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The night is an integral part of the twenty-four hour cycle. Yet, most photographs are the result of instant exposures made during daylight hours. Why is that? Photographing outside, alone in the dark is not something most of us choose to do on a regular basis. The night is often associated with shadows, secrets, mysteries and danger. It is a time when we usually put away our cameras and seek shelter indoors. This book may persuade us to do otherwise.

There is something magically seductive about a creative process that is not fully in our control. Much of what happens during night photography is like that. Long exposures, from seconds to hours, make images unpredictable. While the shutter stays open, objects and elements may move at any time, and the earth is moving all the time relative to the planets and stars. Color and contrast may shift due to reciprocity failure and the idiosyncrasies of particular films and digital systems. Weather conditions may vary or change dramatically. Light can appear in many forms and from unforeseen and multiple directions. Deep shadows invite our curiosity. These assorted creative possibilities are all part of this fascinating experience.

Patience is the core requirement for successful photography in very low light and during the night. A curious eye and a willingness to wait and watch will go far. Technical know-how can be learned quite easily. Camera equipment does not need to be sophisticated. Inclement weather can be withstood. However, the night does demand time, a most precious commodity. Point and shoot cameras and the digital revolution have ensured that instant visual gratification is now available for all. There is certainly a place for this. But what a luxury and privilege it is to quietly observe and allow light to accumulate and record phenomena that our human eyes are incapable of perceiving. I can think of few better antidotes to take for this fast-paced, multi-colored, highly stimulated and constantly accelerating world of ours than a regular dose of night photography!

In workshops and lectures over the years I have consistently maintained that photographing at night is a highly subjective process that could never be translated into an exact science. I have informed unsuspecting students that this peculiar activity of making photographs when one should sensibly be asleep, is highly capricious. I have also concluded that there would never be a good book published on this subject. I now plead guilty to disseminating misinformation.

Night photography might remain subjective, unpredictable, and at times even uncomfortable, but this volume effectively unlocks the vocabulary, grammar and syntax necessary for would-be night practitioners to produce their own expressive poetry. This is a good book, and I trust that it will coax and guide a new wave of photographers to explore the night. It is an activity that, from personal experience, I heartily recommend.

Michael Kenna
January 2008

Visit Michael Kenna's Web site to view his images and learn more about his masterful and inspiring work.

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