First posted 16 November 2009
Although the weather is turning much colder now here in the UK, I really want to get out and do some more night photography. I’ve not done any serious night stuff for a while now and keep seeing shots while I’m driving or at other inconvenient times. I try to make a mental note of the location with the intent of going back with camera and tripod, but you know how it is, it doesn’t always happen. So I’ve decided I’m definitely going out this week.
I prefer cool, slightly misty Autumn nights for shooting. This is because it gets darker earlier, giving me longer to work and the misty air separates the tones as they recede into the distance (known as aerial perspective). This gives a better sense of depth and drama to a scene and suppresses the bright highlights of distant lights.
Autumn also brings a colour change and the orange brown leaves reflect the street lighting better. This year I have missed the best of the Autumn colours as we have had some really windy weather, which has stripped many of the trees bare.
Coming back to night photography after shooting other subjects and styles for a while, I was thinking about approaching it in a different way this time. Previously I had shot mainly on 35mm and medium format. Now I think I would like to shoot on 10×8 using a 300mm 5.6 lens. This would be used at it’s widest aperture to give a very shallow area of focus which I think will accentuate the theatricality of the lighting, making each shot look like a stage set. I’ll post some images when I’ve done them.
If you are thinking of doing any night photography and the lights where you intend to shoot are the common sodium type, then you might find chart 1 useful. These are the starting point exposures for Ilford HP5 under ordinary sodium lighting (orange lights).
The much brighter high pressure sodium lamps which are seen along motorways and in many city centres are paler in colour and twice as bright.
Use chart number 2 for exposures with such lighting.
As can be seen from the charts, the exposures increase dramatically as you use smaller and smaller apertures, this is down to reciprocity failure. This is a problem with exposures longer than one second, where extra exposure has to be added.
For anyone interested in taking night photography further, I wrote a book on the subject which has now sold out, but you should be able to find used copies on Amazon.