BW Night Photography

Discussion in 'Film Discussion and Q & A' started by JamesD, Aug 6, 2006.

  1. JamesD

    JamesD Between darkrooms

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    Actually, this applies to color, as well.

    I'm about ready to give up on it. Out shooting tonight, I metered on a white surface, adjusted my exposure as I normally would, plus some--two and a half stops over--to get white, and bracketed a stop and a half above and below. Still, the negative is underexposed. Is there something I'm missing here? The negative may be marginally printable, but I'd like to have one that's well-exposed, rather than thin areas of silver on transparent film base. I've tried this before, always without success, and it's getting on my nerves.

    How do you shoot at night? Is there something I'm missing? Is it simply beyond the capability of the film? (I find that idea difficult to believe). Is it necessary to way overexpose illuminated areas and dodge them a lot in printing in order to achieve detail in darker areas? I'm not looking for a lot of detail, since the illuminated areas are obviously the subject, but a little bit would be nice.
     
  2. Torus34

    Torus34 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Something tells me that you're battling several adversaries at once, my good Knight. Works great in action games, but can be a pain at other times. First, there's reciprocity failure. This can leave you several stops behind the curve before you start. Then there's the extreme contrast between absolute black and strong unshielded artificial lights. I don't even want to try to translate those into Zone terminology! Finally, I suspect you may be trying to fine-tune your initial exposure a tad too much. That's a trifecta of trouble. Zounds!

    So let's cut the ol' Gordian Knot using a strategy of flailing away mightily with a huge, blunt two-handed broadsword.

    Rather than trying to meter a white or grey card, you'll probably do better by just getting a gut feel for night exposures. Bulk load some 24 exp. cassettes of your fav ISO 50 or 100 B&W film. Next, accept the twin possibilities of a 1 stop error and a return to the site for a traditional +/- 1 stop series. Then simply run a long bracket series with a 2 stop [4X] step between exposures. I'd suggest an 8 frame series such as 1/15 sec, 1/4 sec, 1 sec, 4 sec, 16 sec, 1 min, 4 min and 16 min for your first outing. You'll be able to reduce this series significantly with experience.

    Run the series at several sites you're interested in. Soup the film normally [don't be 'pushy'] with your favorite witch's brew [NOT Dektol, fine Sir!] and examine. Presto! You're a gut feel expert. On top of that, you can now fine-tune your exposure for several specific sites [3 per 24 exp load].

    Oh. Almost forgot. One more bit of advice: depending on where these sites are, it's night, right? Stuff a crucifix and a few cloves of garlic into the ol' gadjet bag . . . just in case. Can't be too sure these days.
     
  3. terri

    terri Administrator Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Right - what Jim said. :mrgreen:

    I've never had a problem with night photography. I guess I was taught well. I was told to bracket with the shutter only, to take that indicated meter reading (using evaluative metering such as matrix - not spot) and go from there +/- a minimum 5 frames per subject. Keep that exposure log so you can sit and go over your negatives or slides and see what you're getting. And using ISO 100 film is perfectly okay.
     
  4. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

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    Are you taking reciprocity failure into account? Depending on the film you are using reciprocity failure can begin to occur with exposures of 1 sec or longer. Reciprocity is the nice and neat exposure scale we get with shutter speeds: 1/30th is twice as much exposure (1 stop) as 1/60th, and so on. The longer the exposure the more reciprocity failure. 2 seconds is not necessarilly twice the exposure of 1 sec, and I guarantee you that 20 min is not twice the exposure of 10 min. for any film. In many cases a 10 min neg and a 20 min neg (taken at night) can look almost identical. Depending on the film you are using, 1 stop more than a 5 min exposure could be a 30 min exposure, or an hour long exposure. Check out the film manufacturer's website for their recommendations, and then you'll still have to experiment.

    Reciprocity does not break down regarding aperture. Even with long exposures, opening the lens up a stop, gives you a stop; a 10 min exposure at f/2.8 is a stop more exposure than 10 min at f/4.
     
  5. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

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    Considering it's not very hard to max out the dynamic range of film in the daytime when lighting is more even, you can just count on the combination of night and artificial lighting to be well beyond the dynamic range of normal photographic materials and methods.

    If taken in a single exposure you may need to employ burning and dodging to darken the light sources in comparison to the dark areas of your scene. Or you could make exposures for the highlights, then the shadows, and a few in between for good measure, scan them, and combine exposures using a variety of methods in Adobe PS.
     
  6. JamesD

    JamesD Between darkrooms

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    LOL Jim, thanks, I needed a lightened mood (no pun intended) on this subject.

    I should have provided more information. My camera was tripod mounted, using TMax 100 and the EF 24mm 2.8 at f/2.8, and then the 100-300 4.5-5.6 at 100mm and f/4.5. The shots I'm most concerned about are those made at 100mm. The 24mm images were of the building itself, and came out reasonably well. I also used mirror-lockup, auto-bracketing at plus and minus 1.5 stops, and the self timer. I forgot the remote release. So far, camera-shake doesn't appear to have been an issue, and it never has been in the past, although I rarely use a telephoto at night.

    Processing was a 30-45 second soak in water, followed by development with TMax 1+4 for 7 minutes at 71 degrees.

    Exposure at f/4.5 was, if I recall, 0.7 seconds, with brackets at 1/4" and 2". Kodak state that for one second exposures with TMax, 1/3 stop of aperture should be added for exposures of one second, and for exposures of 10 seconds, 15 seconds of exposure should be allowed; this is one-half stop. This leads me to believe that one of my brackets should have been adequate.

    The scene was of a white building lit by halogen floodlamps on the ground. I metered up close on a portion of the building receiving average frontal illumination, then opened up 2 1/2 stops to ensure that it would be actually white, and hopefully allow enough to record some sky detail. The sky detail I was looking for was the moon and a bit of cloud cover which was well-illuminated (visually, perhaps not photographically) by the moon.

    Examining the contact print (considering variation between enlargers, the only useful statistic I have is that it was made with a #2 VC filter) more closely shows that in the last shot I took, f/4.5 at 2 seconds, does in fact retain a little bit of the sky detail I was trying to capture. The highlights of the building are blown, and the side of the building receiving highly-angled illumination is quite medium-gray, but retains very good detail. The moon itself is too small to see clearly in the contact print, but it appears to have retained its shape, with some blowout making it "grow." In the previous two exposures (from the same set of bracketing) the moon clearly retains its shape.

    I'm guessing that your comment, Matt, about the dynamic range of the film simply not being wide enough is spot-on. I'm not keen on introducing a digital process into the mix, though. I'm going to take this into the darkroom and work with it. After all, that's my prime focus in BW photography right now: working with negatives to produce prints. A challenging negative won't make me wring my hands too much. If I can get it to work, great. If not, then I need to fix the exposure. Let me just say that I'm glad it wasn't a paper negative. I at least know better than to try that ROFL.

    Considering that film is cheap, I think I will go out to shoot a series of night shots, running a number of stops over and under. I'll include a daylight shot with a gray card to get the "standard" printing exposure, then find out which negative prints best. Recording the in-camera exposure is something I don't often do anymore except on this sort of test, but I'll do that, and also record the meter readings. The only external meter I have is an old Seikonic selenium-cell incident meter, so it won't do me much good, but the TTL meter should at least give a ballpark figure.

    This one'll be interesting, but I'll beat it yet. Did I actually say I was about ready to give up on it? Must've been tired... it was freaking early in the morning...

    Closer examination of the negatives and contact print this morning shows the white building is more or less correctly exposed.

    Oh, and Jim... I had spaghetti and garlic bread, with liberal application of extra, fresh, garlic before going out--I love garlic!--so I'm not too worried about THAT type. For the rest, I think .45 caliber should do it. ;-)
     
  7. JamesD

    JamesD Between darkrooms

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    I printed the likliest negative and posted it in the General gallery.
     
  8. ksmattfish

    ksmattfish Now 100% DC - not as cool as I once was, but still

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    As far as it goes, BW does have the greatest dynamic range of anything out there that I am aware of. Digital and color film is around 6 stops. BW film is around 9 stops, and some folks claim with certain developers and techniques they are getting up to 15 stops. You'd be out of luck with a machine made lab print, but printing it by hand with the right burning and dodging, and you should be able to take advantage of that extra dynamic range.
     

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