Shooting at night

I think there's something extra magical about night-time film photography. With scenes often empty of people, these images take on an almost surreal quality, catching the final glow of the day, or the buzz of artificial lighting. Although shooting at night can produce these incredibly atmospheric photos, as a practice that is built off the use of light, it can be difficult to master. This week's Fundamentals details all the tips and tricks that will help you achieve the best photos once the sun goes down.


Photo by @anojan

Extra gear

Because of the limited light during night shooting, you'll need a much longer exposure (more on that later). To ensure there isn't any bumping or shaking of the camera whilst taking a photo, it's best to use a tripod and a shutter release cable - these will make up the essentials of night photography and ensure you get a clear final result.


Photo by David Meehan


Many people find colour film works better when shooting at night. Black and white film doesn't have the same dynamic range, which results in highlights becoming blown out and shadows being lost easier.

The higher the ISO of your film, the less overexposure you'll need, so the better it is for low light situations like night shooting. ISO 800 is a good range and the film speed most people lean towards at night.


Photo by @anojan


Location is just as important as the technical side of night photography. You need to think carefully about the scene you want to capture and the light sources around it. Not every night-time scene is going to create a great photo, and you want to choose somewhere that has external light sources, such as a streetlight or the glow from within a building. Ambient light that doesn't result in extreme contrast will produce better photos. Like all things film related, determining whether a scene is going to be too dark to shoot takes trial and practice. Consider going out at blue hour, shortly after sunset, where you will get just enough light and those gorgeous cooler tones.


Photo by Mark Webber


Let's get onto the technical, and probably most intimidating side of night photography - working out the exposure you need to shoot at. A light meter is a great tool to add to your photography kit, and will really come handy in complicated lighting situations like this. It's generally best to expose your photo for the mid tones, so point your light meter somewhere between the light source and the darkest point of the scene. Of course, this isn't a hard and fast rule and you can expose for the shadows by pointing the meter at the darkest area. You can also get light meter apps on your phone if you don't want to pay for a separate piece of gear.

It's tempting to shoot at the lowest aperture when out at night, but try shooting with a slightly higher aperture - around f8 or f11, with a longer exposure. This increases your depth of field, so you will get more of the scene in focus.

However, when you are shooting at such long exposures you get something called reciprocity failure, where the film loses sensitivity as you expose it. Because of this, at night you have to adjust your metered settings to compensate and overexpose your photo. You can find a graph or table for every film stock detailing their specific reciprocity failure, or you can get the app. So for example, the reciprocity failure of your film might require you to overexpose by a stop, meaning you would add a stop to your light meter reading - taking it from 8 seconds, to 15 seconds, for example.


Photo by @posh_photo

Reciprocity failure and exposing for night photography is something that can take a little time to wrap your head around. It's great whilst you're still learning to practice bracketing - shooting the same image multiple times, going up and down a stop either side of your exposure. If you really like the composition this improves your chances of taking a successful photo and also allows you to compare the effects of differing exposures.

Shooting at night holds so much magical potential - it might take a little practice but as you can see from the examples in this post, it can also completely change up the look and feel of your photographs. Everything looks different under the cover of darkness, so play with the empty streets and neon lighting, you can create some unique and incredible images.


Photo by @anojan


Cover image by @anojan

Author : Becca Knight 

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