Photographing at night represents a challenge for the photographer, particularly for making portraits. The low light means either having to increase ISO, which could introduce grain to the image, or using long exposures that will cause blur. Most photographers would use flash carefully balanced with any ambient light and a slight increase of ISO.
Here, you’ll use all the methods at your disposal: high ISO (3200 and beyond), flash and long exposure.
Photograph a model of your choice; if you feel bold, ask members of the public to pose for you.
You’ll need a tripod for the long exposures. And your model will have to stand as still as possible. Exposures can be several minutes long so there’s bound to be some blur, but this can be visually effective in itself.
As with Exercise 2.6, include a full-length figure in the environment.
Aim to create three finished night photographs, although you’ll need to make many more exposures than that to ensure success.
To prepare for this project, have a look at Weegee’s night photos (museum.icp.org/ museum/collections/special/weegee).
This has been a useful exercise in that it brought together a number of newly learnt techniques. I do feel that I have taken some photos, and created images, that would have been beyond me before commencing this course. Some of the photos deploy new to me techniques, whilst others are examples of me appreciating new photographic concepts, I guess the artistic element.
First of all the work of Weegee. Named Weegee because of his ability to turn up quickly at crime scenes as if he had predicted them (Weegee being a phonetic spelling of Ouija). He was mainly a crime scene photographer in the 30’s and 40’s, and is credited with being one the key photographers who created the tabloid ‘hot off the press’ photographic reporting. He mainly worked in New York and had access to police radios thereby enabling him turn up at crime scenes and accidents quickly. He had a dark room in the back of his car and so his images really were hot off the press. His images generally represented very stark direct reporting of dark scenes such as traffic accidents and crime victims. However, he also took some great street scenes of people celebrating and enjoying themselves, in particular society events and parties. An example of both are below.
The first image is of the victim of a car crash
When asked about his technique Weegee’s response was reputedly ‘f8 and be there’. Still probably holds true for today’s photographers in this reporting genre. A medium aperture that gives reasonable depth of field, and lets in a reasonable amount of light. Then of course he used flash, hence the well lit subjects and black background; something I have learnt about through this part of the course. I think most of his images still look as good today as when he shot them. I am certainly a fan. Clearly years and years of dedication and learning his craft, not only the camera technique, but getting into place to be able to capture the images.
And so to the photographs I shot.
I can categorise them into four groups. The first group were shot with flash at a BBQ outside our house (generally closer up portraits), the second with flash in an urban landscape (graffiti etc.), the third in an urban landscape with tripod and long exposure, and the fourth with high ISO, but not flash.
Image number one
Through the fill-in flash exercise I have started to be able to manage exposures (foreground and background) by controlling the combination of aperture, shutter speed and the power of the flash. This have given me much more control over the image. This shot is my favourite portrait using this technique. Removing all of the background light by using a relatively fast shutter speed in the late evening light (1/125th), and then controlling the light on the face with f4.5 and lower power from the flash. It’s a shot I could not have taken a few months ago. I used the Nikon D300 with a Sigma 30-100 lens.
Image number 2
I have been shooting images in low light using high ISO for a while now. I think the images, whilst ‘noisy’, can be very atmospheric. The technique is really useful. The image below was shot using my Sony RX100iii compact camera. Being a relatively new camera it handles high ISO much better than my old DSLR Nikon300 (although in good light the DSLR still wins out). This one was shot at ISO 6400 enabling a 1/80th shutter speed to give a fairly crisp image, and at f6.3 to give enough depth of field to keep both subjects in focus. At ISO 6400 there is plenty of noise in the image, but I still like it. The composition has some rule of two thirds in it, plus the hiding behind the hair demonstrates the occasionally camera shy character, with my wife looking on at the antics.
Image number 3
I have included this one in the final three because it demonstrates the slower shutter speed techniques, with the aim of a still sharp subjects and the blurred motion of the dogs. I have also pulled the shadows out using PhotoShop. The shutter speed was 4 seconds. Clearly I had to use a tripod. I don’t think the photo is actually that good so maybe some better composition and subject selection is required, but at least I tried this technique!
Here are four others that I particularly liked. The first uses two different light sources. The foreground subject is lit by flash and is outside the house. The background subject is lit by lights inside the house. I really light the facial expressions, and the moodiness of big Sister in the background. A bit different. The second is my take on a Weegee black and white celebration/fun shot. It the captures the girls in a very different ‘light’ to the first image. The third image uses a powerful flash setting to light up the tunnel. The fourth one is a bit off brief as in it isn’t a portrait; however, I was taken by the power of our house silhouetted against the late evening blue sky. I used a tripod, f13 for depth of field and a shutter speed of 1.6sec. Particularly pleased with this one, and again not a photo I could have taken before embarking on this course.
I took lots go photos and here is a contact sheet for some of them.