Night Photography on Coronado

Written by Mark Holmes on .

downtownLast night we met on Coronado for the Introduction to Night Photography workshop. As usual, it was a lot of fun. It was a very nice sunset. We first did some shots of downtown, then practiced painting in foregrounds with light. After that, we did some playing around with slow synch flash.

Downtown at night

Michael Deras locked up his camera mirror and used the camera self-timer to get the very sharp image of downtown San Diego, shown to the left.

Every camera has different features and not all have the ability to lock the mirror to reduce vibration. The Nikon D5000 has a delayed shooting feature, which is pretty good. After you press the shutter release, it lifts the mirror out of the way and a second later takes the picture, so you don't have to be touching the camera while the exposure is being made. Of course, some of the exposures were made using the bulb setting and that's where a remote release comes in handy.

Slow synch flash

We played around with slow synch flash. In anything other than manual mode, you have to set this up as an option, but in manual mode it's easy to achieve. Slow synch leaves the shutter open after flashing the subject, so the dark background is collected by the camera. It creates some interesting ghosting effects on moving subjects.

Front curtain

The flash normally fires at the start of the exposure on what is called front curtain, as can be seen in the second picture on the left. Michael is moving his hand down as the shutter opened. The flash froze the motion, but because the shutter stayed open after the flash, we see the trail of light continuing as his hand moved down.

Rear curtain

Instead of firing as the shutter opens, you can make the flash fire on rear curtain just before the shutter closes. In the third picture on the left, Wayo is flashed just before the shutter closes, so that his hand appears at the end of the light trail. If you use TTL with rear curtain, you'll see the flash fire at the start of the exposure and once more at the end. The first flash is just measuring the exposure and does not affect the picture.

Behind Wayo can be seen the lights of Petco Park, where the Pardres were beating Arizona 9-3. Go Padres!

Ghosts in the machine

The last picture on the left shows what happens with moving subjects and slow synch flash. The couple walked into the shot as the flash fired and then continued walking. The shutter remained open and began gathering in the background light behind where they were just standing, creating a ghost effect. The longer the shutter remains open, the more pronounced this effect will be.


What a lovely night it was to be on the side of the bay. Coronado offers a great downtown view, though Shelter Island is also a good place, next to the Island Prime restaurant. The moon rises behind downtown from that position. North Embarcadero is also good, right next to the Marina. The lighted stairs behind the Convention Center are a great place to try slow synch flash.