Your images are often characterised by an almost ethereal light, whether it’s a day or night image. This quality of light sets you apart from most other night photographers to my mind. Can you talk a bit about how you visualise light, how important it is to you in your images and how you go about capturing it to produce your unique style?
Thanks for that. I believe that light is pretty much the fundamental of photography with composition and subject matter following closely behind. With regards to night photography, I go out of my way to look for that light in the environment; after a few years of night photography I’ve gained something of an understanding of the nature of long exposures and how the light will look after a few minutes in the camera as opposed to how the naked eye views it. I love capturing that sense of beautiful light; I see it in dark alleyways with a solitary street light as much as I see it on an overcast autumn day when the sun is glinting through ominous clouds. And it’s handy to have your camera with you – any camera really – so you don’t miss it.
Unley Noir - Wayne Grivell
Are there any particular things you do in post-processing to enhance or emphasise the light in the way you like it?
Not especially. My post-processing has always been quite basic and I’m pretty much limited to the Adobe Lightroom environment. I will drag out the shadows quite often although lately I’ve been enjoying a darker and more minimal take on certain images. I do post-process colour tones a lot. I’ll often completely change the colour palette of something as I’m not necessarily after a realistic representation; I’d rather paint the scene as my mood dictates or how I feel it should be to express what I’m seeking to express. Sometimes this will impact on the way the light is perceived in an image. I’ve also been enjoying experimenting with the range of phone apps lately, including Instagram, Snapseed and a few other more specialist tools.
You often shoot quite long exposures in urban settings yet retain seemingly perfect control over your highlights. How do you do that?
I’m always quite careful with ensuring I don’t blow out the highlights when capturing an image as pulling them back is a sure-fire recipe for that sickly HDR look, something I now go out of my way to avoid but have only learned this through experience. Scrubbed back highlights look very unfortunate, like someone has rubbed out something too hard and damaged the paper. So the key is to get it pretty right in the camera and that may take several shots until you get there. I make constant use of the histogram.
1901 All Over Again - Wayne Grivell
I noted a recent comment you made about paying attention to phases of the moon when considering when best to get out and shoot. Can you talk a little about that…what exactly are you looking for, what do you deem to be the optimum times to get out and how does the moon being in different phases actually affect the images you’re able to capture?
Yes. Shooting without streetlights in a more rural environment is pretty much a waste of time for me unless the moon is waxing or waning between about 90-100%; preferably waxing as it rises earlier than when it’s waning. Having a full moon in an otherwise dim scene will mean about 4 minute exposures at F8 and ISO200 which is manageable. The last thing you want is to be forced into 10 minute exposures or longer as not only will you be there all night, you’ll probably end up with noisy images.
The full moon is somewhat less critical in an urban environment with plenty of active street or building light as that’s what will limit your exposures – blown out highlights and possibly flare from them. In that situation though, a full moon sky will have a pleasant sense of exposure to it and the textures of the clouds will be more obvious whereas a darker moon sky will just appear dark and blacked out; there would be no light from the moon to help provide a ‘fill’ light to the otherwise street lit scene.
I recall one night during a ‘supermoon’ when after about three minutes, the night sky become completely overexposed which was a first.
Your night images are usually devoid of people and often contain interesting or quirky details. Can you speak a bit about what scenes tend to interest you and how you go about choosing where and what to shoot? (for example do you scout locations, just go out to a particular area and see what grabs you etc?)
I do look for them. I ride around on my bike or drive around and source things. I used to often just head out and spend the night in a certain area just looking for compositions and details that interested me (the classic ‘photo walk’) but haven’t done that for some time. I have people who occasionally fill me in on interesting things they’ve seen and suggest I go and photograph them. This is particularly true for houses, to inform the Suburban Dreaming series.
You’ve shot thousands of photos over many years. What’s your approach to storing and indexing your work?
A very basic series of Lightroom catalogues and multiple hard drive back-ups. Nothing too clever. To keep things vaguely manageable I also believe in deleting RAW files that are not worth keeping but obviously this is more for images that are technically bad or are repeats of other images. I’ve uncovered old RAW files I had disregarded from years back and found something fresh in them so deletion is done with care. Storage is cheap but I like to maintain some sense or order in the huge pile of RAW files I have.
How do you fit night photography around your family and work commitments?
It’s a struggle. Night photography is usually done when everyone’s in bed and fortunately (or unfortunately) I don’t tend to rely on a lot of sleep. Work life balance is always a challenge as architecture tends to be pretty much all-consuming, given the project-based nature of it. I recall once having an argument on the phone with a builder at 11pm whilst out night shooting a few years back. So everything intermingles in some way.
Schism - Wayne Grivell
What equipment do you typically carry on a night shoot and are there any particular bits of kit that you can’t do without?
95% of the time, all I take is the Canon 24-70L (ii) lens a Canon 5D Mark 3 and my beaten up old Manfrotto tripod, a tall (and heavy) one as I’m 6 foot 3. Occasionally I take a 16-35 F4 lens instead but that’s rare. Sometimes if I’m doing handheld night shooting, that latter lens is quite useful as the IS helps out a bit. I used to bring gels and flashes and the like but gave up doing any of that stuff years ago; it’s just not for me.
Any interesting or unusual things you've come across while out shooting at night?
If I have, I’ve forgotten about them!
Have you ever had any safety/security issues while out shooting at night and do you take any particular measures to stay safe?
I’ve been moved out of a couple of places by security but nothing too serious. I’ve had a couple of sketchy characters approach me late at night as well but engaging with them rather than presenting defensively seems to be the right way to handle it. It is seriously amazing how much secure you feel though when out with just one more person. And whilst I’ve yet to do it, wearing a hi-vis vest probably makes a big difference as many people would assume you’re working somehow.
How do you feel your photographic style has developed over the years? How do you envisage it developing in the future?
It’s become far more subtle I think and I’m less about colour expression than I once was. I’ve been enjoying a moodier and darker approach to some things lately as well but I suspect that’s a passing phase. I’ve always dabbled with photo-collage as well, drawing on some of my earlier fine art experiences and I’d like to think that there’s a pathway mapped out that includes moving further into those areas and incorporating typography and broader design elements into images. How that would work is not especially clear to me yet though.
Which image(s) are you most proud of, and why?
A number of them but I suspect my happiest moment was capturing the image “The Steward’s Box” at the Wayville Showgrounds one night in Adelaide. I had arranged access for the evening; just me and the occasional security guard wandering past. It was a totally relaxed and calming night photography experience as everything was completely secure; I even wore headphones and listened to music all night. Getting the picture of the steward’s shed in the main arena was a memorable moment as the moon light was hitting it perfectly. That image resulted in me winning the photographic prize for the South Australian Living Arts Festival (SALA) a few years back. I am also quite proud of a number of the images I took whilst in the East Coast of the US in 2014 – a hand-held quickie in the rain on the Manhattan Bridge poking the camera through a partly damaged chain-mesh fence resulted in a showing in the national Bowness Prize exhibition last year which I was pretty proud of.
The Steward’s Box - Wayne Grivell
Any forthcoming exhibitions or projects that you’d like to tell us about?
I have no exhibitions on the agenda at the present – my last one “Suburban Dreaming” was a couple of years ago now and that was a great experience. Another one in the future would probably be a furthering of that theme as I’m continuing to develop that collection of work and variations thereof.
For those who’d like to see more of your work or are interested in getting hold of a print how can they find you?
I’m on various forms of social media:
and can be contacted through them or via email@example.com
I do sell prints on a semi-regular basis and it always gives me a good excuse to print images – a good opportunity to see photography as it really should be seen.
And two final questions:
What advice/tip would you give to someone thinking about trying night photography or just starting out?
Read up lots on the topic but ultimately just go out and try it. The overriding most basic technical advice would be: F5.6 or F8, ISO200, take a timer or watch and watch your histogram after each shot to make sure you get it right. It’s safer in winter as funnily enough there is generally a bit less wind to mess things around, your sensor is less prone to thermal noise and there are less people out to give you troubles but be brave about it if you can. If all else fails, take a friend!
What advice/tip would you give to a seasoned night photographer to help take their work up a level?
Try your hardest to get out and exhibit your work. You probably won’t ‘draw even’ but you’ll be personally rewarded for the experience and will help to get your name out there and your work more widely seen. Photographs look so much better printed and framed than on a computer screen and the craft of producing good prints is a skill and a whole experience in itself. It can be very expensive but the results can be amazing. This was something I learned from the Bowness Prize exhibition and that ‘next level’ is about turning online photographs into real and beautiful three-dimensional objects.
Thanks so much for your time Wayne. It’s my absolute privilege!
A pleasure – good luck with everything.
For me, Wayne Grivell's photography has always been a beacon lighting the way forward and his work continues to inspire me. As such, it's been my absolute pleasure to share his insights with you here on 'Everything Interesting Happens At Night'.
Thanks so much Wayne for sharing your incredible talent and knowledge with us on the blog.
To follow Wayne Grivell or to see more of his work:
Wayne Grivell can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org for print or other enquiries.
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