Photographers in the dark
Jumping for joy after a successful evening of night photography!

Why are these people jumping for joy? Because they have experienced the joy of photographing in the dark! Well, not really, they just happened to be there and agreed to jump for us when we asked them. The real story is that this group demonstrated how we all felt after a fun photography class at Stanley Park, learning how to do it in the dark. I was lucky enough to spend two nights doing this last week, with my two different intermediate photography classes.

After dinner at the White Spot, our class made its way over to the park where we could see the city across Coal Harbour. There was so much to photograph as the sun was dropping: joggers, cyclists and the awesome scenery. We worked our way along the sea wall until we got to the Nine O’Clock gun, our highlight for the evening. After reviewing the procedure for successfully capturing the explosion, we were all busy setting up our cameras to get the right composition and settings before the Big Boom at 9:00 pm! And then we all ran around to each other’s cameras with an excited, “Did you get it? Lemme see!” After the Nine O’Clock Gun erupted, the sky got darker and there was so much more to do. We painted with light, photographed the totem poles, captured streaks of light from moving cars, and more. Tired but happy, we headed for home, so glad that photography is so much fun after dark.

helping with camera settings
Working together to perfect the camera settings is always important.
cyclists at stanley park
Friendly cyclists moving by as we practice panning
Vancouver sunset
As the light fell, the views of the city from Stanley Park got better and better.
Nine o'clock gun erupts
It’s nine o’clock in Vancouver!
photographers working in the dark.
After the gun erupts, there’s more to shoot.
setting the camera
Getting it right is harder in the dark! Great to have friends to help.
Harry Jerome holds his pose patiently while we bathe him in light from a flashlight.
Photographers in the dark
What a joyful night!

Of Interest to Photographers: How to Photograph the Nine O’Clock Gun

There are a lot of things to consider and probably a few ways to capture the explosion from the gun. Here is what has worked for me several times. Equipment needed includes a tripod, cable release and (essential!) ear plugs. The boom from the gun is absolutely deafening.  Optional is a polarizing filter or neutral density filter (the need for these depends on how dark it is).

1. You have to pick the time of year to do this so that the ambient light in the sky is appropriate. If you choose winter or summer, you get a black or very bright sky. Much more pleasing to choose a time of year when the sun sets about 8:15 – 8:30 pm so that it is twilight at 9:00 pm.
2. Get there by 8:30 pm so you have lots of time to choose your spot for composition and testing exposures. Be aware that a crowd may develop.
3. Here’s the trick. Set up your camera on manual mode so that you will have a shutter speed of about 5 seconds. Adjust your aperture and ISO to allow for this. If the light is too bright, add the filters mentioned above. Test your exposure and by 8:55 you should be ready. Keep in mind that the light from the explosion is very bright so some underexposure may be beneficial.
4. There are two warning signals when the gun is about to fire. First, amber lights will flash. Moments later, a buzzer will begin to sound. The good news is that when the buzzer begins, you have exactly ten seconds until the explosion. And, the buzzer sounds in one second intervals. So, at the first sound of the buzzer, count backwards from ten. When there are about three seconds to go, use the remote release to open your shutter. If you did it all right, the shutter will be open when the gun fires and will remain open for a few seconds so you can include some smoke in your shot.

Important: the sound of the cannon is VERY loud! Wear ear protection! One year, a photographer stood with his tripod and camera about ten feet behind the gun. Boom! went the gun. And the next thing we knew, he was lying on the ground with his tripod and camera. The blast literally knocked him over and his gear with him. Get the message? Wear ear protection and don’t be too close.