Chosing your location and Safety Concerns
By Lance Keimig
The first thing to consider in searching for a location for nocturnal photographic endeavors is subject matter. Do you want a natural area where you can take pure landscape photographs, an urban area full of activity, or an industrial area replete with strange machines and even stranger light sources? Although it is always a good idea to keep an eye out for potential locations in your daily travels, a place can be quite interesting to the night photographer, and rather dull or dreary during the day. The opposite can be true as well. There have been plenty of times that I have come across a place during the day that I've felt sure would make some great shots, only to return at night and see nothing there.
Natural areas can be quite challenging to photograph at night. If there is a full moon, you will have plenty of light, and contrast won't be an issue, but these situations often call for some clever additional lighting to be interesting. Large vistas tend not to work very well. They usually turn out to look like day images, or worse, underexposed daylight images. Clouds can play a major roll in this type of night imagery.
If you choose an urban area, make sure that you pick a place where you feel safe and don't have to worry about being jumped for your gear. It seems obvious, I know, but I once found myself in a very rough part of town, alone, at 2 am, with a few thousand dollars worth of camera equipment. I had been so absorbed in what I was photographing that I hadn't realized how far I'd wandered! A lot of people seem to want to document street scenes at night, often including people. Pedestrian areas, urban waterfronts, and brightly lit parks and gardens are good for this. My suggestion - go to Europe!
If you are drawn to Industrial areas, then construction sites, ports, railyards, and powerplants all provide attractive subject matter. They are also full of hazards, and care is essential. Permission is also a good idea, but if you go climbing fences, take a few prints to show the security guards when they come around (and they always do). That way, they will think you are JUST crazy, and not a vandal or a thief. Authorities universally seem to think that anyone lurking about with a camera and tripod late at night is up to no good. With this in mind, corporate (private) property, military areas, and abandoned buildings are usually not a good idea, without permission. Tim and I were once surrounded by three different police agencies for trespassing underneath a closed area of the Golden Gate Bridge. The State troopers, Park Police, and Bridge authorities all got involved, and eventually, one of them wrote us tickets. I think Tim would say that it was worth it though, because he got a great image there. (North Tower, Detail)
Just use common sense - don't try to scale a cliff, in the dark with your Hasselblad! Don't go to areas that you're not comfortable walking in, for night photography - at least, not alone.