How do you photograph without light?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by Emil, May 10, 2010.

  1. Emil

    Emil Member

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    This weekend I had a really fun night out with the guys and as always I brought a camera with me. We somehow wound up in a bar that was a bit more grimy than usual, and a whole lot darker. I love taking pictures of people smoking and drinking, talking and laughing, playing dice and becoming best friends forever when the sun begins to rise, but in this particular bar there was simply not enough light to photograph!!! With my much beloved Olympus XA, at f/2.8 (that's the most it opens) with ISO 800 film (also the top limit) I was getting exposure times of two to four seconds!!!

    What would you do in that situation?

    I've in the past had great results with an SLR, a f/1.4 lens, and ISO 3200 film, but this was much too conspicous (and also too costly/fragile to carry while getting drunk). Flash could work for the first shot but then the mood would be ruined.

    Any ideas for techniques or equipment to magically allow me to take pictures without light?

    Emil
     
  2. rhmimac

    rhmimac Member

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    Get the XA on a tripod and leave it for there for 4 sec's! See what's been setting still and what's been moving aft...
    The stills you'll recognise, the movers you won't.
    If the XA has 2nd curtain flash option, switch it on and maybe the movers will have a face too. :smile:

    rhmimac
     
  3. Ken Nadvornick

    Ken Nadvornick Subscriber

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    Excellent advice.

    I also have an XA. Instead of a tripod I have in the past carried with me a small shot bag (a small, circular leather bag filled with lead shot - used as a weight to hold down paper without leaving marks) for use as a support.

    They're portable, easily formable, won't scratch the camera, and quite stable. And they don't announce "Here's a camera!" like even a small tripod does.

    One can set up the camera, frame, and then just wait for the right moment to inconspicuously reach and trigger the XA's extraordinarily quiet shutter. The vast majority of the time no one realizes you just made a photograph.

    Ken
     
  4. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    There's always the trick of an earlier era: use IR film and put an IR filter on the flash. I have no idea whether the XA's exposure system would cope with it, but it seems worth a try...

    -NT
     
  5. mhcfires

    mhcfires Subscriber

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    Many years ago, I used IR film with IR flash bulbs. I think the bulbs were type 5R. You could set one off and no one was the wiser. I used to use this stuff at college parties. Lots of fun, very interesting, I'm not sure what ever happened to those negatives, this was in the early 1960's. I used a cheap little rangefinder camera and a small flash holder. Can't remember what they were. It can be done, it is a very interesting effect. Not sure that the IR bulbs are made anymore.
     
  6. Chan Tran

    Chan Tran Member

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    You could possibly photograph in low light. But if there is no light then there is no photograph. The word photo in photograph implies there must be light.
     
  7. IloveTLRs

    IloveTLRs Member

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    Are you dead set with the XA? How about a Canonet? They're not that much bigger, have f1.7 lenses and can go above ISO 800.
     
  8. Darkroom317

    Darkroom317 Member

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    I don't think the meter on a Canonet goes higher than 800. Does the XA have a manual override so that the OP could push the film a couple of stops.
     
  9. Emil

    Emil Member

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    I'll take any excuse to get another camera! I don't really need the meter in these situations, but the XA has no option for manual control. Have you used one of these Canonets in low light situations?

    About the IR-idea - I have heard of people using an IR filter on the flash, but never actually seen any images. If anyone has first hand experience with this, with films available today, what kind of results do you get? a while back I tried with some Efke IR film and an IR filter on the lens and 2 flashes (no filter) as an experiment and got nothing on the negatives.
     
  10. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I've seen photos by Weegee using what he called "Invisible Light"---I've been told this referred to IR or near-IR, so that the flash could be used without disturbing or alerting the subjects. They have what I'd call a "slight IR" look---a tendency to light skin tones and deep black eyesockets.

    I don't know what the film would have been---when was HIE introduced---but in googling to see if I could find out, I turned up this: http://tinyurl.com/28rhh27 (expands to a long URL at books.google.com). It's a 1956 article in _Popular Mechanics_ in which Weegee reveals some of his "tricks", including the "invisible light" IR flash (shown mounted on a Nikon rangefinder rather than his famous Speed Graphic, which I guess makes sense if you're trying not to alert your subjects).

    -NT
     
  11. pgomena

    pgomena Member

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    The XA has a backlight compensation switch on the bottom of the camera that will increase exposure by 1.5 stops. That doesn't help the motion problem, though. If you want less blur, you will need a faster lens or a flash. No way around that.

    Put some Ilford or Kodak 3200 film in the camera and fire away. Both those films have true speeds of about 800 anyway. Just because the film setting doesn't go beyond 800 doesn't mean you can't put faster film in there. The XA was made before DX bar coding was used, so it does not read the "instructions." These are amazing little cameras for pulling good exposures out of poor lighting.

    Peter Gomena
     
  12. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    You can easily focus in almost zero light by scale focusing, but unfortunately the [original] xa has no distance markings. I have an xa2 with which you could zone focus, but... scale focusing would be the way to go and has been used for a long time in available light shooting.

    You can pick up a yashica electro 35 with a fast lens for next to nothing and scale focus with that.

    You can of course shoot fuji 800z at 1600 or so; I'd develop for 3200 if you rate it at 1600. You can also push provia 400x to 1600 and beyond, look over at rangefinderforum.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 10, 2010
  13. wclark5179

    wclark5179 Member

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    Low light photography can be challenging, especially with film.

    The other method of capture offers some cameras with capacity to have high ISO settings.
    Here is a snapshot I made of my wife holding our youngest grand daughter with a small incandescent lamp on the table at camera left. Lots of neat stuff can now be made with low available light.

    http://picasaweb.google.com/wclark5...aelCharlotteClaireRothman#5464277351293473394
     
  14. Worker 11811

    Worker 11811 Member

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    If anybody has a Ouja board they could try to use it to channel Stanley Kubrick. He shot several scenes in the movie "Barry Lyndon" entirely by candle light. But, then, again, he used an ƒ-0.7 lens designed by NASA to do it! :wink:
     
  15. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    IME, forget about meters. Shoot wide open, at the slowest possible hand holdable shutter speed, and you'll be fine. In-camera meters stink anyhow, but especially in extremely dark or extremely light and/or extremely contrasty light.

    A faster lens will help. F/2.8 is pushing it for being usable when shooting very low light work with film. IME, rangefinders are also difficult in low light (slower and more inaccurate than an SLR), though many rangefinder users feel otherwise.

    A good place to start for hand-held low light work in bars, clubs, etc. would be a good-ol' 50mm f/1.4 on an SLR.

    The Canon AE-1 is one of my favorites for low light pix, because the "soft" electronic shutter button seems to fire the camera so smoothly, and perhaps because the camera is so light. When using this camera, I am very successful when shooting at '30, while with my F-1s and FTbs, I have some easily visible camera shake probably half the time at '30. I have about as much success with the AE-1 at '15 as I do with the pro bodies at '30. Not bad.

    Then, there is pushing your film. You can overdevelop any film to increase contrast. It won't give you shadow detail, but that is usually pretty boring stuff in low-light situations anyhow, if you ask me.

    You are probably better off not pushing if shooting in very high contrast light, however, as all it will do is block up your highest tones. You'll lose colors of lights, most notably.

    So, fast film, fast lens, development tweaks (combined with paying attention to he contrast in which you shot, so you know whether or not pushing will help you), and a steady and smooth SLR are my suggestions.
     
  16. richard ide

    richard ide Member

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    One thing you could try is flashing your film with a second exposure to give you an overall density of .05 - .10. It is really amazing how much detail will show up in the negative. Then make a print on VC paper with a low contrast filter. Easier to do with sheet film but works with roll film in the darkroom if you can't do it in the camera.
     
  17. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    " How do you photograph without light, with great difficulty :tongue:
     
  18. Mike Wilde

    Mike Wilde Member

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    Regrettably, the wratten filters for IR (and wratten in general) have gotten really pricey.

    I have a (getting brittle 25 year old) wratten 89 that I have used over a 283 etc. flash head.

    It can be fired bounced off the ceiling, because it does emit a visible dull glow if pointed straight at the subject.

    It works great with HIE, and ok with SFX to take photos 'in the dark' SLR, and f 5.6 or so and zone focus with a wide angle lens.

    Such an approach could work as 'open flash' with an XA. Set the camera steady, and fire the camera with the lens at f/4 or f/5.6, and fire the flash while the shutter is open for the 10 seconds or so that the camera is trying to gather enough ambient light.

    A deep red, like 29 filter could even be tried with conventional films.
     
  19. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    I used to photograph in jazz clubs which had practically no light with a Leica and an f2 lens. Hand held at around 1/10 second. No flash, no noise, no interruption for the activity. In these cases I was not worried about shadow detail as the only important parts were the highlights - faces, horns, etc. These gave a much better feel of the club than a fully lit image would have done.
    Set you camera wide open, as slow a shutter speed as possible, brace your elbows against your body or the bar and fire way. You may be very happy with the results.
     
  20. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    I'll just basically second what has been said. I think your camera just isn't suitable. 2.8 is slow in my spoiled world of fast 35mm. An f/2.8 XA with 800 is 4 stops slower than f/1.4 @ 3200. That's huge.

    Wait a tick.... has no one posted this??...

    "Infrared Flash with an XA2" - http://www.kpraslowicz.com/gallery/infrared-flash-photography/