October 6, 2002
10:43 AM   Subscribe

I'm currently doing a course in photography which, being an evening course, is going to require mastering the art of night time photography. I found a few sites on the subject and seeing as there seems to be a fair photography contingent here, I thought I'd share them. Note that these sites all offer interesting tips for creating night time photos.
posted by chill (27 comments total)
As an aside, an interesting photo for me is this, purely for nostalgic reasons - this is the exact spot where you'd go for an elicit smoke during lunch breaks at my school.
posted by chill at 10:44 AM on October 6, 2002


I have to go develop my b&w film from yesterday :)

I'll try to get some nighttime photos next time I use a b&w film.
posted by azazello at 10:49 AM on October 6, 2002

Shit, doing night photography sounds like a druidic ritual. I'm going to have to break out the sextants and watch the moon phases intently, but I'm going to try this!

Wonderful post, chill.
posted by Stan Chin at 10:50 AM on October 6, 2002

I really liked that Midnight Exposure link. I used to do quite a bit of night photography as well as concert photos sans flash. I had good luck using 400 ASA film pushed to 1200 or 1600 for the concerts. The results were quite grainy and contrasty, but it gave a very gritty and immediate quality to the images that seemed appropriate, especially for punk and blues bands.
posted by MrBaliHai at 11:38 AM on October 6, 2002

Thanks!! Great links.
posted by einarorn at 11:51 AM on October 6, 2002

400 pushed to 1600, in the right light, is a helluva lot of fun for concerts. I try to use a zoom lens with that combination to get way in on the performer's faces -- the intamacy is really brought out by the graininess. Be careful with your focus, though... nothing is more painful later on than a picture that would've been perfect, if only you'd taken that extra split second to tweak the focusing ring. ;)

In a normal (outdoor) lighting situation for concert photog, try using some dramatic angles.

One of the best places to take night photographs is an older college campus. There's almost some buildings with really neat features. Try using color film, even. If you can get a shot of the indoors lit up from outside, the indoors will appear green because of the flourescent lamps, and the outdoors will have a very warm yellow tint from the exterior incandescents. Anything shiny and metallic will have a really cool reflection pattern, too.
posted by SpecialK at 12:08 PM on October 6, 2002

These are all gorgeous, Chill, and something that I wouldn't have thought to look up on my own. Thanks!
posted by taz at 12:31 PM on October 6, 2002

great links chill.

night photography has always been a passion of mine.
posted by PugAchev at 2:09 PM on October 6, 2002

when you talk of pushing asa400 film, are you developing it yourself and changing the processing? i've been disappointed with my attempts at low-light photography (exposures over 1s on asa400 colour print film, commercially developed) and i assumed i was seeing reciprocity failure (where the film stops behaving linearly, so you need longer exposures than you would calculate from the film speed and light levels). has anyone managed to get good quality photos in low light levels (ie little grain)? did you correct exposure times?

i looked at the links, but while there were lots of pictures, i didn't see any technical advice. sorry if i missed something.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:17 PM on October 6, 2002

andrew: yes, I was developing the film myself and adjusting the process accordingly to compensate for pushing the film. In this age of instant photography, I'd never trust a 24-hour photo joint to process my film. Practically every negative seemed to require some sort of careful massaging to bring out the best in the shot when I was using this technique.

It should be noted that I was shooting B/W film, so I'm not sure how color will behave when pushed that far. A trip to your local library will probably turn up a couple of good books on development techniques if you're interested in going that route.

For concerts, I used an old Yashica 35mm with auto-exposure, and just used whatever shutter times the camera decided on.

For night shots, I put the camera on a tripod, set the shutter manually and experimented with a couple of different exposure times on each shot.
posted by MrBaliHai at 2:37 PM on October 6, 2002

andrew: The consensus seems to be that you should use slide film for night shots, as the operator at a commercial lab will simply not know what to do with the shots.
You need to scroll down a bit on that last link to see the tips, and links to other night photography sites.
posted by chill at 3:25 PM on October 6, 2002

thanks. that prompted me to get of my backside and looks for an answer. i think colour print technology should be pretty good for low light levels because ilford's xps is c41 (pdf) and can be pushed to 1600 (when i used to print my own b&w i was never very impressed as the prints were always low contrast - apparently it's not compatible with ilford's own multigrade paper!). however, looking in my ancient copy of jacobson it looks like (1) i'd need to check the specs for the particular film (kodak's site only has details for pro films, as far as i can tell) and (2) colour balance could be completely messed up...

[on preview - thanks chill]
posted by andrew cooke at 3:31 PM on October 6, 2002

(kinda off-topic)

I'm a true amateur to photography. I bought a full-manual camera about 8 months ago and am interested in setting up my own darkroom. I've got the perfect space to use as a darkroom, but what is the estimated cost and learning curve? Anyone?

(/kinda off-topic)
posted by ttrendel at 11:29 PM on October 6, 2002

Blatant, but somewhat relevant self-linking here: Sodium street lighting is also fun.posted by nathan_teske at 12:34 AM on October 7, 2002

ttrendel: First off, way to go with the manual camera. Doing everything yourself is really the best way to learn. Now as far as the darkroom goes, it can be a bit expensive up front, but after the initial cost of supplies it isn't that bad. Right off the bat you need to think about things like dust, space (you'd be surprised how much more you'll use your darkroom if you have room to move and keep dry seperate from wet), and water temperature. As far as cost goes, think a couple hundred for trays, beakers, chemicals, a safelight, black out material, etc. Might be more depending. I've cut corners and gotten things from friends. Don't bother with a cheap enlarger, you'll regret it. Either go on ebay or go to a camera store and pay more ($200-300). But try to get help from someone who's used one before. Um, anyways, I could go on, but this is my first post/comment on metafilter and so I'm afraid I'm taking up too much space. Good luck.
posted by dvadr at 1:59 AM on October 7, 2002

ttrendel - are you a student? many universities have darkrooms that can be used if you join the right club. also, check out the notice board at your local photo gallery - there may be a club in your town. that way you can get a taste of developing/printing before spending money on the equipment. just a suggestion. learning curve for b/w isn't much - never did colour work myself.

dvadr - hello! is that price for a color or b/w enlarger? are they significantly different in price? i always used a color enlarger (not my own) and multigrade paper (different levels of contrast depending on the colour you use). but i guess you can get apropriate lenses for b/w enlargers? (using multigrade paper saves having to buy several packs of paper of different grades (explanations for ttrendel not you!))? is water temp a problem for b/w?
posted by andrew cooke at 4:41 AM on October 7, 2002

I use TMAX 3200, sometimes pushed to 6400. Golf-ball sized grains, but for nighttime city photography, it's great. Makes everything look gritty and harsh, or weird and alien. It's not so good for the nighttime nature photos though, for the same reasons.

Water temp is not really a problem for b/w. You have to be close, but not exact, unless you are a perfectionist. B/W is very forgiving, and slight over/under development can easily be corrected in printing.
posted by Fabulon7 at 5:35 AM on October 7, 2002

ttrendel- I agree with dvadr. Look in your yellow pages for darkroom rental companies. Get your hands wet first there and then decide if you really want your own darkroom. It's great if you're very serious or have the time/money to do so. Otherwise, using rental darkrooms is a decent compromise.

Also don't forget Philip Greenspun's amazing photo.net site.
posted by gen at 6:51 AM on October 7, 2002

ttrendel: This book is considered to be one of the best for learning all about photography in general. It seems to be up to the 7th edition now. I have the 4th edition, and it has a fantastic section on setting up/using a darkroom. On the other hand, it's an expensive book, and you could probably find all the info you need on the Internet.
posted by Fabulon7 at 6:57 AM on October 7, 2002

Yeah, I was just going to recommend the TMax 3200, and I've also had good luck with Ilford Delta 3200. I've done some night work with slower (50 or 100ASA) film and tripods as well, they lose the alien graininess, but have a smoother, more mellow feel to them. A good many of my favorite photographs were taken at night. Great sites, chill. Thanks.
posted by The Michael The at 7:03 AM on October 7, 2002

Alternatively, you can get a film scanner (~$300-1500, depending on features and resolution) and photo printer (~ $300-$800, depending on print size, speed, resolution and ink type) and make your own prints that way (surprisingly fine quality, with a little practice), assuming you've already got a computer. The nice thing about such a setup is that you don't have to decide if you want color or black and white when you buy the film, but can experiment with desaturation once it's been scanned.
posted by normy at 7:22 AM on October 7, 2002

Not really suitable for night photography (since it's only 200 ASA), but Ilford's SFX film is very cool to play with. It's B&W film with extended red sensitivity, so if you use it with a dark red filter, your results are passably close to those you'd get with infrared film, without all the attendant hassle (having to handle in complete darkness, having to compensate your exposures, having to use special developer, etc). You can use regular B&W developer with it (just check the spec sheet for times and temperatures).

As for pushing colour film (reversal film does work best), find a professional lab near you and just tell them how many stops you pushed it, they should be able to change their processing times to accommodate you (as long as you only pushed it a stop or two).

MrBaliHai: for C-41 process film (Ilford's XP2 is C-41 process B&W), as long as the lab keeps their machine properly maintained, it doesn't usually make much difference (printing, OTOH, is another story). And most commercial 24-hour places send their B&W film out to be processed by pro labs anyway (which is why it's so expensive and takes so long). There aren't many which will do regular B&W film in an hour. I'll often use XP2, to save myself the hassle of developing negatives, and then do my own printing (the little machine prints are useful instead of a contact sheet).
posted by biscotti at 9:48 AM on October 7, 2002

I've always got to mention Lost America whenever the subject of night photography comes up. I'm enthralled with his stuff.
posted by bicyclingfool at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2002

Andrew: It's been awhile since I shopped for enlargers, but I've seen a couple b & w ones for around $200 and color for $300 (that s here in san diego). water temp is definitely something to pay a lot of attention to when developing film (i have to disagree with fabulon7, it s not just for perfectionists). it s easily controlled (a sink full of cold water around your beakers of chemicals) and makes a lot of difference. as far as developing goes, it makes a difference, but not as much. it really depends on where you're at. it took me a year or so of printing to be good enough to care about the difference a different temperature developer had on the paper.

as far as c-41 b & w films go (the kind you develop at a color lab) i would say stay away. they never give very good results in my experience (blacks are grey, whites are grey, ick) and developing on your own is easier than you would think: tank and reel set $20 | thermometer $5 | 2 600ml beakers $10 | developer $6 | fixer $6 | photo flo $not sure (all prices estimates)

then all you need are a dark room, can opener, scissors, and stop watch and you re in business. buy either the Photography book mentioned above (don t have it, but hear it s very good) or 'processing and printing' by julien busselle, and give developing a shot. you ll love it.
posted by dvadr at 12:33 PM on October 8, 2002

You may want to check out the main site for Night photography The Noctures. My site also has a section for night photography.

Mark Interrante
posted by Marki at 11:13 PM on October 8, 2002

dvadr: I'm surprised you've had bad results with C-41 B&W, I quite like it as general-purpose film and have never had a problem with the grey scale at all, I always get good, rich blacks and crisp, clean whites with lots of shadow detail and fine grain. I wouldn't have recommended it otherwise. It's certainly not the film I'd use for best-possible, but I've never had the problems you describe. Out of curiosity, which one did you use and when?
posted by biscotti at 5:08 PM on October 9, 2002

biscotti: I can't remember. It was quite awhile ago. I'm too in love with the magic of developing, and too picky to try it again. I like the ability to change developers, time, and temperature depending on what I shot or what I'm trying to achieve. It was probably some Kodak. I suppose I'll give XP2 a try though.
posted by dvadr at 12:44 AM on October 10, 2002

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