Learning about LF night photography question

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I just finished Millard Schisler's article in the most recent Jan/Feb 2002 issue of Photo Techniques (USA) on "Low light photography with long exposures". I have been intrigued with this idea ever since seeing Michael Kenna's work, but have not ventured into this yet.

My question is: Can anyone direct me to a good book or web site that will give me a little more grounding in the subject, before I just go out and start wildly guessing at exposure etc. I am exclusively interested in LF 4x5 B&W work.


-- Scott Jones (scottsdesk@attbi.com), December 15, 2001



-- Terry (tcdvorak@aol.com), December 15, 2001.

Scott, I don't know what film you are using or if you are shooting in color or B&W, but both Kodak and Ilford list the reciprocity characteristics on thier web sites. Most printed references I have seen suggest using these as a starting point and experiment from there. I do a fair amount of night work of urban/industrial sites using HP-5 and TMAX. You need to get out and just shoot a lot of film of various subjects and make a couple of exposures each untill you learn how the film reacts to certain subject matter. One of the things to remember is at night you have extreme contrast ratios if any direct lighting is involved. It takes some experience to recognize what to meter in a scene and how to adjust exposure. When you get the hang of it is a great creative area to explore. Best thing to do is just load a bunch of film holders and go to work.

-- James Chinn (jchinn2@dellepro.com), December 15, 2001.

John Sexton's book "Places of Power" has many shots taken at night and in low light situations. Towards the end of the book there is a list of all the exposure times for the photographs which might be of interest to you (I believe he also lists development times ie. N, N-1, etc.). He uses TMAX exclusively.

In my opinion, though, it is less a matter of exposure times than dealing with the extreme contrast you will encounter at night (particularly if you are photographing in urban areas or scenes where the moon is present in the frame). Streetlights will quickly become your enemy. Be prepared for some darkroom trickery to get nice prints!

Also, when I started shooting at night I often *over* exposed film -- you'd be surprised how much light there actually is in the scene. In any case, you need to bracket a lot and take good notes to get a feel for what works in different situations. Your light meter will probably be useless, so experience will be your friend when guessing exposure times.

Also, it can be quite difficult to focus on the ground glass at night, so be prepared to do a lot of cropping and guessing on your compositions. Know your lenses and don't use too many crazy movements. I find it's good to be well acquainted with the location ahead of time so you don't have any surprises at night. Finally, if you're in a city or industrial park, be prepared to explain yourself to security guards, police, etc. They often mistake/accuse me for things far worse than taking pictures. In fact, the rumour is that a local train yard has started shooting rubber bullets at trespassers...not fun.

-- David Leblanc (davi_leb@alcor.concordia.ca), December 15, 2001.


Ive done night photography a couple of times, and have realized that the main problem is the HUGE diference in contrast between shadows and highlights (more than 20 stops).

To compensate this, I develop my Tri-X film using Technidol, a very slow developer for 20 minutes. This make my prints look much better, retaining details on both highlights and shadows.

Braketing is always necesary since no lightmeter is precise on such situation (may be the Zone VI spotmeter).

Hope this helps...


-- Enrique Vila (evilap@hotmail.com), December 17, 2001.

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