Dark Figures At Night – Common Photo Themes


It is the first Tuesday of the month, and that means we revisit our monthly look into common photo themes.  If you’re just joining us for the first time, we pick a common theme every month and select photos from our Flickr pool that fit into that theme.  It’s a great and inspiring way to get different perspectives of similar subjects.  This month, the subject is Dark Figures at Night.  People wandering about in the darkness is really quite common.  But somehow, photos of people wandering about at night seems much more sinister, much more creepy.  Maybe darkness is somehow more personal, more private.  Maybe we feel more guilty for peering into someone’s life at night than we do during the day.  Or maybe darkness seems more isolating at night when there are fewer people around.  The loneliness people just seems much more apparent at night.  And so as art in the form of a photo, the dark figures found at night are much more compelling – much more telling – and so we desire to capture them.

“All Of The Lights” by Jon DeBoer

"All of the Lights" by Jon DeBoer

“All of the Lights” by Jon DeBoer

Framed by the lights of passing cars at night, their lights painting streaks cutting through the scene, stands a solitary figure of a woman.  There are no other signs of anyone so still in this long exposure, and despite the bustle of the surrounding city, she stands alone.  In the middle of traffic.  At night.  Regardless of what she’s really feeling, the idea of someone alone at night in the middle of traffic…you can’t help but to feel sad for her.  Stories spin around your head as your mind tries to wrap itself around all possible scenarios.  But that is the beauty behind the shot.  That is why Jon DeBoer – one of those fantastic photographers from the Detroit scene – is so strong and talented in his night photography.  And that is why All of the Lights earned it’s place here in this theme spotlight.  Side note:  The woman in the shot, Brett Loie, is another great photographer that you should be following.  She is also from the Detroit Area (it’s like a photographer’s cult, I think).

“Taxi” by Mark Heath

"Taxi" by Mark Heath

“Taxi” by Mark Heath

A powerful combination:  Night and Rain.  In and of themselves, each has enough power to isolate people from each other and create the emotion of sadness and depressed spirits.  Together, such emotions are magnified tenfold.  The brightness of the headlights flares all around, even in the reflections in the puddles.  And people’s figures are discernible, but not clear…not at night in the rain.  And while this person stands in close proximity to others, it’s clear she is alone.  Taxi is the work of the ever brilliant Mark Heath.  I’ve always had respect for those who take their cameras out in inclement weather.  But kudos to Mark for going out at night in the rain.  A shot like this makes the effort more than worth it.

“The Eye” by David Jakelic

"The Eye" David Jakelic

“The Eye” David Jakelic

There are some creepy places to be found at night.  Maybe they are creepy during the day as well, but sometimes at night even the most innocent of places can be painted with fear by a couple of poorly place light fixtures and poor light all around.  Then David Jakelic finds this scene that also features a graffiti eye, the namesake for the photo, The Eye.  Not creepy enough?  That’s when David pulls the longer exposure time to not only capture the drama of the scene alone, but captures a person walking away from the camera, ghost-like in his stride.  Now, as the observer, you are forced to feel like a stalker.

“See You In The Darkness” by Geraint Rowland

"See You In The Darkness" Geraint Rowland

“See You In The Darkness” Geraint Rowland

Night is disorienting.  Lights can be blinding, the air hazy and faces unclear.  This human figure is distorted by the light in a manner that wouldn’t be recognizable if we weren’t so close, or if we weren’t so desensitized to the influences of the man-made world at night.  By using a high ISO (3200 to be exact), Geraint Rowland is able to capture such a scene without the use of a flash.  The resulting grain is welcomed and it adds to the already confusing scene.  As the figure’s feet and head nearly disappear into the darkness, the one element within the shot that continues to pull our eye is that bright light from the vehicle ahead.  And yet this figure moves along in his nearly inhuman form.  Are we lost in the light of the car, or are we captivated by the lone figure moving into the night?  It’s a struggle our eyes and our mind will struggle with, and that’s why See You In The Darkness is both haunting and mesmerizing.

“People Climbed Into The Night” by Brian Day

"People Climbed Into The Night" by Brian Day

“People Climbed Into The Night” by Brian Day

After the rain, when people start to emerge  and a light fog casts through a town, this is when Brian Day takes his camera out for a walk.  That is when and how he took this shot, People Climbed Into the Night.  And we are thankful for his dedication because the scenes are equally as haunting, as if pulled from the local art house theater’s latest film noir.  No, it’s not a detective story, just a much simpler one featuring a man in a crosswalk after the rain at night.  A quaint little street scene like this can’t help but to be typecast in such a movie genre:  With all of the details and clues indicating modern society are washed away by the night, we are left only with the imagery of Sam Spade leaving the scene of another fruitless interview.  This is a visual story that deserves a place on the wall.

A few side notes on Brian:  First, he is possibly one of the most featured photographers here on Shutter Photo.  We can’t help it…his work is haunting, mesmerizing and brilliant.  But I would also like to point out that he is yet another of those brilliant Detroit photographers.  Okay, maybe it’s not a cult like I suggested above, but there must at least be something in the water out there.

Final Thoughts

This month’s theme will hopefully drive many of you to consider shooting people on the street at night.  It can be a bit scarier out there on the scene than during the day – and in some parts of a city, it can really be much more of a risk, so be careful – but the rewards can be great.  And so I would challenge all of you to consider doing more street photography at night.  As always, be sure to share your works with the Shutter Photo @ Flickr Group.  You may just see your works featured here.


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father’s Nikon N2000, he’s been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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