Sunday, June 10, 2007

How to photograph at night

Your first thought in all night photography in particular should always be of your own safety and welfare. Many city areas in particular can be hazardous at night, particularly if you are alone and carrying valuable camera equipment. Isolated areas also have their dangers and you should ensure you have suitable equipment and supplies. If possible always work in a group of at least two people. If you don't know the area you are going to, make sure you ask for advice from those who do.

Dubai Marina

Working at night will also mean standing around for a long time in low temperatures and you need to dress with this in mind. A flask containing hot drink can be almost as important as film! Batteries often lose power very quickly in cold conditions - you should always take spares for all equipment.

Desert Camp in Dubai

The best camera to use for most night work is a simple 35mm camera with manual exposure settings, preferably an SLR and DSLR. Automatic-only cameras are seldom much use; if you have the latest model which does everything for you it would probably be worth looking for a cheap second-hand body or camera. Exposure meters, built in or hand held, are seldom sensitive enough to be of much help, and even if you can get a reading it is unlikely to give satisfactory results without a great deal of adjustment.

A sturdy tripod is really an essential, although good pictures can be made taking advantage of walls or rocks etc on which you can place your camera. You will also need a cable release which has a lock on it to hold the shutter open.

Medium speed or slow film is often the best to use - even a fast film will need long exposures on a tripod, and you may as well use even longer exposures and get the extra quality a slower film provides.

Films differ in their responses to long exposures, but all suffer from an effect known as reciprocity failure. The Law of Reciprocity in photography is what allows us to make use of the idea of film speed; basically it says that exposure depends only on the total amount of light hitting the film and that it is immaterial if this is delivered in a short exposure at wide aperture - such as 1/1000 at f2 - or a longer exposure at a smaller aperture - such as 1/60 at f8. For most films this can be relied on when exposures are between perhaps ¼ and 1/1000 seconds, but outside this range it will start to break down.

With black and white films, this simply means that a longer exposure will be required at low light levels than would otherwise be the case; with colour film it also results in shifts in colour as the different emulsion layers have different reciprocity characteristics. These will differ from emulsion to emulsion, but there are often fairly clear trends by manufacturer. Some night photographers prefer Fuji emulsions (finding they tend to give cooler results as exposure increases) to Kodak (which they say get warmer) but it is a matter of personal choice. Some films are definitely less affected than others.

If you want to use colour, transparency film is generally a better choice as the reciprocity failure in negative films causes problems for most laboratories in making prints, and results are unlikely to be satisfactory. Most films are made to give proper colours in normal daylight, although a few are produced for use with studio tungsten lighting. These will normally give better results when taking pictures using street lighting, but for moonlight it is more a matter of personal preference that you will need to find by experiment. I suggest you start by using your normal favourite film.

Unless you work within a few days either side of the full moon, exposures may extend into hours rather than minutes. Many photographers supplement the moon light by using a number of flashes from a hand held flash unit, a technique known as 'painting with light'. You can also use movie lights or powerful torches. When these are used through coloured gels you can get some vivid colour effects - which you may or may not find to your taste. Avoid directing these light sources towards the camera.

One feature that you will get with long exposures is star trails making arcs across the sky; if these offend you then you will have to avoid having the sky in your pictures (or resort to digital manipulation of your results.) You'll also get light streaks from other moving light source - cars, planes, which you can make use of or attempt to avoid. When taking pictures by roads you may need to hold something in front of the lens if car lights would otherwise shine directly into it at times during the exposure.

BOOKS Recomended

Bill Brandt, Behind the CameraBrandt, BillSuperb analysis of Brandt's work, well illustrated Paperback

Naked City, Quality Paperbacks SeriesWeegee, Arthur F. The classic work from Weegee - brash and direct portrait of New York. Paperback

Weegee, Masters of Photography SerTalmey, AlleneOverall view of Weegee's photography with well-chosen examples of his work. Hardcover

Capturing the Night With Your CameraCarucci, JohnSubtitled 'How to Take Great Photographs After Dark' Paperback

Night & Low-Light Photography: A Complete GuideGibbons, Bob / Wilson, PeterAnother good guide to the subject Paperback

1 comment:

OFW LIFE Lestat_m said...

lovely images... buddy..
i wish I could be as good photographer as you.. :) :)...

keep it coming..

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