Shooting Black & White Film at Night

19th December 2016
Firstly, if you want to try film for night shooting then careful thought has to be put into film choice, most Black and White films suffer what is termed reciprocity failure, this is caused by exposures usually longer than one second, at speeds below this film loses its sensitivity in how it reacts to light, it slows down and compensation needs to be given to the exposure time.

As an example if I needed to set an exposure of say 40secs at a given aperture, a film such as Kodak Trix 400iso would need the 40secs extended to around 300 secs, now on a cold winters night standing around for that time is not always a practical thing to do.

The other disadvantage is aperture setting, for the majority of my night work I use medium format cameras, 6x6 and 6x9 formats, because of the negative size and its ratio to focal length you will have a narrower depth of field, (areas in and out of focus), wide apertures are not always good to encompass a scene from foreground to infinity, or for zone focusing so it is beneficial to use smaller apertures like f11,16,or even f22 to get that all important depth and clarity into our images.

Using films that have reciprocity failure characteristics forces into into wider apertures to keep the exposure times practical, as another example if the metered exposure was 1.5 mins at f16 with Trix then I would need to expose for 17mins, that's a long time to be stood about in a dark alleyway at night, (unless you have Rottweiler with you, however there is a solution, read on.

The solution is called Fuji Acros 100iso, a film that does not suffer from reciprocity failure, at least not up to two minutes, after that you just add plus 0.5 to your exposure, so in the above example of Trix at a metered exposure of 1.5 mins with Acros would be 90sec, a massive difference.

Film has a the ability to capture a wider range of tones than a single Digital exposure, you will rarely blow highlights, even in street lamps and the shadows will be open enough to show detail, it has a built in safe guard called latitude, under or overexpose and you will always be able to bring it back, (that's providing your not 10 stops over or under) 3 stops either way will still yield an editable and printable image.

Another control after exposure is in development, let's say a normal development time for Fuji Acros in daylight is 10 mins at 20c, to bring down highlight density always under develop by at least 10%, this will have little effect to shadow or mid tone qualities only the higher regions are slowed down in the development process and keeps the densities at usable levels.


Most users of Digital cameras these days use zooms, even fixed lens that do not have a depth-of-field scale on the lens and normally auto focus on something, that's not a good way of calculating distances, the best way is to use the lens scale that will give the maximum DOF possible for a given lens, in other words you don't even have to focus on your subject, set the scale and forget about it, most film cameras prior to auto focus have these scales.

Metering night shots is NOT a nightmare, its relatively simple, you might waste a roll or two on your first outings but believe me after that you will recognize the intensity of light and be able to give a qualified guess erring on more exposure is better than less, by that if you're unsure and you think it needs 40sec give it another 20sec on top, it will not ruin your shot, (remember the word latitude) always give more exposure than not enough.

Always remember that if the scene has a lot of dark areas in the composition then you're likely to overexpose and if there is a lot of light areas it will underexpose, you're in charge and with a little knowledge you can take control of the metering.

So to summaries:
1/Use a a film like Fuji Acros 100iso for shorter exposure times with smaller apertures

2/ Remember that film has a wide exposure latitude to under and over exposure, always err on the overexposure.

3/ Use a camera that has a DOF scale on the body.

4/Always use a tripod and cable release.

5 Use any form of light metering as a guide only, the best meter is your brain and knowledge of bright areas and dark areas within a composition and alter accordingly.

6/ Keep things simple and use only one standard lens, wide lens get to much in and can clutter night compositions.

7/Always carry a torch and a small piece of black card, the card is used to cover the lens to stop anything such as car lights ruining a scene, if one is coming into the scene, cover the lens, pause your time when its past remove the card and carry on counting the exposure time.

Most of all be careful at night, Saturdays are the worst in cities, too much booze around, go to areas that you know are safe (ish) never visit alone renowned dodgy areas, always take your mobile, let relatives know where your going, keep warm and enjoy a whole new world of photography.

Get out and have a go




Martin

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