Exposure times for night photography

lewismalpas

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Hi all,

I recently got given a Canon AE-1 with a FD 50mmF1.4 lens and after rattling through a few rolls of film in daylight I wanted to start experimenting with night photography. I studied film photography for a year and have a understanding of the exposure triangle but I have no idea about metering at night and exposure times.

From the reading I have done online people suggest using ISO100-200 film, large apertures and long exposure times - would you all agree? The subject I plan to shoot first is Albert bridge in London:
Flickr Search: Albert bridge night

I really would like some advice regarding exposure times as I have absolutely no idea how long to exposure for. I know I am going to have to bracket and take into consideration reciprocity but I really have no clue as to how many seconds/minutes I should exposing for?

Initially I was planning on shooting Ilford HP5+ (ISO400) as I used this in New York and loved the contrast/heavy grain and generally prefer B&W over colour. Would this be okay or should I be looking at an alternative film with a lower ISO to prevent too much grain?

Many thanks in advance for all of your help,

Lewis.
 

webestang64

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I love to shoot at night.......here is a shot taken in San Francisco. Fuji 400 color print film, Canon A2-E 35-105mm (at 35) f22, 30 sec bracket exposures up to 3 mins.....this shot was at 1 min.





Not much grain here even at 400 speed film.....but then I like grain. For B&W and less grain I'd shoot T-Max 100. And I would still do at least 30 sec bracket exp. up to 3 or 4 min at f22.
 
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lewismalpas

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Hi Webestang64,

Thanks for the reply, your San Fran photo is stunning - You must of been in quite a nice position to take it?

If I understand you correctly you are advising I take 6 exposures (30s, 1m, 1m 30, 2m, 2m 30s & 3m) up to 3 minutes at f22? Obviously the exposure times you mentioned are based on a 400ISO film which gives me an excuse to shoot a few more rolls of Ilford HP5+ which has a nice grain...

Also, do you always shoot night landscapes with small apertures for maximum DOF or do you sometimes experiment with the aperture?

Thanks,
Lewis.
 

chris

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The film manufacturers will have correction tables for the exposure increase necessary once you get into the region where reciprocity failure kicks in; this may be for exposures as low as 4 seconds and longer depending on the film. For colour films there may also be reccommendations for colour correction filters to be used for long exposures. The basic advise is to take a meter reading then bracket.

Reciprocity failure also occurs with very short exposures typically 1/4000 sec or less but these conditions are rarely encountered unless you are into very high speed flash.
 

manaheim

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I didn't respond to this before because a lot of my knowledge on this subject is in digital and not applicable to film, BUT... F22... yikes. You're going to have some serious refraction around the aperture blades at F22 that will cause some major quality issues... which... and I mean no offense by this... you can see in webestang's shot.

I usually take my pictures as ISO 100-200, around F8 or so, and I think I usually wind up in the 15-30 second range... however, I am DELIBERATELY over-exposing the shot, and I don't know what that does with film. I assume that would be bad, whereas with digital, I can just back things off in post processing... and I'm also trying to compensate for a problem (noise) which may not even be present with film. Were I to GUESS, I'd say you would meter the scene at F8 or so and then take the shot exposing it just a LITTLE bit more (one stop on the exposure time dial) to try to bring out a bit more detail in the shadows... but that's just a guess.

My night photography thread has a lot of information in it (it's in my sig). Again, a lot of it is digital related, but it might be worth a read.
 

webestang64

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Hi Webestang64,

Thanks for the reply, your San Fran photo is stunning - You must of been in quite a nice position to take it?

If I understand you correctly you are advising I take 6 exposures (30s, 1m, 1m 30, 2m, 2m 30s & 3m) up to 3 minutes at f22? Obviously the exposure times you mentioned are based on a 400ISO film which gives me an excuse to shoot a few more rolls of Ilford HP5+ which has a nice grain...

Also, do you always shoot night landscapes with small apertures for maximum DOF or do you sometimes experiment with the aperture?

Thanks,
Lewis.

Hi Lewis, Thanks for the compliment! I took this shot back in 1997, as soon as we got off the plane my friend's brother took us to the overlook. Lucky for us, no fog....LOL.
Anyway, yes I do change the aperture to suit taste. I wanted this shot to look "glowy".....but YES,,,experiment with it, try every aperture. Play around with it till you get what you like.
Scotty


Good source for night photo info....
The Nocturnes - Tips on Night Photography, Resources


Another shot that night......with glowy Moon......
 

WhiteRaven22

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I recently experimented with night photography for the first time ( http://www.thephotoforum.com/forum/...-exposure-night-photography-large-images.html ). I found that with ISO 100 color negative film at an f/16 aperture, most of my best exposures were usually one-, two-, or four-minute exposures. I also found that color negative film is fairly forgiving at such long exposure times, but I really can't say for B&W.
 

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Initially I was planning on shooting Ilford HP5+ (ISO400) as I used this in New York and loved the contrast/heavy grain and generally prefer B&W over colour. Would this be okay or should I be looking at an alternative film with a lower ISO to prevent too much grain?
If you like grain then how could there be too much grain? It's "okay" if you subjectively like it. Just gotta give it a try and find out. If you don't want to invest in the film (though its like $4-5, I mean come on), then you could look up examples on google of that film and ISO to see if you like the look.

Ilford HP5 has pretty bad reciprocity failure. See here for the exact manufacturer chart for HP5+ 400:
http://www.ilfordphoto.com/Webfiles/20106281054152313.pdf
This is for sheet film, but it's the same stuff that's in the rolls. For example, if you meter for 20 seconds you need to actually expose for like 80 seconds. Yikes.
 

maris

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Most so called night pictures are pictures of illuminated light bulbs and small areas close to them, not the night itself. If you look at pictures posted here and elsewhere you will see areas that are not directly illuminated are blank black shadows. Blank black shadows usually mean gross underexposure BUT the rules are different at night. Here are some observations;

All possible exposures from 1/1000 second to 7 hours deliver something lookable and possibly interesting but almost certainly not what you had in mind.
Metering is a waste of time. Direct light sources saturate the meter and deep shadows give no reading at all. That's not useful information.
Reciprocity failure considerations are meaningless. Lightbulbs are too bright to fail, shadows always fail and they are both in the same scene so one compensation factor can't work for both.
Shoot a roll of film at all possible exposures: seconds, minutes, hours. Do an all-nighter or several all-nighters with various scenes. Looking at the results will tell you more about night photography than you will ever learn by just asking.

Make it easy on yourself and shoot at the "magic moment" when changing evening (or dawn) daylight matches the brightness of illuminated buildings. This is scarcely night photography but it tends to look a lot better than the glare plus gloom you get at night.
 

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