In a rooftop graveyard overlooking Flemington, NJ, Matt Hill created a ghost with his camera — and was hooked on night photography.
Listen to the podcast
Finding photography in a grave yard
"I was hanging out, like most teenagers, in a grave yard. I was with my best friend, Brian. I set up the tripod that I borrowed from my mom, my camera, and a fish-eye adapter that I was borrowing, got a Vivitar 283 flash," Matt says.
"I had Brian stand in front of the camera until he was filling the frame. I popped the flash, and he walked out of the frame.
"I said why'd you walk out of the frame?"
He said "flash went off. Pictures over."
"No, it's not. I'm on this thing called Bulb. I'm holding the shutter open."
He said, "eh let's see what happened."
"And when I processed the picture, I could see right through his body."
"Holy cow that's cool. I want to do more of that. From that point forward I was enchanted with the idea of dialing in time and playing with light and seeing all those things that you can't in a fraction of a second. You can only do it by drawing out the exposure length. And the best time to do it is at night. "
Today Matt's night photography focuses on National Parks and his home of New York City
Matt narrows his night photography focus to three areas. I experiment with light sources, locations and scenarios.
With light sources, Matt finds children's toys with lights.
"I'll buy them because I know I can create some sort of light effect that I haven't seen before," he says.
For instance, at Union Square during Christmas time, Matt bought three LED fly copters on the street.
"I didn't use them for probably six months until I got out to the Valley of Fire in Nevada.
"The end result of these photographs? When someone sees it without context, they immediately think aliens, which I think is kind of cool."
Your location provides a huge amount of opportunity, Matt says.
"I like combining sky and water because it shows the passage of time pretty well.
"One of the things I look for in my photography is how can I make someone wonder how long it took to make this photograph. I want time to be a part of their appreciation of the photograph?"
And of course, one of his favorite night photography locations is the National Parks.
"A lot of people see the National Parks in the daytime. It's completely different at night. Even in full moonlight, which often looks like direct sunlight because it causes crisply shadows. You still have the stars in the skies. It feels different. It felt special.
"One of the things I like about night photography is I slow down. I don't feel like I'm in such a rush. I'm not rushing to the next photo."
Here are Matt's favorite tools and locations
Favorite National Parks for night photography
- Arches National Park, Utah
- Death Valley National Park, California
- Crater Lake, Oregon
- Zion National park, Utah
- Acadia National Park, Maine
Here's what you need for night photography
- Solid tripod
- Camera that handles long exposures and high ISOs
- External intervalometer
- Extra batteries
- Wide-angle lenses
You also need to have
- Safety items
- Sturdy footwear
- First aid kit
His final advice for shooting at night?
"Be safe and comfortable in addition to being outfitted to give you the best chance for great photography."