Rural Landscape Photography at Night by Tom Phelan

Wheaton, Illinois · 33 Sales


Rural Landscape Photography at Night by Tom Phelan

Wheaton, Illinois 33 Sales On Etsy since 2017

5 out of 5 stars

Announcement   If you have questions about the photographs on this site or what sizes and formats are available, feel free to contact me at thomasp335 [!at]


Last updated on Jan 25, 2017

If you have questions about the photographs on this site or what sizes and formats are available, feel free to contact me at thomasp335 [!at]

Tom Phelan

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Tom Phelan

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Shooting in the Dark

Around 2009, I began experimenting with doing photography at night. As I began to get the hang of it, I began to combine my interest in photography with my interest in history. Seeking out what was near to hand, I began exploring those areas that were most readily available to me. Being from the Midwest, I found myself drawn to the rural history of Illinois and surrounding regions.
Over time my interest became somewhat more refined, so that my primary interest at present is with abandoned farms and the items associated with a rural way of life. Whether old cars or farm buildings, I am fascinated with objects that have essentially outlived their usefulness, but whose presence says something about the society that generated them, as well as the individuals who once used them.  My photographs therefore comprise a record of some of the places and objects I have encountered over the course of the past several years.  I find greatest satisfaction in the discovery of objects that might well be placed in a museum, but which have remained in their original context.  
My preference for night photography arises from the unique qualities of light that are available, particularly when the moon is present.    The more subdued lighting makes it possible to bring time in as a photographic effect.  For example, the use of long exposures allows the cumulative effects of wind to be visible on objects like leaves and clouds, and star trails appear.
My work tends to be a solitary endeavor. There are not so many people with the inclination and/or time to stand around at night taking photographs, particularly in the middle of winter.
My shop is currently also a solitary endeavor. I work at home to take the images generated and turn them into the actual objects for sale here. I do the editing and the printing of the photographs. I cut the mats and stretch the canvases, new skills acquired since undertaking this work. Most important to me, I find great satisfaction in taking a scene that is present before me and turning it into something I can share with others.

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  • Tom Phelan


    I am a landscape photographer from Wheaton, Illinois who shoots areas of the Midwest and Great Plains at night. My primary subjects are old and abandoned farms, and the items associated with them (cars, trucks, tractors, etc.).

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Last updated on Feb 8, 2017
Frequently asked questions

Custom and personalized orders

If you would like to order a photograph at a larger size, or on canvas, please contact me. I can print at sizes up to 36 x 54 inches. Canvases can be printed at 12 x 18 inches, 20 x 30 inches, 24 x 36 inches, or 36 x 54 inches and are available unstretched (please contact me for prices). All canvases are printed on Epson Exhibition Canvas Gloss using Epson Ultrachrome Inks and are then sprayed with a protective varnish.

What time of day do you shoot?

I do not begin my work until all traces of direct sunlight are gone. During the summer months, when the days are longest, this may mean delaying shooting until after 10:00pm. In the winter, when the days are shorter, I can begin shooting much earlier. I generally shoot when the moon is out, both because it illuminates distant parts of the scene (the background), and because it makes it much easier to find my way around without walking into things or falling into holes.

What are the main sources of light in your photographs?

A primary source of light in most (though not all) of my photographs is the moon. For me, ideal shooting conditions are when the moon is about half full (a full moon actually creates problems by being too bright).

In addition to moonlight, I have a variety of light sources that I carry with me, including a flash, a headlamp, and several large spotlights. The spotlights are particularly useful for focusing the camera on distant objects in the dark. Though my photographs often seem fairly bright, this is because of the large amount of light collected during the extended exposure.

How long are the exposures you use for your photographs?

The length of the exposure I use depends on what I am trying to accomplish in a given photograph, but generally speaking they are in the range of 8-15 minutes in duration. If I want star trails in a photograph, then the exposure may be lengthened according to how long I want the star trails to be. In cases where I add light to the scene, the exposures can often be shortened.

Your photographs often look more like paintings. Why is that?

One of the reasons I enjoy shooting at night is that the quality of the light is often very different from what it is during the day. Not only does the moon move during a long exposure, but the wind may move things like the grass, leaves, and branches. The effect of this movement, when combined with some of the different light sources that may be present, is often to create a more "painterly" photograph.

When you shoot, does the world really look like it does in the pictures?

The dark-adapted human eye does not see in color. In general, even under a full moon, there is not sufficient light to activate the portions of the eye that are responsible for color vision. The camera, on the other hand, does continue to "see" in color (more accurately, it continues to collect light of different colors on the sensor). Therefore, one way of understanding the photographs presented here is to realize that you are seeing the world the way the camera saw it during the long exposure, not the way it appeared to my eyes.