Shooting Challenge: See the Lights

By Martin Snelling on at

I was looking through some holiday snaps of a recent trip to Paris (I’m an old romantic) and some of the most striking images captured by my now fiance and myself were while walking along the River Seine on our last evening. From carousels and bridges, to boats and empty streets (and yes, the Eiffel tower), we took a number of different images, many of which were connected in one way; artificial light. Some of the images reminded me of celebrated Hungarian photographer Brassai (1899-1984) who is probably best known for his work on the nightlife of Paris.


The Brief

This week’s brief is very straightforward; go to Paris and shoot it at night. I jest!

This week’s actual shooting challenge is to simply shoot the city lights around you.

Head out around dusk and look for a place that is well-lit and has a variety of colours, for example, a long line of street lights, bus shelters, shop fronts, offices and neon signs. Find somewhere that is familiar to you and is also safe to walk so you can spend more time capturing your image. If you are unsure about going out alone at dusk, go with a friend and make it a photo walk.

Also, I want you and your camera to do the hard work, so post-processing MUST be kept to a minimum (see rules below).


The Technique

There are a number of different techniques you could use when shooting in low light, here are a few pointers to think about.

  • Find your spot: Getting the right composition is just as important at night as it is during the day so don’t just fill the image with lots of bright lights; give them context. Find your subject and take lots of shots from all angles; a different perspective could reward you with a brilliant image.
  • Long exposures: Long exposures are great for capturing motion; set your ISO to around 800 and experiment with different shutter speeds (start at around 1/10sec). Also, use a tripod!
  • White balance: Play around with the white balance settings on your camera/phone - they can dramatically change a scene. Sometimes it is good to capture what is NOT real and natural.
  • The devil is in the detail: If you want to capture more detail in your image use a high ISO (3200). Use a lower ISO to capture less detail (320 or 400).
  • Experiment: Play around with your camera/phone settings!

Looking for inspiration? Check out some of the images online of the previously mentioned Brassai (and also the German-born photographer Rut Blees Luxemburg.


The Examples

The lead image is by a Japan-based photographer called Gullevek. I really liked the simplicity of this image and the subdued colours. I feel the image has a haunting quality about it; like a scene from a Japanese horror movie. You can see more of Gullevek’s night images on his Flickr page here.


The Rules:

- Submissions MUST be your own work.
- Photos must be taken after the challenge was published; so no existing shots please.
- Minimal image post-processing is allowed (global changes to levels, brightness, contrast and cropping are permitted)
- Explain, briefly in your submission email, the equipment, settings, technique used and more importantly for this challenge, where the image was taken. Please ensure EXIF info is intact (if image was taken digitally).
- Email submissions to, not me.
- Please ensure your image is at least 600px wide and less than 3MB in size.
- Save your image as a JPG, and use the following naming convention FirstnameLastnameLights.jpg
- Don’t forget to include a shooting summary (see above).
- Send your best photos by Monday, 17th September at 6pm UK time with “See The Lights” in the subject line.
- Anyone can enter, regardless of location.
- The most important rule — HAVE FUN (but stay safe)

Martin Snelling is a Hampshire-based man about town who works in the videogame industry. A keen photographer, Martin shoots on film and digital; he blogs here, and tweets here.