how to select an night cityscape exposure?

Discussion in 'Exposure Discussion' started by stradibarrius, Feb 27, 2011.

  1. stradibarrius

    stradibarrius Member

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    How do you select the correct exposure for a nighttime cityscape shot.
    A shot of a downtown city from a bridge etc.?
    I would be using a 4x5 if that makes any difference.
     
  2. M.A.Longmore

    M.A.Longmore Subscriber

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    .
    Hopefully, if you have your tripod set up on the bridge
    there won't be any traffic. Which could cause the camera
    to vibrate slightly resulting in a wee bit o' fuzziness.
    .
     
  3. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    Shoot it on 35mm, with bracketing, the week before :smile:.

    On a slightly more serious bent, experience gained with this issue in smaller formats can only help.

    It is difficult to meter these scenes effectively. Experience may be your most important tool for this.

    If you are shooting near dusk or dawn, a reading of the sky, adjusted for the tone you want, may be the most useful.

    There are "exposure calculators" out there which are essentially lists of the exposures for different types of scenes that many have found helpful.

    If you shoot digital as well, it can be useful to take digital shots at the same settings you are using for your film shots. Then, when you determine what the best film exposure was, you can compare it with the digital exposure at the same settings, to get an idea how the digital camera can be used as a meter in these sorts of situations.
     
  4. Gaga

    Gaga Member

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    Light meters for the most part don't work at night. Although if you can get a reading from yours. You'll have to check the reciprocal values for the film you're using. You can google them. It should come up with what the meter reads and then the value you multiply by and then the corrected exposure.
    A lot of the time when you shoot at night. It requires a lot of experimentation. Make sure you take something to record your exposures with.
    As someone as already pointed out, shoot it with 35mm before hand, using the same film you intend to use on the night.
    Check out The Nocturnes

    Hope this helps.
     
  5. jerry lebens

    jerry lebens Member

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    At risk of being contentious, I'd perform some preliminary tests with a digital camera, make adjustments for reciprocity and then bracket three or four exposures on 5x4.

    If I had the time, and knew the weather was going to be consistent, I'd do some tests on 35mm or MF between the digital and the 5x4.

    Otherwise, try to get hold of one of the old "Kodak Data Guides for Professionals". They used to be printed in a letterbox format and were full of useful info - such as exposure guides for unusual situations. I've not referred to mine recently and I can't find it, but when I was shooting lots of film it was always a good starting point.

    Regards
    Jerry
     
  6. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    As noted by an earlier poster, light meters can have difficulty especially reading shadows to set the exposure, but I have had success in shooting night scenes of cities by turning the zone system on its head. There is often enough light to spot meter important highlights, so I take a reading of these, place this reading on Zone VII or VIII, and let the shadows look after themselves. Some shadow areas will print black, and some highlights like streetlights may be paper white, but after all, it is a night scene and I think that inky black shadows and blown specular highlights are acceptable. It is surprising, though, how much detail is printable. Just don't forget about reciprocity failure or use a film like Acros that is not significantly affected by reciprocity failure.
     
  7. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Digital cameras make BAD exposure meters for film cameras, triply so for night exposures as digital doesn't experience reciprocity the way film does. As mentioned, first find the reciprocity charts for the film(s) you are using. Then if you have a spot meter, meter the same way you would for a daytime exposure- pick a spot that you want to render middle gray in the final print, and meter off of it. Use that as your base setting, then adjust for reciprocity. When in doubt, if you can't find a reciprocity chart, 1-10 seconds on the meter= +1 stop. 10-30 seconds, add two stops. Beyond 30 seconds, add three. When developing your film, remember to compensate in reverse - your highlights will be proportionately blown out to the degree that you adjusted for reciprocity, so for each additional stop you gave, cut development by 10% or you'll be guaranteed to have highlights completely resistant to burning in or inky blobs for shadows and midtones, and exposure times for each print into the range of reciprocity failure for your paper (and that's an achievement!).
     
  8. Konical

    Konical Subscriber

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    Good Morning, Barry,

    One sheet of film can provide lots of information. Do a test shot in the same manner you would make an exposure test when printing, that is, a stepped exposure. When you pull the dark slide, don't completely remove it; leave a half or three-quarter-inch portion in the holder. It's easy to mark the slide so that it is far enough out for exposure of the whole sheet of film but still in the holder. Make one exposure, then push the dark slide in an inch or so; make a second exposure and push the slide in another inch; then repeat a third and fourth time. Yes, it's probably impossible to do this without a tiny bit of camera movement from one exposure to the next, but with a solidly locked-up tripod, it shouldn't be a problem. You're only doing a test, after all, so slight movement won't affect the usability of the results very much. Process the sheet, preferably using a very soft-working developer. I'd start with T-Max 100 or Acros at an exposure of 20-30 seconds at ƒ16, with subsequent exposures adding about the same amount of time each. Keep notes! If you're doing a twilight shot, for example, note the time after local sunset. When you return for the "keeper" shots, you can always make minor adjustments for slightly different conditions. When I do night exposures, I usually shoot four sheets (because that's the way I process and contact) with slightly different exposures centered on whatever I think is the "correct" exposure.

    I agree with the previous comments about the limited usefulness of a light meter; experience and note-taking are more than adequate. Fortunately too, the eye and brain seem to make generous allowances for varying renditions of night scenes.

    Konical
     
  9. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    One nice thing about night shots is that once you have your exposure figured out, unless your scene has a LOT of artifical light or very little, the exposure settings don't change for the rest of the shoot, unless you start before true night or keep shooting until sunrise.
     
  10. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Underexposure will be easy to commit, overexposure will be nearly impossible (in the shadows especially). That being said, give it hell and hold back the burnt out lights when printing.
     
  11. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    I think you mean burn in the blown out highlights, don't you?

    Actually, I am always confused over whether to say "blown out" or blocked up." My peabrain logic tells me that highlights get blocked up in the negative and blown out when it is printed.
     
  12. Marco B

    Marco B Member

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    Can't agree more regarding building experience and the fact that exposures at night time can be surprisingly constant. Actually, this is less of a surprise if you take into account that most citylights in a town are of the same type and of course use similar bulbs or tubes with about similar light output. It's one big studio out there in some towns!

    Since I have done a lot of night time photography, here are some indications of what you may expect in night time scenes:

    Light meter set at EI 320, film Kodak TriX400 or Ilford HP5:

    - EV 2-3 for darkest shadows (Zone I-II), general readings on concrete or brick walls with some light on it in the range of EV4-8, and lamps themselves EV12-14.

    - Most of my correct night exposures, including reciprocity correction, turn out to be around 15 seconds - 30 seconds or 1 minute at F8. Very well illuminated in town maybe 4-8 seconds at the same aperture.

    - If you want to do a pull development to tame contrast, you may wish to overexpose to retain shadow detail. So instead of 15 seconds, maybe 30 or 1 minute. A pull development means shortening the development time. Taking 40% off the regular time isn't strange at night, just be sure you give plenty of exposure to maintain shadow detail.

    - If you are going to do 4x5, you will generally wish something more than F8, more likely F11, F16, F22 minimum. My reciprocity corrected exposures generally turn out to be something like 2, 5 or 10 minutes. Of course, stopping down significantly (F45), will put you down for much longer times... You may wish to consider Kodak TMax 400, which has one of the best reciprocity characteristics, combined with relative high ISO at 400. I have shot TMax 400 in an F256 pinhole at night, and gotten good results with exposure times generally around 20-45 minutes, on HP5, I would have had to wait for 3-5 hours!!! :confused:

    Here are some actual examples with exposure info to give you an idea:

    Kodak TriX 400, F8, 30 seconds exposure, pull development -35% of development time:
    Printed on Kentmere Fineprint VC Glossy, sepia toned. Printed at grade 1 with 20 seconds exposure, with an additional pre-flash of the paper at grade 2 to tame overall contrast. Only the bright lamp head required additional burning in: 40 seconds at grade 1 and an additional 40 seconds at grade 3.

    [​IMG]

    Kodak TMax 400 in 4x5, 4x5 LF Zero Image F256 pinhole, 45 minutes exposure:
    Printed on Ilford Multigrade RC Warmtone, selenium toned.

    [​IMG]

    Marco
     
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  13. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I just try to get a reading off of whatever I can, then guess how far away from that all the other stuff is. Exposure charts made by others and bracketing are good to try as well. I suggest Fuji Acros for its outstanding reciprocity maintenance. Try it with PMK pyro to give you some automatic highlight masking. Don't be afraid of some overexposure, but don't count on gross overexposure to give you good negs either, especially with PMK, which tends to flatten everything above a certain tone.

    Another suggestion I would make is to use as wide an aperture as you can given D of F considerations and optical performance. It is the best way to get more detail in the darkest areas. Some things are just so dark that if you are stopped down a bit, you will not allow the minimum amount of light necessary to cause any exposure through the lens. You would get absolutely nothing on the film even if you left the shutter open all night. If you want the starburst effect on the lights that you get at tiny apertures, simply stop down the lens at the end of the exposure to just expose the lights.
     
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  14. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Potato, potato. I think you're right though, the negative gets block up while the print will be blown out. But either way, I don't subscribe to one school of language. We're humans, we're adaptable.. figure it out!

    :wink:
     
  15. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Holmburgers- the quibble should be over the term "hold back the burnt out lights". If the highlights in the negative are blocked up, meaning there is so much density in the negative that they print paper white, then you want to burn in the highlights when printing, not hold back. If they're REALLY blocked up, and not just by a stop or two, then pre-flashing the paper would be a good idea to put a little base exposure into the highlights so that they print easier. There are some really good threads here on APUG for how to do this, just search around.
     
  16. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Tomato, tomato... no, but seriously, I see the confusion now.

    In terms of the final print, the lights are overexposed (one could say burnt out) and indeed you wouldn't literally "hold back" while printing with a negative/positive scheme. However, if you consider my phrase just in terms of a final print, you want to make the lights appear less bright than they are, considering the exposure you've given them, so to "hold them back" could make sense.

    But you're right... I said it very weirdly, especially to any analog printer.
     
  17. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    Well, actually, if you're talking about the PRINT, the lights in the print are underexposed, because they lack detail. In the negative, they're overexposed. To reduce the brightness in the print you need to ADD exposure one way or another, so you would not "hold back". Now, if you were dealing with a transparency or a print from a transparency, your terminology would be spot on the money, because you would want to withhold exposure from the highlights to keep them from blowing out - when exposing a transparency, you're better off underexposing rather than over-exposing, because instead of building density with exposure, they destroy density with exposure. Same with making an Ilfochrome print - the longer you burn in, the more density you remove from the print. It all makes a lot more sense when you've actually done these processes - if you're used to doing either one of them, the other one seems counter-intuitive.
     
  18. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Ok, not to drag this out anymore than necessary... Perhaps instead of the print, I should've said scene. If you think about the original scene, and if your eye is adjusted to see into the shadows, then the lights will be too bright.

    Bright = light = heat = fire = burnt out. (granted, burning creates char, which is black....ay yay yay).

    When you wear sunglasses, are you not "holding back" the light?

    My words made it unclear whether or not I understood the basic functions of printing, but I assure you I do.

    I speak colloquially I guess, and I think that anyone looking at the scene with me, would agree that the highlights need to be "held back" in order to balance them with the shadows.

    *curtain*
     
  19. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    To hold back means to lighten something on the image, i.e. to dodge. The term is really in reference to what you are doing with the light from the enlarger, not to tonality directly. In other words, you are holding back ("blocking," more literally) light from the enlarger from reaching the paper. For example, "I think that your over all exposure and the filter you are using are perfect; you just need to hold back the shadows a bit on your next try."

    For highlights, you might say "pull down," "rein in," "burn in," "darken," etc.
     
  20. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    This has become totally semantic. I know what the "accepted" terms are. The point is, if you don't assume that I'm mistaken (in my initial statement), it's quite easy to understand what I meant if you step out the darkroom mentality for a moment.

    But alas, since this is the internet, it's hard to know if people are using words strangely or are mistaken so I can't blame anyone for making an assumption.

    To say that "pull down" & "rein in" mean the opposite of "hold back" just goes to show you how tenuous and knife-edged these distinctions are. They aren't superior or more accurate, they're just tradition.
     
  21. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    But the term "hold back" refers specifically to physically holding back light from the enlarger from hitting the paper, not aesthetically to tonality on the print.

    Semantics are very important, especially on the Internet. Of course everyone here talking about it knew what you meant; but it is still awkward at best to those who got what you meant, and potentially quite confusing to someone who is not conceptually sound in the basics of printing.

    So, we are not witch hunting you for using a phrase in a non-conventional way. We are just trying to clarify for other potential readers.
     
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  22. holmburgers

    holmburgers Member

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    Well, I agree to the awkward part, but now I'm just defending my ability to keep language fluid. (and I'm quitting smoking, so confrontation is therapeutic)

    "Holding back" could specifically refer to holding back the light of those highlights in the scene that were originally too bright.

    Potato, potato
    Tomato, tomato
    Let's call the whole thing off!

    (in good spirit)
     
  23. Dan Henderson

    Dan Henderson Member

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    it is so much fun to start an argument then stand back and watch...but I can't help jumping back in here!

    Holmburgers, what is the point of having a language if meaning can be "fluid?" If people can decide that the accepted opposite of a word is also correct, we lose the ability to communicate with one another, which is the purpose of a language.

    I guess you can decide to apply your own meanings to words or phrases, but you shouldn't get upset when others don't understand what you mean.
     
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  24. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    To me, if you'd said "pull back" it would have been clear. But "hold back" is used in a very specific way for printing.
    You could in some situations hold back the lights during exposure, by blocking that part of the image with an ND filter, or by blocking it with something opaque, which is then removed partway through. I've done it effectively with transparencies.
     
  25. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I agree that it could. But it doesn't here, the way it was stated:

    It could mean that if it was specified that you were talking about tonality, and not the physical act of blocking light from the enlarger, which is what "hold back" means when used alone in regards to printing.

    For instance, "You need to hold back the highlights from being blown out on the print."

    The term becomes "hold back from blowing out," so it makes sense. It is awkward, but at least someone listening/reading does not need to dig for or "be in on" an implied meaning.

    Or, in regards to film processing (though you said initially that your statement was in regards to printing), "With development alteration, you can hold back the density of the highlights."

    The term becomes "hold back density," so it makes sense.
     
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