Night Photography requires more than pointing your camera up in the middle of the night. A lot of details go into that perfect shot, and not just the right angle. Hiking into remote areas, while carrying all your gear, in darkness is no easy feat, but Martha Hale tackles the challenge often, and relishes in the opportunity.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Martha Hale and get her perspective on Night Photography, including what drew her to the medium, her favorite places to take photos, and some close encounters with animals.
COAST: HOW DID YOU DISCOVER THIS FORM OF PHOTOGRAPHY?
MARTHA: I have to tip my hat to National Parks at Night, a group of five guys with a passion for night photography and an even bigger passion to share their experience with others! Through their workshops, they have taken me from a shy, newbie to a decent and rather enthusiastic night photographer! It is incredible to capture the movement of the stars and skies that the naked eye is unable to see. I cannot count the times I have heard “what is THAT?” when people see the long star trails in my photos! Our universe is an amazing place!
WHAT DREW YOU TO NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY?
I was looking for a photography workshop to attend and because of the location, I was drawn to the one at Arches National Park being hosted by the guys at National Parks at Night. It was at that workshop, hiking back down from Landscape Arch at 1 a.m. wearing headlamps and carrying camera gear with steep cliffs on either side of us that I knew I was hooked! I mean seriously, who gets to do crazy fun things like that???
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES WITH THIS MEDIUM?
Night photography is all about the lighting. With the right camera, it is not that hard to aim it at the sky and capture the stars or milky way. But sometimes, that is all you get. To have a great photo, you need to capture the rest of the scene in what is often total darkness.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY CLOSE CALLS WITH NATURE?
Well there was the time in Africa when I was charged at by a rhino, but that had nothing to do with night photography! Animals are all around us. We just don’t see them. In darkness, an animal’s eyes reflect off of your flashlight… that will get your heart racing! But it is actually more interesting than scary. Even spiders can reflect light off their eyes, as I learned along the paths at Big Bend [National Park, Texas]. By the way, they have a lot of tarantulas there too!
WHAT IS YOUR NUMBER ONE PIECE OF GEAR?
I’m a Canon girl and love my Canon 5D Mark IV for night photography. But even with the best camera, you can’t do night photography without flashlights to “light paint” the scene.
WHAT IS YOUR NUMBER ONE PIECE OF NON-CAMERA GEAR?
I have become a COAST Flashlight fanatic!! The light cast is perfectly even throughout the beam so there are no hotspots as you highlight the focal points in your shot. Last count, I had over 15 flashlights – from the tiny G10 inspection light to dig around in my camera bag to the mighty HP 17 that can light a distant ridge! Headlamps are essential for hiking in and out of the national parks on a moonless night or when walking along narrow paths while the red light option helps us maintain our night vision. My favorite, though is the HP7R. Compact enough to carry in my camera bag but mighty enough to light a nearby hill side!
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PLACES YOU’VE TRAVELED AND CAPTURED?
There is no need to go far to have incredible night sky experiences. I have photographed the industrial Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in my own backyard of Birmingham, Alabama but have also travelled as remote as Djupavik, Iceland, home to some iconic scenes from the movie “Justice League” to capture auroras!
(PHOTO CREDIT: MARTHA HALE)
(PHOTO CREDIT: MARTHA HALE)
WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO TRAVEL NEXT?
If the pandemic settles down in the next couple of months, I hope to go to Greenland to spend a week on a small schooner capturing the incredible blue hues of icebergs at night!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO START DOING NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY?
I was 55+ when I took my first night photo! It’s never too late to learn something new!! Give it a shot with whatever equipment you have… Night photography is all about light or the lack thereof. When the skies are dark and the moon is not shining – which is great for capturing stars but terrible for what is up close – use artificial light! COAST flashlights are the perfect accessory! But also look for times when nature provides the greatest flashlight – the moon! Often times, it is not until people notice the stars in the skies that they realize they are looking at a night scene in a photograph!