By K. Graham Thomson
You fellows who have cameras can spend plenty of enjoyable and profitable evenings experimenting with night photography. It is largely an unexplored field of photography, so if you have a pretty good camera, some common sense, and a bit of imagination, you should be able to produce many unusual and cash-earning pictures.
While night shots can be taken with an ordinary box or small folding camera, the best results are obtainable with either a Press camera or a miniature camera. Night work calls for a wide-angle lens, with which these cameras are equipped; a Press focal-plane camera has a rising front, often useful for taking buildings or trees; and the miniature camera is so small and handy that you can take pictures in streets or indoors without people noticing, which is sometimes an advantage.
You need fast films for night work; a tripod is also essential except with a miniature camera, or when using a flashlight.
Then if you are going to take pictures while it is raining you will need a waterproof sheet about a yard square, to protect the camera from the wet.
Beautiful pictures may be secured in wet weather, especially in town streets ; the reflections from the roadway and the pavements produce marvelous effects, and a shower of rain can transform a dull scene into an intensely interesting and dramatic one. In the country, rain falling on walls, trees, or a river can add greatly to the effectiveness of the subject.
A thin mist also aids one to produce pictures of dramatic value. It adds "atmosphere" and beauty to many night pictures, which otherwise would be quite uninteresting.
The reflections caused by rain or mist, however, add life to a scene; they help to fill up the shadows, and add depth to the picture, making objects stand out much more clearly.
Winter is the best season of the year for night camera work-when the evenings are long. But it is cold work standing still while a long exposure is being made, so be sure that you go forth warmly dressed with warm boots.
Bare trees in winter often look very effective against a lighted building, like fine tracery on a massed background. Snow-laden branches are most picturesque, too, and the clear atmosphere of a frosty winter night helps much to produce clear pictures.
Fine pictures can be taken just at dusk when there is still a glow in the sky and the lights are being lit. A good skyline with lights dotted along it can give an effective camera study; and if there is sufficient daylight to give detail of buildings and clouds, you get wonderfully fine results. In such cases you need only a short exposure.
The question of the correct exposure for night subjects is not easy to decide, and you will have to learn by experience, taking a few pictures and making careful notes at the time of the length of exposure, and so on. Study of these afterwards will give you a guide for the future. Under-exposure means that the contrasts will be too steep ; over-exposure means that the picture will be too much like a daylight one.
Correct exposure will produce the fine, delicate rendering that makes a good picture.
The chief thing to remember when deciding on the exposure to give is the need to take the shadows as well as the lights and the lighted parts of the subject. If you can get the shadows right, your picture will truly record the mystery and the charm of a night scene. In a brightly-lit street there is usually so much reflected light that the shadow detail is almost sure to come out well; in a poorly-lighted subject you are bound to have trouble, so take care not to under-expose.
You need a camera with a very fast lens for taking street scenes with moving figures in them. See that figures do not pass directly across in front of the lens as you will get a blurred image of them on your picture.
A figure coming towards the camera should approach it at an angle of 45 degrees; with an exposure of one-fifteenth of a second the figure will show, adding action to the picture, without any movement to blur it. A miniature camera is best for this sort of picture.
A street scene must be studied carefully before selecting your position and your object. A mere mass of buildings or stretch of street with a row of street lamps like a string of beads is not really an artistic scene. It is better to choose a viewpoint with a monument or a bus in the foreground, and the street lamps in a line going away from you, showing the line of the street, not in a row across the picture.
A floodlit building with a statue in front of it is the type of successful picture to take in a town.
The masses of light and shade should be looked for, and help a lot in the composition of a night picture.
Unwanted lights behind or at the side of the camera should be cut out with some sort of screening held by a friend or two.
Look out, too, for the unusual angle ; modern buildings often make effective pictures if taken from the level of the floodlights. Older buildings generally look better taken from a high viewpoint ; a stand six feet high is enormously useful. On the other hand, you can get interesting results sometimes by tilting the camera upwards.
You can provide your own floodlighting by using car headlights, and these can help you to produce extraordinarily good pictures. With them you can take village churches, ruined castles, old inns, and similar buildings in remote country places, and many extremely effective camp scenes which could not otherwise be photographed. Either have the car driven up to the spot, or use a spare headlight mounted on a high tripod and carried to the place.
Fireworks displays can easily be photographed, and give you very interesting results. All you have to do is to open the shutter just before the fireworks are touched off, and close it again after they have finished. One rocket does not make much of a picture, but a bunch of them will give a splendid effect. You must take care, however, to stand far enough away to get the whole of the rockets' flight on to your plate or film ; the effect is spoiled if the top of their curve is cut off.
Lightning can be photographed in the same way as fireworks, by opening the shutter, waiting till the flash comes and goes, and closing the shutter. But don't just point the camera at the sky. Get a row of houses or a few trees into the picture too. The detail of trees or houses will be rendered on the negative while the shutter is open, and the exposure will be completed by the lightning flash.
You may like to try your hand at taking a church or a ruin by moonlight. It is interesting as an experiment, but a warm and cloudless night will be needed, as the exposure needed is so long-usually at least an hour-you can very well set your camera, open the shutter, and retire to a warm spot somewhere till the thing is done.
If you want to take outdoor pictures of wild life, make a hide during the day, creep silently into it at dusk, wait patiently until your subject appears, and use a flash bulb. You will be delighted with the results.
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Last modified: October 15, 2016.