times.  I have had success with placing my camera on boxes, books and anything I can to capture a slow shutter speed shot, but I know that this just won’t do for Prague!  A dash to the camera store to pick up my newest toy – the Induro tripod, and an evening of practice.

The Peace tower proved to be a real challenge for me – had to play with the white balance to get a successful picture.  The white face of the clock kept tripping up the light meter.  A quick switch to the Tungsten light setting helped!  I also switched to manual focus – this can help the camera when it can’t focus on its own in the dark.  Old habits die hard – I kept expecting the camera to focus for me!

The tripod was a brilliant purchase as the exposure times meant I could not hold the camera myself.  Remember to turn of the auto-stabilization as this will counteract the benefits of the tripod and may introduce some wobble into your photos.

F5.6 for 4 – 5 seconds proved to be a great combination for the photos of buildings.  You can even see in the lower right corner the red lights of the cars on the street as the speed blurred the cars out of the picture.

Another tip I learnt in my research about photography at night is that water makes a great reflector of light, and adds real depth to your photos.  The above photograph is of the Museum of Civilization, just across the Ottawa River from the back of Parliament Hill.  The darkness of the water is broken up by the reflection of the building lit up at night.  I was very happy with this shot, also taken at f5.6 – this one at 4 seconds.

This shot proved to be a bigger challenge for me – the light saturation from the city resulted in a number of washed out pictures.  At least with digital, I was able to take a number of shots until I get what I want.  I love how the traffic gets blurred out in the slow exposure time, and all you see is the red line of multiple tail lights.  The statues give the appearance of people in the frame.  You can even a party in the new Congress Centre in the top right corner of this shot.

The Centennial Flame burned so brightly, I only needed 2 seconds for this one – the fire casting a warm glow over the monument.

What I learned about Travel Photography at Night

Get out and practice if you are planning a trip with this as a focal point!  I had countless shots with poor exposure or where I forgot that I had switched the camera to manual – a practice run has given me a great opportunity to brush up on my skills so that when I am traveling, I will capture those precious moments!

A tripod is your friend!  I selected a tripod with a rotating ball head – it offered me many extra angles to play with and once I got used to it – I loved it!  Don’t forget a small flashlight so that you can see your camera controls in the dark.

Dress warmly, especially if planning to shoot in the cold.  My expedition in Ottawa was perfect – a chilly 2 degrees is similar to what I can expect in Prague at Christmas.

Bracket your shots – some of the shots I thought looked best on my display screen on the camera were not as good on the computer – at least if you bracket your shots you will have more to work with.

Play with the white balance – the effect on your pictures can be considerable.  You can add or remove warmth at the touch of a button.

Travel photography at night – just get out there and give it a try!


About Anita Mac

The bucket list just keeps growing! The more I cross off - the more exciting new destinations and activities I find! I have been fortunate enough to travel a considerable distance over the years. My love of many things, including travel, cycling, kayaking and photography fit together like hand and glove. I have to keep asking myself....where to next? I am happy to share my travels and photography through my blogs: http://traveldestinationbucketlist.com and http://anitamacphotos.wordpress.com Hope you enjoy them as much as I do! On to the next adventure!


9 thoughts on “Travel Photography at Night

  1. A tripod is the next item on my list to purchase for my photography needs. Like you I have struggled with night shots and I know a tripod is a must. Your post has inspired me to research tripods and save my $$ to buy one in the very near future. Thanks for the inspiration and keep practicing. By the time you get to Prague you will be an expert 🙂

    Posted by f-stop mama | November 6, 2011, 2:18 pm
  2. Good advice, well written with excellent photos to show your work and knowledge. Cheers!

    Posted by Steve | November 6, 2011, 8:26 pm
  3. Love the one of Centennial Flame. Good work. I tried a few of my own but they aren’t as good as these.


    Posted by twitchyfeet | November 7, 2011, 5:24 am
  4. Amazing post – I spent yesterday mulling over tripods and am definitely going to get one. Really informative post though, helpful and easy to understand. I’ve only had my SLR about a month, but I’m working on understanding it! Thanks for the comments on my site and have fun in Prague!

    Posted by Persephone | November 7, 2011, 8:08 am
  5. Wonderful photos!! I love shooting at night. Twilight is the best time to shoot…the sky is such an awesome shade of blue 😀

    Posted by Marie Nagle Photography | November 8, 2011, 11:28 pm
  6. Hi!
    I’m going to be in Ottawa for work this Sunday evening. We arrive at close to midnight and leave at Noon on Monday. (I’m a flight attendant and we aren’t in town for very long this time…).

    What is the single best thing I can get up and photograph Monday morning? The company keeps us at The Quality Hotel downtown. So something within walking distance would be great.

    Thanks for any tips!! And thanks for liking my blog post earlier. Very much appreciated!!

    Posted by nickrokicki | December 15, 2011, 7:50 pm
    • Oh how awesome – too bad I have a crazy Monday or I would come with you! What are you looking for in Ottawa? What do you want to shoot. Traditional – Parliament, Museum of Civilization and National Art Gallery (including giant spider street art – can have fun with that!!!) – you could get some interesting lines and do something different with the lines of the buildings. Something a little different – Rideau Falls, behind the Market, where the Rideau River joins the Ottawa (across from 111 Sussex) – front desk should be able to direct you. The Byward Market may enable some interesting Christmasy shots as they are still selling Christmas trees and all sorts of holiday paraphernalia! May find people out and about as they are starting to have Christmas holidays! Not sure if it is set up or not, but there is a nativity scene with live donkeys at one of the churches on Wellington, just past Parliament Hill. You can also walk across the bridge to the Quebec side for different views of Parliament.
      Will keep thinking about it – if I can think of anything else in walking distance, will let you know!

      Posted by Anita Mac | December 15, 2011, 9:35 pm


  1. Pingback: Welcome to Ottawa: Canada’s Capital | traveldestinationbucketlist - November 6, 2011

  2. Pingback: How To Photograph Fireworks « traveldestinationbucketlist - July 3, 2012

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