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View Full Version : Night/low light exposure without a light meter


chikne
09-28-2009, 08:38
Hi,

does anyone know of something that works for those situations?

I mean I shot a roll not long ago ISO 1600, wide open at f4 using 1/15 and some frames came out blank.

Any tips?


Thanks

ferider
09-28-2009, 08:41
How about this (modify for your aperture and film speed):

http://ferider.smugmug.com/photos/476908753_szZwH-XL.jpg

Generally, hand-held, I go as low as possible.

David William White
09-28-2009, 09:02
Meters become increasingly inaccurate at really low light conditions.

If 1600+f/4+1/15th doesn't register on the film, then the camera is not pointing at anything decidedly luminous, so your options include:

a) adding additional light, or:
b) bracket aggressively toward overexposure via shutter speed (2 stops per bracket), and possibly:
c) push process your film

Your shutter probably goes all the way to 1 second, and you probably have a 'bulb' setting. Tripod.

Bracketing your shots (1/15, 1/4, 1 for instance) will cover your ass and will help you be able to better judge what you need.

pagpow
09-28-2009, 09:09
Can you tell us a bit more about the scene -- evenly lit/not? includes light sources/not?, etc.
If you're shooting on the street at night, for example, there should be large variations in light so it's unusual to have just blank.

payasam
09-28-2009, 09:31
Completely blank? Next time you might follow Roland's excellent table. I had long ago made up a ready reference for use with ASA 125 film, but heaven knows if it still exists.

bogelgelbo
09-28-2009, 09:49
Thank you Ferider for sharing the table.

cweg
09-28-2009, 09:55
Thank you very much ferider, it's a very useful table.

MartinP
09-28-2009, 09:56
In a town, or in many places, a rolled up hat or a beanbag in the corner of a wall or fence, on a rock etc can be a handy tripod substiute for a couple of seconds. This is also useful if you weren't planning on that sunset photo etc. but just couldn't resist it. :)

uhligfd
09-28-2009, 10:01
Last night I took a few night shots: 400 ISO, and f/5.6 to f/8, these took between two minute and 15 seconds to expose right..

Now go figure where your 1/15 second exposures went wrong. Incidentally, these were shots under street lights, but dark and far away ...

Do you by chance go digitally? Histograms are your best friends, otherwise, measure right under the street light off your palm and add stops profusely ... as you move away. The difference between 15 second and 2 minutes exposure is only 3 stops! And it gets dark rather quickly way from light (the inverse square rule means: double the distance = 4 times less light (= 2 stops) ... )

chikne
09-28-2009, 10:04
Thanks for the table Ferider.

You know I don't even mind blurred photographs, is just those blank frames you know....

Thanks all!

alexz
09-28-2009, 10:30
Ferider's table appears to be quite reasonable and fits my experience.
I used to shoot indoors events (no flash of course) and 1/30 to 1/15 is quite common (at f/2) for average/under average lit indoors. Sometimes though an intimately-lit interiors (often clubs or average wedding events when not in peak moments) demand the same settings but at 1600 ISO...

At a times, where reading from my digisix doesn't seem to be consistant (due to really low light) or are very low but I really want to try my vision, I just put the camera to the slowest possible speed I care to handle at (usually either 1/30 or 1/15 if carrying 35mm lens) and shoot away. Then hoping the film will pull out ...

Al Kaplan
09-28-2009, 10:55
Silver halide emulsions seem to run into a brick wall at ISO 3200. Fuji has claimed a dubious 1600 but none of Kodak's various "recording films", going back to Royal-X Pan Recording in the early 1960's, have really crossed the 1600 threshhold (barrier?) regardless of developer. You can get over a thousand only if you stretch the definition of "ISO speed" and compensate with a bit of increased contrast.

bmattock
09-28-2009, 11:10
Any tips?


Get a light meter? Just a random thought.

kitaanat
09-28-2009, 11:37
For street lights & traffic at night I use 10 sec. f 11 @ iso 100.
(reciprocity failure corrected)

if you don't want a long line of a car's head lamp you can change
time & f stop for example 5 sec f 8 ...


sample
http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3603/3323093850_2e83feb273_t.jpg (http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitaanat/3323093850/)

chikne
09-28-2009, 12:27
Well I've just come back from centre town to see how this would go. I shall have mentioned that this is mostly for street stuff rather than landscape etc...

Turns out anything is useless. too slow and end just making random guesses. Not good even a handheld meter would be too slow.

Will have to consider an AE camera.

TA

Larry Manuel
09-28-2009, 15:34
http://www.fredparker.com/ultexp1.htm

If that won't cover it, I'll be very surprised.

Roger Hicks
09-28-2009, 16:13
An enormous range of exposures -- as much as 3 stops -- is often acceptable in night shots, with differences contributing more to mood than to any imaginary standard of technical quality: see http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subscription/ps%20lowlight.html

True ISO 1600 with film is extremely rare: normally 1600 is an EI, Exposure Index, with some loss of shadow detail or increase in contrast or both. Even so, EI 1600 with any reasonable film or sensor should yield some image, so it must have been very poor light indeed.

Then again, 1/15 @ f/4 isn't really very impressive. See http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subscription/ps%20king.html for pics at f/1 (16 times the light-gathering power) and ISO 2500 (digital), at longer than 1/15 second.

Cheers,

R.

Benjamin
09-28-2009, 16:26
You (or one, just for the sake of the thread) will learn more by using the meter as a tool to learn how to read more accurately, and indeed more instinctively. Try to set the shutter speed and aperture before the reading, you will soon start to get close.

Then, you can forget about taking the meter reading, or keep using it though you will feel more confident from engaging in such a practise.

Just my two pence.

David William White
09-28-2009, 17:27
Turns out anything is useless. too slow and end just making random guesses. Not good even a handheld meter would be too slow.

Will have to consider an AE camera.

TA

You may find you will be similarly disappointed. AE is just another meter that may or may not give you the exposure you desire. A night scene is generally bright highlights surrounded by dim reflections and a TTL meter will read differently as you pan or tilt even slightly. And it will depend if its center-weighted, spot, or matrix. But at the end of the day, it doesn't know where you want the highlights, shadow, and midrange.

Your comment about random guessing really depressed me. Rather than 'random', I urge you once again to bracket your exposures and analyze the results. This is the systematic approach that builds experience and proficiency -- and makes you a photographer, rather than a button pusher. Bracketing won't be 'useless'.

Mr. Hicks made a good point about the variance of acceptable nighttime photographs. If you bracket your shots, you may surprise yourself at the variety of looks you are able to achieve, and that would be a good thing, too.

dfoo
09-28-2009, 17:33
Echoing what Roger says above: Some time ago during the winter I did several exposures at a graveyard. I think the exposures were something like at 5.6 36/50/95 seconds (compensating for reciprocity with Tri-X). The difference should be 1 stop between each. I was surprised to find that all three gave me very printable results, with not much to tell between them all.

gilpen123
09-28-2009, 18:09
Handheld spot meter is invaluable in night shots so you can average the light or the lack of it. If you are out just snapping I guess your in camera meter can do the work just be careful where you point the camera to meter. ISO400 1/30 at f2 0r 1/15 at f 2-2.8 is common in this kind of situation.

Roger Hicks
09-29-2009, 00:43
Generally, I'm a great advocate of metering, but at night, experience is often more use. Obviously you can't normally meter the shadows -- the meter just won't read -- though a spot reading of a skin tone is often feasible IF you have enough time. An incident light reading under equivalent lighting (same distance from the light source as the subject) may also be useful, depending on how the lighting works.

Often, though, the best starting point is (a) wide open with a fast lens and (b) as long as you can hand-hold, or even a little longer. After that, it's just looking at your pictures and thinking back to how you shot them. There are quite a few low-light shots in Agoraphilia, http://www.rogerandfrances.com/subscription/ps%20agoraphilia.html

Agoraphilia is the mirror image of a fear of the agora (open space or market place): a love of marketplaces, but I don't think it's made it into the OED yet.

Tashi delek,

R.

Dave Wilkinson
09-29-2009, 01:02
Generally, I'm a great advocate of metering, but at night, experience is often more use.



R. I totally agree!.....even at the risk of castigation by your usual vehement adversary on these matters!
Cheers, Dave.

Mauro
09-29-2009, 05:51
You may try using the "Jiffy exposure table": it is my best friend when I work with my beloved FSU cameras. I have the PDF file in my PC, Iwill be happy to post it to anybody.

BTMarcais
09-29-2009, 06:24
Often, though, the best starting point is (a) wide open with a fast lens and (b) as long as you can hand-hold, or even a little longer.
R.

I'm with Roger on this. I found that f/2 @ 1/10 sec. was just about perfect for me with Hp5+ under streetlights at night.
I tried this because it was as wide as my lens would open, and just a bit longer than I felt comfortable handholding. (and I had no meter and had to try Something!
So not only did I find an exposure that worked for me, I also found out that I CAN hand hold 1/10 of a sec adequately w/ the M3...

-Brian

dmr
09-29-2009, 06:48
For Las Vegas night scenes, I know it's in the ballpark of 1/30 and close to wide open. I like to do 1/60 for hand-held and often times I can do that.

http://omababe.blogspot.com/2009/05/sin-city-nights.html

gilpen123
09-29-2009, 06:57
This is using the in camera meter with the CLE and 40 summicron-c. The lower contrast of the lens have open up the shadows a bit I think I was at 1/15 2.8 thereabouts, handheld leaning on a post.

http://i33.tinypic.com/2n84i8n.jpg

rogue_designer
09-29-2009, 07:02
f1.8@1/15 is my baseline for chicago streets in the neighborhoods... f2@1/30 downtown on the sidewalks, and a bit less time if near a well lit building.

(edit - all at ISO 800)

Is is possible the blank shots were a fluke (lens cap? dodgy shutter? accidental hit of a soft-release) - just curious.

chikne
09-29-2009, 08:03
Thanks all.

I've looked at the pictures again and they're not actually blank but very very thin.....

Sparrow
09-29-2009, 08:12
With print film at night or indoors, you’re not going to overexpose it, just get as much light as you can on the film and hope for the best, it’s almost impossible to take a meaningful reading without spending ages on each shot.

chikne
09-29-2009, 08:21
With print film at night or indoors, youíre not going to overexpose it, just get as much light as you can on the film and hope for the best, itís almost impossible to take a meaningful reading without spending ages on each shot.

Sure but how do you know if the longest you can handhold will get enough light on the film?

Sparrow
09-29-2009, 08:36
Sure but how do you know if the longest you can handhold will get enough light on the film?

You don’t that’s part of the fun, if it’s serious work use a tripod, spot meter and bracket

Sparrow
09-29-2009, 08:41
or take a snap and hope

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3212/2825713602_802b72383b_b.jpg (http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3212/2825713602_802b72383b_b.jpg)

dmr
09-29-2009, 09:25
With print film at night or indoors, youíre not going to overexpose it,

Actually, it's very easy to blow out the highlights when doing night shots! Exposure does count. I would say even more so than for everyday daylight photos. Night shots tend to have a very high dynamic range -- very contrasty. If you overexpose, it's blown highlights, if you underexpose, your details go down into the mud!

Sparrow
09-29-2009, 10:49
Actually, it's very easy to blow out the highlights when doing night shots! Exposure does count. I would say even more so than for everyday daylight photos. Night shots tend to have a very high dynamic range -- very contrasty. If you overexpose, it's blown highlights, if you underexpose, your details go down into the mud!

yes but ... if you want the full highlights, and detail in the shadows take pictures in daylight. At night hand held something has to give, and with me it's technical standards

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2251/2232681571_545b78e894.jpg

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2264/2302103000_dc098d23a8.jpg

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2203/2288395610_174c0d8bd2.jpg

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3070/2288394674_a2212af230.jpg

http://farm3.static.flickr.com/2178/2169213014_d49976e1d3.jpg

chikne
09-29-2009, 11:07
yes but ... if you want the full highlights, and detail in the shadows take pictures in daylight. At night hand held something has to give, and with me it's technical standards



Can you remember how those were done?

Sparrow
09-29-2009, 11:14
the wide ones are a 12mm so 1/8 at f5.6, the others are a 35 I think so f2.5 or 2.8 and 1/30, i do have a 50mm f1.5 so i could have used that also at 1/30

none of them would print large without some shake being visible

they would all be Fuji superia x 400

ferider
09-29-2009, 11:18
Sure but how do you know if the longest you can handhold will get enough light on the film?

Stewart is right.

Don't know what scenes you are shooting. But I suggest to go out there with >= 800 ASA color negative film and a f1.4 lens and just try as low as you can hand-hold. For example, with RF, 1/8 + 35/1.4, or 1/15 + 50/1.4.

You'll get something. Color negative film has about 4 stops overexposure latitude.

Then you have first results you can define your next experiments with.

These are with 400 ASA and 35/2:

http://ferider.smugmug.com/photos/210933222_WTBq3-XL.jpg

(the actual sky was darker)

This was 40/1.4 and 400 ASA, maybe 1/30 or so:

http://ferider.smugmug.com/photos/228196593_R7sMU-XL.jpg

This was similarly exposed:

http://ferider.smugmug.com/photos/175624117_n9uFW-O.jpg

Etc.

Roland.

Best,

Roland.

chikne
09-29-2009, 12:27
That's very helpful actually. Thanks for that!

Mephiloco
09-29-2009, 20:15
What's helped me (thought it might be 'cheating'), is to go through my old digital photos before I know I'm going to be using my Leica in a dark environment. I try to find pictures taken at where I'm going, or in a lighting situation similar and use that as a starting point. For example, there's a bar some friends of mine own that I go to often, and I have some pictures taken with my DSLR from when Sean Peyton (head coach of the Saints) showed up to our pub quiz. A lot of the pictures were 1/15 at 2.8 (as fast as my zoom as gets) at iso 1600. I then go through the pictures and get an idea of the range of lighting and exposures and essentially go back with it in my head that at iso 400, and at 1.5, I'll need to shoot at between 1/8th and 1/30th depending on where I'm pointing the camera and what lights I'm looking at.

It also helps that I remember some of the exposures from when I carried my t90 (has a spot meter) to shows with me. So I know if I go to, say, One Eyed Jacks to see a band, that the last time I shot with my 35mm lens, 1/15th or 1/20th, at 2.8, iso 3200 and I got good shots. So, when going to One Eyed Jacks and bringing my Leica, I know I need to shoot at 800 and bring my Summarit.

Tomorrow I'm picking up an old Gossen Luna Pro (I guess they're ok?) for $30 that is supposed to be dead accurate. This should help out with the low light shots, I hope.

Another thing (which has been mentioned) is that negative film has a pretty wide exposure latitude. Sometimes I'll just set the camera to 1/15th, f1.5, and iso 400 (or 800 depending on how dark it is) and shoot away, occasionally lowering the shutter speed or stopping down a stop when there are the occasional bright lights. Since I use a Summarit as my low light lens this works pretty well, since if there happens to be a bright light near my shot I usually try to avoid it as the Summarit will flare like hell because of it.

Anyways, wide open, slowest speed you can handle, and highest iso you're comfortable with (800 should suffice) is what I go with when inside bars/venues.

Al Kaplan
09-29-2009, 20:42
I often judge exposure in low light by getting close enough to a light source to make an incident reading and then using the same principal as the "guide numbers" used with manual flash. If you can get a reading 10 feet away from a light source you'd need to open up one stop at 14 feet, two stops at 20 feet, and so on.

maddoc
09-29-2009, 21:14
I take most of my photos at night and found fiddling with a light-meter (or AE) quite useless in most situations and with BW film. When you have a scene with some bright spot-lights, a few bright illuminated windows and the really dark street, exposure varies between f/1.4 at 1/125s down to 1/30s (400ISO rated).

What I always do is setting my lens at maximum aperture (f/1.0 or f/1.4) and shutter-speed either to 1/60s or 1/30s. This "universal" setting results in ~90% printable frames per roll (BW film).

Color-film needs more careful exposure settings to avoid under-exposure and color-slide film is most difficult but Provia400X at 800ISO and 1-stop push-developed works quite well.

f/1.4 1/30s (Tri-X at 400ISO)

http://www.pbase.com/gsamj/image/113856891.jpg

kitaanat
09-30-2009, 20:58
Al Kaplan, your technique is quite interesting.

In my previous comment that I keep in mind 10sec. f11 @ 100 ISO
and convert to any other night scene I took depend on what style I need
and any ISO I use. It works for me.


http://www.rangefinderforum.com/rffgallery/gallery/23272/U23272I1235285059.SEQ.0.jpg (http://www.rangefinderforum.com/photopost/showphoto.php?photo=101737&ppuser=23272)

This picture taken in a night club that I couldn't even see my shutter/f stop.
Taking a picture with film always challange and fun.

LabasArabas
12-31-2009, 05:22
so.....

f2 1/250 400 ASA

Perfect exposure for burning buildings!

(refer post #2)