nighttime photography: some dumb beginner questions

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abruzzi

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Ok, I apologize but this will sound pretty noobish. I've never really done night time photography, and my rational side is trying to confuse me. I have 2 cameras with TTL light meters, but neither are very advanced (Pentax 67 and Pentax SuperProgram) and one camera without a meter where I use an incident meter (Bronica ETRSi with a Sekonic 508).

In daylight I know how both of these work--the TTL meter tries to make everything grey but assuming that you scene has a mix of dark and light, that average grey ends up being relatively well exposed. The incident meter is measuring the light falling on my subject (in most of my cases, sunlight or sunlight filtered through clouds.)

Problem is, both of these are confusing for night shots. There is next to no incident light, 99% of light in a scene is light originating in the scene--porch or decorative lights that cast very little light except in a few foot radius. There is a small cloud light around the lights, and it would be nice to capture the points of light and the nearby stuff that they are illuminating.

The TTL is confusing because most shots I might take are overwhelmingly dark, and should not be rendered up to 18% grey, so I have a hard time trusting the TTL meter. So, if I load a roll of Delta 3200, and assuming I want to expose it at 3200. Are there good ways to think about this that make it easier to find the right exposure? Should I trust the TTL meter?

* to be clear, I'm not talking about long exposure, and when I google "night photography" I get a lot of highly stylized long exposure night scenes that don't interest me. More, I'm talking about street photography at night, but not in a highly illuminated city.

These aren't my photos, but I'm thinking similar scenes, but probably with less light sources and more dark areas:

night-walking-by-the-lamps.jpg


142.jpg
 

dasBlute

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for street at night, there will never be enough light...

so shoot manual, pick an exposure and an aperture you can live with [like 1/15 and f/8],
try to use a tripod if you can, overdevelop the film, and take what you get,
delta 3200 is more like 1600, you can push tri-x, and hp-5 pretty well too...
 

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You need to understand that if you expose per a light meter, it will render the scene so that 18% gray will appear in the scene as 'mid tone'. And THAT is not how you necessarily want the scene to be captured!

Here is a shot taken at night in my front yard just now (11pm), with scene illumination only an overhead LED street light which is about 25' behind where the bridge in the photo is located.
Photo 1 is per an incident light meter. Photo 2 is per a camera Evaluative metering. Photo 3 is -1EV, and Photo 4 is -2EV exposure (compared to Photo 2).
To the naked eye, photo 4 (or a bit darker) is how the scene appears. Photos 1 and 2 are totally unrealistic capture of the scene, although how a meter would have you expose the shot.

nightshot_zpsaqrg4gfq.jpg


(photos 1 and 2 shot with dSLR set to ISO 12800, 1/4 f/2.8)
 
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guangong

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Best to dispense with meter altogether and use published tables or a calculator. Then follow advice of dasBlute. Calculators and tables usually have a selection of lighting conditions to choose from. Meters are generally useless for your kind of photography. TTL meters can only be a distraction.
A meter may be useful for certain kinds of landscape photography, but then readings must be adjusted for film reciprocity.
 

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This is the way I would approach it

black and white negative film is forgiving of over-exposure
printing permits manipulation of the tones

Make tests in a night-time street:

set up the camera on a tripod
make a series of bracketed frames over a wide range of exposures keeping the ISO constant
make careful notes of the exposure for each frame
develop normally
inspect the negatives for printable highlight detail (the shadows will be mostly empty, nothing can be done about this)

this would give a guide for future exposures


hey presto :smile:
 
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abruzzi

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thanks. Yeah, the 18% grey was the issue I was trying to avoid. @guangong, You mention tables or calculators any links can recommend? I have a few rolls of Delta 3200 which I might sacrifice for testing. I also have some TriX. thanks.
 
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With film, do some test shots to get some experience. Digital is easy to test. I do extensive night / low light work.

Formula: wide open, high ISO, low shutter speed is usually the mix.
 

AgX

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You need to understand that if you expose per a light meter, it will render the scene so that 18% gray will appear in the scene as 'mid tone'. And THAT is not how you necessarily want the scene to be captured!

Exposing a night scene based on an averaging metering will most likely result in day-light image...

Metering for a night scene basically means "placing " luminances on the greytone scale so to replicate ones visual impression.
 

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The photos that the OP referenced are perfect examples of situations where you can use a TTl meter.
Just pick an area on the sidewalk/pavement that you would like to end up mid-grey, walk up to it and take a reading with that area filling the finder. Note the recommended exposure settings - you will be using those settings.
Then walk back and expose your film on manual, using the noted exposure settings.
The highlights and shadows will fall where they fall.
Develop the film either normally or longer for increased contrast - base your decision on whether the midtone details are more important (normal processing) or shadow details are more important (increased contrast). Then print the results, being sure to use the tools available at the printing stage to enhance the image.
It will take you a bit of practice before you can reliably judge what areas are best to meter from - which ones are best at mid-grey. But that experience will pay dividends, because it will help inform all your exposure judgments, not just these fairly challenging ones.
One further caution - it may be obvious, but be sure that you don't let your shadow influence your meter reading.
 
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abruzzi

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Just pick an area on the sidewalk/pavement that you would like to end up mid-grey, walk up to it and take a reading with that area filling the finder. Note the recommended exposure settings - you will be using those settings.
Then walk back and expose your film on manual, using the noted exposure settings.

How well does this work? I know that brightness dims the further you are from it. Is the difference between 5ft (to take a reading) and 25ft (to take the shot) minimal enough? My Sekonic meter does have a 1 degree spot, so I suspect I need to get more comfortable with that.

In the end, I know the answer is the same as the way to Carnegie Hall--practice. So I shot half a roll of Delta 3200 last night, and will hopefully finish the roll tonight. I keep notes of all the exposure information. Hopefully, asking a few questions first reduces the wasted film a little. Thanks everyone for your input.
 

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MattKing

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How well does this work? I know that brightness dims the further you are from it.
The "brightness dims the further you are from it" observation is incorrect.
You are thinking of the relationship of intensity of light from a light source and how light source to subject distance influences the amount the light illuminates a subject.
Once the subject is illuminated to a certain level, appropriate camera exposure is determined and is independent of the distance between the subject and your camera.
If you were taking a meter reading from a light source itself (e.g. a street lamp) the distance would matter.
Just as it would matter if you were illuminating the subject with on-camera flash.
It is hard to explain simply (and even harder to show the math) but essentially the thing that makes camera exposure independent of subject to camera distance is the fact that the farther you are away, the smaller the subject is in the scene.
 
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When it comes to night / low light street photography you only have a few choices.

Available Light Film / High ISO
Available Light Digital / High ISO
White Light Flash
Infrared Flash
Electric Lighting
Tripod Shots

If your meter is no good, then you fall back on your experience.

As I said earlier, I do a tremendous amount of night candid work nowadays. But it is all digital. Be that as it may, I still produced at night, from my earliest beginnings in the 1970's, with film. Back then I'd push everything. And I still push my digital if the light is tough.

untitiled-no-1-copyright-1971-daniel-d-teoli-jr.jpg


As I specialize in candid work, tripods are out. Tripods are for landscapers, not street photography. white light flash makes it hard to do candid work. If I don't care, I will use white light flash. But most of my flash nowadays in blackout (invisible) flash.

52-img038-view-print-v3-mr.jpg


Once you develop the low light skills, inside or outside, it does not matter. You can work seamlessly between all styles and get your shot.

12-img033-2-2-spot-mr.jpg

If you shoot wide open, test your lenses. I have some lenses that stink for sharpness wide open. Others do OK. Know you gear and its limitations.
 

guangong

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thanks. Yeah, the 18% grey was the issue I was trying to avoid. @guangong, You mention tables or calculators any links can recommend? I have a few rolls of Delta 3200 which I might sacrifice for testing. I also have some TriX. thanks.

Practically every introductory book on photography such as the old Leica Manual, etc., the old Kodak exposure calculators. There have been a number of calculators and tables mentioned in APUG threads. The various tables and calculators are based upon real life experience over the decades. Most have separate exposure recommendations for the lighting conditions of dark streets, streets with brightly lit store windows, stages, etc. These would be the best starting point. Then you are on your own since we all have our own opinions about what we want a photo to look like.
 

jjphoto

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You can use a digital camera as a 'polaroid' to meter/test your exposures although you also need to calibrate this with your film. A Pentax spotmeter might be good for this kind of thing but I'm not sure how sensitive it is to such low light levels.
 

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abruzzi

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Thanks everyone for your input. I developed the roll of Delta 3200 and some of the shots came out well.





 
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At P3200, you are shooting at Delta's (and its equivalent, TMax P3200) nominal low-end speed.
You may want to throttle it to EI12,800, which will provide a moody graininess.
The Pentax 67 TTL meter can be used to handle the exposure, but your Sekonic 1° spot could potentially do more.
Note that Reflected spot is 12.6% and incident 16.4% on the L758D meter. Not exactly the gospel "18% grey", but a touch better used competently.

Having said all that, the second photo is just beautiful in its composition, lighting and mood. In that circumstance, whether or not it is 18% grey is wholly irrelevant as it is overtaken by the strength and dynamics of the composition which effectively carry the image and its emotive paths over to the viewer. It is, in a wonderfully subdued way, a polite nod to the iconic James Dean Time Square photo by Dennis Stock/1955. You can see the potential in your image for printing, and the results of pursuing that potential when you taken Stock's contact proof and work it to the max:
 
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abruzzi

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Having said all that, the second photo is just beautiful in its composition, lighting and mood. In that circumstance, whether or not it is 18% grey is wholly irrelevant as it is overtaken by the strength and dynamics of the composition which effectively carry the image and its emotive paths over to the viewer. Nothing more is needed.

Thanks, that’s my favorite.

I used the TTL meter on the Pentax 67 for all the shots, but that said, most of the shots were way underexposed based on the meter. I think the first one is the only one that the meter considered “properly” exposed. Many, including the second one, were kind of Hail Mary shots, in that I opened the aperture wide, set the shutter to the slowest I could hold the camera steady (1/30th on a 150mm lens was pushing it), exhaled, and took the shot.
 

CMoore

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Thanks everyone for your input. I developed the roll of Delta 3200 and some of the shots came out well.





I am in the same boat as you. I need to do more Might/Street photos.
BTW.....i think yours look quite good.
If you don't mind.....
1. The Dela 3200. Did you develop it as 3200 or did you treat it differently.?
2. Are those shots hand-held or tripod.?
3. What was you f/stop and shutter speed.?
Thank You
 
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abruzzi

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I am in the same boat as you. I need to do more Might/Street photos.
BTW.....i think yours look quite good.
If you don't mind.....
1. The Dela 3200. Did you develop it as 3200 or did you treat it differently.?
2. Are those shots hand-held or tripod.?
3. What was you f/stop and shutter speed.?
Thank You

Thanks, this is a learning experience for me. To answer your questions:

1. I developed as 3200 in Xtol 1:2 at 75F for 20 minutes with agitation every minute. I got that from here: https://unblinkingeye.com/Articles/Times/D3200/d3200.html

2. I did the whole roll handheld.

3. Most of the shots on the roll were as wide open as the lens went. For the ones I posted I used the 105mm f2.4 wide open for the first and third and the 150mm f2.8 wide open for the second and shutter speed was 1/30 for all three.
 

CMoore

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OK...Great.
I need to get out again. Amazing how much light is actually available with just 1/30 - 2.8.
Thanks for re-inspiring me. :smile:
 

Helios 1984

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Print it out on hard stock or have Staples or one of the Office stores make a copy for you. Use this URL

https://www.scribd.com/document/2604955/jiffy

I have not tried this one for purchase

http://www.blackcatphotoproducts.com/guide.html

Also see this pdf:

+1

I've been carrying a Jiffy calculator ever since you've mentioned it, a while back. I printed mine on regular paper, glued the center part on a piece of discarded folder and plastified the whole thing with packing tape. Also, I've used orange and yellow markers on the different columns, it help my eyes.
 
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