This is been, without question, the hottest summer than I can remember for years. I love heat, so no complaints from me, but living without a/c often sends me out cruising the cool nights seeking a cool breeze. But as any experienced cruiser knows, if you're going to drive around aimlessly, you have to have some sort of destination--however vague--otherwise you're just, well, driving around. One way to feel slightly less useless and still give yourself a nice cooling ride is to look for a good night subject to photograph.
My favorite night subject, of course, is neon. Unfortunately, at least where I live, there's not a lot of really interesting neon out there--but there is some. I actually shot this sign a few summers ago to use in my book Exposure Photo Workshop: Develop Your Digital Photography Talent. It remains one of my favorite local signs (and I drove by last weekend but forgot to even notice what condition it was in) and it's a real throwback to those great 1950's motel signs that you used to see everywhere.
Photographing neon is easy and you can get great shots with any camera. The trick is to fill the frame with just the neon sign and then trust the metered exposure. I shoot in the RAW format 100-percent of the time these days, so I can adjust the exposure and white balance after the fact, which is great. But if you're shooting in jpeg, you can give yourself similar exposure leeway by using the auto-bracketing feature and bracketing exposures by a full stop in either direction. (By the way, if you don't have an auto-bracketing feature, you can just use exposure compensation to add/subtract a stop or more on either side of the metered exposure and you'll get the same result.)
Next time you're suffering through a hot night, toss the tripod in the backseat, load up the camera (don't forget to charge the batteries!) and give yourself a neon challenge. If you don't find a great sign, well, you can always photograph the line at the Dairy Queen. And hey, as long as you're at the Dairy Queen...