Night sky shooting info, overwhelm!

Discussion in 'B&W: Film, Paper, Chemistry' started by peter k., Apr 28, 2013.

  1. peter k.

    peter k. Subscriber

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    Going to Lost Dutchman State park later this week, and suddenly got the concept of shooting the night sky, in b&w. I can use Arista EDU Ultra 400 (Foma 400) sheet film, or medium format TriX 400.

    Never having done this before I Goggled, and there is a wealth of information on the net, but most of what I checked seems to concern itself with digital and color. Its just overwhelming all the info. Can't go through all of it.

    Can anyone point me to a more specific site, that better suits the need simply, with perhaps information on these two particular b&w films in doing long exposures, and what to be aware of and watch out for.

    Having not shot much of the Ultra (Foma) film, I have learned, that it's best to shoot it at 200. Its the fastest sheet film I have right now, and realize for this endevour, one usually uses much faster film or pushes the film in use.

    This is more of an experiment in learning, to see if I want to get into this type of shooting in for the future and what it may entail.
    Thanks for any tips or hints.
     
  2. Kevin Caulfield

    Kevin Caulfield Subscriber

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    You don't really need a fast film for night sky photography. Usually the exposure times are quite long anyway, often several hours or so. You will get much nicer detail in star trails from a slower, finer grained film.
     
  3. whowantstoast

    whowantstoast Member

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    Agree with the advice to use slower film if it's star trails you're after.
     
  4. eddie

    eddie Subscriber

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  5. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    And a lot of information on Google is hearsay!

    I wouldn't really bother with B&W film for star trails/night sky photography. It may look just a vast mass of twinkling stars, but if you do the task in colour you will see stars of many different colours from orange, to red, blue, white, yellow and the occasional green, and maybe even satellites. The Milky Way is also quite colourful; all this would be lost on B&W.

    Any film can be used. 50, 64, 100. Certainly not 400 unless you want a short exposure of around 45 seconds (no star trails). Tungsten film can be used too for a striking blue rendition (my own choice is Provia 100F).

    Short "morse code" star trails result from an exposure of 1 hour at shallow aperatures (e.g. f4.5-f5.6). Longer trails will be obtained over 2 hours or more at aperatures of f8 while the most star trails, and greatest depth will be obtained over long exposures of say 6 hours, no greater than f8. Use a camera that is all manual/mechanical. No metering necessary. Just wait until it's dark, aim to the north celestial pole (that's for northern hemisphere folks; the photo below is aimed at the south celestial pole.).

    New Moon nights are best, but you can also get quite good images with a light crescent moon (but not in the frame as it will record as a blur). A sliver of crescent moon will cast a glow over the landscape which can be quite other-worldly.

    A strong foreground or mid-range feature is usually essential for star trails to add interest and scale. Trees, rocks, buildings, waterfalls (these will record as a solid silvery blur) etc can all be silhouetted against the night sky and enlivened by judicious use of a spot-light torch (the photo below has been illuminated inside with lanterans, and outside by car headlights for 30 seconds toward the end of the exposure), etc. Only your imagination limits you. :smile:

    A few cameras can be fitted with a data back that allows intervalometric photography*: you program in the self timer delay, the exposure in hours/minutes/seconds, number of frames and whether the sequence is repeated after a 2 hour break (by which time stars will be in a different position). Even double exposures can be quite striking and are well worth experimenting with.

    It's best to camp out rather than hang around and get impatient for a trip back home in the dark. I always make a good night of it, keeping busy until it's too dark to see.

    And finally, keep notes of what you are doing so you can refer to these when you get the results back.


    1-old hotel on Silverton outskirts.jpg
    Outback night skies,
    Silverton, New South Wales,
    Australia.


    ___________________________________________________
    * I have such a back fitted to my EOS 1N; I find a position in the bush nearby where I am camping, out of the range of campfire and torchlight,
    set up the exposure and head back to camp. In the morning everything is done and dusted.
     
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  6. MartinP

    MartinP Member

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    If you have the choice of those two films/formats then pick 120 Tri-X. The reciprocity problems are much less with Tri-X and with rollfilm you can more easily make multiple variations of exposure, field-of-view and so on. It is also possible to light the foreground with a flash or torch to give a mixed lighting effect, similar to what P-de-J did above around the building.

    The tiny dots of the stars are visibly elongated after only a short time - the Earth is rotating at one degree every four minutes after all. Most likely you would be looking for a more dramatic effect of course, so a much longer exposure would be better. The stars are bright, so any long exposure will effectively be over exposure, but that doesn't matter as (with a normal lens) they are far too small on the film to show any surface details anyway. If the ground is completely dark and there is minimal town-glare then choose the exposure based on how long you want your star-trails to appear.

    The moon is a sunlit landscape, so will be overexposed very easily if you have it in shot. In general, it might be good to be generous with the exposure and reduce development in order to try to keep the neg more printable, regarding the contrast, especially if you have any ground or horizon detail in the shot.
     
  7. Arcturus

    Arcturus Member

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  8. peter k.

    peter k. Subscriber

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    Oh my... thank you all... this is just the info I was hoping for, and becoming quite excited.

    Of note: Have three formats.. 35mm Nikon, RB67 medium format, and 3x4 Speed... all classic manual cameras, and going to use all three. ;-) Why not! Got two tripods, and will have to dig out the thing a jig, were ever it may be, that you can attach to something and holds the camera. Just loaded one of the backs of the RB with Provia 100f yesterday.. (the other back has the TRiX), so will give that a go. Got Velvia 50 in one of Nikon backs, and Protra in the udder. Can shoot 25 or 100, rather than the 400 in the Speed. And,,, were camping at a very, desert, picturesque place, that is to the east of Phoenix Az. So should have clear skies to east and north, with the glow of Phoenix acting like a 'new moon' ... or more, to the west where that source usually first rises, but alas will be missing in action as we are camping out for three nights starting this coming Thursday.
    WOW!!! Its gonna be a new photographic experience.
     
  9. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    PDJ: that shot is incredible. Wowzers. This is a great thread. I've been wanting to experiment with similar things. Thanks for the info
     
  10. Early Riser

    Early Riser Subscriber

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    PDJ, the original poster, Peter K, specifically stated he had a concept of shooting the night sky in B&W. Instead of assisting him with that you dismiss his request and impose your own views on color versus B&W photography. Night photography in B&W is just as valid as it's color version. It 's just that it is far more reliant on having interesting subject matter, lighting and composition and not just relying on pretty colors for it's visual interest. Michael Kenna and APUG's Bill Schwab are clear examples of the merits of B&W at night.


    Peter, you're better off using Fuji Acros 100 as it has almost no reciprocity failure. The 400 speed films usually end up losing a great deal of their sensitivity due to reciprocity failure so you end up with an ISO 100 film or slower anyway but also lower resolution and larger grain. As you have the option to shoot MF or LF, I'd start with MF as it easier to work with at night and gain experience.

    Shooting during a new moon will give you the best star quality but little in the way of available light to distinguish the scenery. You can sometimes use supplemental lighting if your subject is accessible but unless you know something about lighting I find that in most cases the type of lighting used looks theatrical and very unnatural.

    Shooting during a fullish moon will give you low contrast in the sky and will make the scene look like daylight. I find I get the best compromise around quarter moons. They can provide light that gives the landscape a natural yet night time look, while providing detail. There are also two of those a month versus only one full or new Moon. I also use a very powerful hand held flash light to light paint, but be aware of your position when doing that. You do not want to do that from the camera position as it tends to flare the light around the camera if there are any particles in the air and looks flat as well. I will walk several hundred feet away from the camera and light paint the scene from the direction of the moon, or add some fill from the other direction.

    You have to be very aware of city lights, car headlights and other forms of available light in your scenes. Altitude has a great effect, the higher you are the clearer the skies. Shooting east means the sky will be darker sooner in the early evening, shooting west means you'll have to wait until the sky darkens more.

    Also it helps if you are aware of the star locations and movements when you compose. In the northern hemisphere facing north, the stars rotate counter clockwise and you will see the center point of them. As you go east, stars rise, or west, stars set, the star trails get longer and appear less spherical compared to those closer to the north, they meet the horizon almost vertically at the due east and due west points depending on your latitude. When facing south, you will not see the epicenter of the stars as the Earth's horizon blocks it, so the stars will form an arc over the southern sky. There is cell phone and tablet software, such as SKyWalk for iPad that makes this far easier to predict.

    You will also need a sturdy tripod, I weigh mine down with sandbags so that any breezes do not shake the camera. Depending on how bright the sky is, amount of moon, a good staring point on exposure with Acros 100 is f8 at about 15- 20 minutes. Darker skies means you can go longer without fading the stars into a lighter background, brighter skies means you need a shorter exposure. The aperture is what matters most for the actual exposure of the stars.
     
  11. Dinesh

    Dinesh Subscriber

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    But Brian, he has so many cameras and stuff!
     
  12. grantlyd

    grantlyd Member

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    Film Choice

    Does anyone know exactly how to calculate the exposure time, taking into account reciprocity failure? For example, say I happen to have Ilford Pan F, ISO 50. I determine that my exposure time should be 30 second with out factoring in reciprocity. When I look at the Ilford fact sheet reciprocity chart (here) it shows that I actually need to expose for 150 second.

    This seems like it could be fine for the work that I want to do--mainly night scenes near city lights.

    If I wanted to do as the OP is suggesting, should I just choose a better film with less (lower?) reciprocity failure, or should is there a way to calculate it?

    I have never done an exposure longer than say 2 or 4 seconds, so forgive me for any naivete.

    Thanks!
    Grant
     
  13. Poisson Du Jour

    Poisson Du Jour Member

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    LOL! I deal with people getting hyper-excited about this subject just about every waking hour. And it's not even my staple fodder!

    Peter, 35mm will do fine for star trails, and the RB67 will give a much bigger image with more detail; the Speed, ditto. You are spoilt for choices. I'm sure it will occur to you with two tripods and two cameras of different formats to go for it with both of them and come away beaming! And camping — that's the best way to go. Don't be too concerned about overly theoretical distractions like reciprocity failure. Short exposures of static stars are fine; let the film literally go feral over several hours while you pursue other things around camp. I hope you have fun and look forward to learning how you go. After all, Phoenix AZ (in some ways I think it is similar to the parched outback of Australia) is on my itinerary in 2015 (whipping tour of the heavy-hitter national parks). :smile:
     
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  15. Michael R 1974

    Michael R 1974 Subscriber

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    Tough question. Unfortunately no exact answer that I know of. The problem with the Ilford chart is it is generic (ie they use the same chart for most if not all the films) and somewhat out of date. Howard Bond did some helpful testing around 10 years ago with sheet film but Pan F+ was not one of the Ilford films tested. There are also various equations around - but again these are generic, not film specific. I know of no other graphs or charts based on hard data, although there is a lot of anecdotal flim flam out there if you're interested :smile:

    I would say use the Ilford chart as a starting point (it will likely overcompensate) and do a few experiments. Also, luckily, Howard Bond's tests showed that contrast increases with long exposures are not as pronounced as they once might have been, so that's kind of helpful particularly if you overcompensate.

    As for using a different film, you will have the same problem, but there are a few generalizations that can be made: 1) tabular grain films such as Ilford Delta and Kodak TMax need less reciprocity compensation than "conventional" films like Pan F+, FP4+, Tri-X, HP5+ etc (although the current versions of these films need less compensation than earlier incarnations). Fuji Acros (another tabular grain film), which was mentioned by Early Riser, is a special case in that it needs virtually no reciprocity compensation for exposures up to two minutes, and much less compensation than other films for exposures longer than that. 2) slower films like Pan F+ will tend to be trickier to use in night/low light photography because these tend to be high contrast shooting situations and slow films like Pan F+ usually have higher contrast and/or a shorter scale than most medium speed or high speed films.

    Basically, if you're getting into night shooting, you'll have some experimentation to do, and it will take some practice. Most of my photography is done at night or under other low light indoor/outdoor conditions, often involving very high contrast subjects/lighting (night scenes with light sources like lightbulbs, street lamps etc in the frame). It takes practice, regardless of which film. I've used mostly TMX/TMY and Ilford Delta 100 for this work (I did some extensive testing of Acros but in the end went back to Ilford). These are just my personal preferences though.

    One more thing - don't make the mistake of assuming a film needing less reciprocity compensation is a "better" film. It doesn't work that way at all.
     
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  16. Nightfly

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  17. grantlyd

    grantlyd Member

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    Thank you Michael R, this is very helpful. I usually shoot Delta 100 or 400, so it will be interesting to try that out vs the Pan F. I want to try the Acros, though I have never shot it before under any situation.
     
  18. Lee L

    Lee L Member

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    The last reliable test data I have for Pan F Plus is from over a decade ago, taken from Robert Reeves' book on wide field astrophotography. He got a Schwarzschild factor of 0.76 for the film in testing.

    I'll attach a .pdf chart of the adjusted exposure times for metered times out to 16 minutes, which you can use as a starting point. These are calculated with the standard Covington modified Schwarzchild formula, which you can find in several other posts on APUG.

    Lee

    P.S. Came back and added a graph of Reeves' findings for Pan F Plus in case you like that kind of thing. Both axes logarithmic.

     

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  19. peter k.

    peter k. Subscriber

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    UPDATE:-
    Ok for what its worth... first night was very windy, so set up most sturdy tripod with weights.
    Exposed three shots... Since they where single shots, have only developed the two longest ones.. of over 2 hours each, at f5.6...
    Ha... both negatives clear as a whistle.. no image, ... yes, I took the dark slide out... (in fact put it under the water bottle to keep it from being blown away)
    Doesn't make sense, two hours +.. heard the shutter click open, when I pressed on the cable release, and it locked the shutter open, and yes, heard it close when I released it later.
    The first of the three negatives, which I did not develop, was exposed only for 14min, as suddenly behind me, hear a helicopter coming. Someone east of the Superstitions, must have needed help.. for you could see it near the horizon, way out there, with its lights flashing. So since it was early, 9:00pm+ went to bed and got up an hour later and started the second shot of the three.

    Whats interesting, I'm not disappointed.
    I'm going to try again, on another camping trip, into northern New Mexico, later this month. ;-)
     
  20. peter k.

    peter k. Subscriber

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    Oh.. forgot to add... a storm front came in from the north, that's what all the wind was about, and brought clouds the next two nights, so no night sky to try on. :-(
     
  21. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    That's how it always goes. I once believed that the Mamiya 7 glass brought in storms, because everytime I take it out I get crap weather.

    What camera are you shooting again?
     
  22. peter k.

    peter k. Subscriber

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    Well, I have all three formats... 35mm old manual Nikons, brought down two backs, one with velvia 50 in it the other portra. Then a new, for me RB67, MF... with two backs.. Provia 100, and TrX 400, and last not least, a '46', (orphan) 3x4 Anniversary Speed, that I used that night, with Efke 100 in it.

    I love the three formats, the 35mm with a macro lens on it for flowers, (also have standard 50mm, and 80-200) the MF which is becoming a mainstay, for landscapes and anything else, and the Speed for B&W.

    Ain't life grand.. ;-)
    All manual, the Nikons backs do have good meters in them, the rest get an 'ole but goody, Weston Ranger 9 light meter, that I modified to take modern batteries, for a reading when necessary

    So what's a little darkness, or light within it, that didn't get exposed correctly. Sounds like photography. ;-)
    Will do it again.

    Soooooooo ya mentioned earlier in this thread
    Your close to Bandelier, that faces north doesn't it? Ha a new moon will be rising soon to but some shadows on the ruins, and with the sky above... hmmm...

    You just made me an idea, maybe will make that our first stop. ;-)
     
  23. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    The only problem with Bandelier is that they are recessed deep in canyons. Some of the more interesting spots would be Abo and the other Salinas ruins. Those would do well in the foreground. The Chaco outliers are good for that too. When are you heading out this way?
     
  24. Early Riser

    Early Riser Subscriber

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    Something doesn't sound right.

    What film were you using? Color or B&W? Did you process the film yourself? Were stars visible?

     
  25. peter k.

    peter k. Subscriber

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    B&W Efke 100 in the 3x4 '46' Anniversary Speed Graphic, with a 135mm lens, that is well proven.

    Although I never set a T shot before with it. But earlier in day light, I made sure the shutter was opening correctly and closing, in this position with the cable release.
    Also, although its was windy, before I tried the third shot, made sure the camera had not been jostled, by viewing through the view finder.
    My thoughts, although there where stars out, with the wind, and being on the east side of Phoenix, there might have been more dust in the air than realized, and that could have been the contributing factor, with the glow of Phoenix to the west, milking out the contrast of the starts and the night. Having looked at a star studded sky's before, the milky way, and the fainter stars, where just not as much pronounced. But I was there and wanted to give it a try.

    Processed the film myself.. in 1:1 D76 for 9 and a half minutes.
    Unlike MF or 35 mm film, there are no, what I call 'tell tales', on sheet film.
    The film and number ect... but on this particular set of film backs, there are notches, in the side slide area, that when exposed, show you which shot it was. These also did not show. So its as if there just was not enough light, to expose at f5.6.
    As I related, I heard the shutter open, and heard it close two plus hours later.
    As I also understand, a fully clear negative, indicates, that the film was not exposed.
    When I try it again, hopefully, it will not be so windy, and I can try to set ups, with say the speed and the RB67, using B&W in both, for the first efforts.
     
  26. Klainmeister

    Klainmeister Member

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    If I recall correctly, Efke 100 has poor reciprocity characteristics. Somewhere in the range of 5m = 90m or crazy like that. That might be the problem. I'd try some Ilford and Fuji first (fuji being the best, but most expensive and only in 4x5)