28 February 2019 – And then …

Slightly longer than anticipated break between posts, unforeseen circumstances. We have been to visit another club, Portishead this time, and the club showed a good range of all abilities which gave a good idea of where the club is and what it tries to do. We look forward to their return visit in the near future.

This was followed by an evening on movement and blur, a practical and then a speaker, Richard Sercombe, all the way from Exeter and the ROC reactive Round. So quite a variety. In this blog, we shall be looking mainly at Richard’s contribution.

Richard brought a talk about low light photography and illustrated it with a variety of images accumulated from trips at home and abroad. Night time itself is not really the subject it is what’s in it that becomes the subject, be it places, buildings, people, animals, light trails, light painting or anything else.

Aside from the absence of light the material thing that changes with photographing in the wee small hours is the ambience, the feel, the emotional atmosphere, add in the joys of colour casts from various light sources and we have a whole new set of problems to solve.

But we don’t have to forego sleep in order to make the most of it, though empty streets have their lure (and also possibly their dangers – be aware, that kit is both expensive and portable and not necessarily by the lawful owner of said expensive kit). From the blue hour onwards provides ever-changing light and ever-changing challenges.

The basics of dealing with these challenges is no particular secret. It lies in the adaption of the camera settings to the conditions, or, in plainer English, we are still manipulating the exposure triangle just as we do every other time we take an exposure.

So we have ISO, shutter speed and lens aperture. Exposures get longer, ISO’s higher, apertures wider as the light fades. Essentially we adjust these to deal with the luminance in the scene we are seeking to capture in such a way as to get us the desired look.

As shutter speeds get lower then the probability of camera shake begins to be a factor. This is where VR or vibration reduction becomes the desired option. VR is basically a system that compensates for the shakes we introduce from being, which are always there but they are also at a lower frequency than we capture when pressing the shutter and thus do not appear. Essentially shutter speed is quicker than required to catch the movement.

So we break out the tripod, or use something steady we can rest the camera on that eliminates movement. There is a school of thought that says turn off the VR on the lens when it’s on a tripod. Certainly, this is probably the case with older lenses, but there is no loss in doing so. Some lenses will sense when on a tripod. RTM (Refer To Manual).

Bringing our own lighting is an option, probably best to avoid any on-camera flash as that produces very direct, hard images with hard to control shadows – and we need those shadows. As we are talking low light and after dark here it is well worth getting a handle on slow synch/rear curtain flash, it opens a whole lot of opportunities.

That said there is much to be experienced from not taking our own light. The challenges are as we have outlined above, the general ambience at night is very different, contrast tends to be very high, “Sunny 16” it ain’t. Well, it is mathematically, but, practically, there tends to be a lot more trial and error involved, and the best insurance still remains “Expose to the right” (because of the latitude digital cameras have, especially when shooting in RAW).

Blending existing light and using constant or flash lighting as a fill-in is also an option, especially when taking portraits, and it’s not even necessary to go outdoors to get the effect. The fact is it is a very different situation to photograph in and one full of opportunities. Try it.