How come Michael Kenna's nighttime shots always look so bright?

Discussion in 'Photographers' started by ted_smith, Dec 28, 2012.

  1. ted_smith

    ted_smith Member

    Messages:
    416
    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2008
    Location:
    uk
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    OK, so I've been wowed and amazed by the work of Michael Kenna (http://www.michaelkenna.net/). Inspired by his nighttime shots, I've headed out a couple of times at night, several hours past sunrise so it's properly black as night.

    On one occasion, I walked along some of the flood plains of The River Derwent as it winds through a fairly rural part of Derbyshire. As it had not been snowing or anything (I note a lot of MK's shots are taken at night but in snow. but not all are), it was basically just very dark (and wet as we have had heavy rain here recently), despite the full moon. My light meter couldn't register even 1 EV (I using Ilford Pan 50+, ISO50). And after a while, I started to get the creeps and I also had it in the back of my mind "I am 2 miles from the road...if this river starts to swell due to heavy rain further north, I might get stranded!!".

    So I took a few shots anyway using guess work (10 seconds, 15 seconds, 20 seconds etc) but I have no idea how they'll come out, if they'll come out at all. And I then hurried back to the road.

    So I found myself thinking "With the exception of the snow scenes, how does MK get such well lit scenes when taken at night?"
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 28, 2012
  2. Jon Shiu

    Jon Shiu Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,796
    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2003
    Location:
    Elk, Califor
    Shooter:
    Plastic Cameras
    Some of the exposures are several hours long.

    Jon
     
  3. dpurdy

    dpurdy Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,211
    Joined:
    Jun 24, 2006
    Location:
    Portland OR
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Yes the exposures need to really long in darkness like that. I did photos once at night with snow and city street lights and it seemed pretty bright but the exposure even with all that light was 15 to 20 minutes.
     
  4. jeffreyg

    jeffreyg Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,307
    Joined:
    Jun 12, 2008
    Location:
    florida
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    i don't know what MK does but you could set up on a tripod a little before dark and take a partial exposure and then take the rest of the exposure after dark especially if there are lights that come on after dark.

    http://www.jffreyglasser.com/
     
  5. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,698
    Joined:
    Jun 13, 2006
    Location:
    SE Pennsylva
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Just yesterday I viewed an exhibit of works at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, PA, that included photos taken by Susan Fenton. She has done a whole series of still life arrangements that were recorded by moonlight in exposures ranging up to six hours! Selenium toned gelatin silver prints too, by golly!
     
  6. Steve Smith

    Steve Smith Subscriber

    Messages:
    8,968
    Joined:
    May 3, 2006
    Location:
    Ryde, Isle o
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
  7. ted_smith

    ted_smith Member

    Messages:
    416
    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2008
    Location:
    uk
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Holy smokes! Several hours?! I've heard and understand to some extent the reciprocity failure rule for 30 seconds+, but how do you work out the exposure for scenes requiring exposure of several hours?
     
  8. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

    Messages:
    5,122
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Ted -- When MK was a faculty member of a workshop I assisted at, he passed out a sheet with suggested times based on the one's meter readings (times for Tri-X and Tmax400). And included were suggested times for both films at f5.6 under different night lighting conditions. I assume he created the times through personal experience. I hand them out to our students all the time...great starting points.

    MK would often have more than one camera making exposures at the same time.
     
  9. ROL

    ROL Member

    Messages:
    792
    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2005
    Location:
    California
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Guess. Then experience. Unexpected, and sometimes wonderful, things can happen when the shutter is open for hours. Plan for the unplanned.
     
  10. juan

    juan Subscriber

    Messages:
    1,699
    Joined:
    May 7, 2003
    Location:
    St. Simons I
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Search online and you can find some articles by him discussing his printing routine. He makes very liberal use of dodging and burning. I think that's part of the effect, too.
    juan
     
  11. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,200
    Joined:
    Feb 2, 2010
    Location:
    Montreal, Ca
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Almost all my stuff is done at night - or in dimly lit interiors with extremely high contrast lighting which is challenging. Obviously the larger the format, the longer the exposures will be, but even in 4x5 I would say hours of exposure are rarely required other than for specific effects, unless an exceedingly small aperture is required, filters are used etc. However exposures of at least several minutes are common, often longer. Even in 35mm I've had exposures run 8 minutes or more after adjusting for reciprocity failure. I like a lot of shadow detail though.

    Reciprocity adjustments can vary greatly depending on the film and how you will develop, and how you will print so some of your own testing will be required. But to start out, if you happen to use Tri-X, TMax, Delta or HP5, Howard Bond's data is quite good.

    You can also refer to Kodak's and Ilford's tech publications, but these are actually problematic. Ilford's current tables are "generic" and outdated, and Kodak's tables are sparse (some people disagree with them too).
     
  12. Alex Muir

    Alex Muir Member

    Messages:
    406
    Joined:
    Dec 23, 2009
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Reciprocity effects are probably more important when shooting colour at night. With B&W I would tend to experiment and keep notes. To avoid reciprocity problems, it is often suggested that you use a set speed and vary aperture. This is not very helpful if you are making images which require front to back focus. I would tend to use an aperture of f8-16 and try to calculate a base exposure time. You can then bracket plus one or two stops. There are some books on low light photography that contain useful exposure charts for various subjects. You could also try a faster film. I have had good results with Delta100 in 35mm for night work. If you are using 120 you could go to 400ASA. Get a locking cable release and a stopwatch to help with long exposures. I use a keyring LED torch to see what I'm doing. One approach that has worked for me with urban night images is simply using aperture priority auto and letting the camera choose the speed. It's not very scientific, but it has produced some usable negatives. Alex
     
  13. horacekenneth

    horacekenneth Member

    Messages:
    428
    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2012
    Location:
    MD
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Easy answer is use Pinhole Assist (iphone app).
     
  14. Sponsored Ad
  15. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

    Messages:
    1,504
    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2005
    Location:
    Westminster,
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    don't forget that beside experienting with long exposure to overcome reciprocity failure, you'll also have to experiment to find the correct developer and developer time to assure good tonal range
     
  16. ted_smith

    ted_smith Member

    Messages:
    416
    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2008
    Location:
    uk
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Can you share said sheet by any chance? Perhaps send a link via PM if it's not something that can be posted publically?
     
  17. Matthew Wagg

    Matthew Wagg Member

    Messages:
    97
    Joined:
    Aug 25, 2011
    Location:
    Sandiacre, N
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    If you've an iPhone there are some reciprocity calculators available. I have one called called film timer.

    My iPhone is fast becoming my most indispensable tool in my photo bag.
    Light meter, Depth of field calculator, golden hour calculator, posing app.
    Not to mention the massive dev chart app which is brilliant as well.
    :smile:
     
  18. batwister

    batwister Member

    Messages:
    921
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2010
    Location:
    Midlands, UK
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    He's just lucky like that?

    I suppose the only possible explanation is that he makes really long exposures. How else? Unless NASA make his lenses and his film was manufactured in Zeta Reticuli - which also happens to be where Ansel came from, look it up. :whistling:

    But anyway, Kenna always talks about making day look like night and vice versa. He seeks out unusual atmospheric conditions. Many of his pictures, being devoid of direct sunlight and having limited tonal range could, for all we know, have been shot at night or day. There's very little reference to time of day, which makes his pictures so evocatively 'still'. But due to the practicality of shooting wild landscapes at night, I'd assume very few of his pictures are. It's more to do with his cleverness in the darkroom.
     
  19. cliveh

    cliveh Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,537
    Joined:
    Oct 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    35mm RF
    Photography as an art is not an exact science. Brassai would time his night exposures with how long it took him to smoke certain cigarettes. – A Gauloise for a certain light, a Boyard if it was darker. Forget the reciprocity charts an experiment.
     
  20. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,801
    Joined:
    Jan 14, 2003
    Location:
    San Francisc
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
  21. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

    Messages:
    5,122
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    I MADE MY OWN TABLE USING HIS DATA, SO IT SHOULD BE COOL -- I WILL TRY TO SCAN IT TONIGHT.

    Sorry for the caps...the original document I made got eaten by the computer, I only have paper copies. Reading it right now, using Tri-X, a meter reading of 10 minutes yields a corrected exposure of two hours. A meter reading of 40 minutes should be exposed for 8 hours! (reduce dev times by 20%)
     
  22. Mark Crabtree

    Mark Crabtree Member

    Messages:
    678
    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2009
    Shooter:
    Large Format
    Brassai's night photos of Paris are amazing; well worth looking at for night photo inspiration. I was just thinking of his interiors shots of people (in bars, clubs) the other day and plan to look at them again soon. All pretty amazing for the time (or any time).

    His cigarette technique sounds very practical, though I hate to have to take up smoking just for that.
     
  23. Guillaume Zuili

    Guillaume Zuili Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,656
    Joined:
    Aug 3, 2005
    Location:
    Los Angeles
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    That was an era. During WW2 walking distances time were often estimated by the number of cigarettes...
     
  24. Vaughn

    Vaughn Member

    Messages:
    5,122
    Joined:
    Dec 13, 2006
    Location:
    Humboldt Co.
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Hopefully this is readable.

    Vaughn
     

    Attached Files:

  25. Bill Burk

    Bill Burk Subscriber

    Messages:
    4,610
    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2010
    Shooter:
    4x5 Format
    Thanks Vaughn!

    There is nothing quite so amazing as to see how you answered ted_smith's specific question completely and thoroughly! I didn't think the answer would exceed speculation.

    I'd just become acquainted with Michael Kenna's work this year and so the question caught my attention. I never realized he taught.

    Thanks for sharing this, I was about to try to puzzle out a similar series of TMY2's reciprocity characteristics, this gives me a starting point (or maybe it is all I needed).
     
  26. StoneNYC

    StoneNYC Inactive

    Messages:
    8,093
    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2012
    Location:
    Connecticut,
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Yes thanks that's awesome!

    ~Stone

    Mamiya: 7 II, RZ67 Pro II / Canon: 1V, AE-1, 5DmkII / Kodak: No 1 Pocket Autographic, No 1A Pocket Autographic | Sent w/ iPhone using Tapatalk
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 29, 2012