10 Tips For Shooting Neon

September 16th, 2010 Permalink

Neon signs are a favorite subject of my photography. I have posted nearly 4,000 photos of neon, and have learned a few things about how to shoot it. Here are ten tips for shooting neon.

Two On The Line

  1. Use A Low ISO
  2. Neon lends itself to night shooting, so you may naturally think that you should shoot at a higher ISO to compensate for the dark surroundings. Don’t. Neon is bright! You can easily shoot neon signs at ISO 100-200. I shoot the vast majority of nighttime neon at ISO 200, occasionally bumping up to 400 or 640 if the sign is unusually dim.

  3. Shoot in Manual Mode
  4. Neon is bright! The contrast between the bright neon tubes and the dark background at night can easily confuse your camera’s meter. Switch to manual mode when shooting neon, and you will quickly appreciate the benefit of the extra control. A good place to start is 1/100th of a second, at f/5.6. Take a shot, review it on the screen, and adjust as needed. Usually I will adjust the aperture first, since using fast shutter speeds can result in a “marching ants” effect in the neon tubes.

  5. Shoot in RAW
  6. If your camera supports RAW imaging, use it. RAW will give you the most data. This, in turn, will give you the most flexibility in post-production, allowing you to pull out details that may otherwise be lost.

  7. Learn Your Camera’s LCD Screen
  8. On my camera’s LCD, properly exposed neon looks slightly underexposed. Learn what correctly exposed neon looks like on your particular camera’s LCD screen and you will save yourself a lot of frustration after the shoot.

  9. Shoot Day And Night Versions
  10. Neon often looks best at night. However, don’t discount shooting neon signs during the day. Many signs have painted detail that cannot be seen at night, and the shadows cast by the glass tubes can make for very interesting images.
    Air Devils Inn

  11. Get The Glow
  12. Neon signs often cast a nice glow on the area surrounding the sign. Try adjusting your exposure to capture the glow on the side of the building, as well as the neon tubing.
    That Li Po Glow

  13. Shoot During The Blue Hour
  14. The time between daylight and darkness is an excellent time to shoot neon signs. It is dark enough to allow the neon tubes to show up well, but there is enough light to see the surroundings.
    Cal West Motors

  15. Mix It Up
  16. Try shooting neon in different ways. Shoot the reflection in windows, the reflection in puddles and the color washed streets after the rain. If there is a sign in a window, try shooting the back of the sign. Try standing directly under a sign and shooting up. Don’t be afraid to experiment.
    Meet You In The Light

  17. Look At Other Photos
  18. Looking at how other people have captured images of neon signs is a great way to get inspired. Check out some of these shooters:
    Thomas Hawk
    Devil Doll
    Tom Spaulding

  19. Practice
  20. Above all, get out there and shoot!

Do you have any tips for shooting neon signs? Share them in the comments.

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