Where night photography meets street photography.
While neon sign photography can take place in a studio setting, it typically happens out where the neon lives — on city streets. Because you can’t control the environment when you shoot on the street, be ready to adapt to your surroundings. The dry climate of the crowded Las Vegas strip will provide different challenges than humidity in Hong Kong or a rainy Piccadilly Circus in London.
“Here in Florida, neon is mostly in shop windows. There’s a little bit less signage. Neon lights are expensive to replace, so you typically find them in windows,” McMinn says. “The cool thing with that is you capture neon through the glass. Glass is sometimes dirty, or there’s condensation — because Florida’s really humid — so you get this extra built-in filter.”
Photographing neon signs is usually a dusk-to-nighttime activity, when more neon signs are turned on. Make sure your camera settings are optimized for good night photography.
Camera settings for neon at night.
A higher ISO setting, which adjusts your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light, will help you get low-light shots. Slower shutter speeds, which let more light into your camera, can also be beneficial for night shoots. But if you opt for lower shutter speeds, bring a tripod to capture crisp shots at night — slower shutter speeds can lead to motion blur if the camera isn’t steady.
Shoot in manual mode to give yourself better control of your settings. “The higher you go on ISO, the more grain you’ll have in your shots. Sometimes you can sacrifice that,” Acosta explains. “But if you’re shooting in RAW mode, you can edit more in post. You can always compensate for low light.”
For the aperture setting, Acosta uses an f-stop as low as f/1.8 so the camera can let in the most light.
For darker environments, you can use a shutter speed of 1/60, or even go as low as 1/15 if your subject is very still or you use a tripod. You’ll want to use a faster shutter speed for non-posed night photography. Remember, faster speeds allow less light into the camera. To freeze candid action, you may want to use 1/100 or faster, but be wary of how that might limit the light that hits your camera sensor.