how to select an night cityscape exposure?
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.
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.
Shoot it on 35mm, with bracketing, the week before .
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.
“Photography is a complex and fluid medium, and its many factors are not applied in simple sequence. Rather, the process may be likened to the art of the juggler in keeping many balls in the air at one time!”
Ansel Adams, from the introduction to The Negative - The New Ansel Adams Photography Series / Book 2
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.
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.
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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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
If you are the big tree, we are the small axe