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Night Photography

One of the most interesting kinds of photography are the images you can capture after the sun has set and you are surrounded by nightlife. There is no secret, no magic formula to nighttime photography. Almost all night shooting is done within 4 nights of the full moon. The moon rises at sunset (plus or minus a few minutes) on the evening of the full moon. The day after full moon, moonrise is approximately one hour after sunset, 2 days later means moonrise is 2 hours after sunset, etc.

The day preceding full moon it rises 1 hour before sunset, etc. Weird but true. The moon is virtually full on those 4 nights, and you can count on there being a consistent amount of light then, weather permitting

Try to find places with no man-made ambient light, and always try to hide distant streetlights and building lights on the horizon behind foreground objects.

Typically, exposures run 5 to 8 minutes, and the lens aperture is f5.6. Shoot at f5.6 as a constant and adjust exposure times around it. Clouds in the sky reflecting the moonlight require less time. Clouds blocking the moon? -- more time, way more.

If you want to bracket your exposures, the duration of 1 stop under-exposure is 4 minutes, and 16 minutes for a full stop over-exposure. You will see virtually no difference between a 7- and 8- minute exposures.

Just like in daytime shooting, if you're shooting light-colored subjects under cloudless full moon skies, your exposure is going to be shorter than if you're shooting stuff in shadows on a cloudy night. Fill in shadows with your artificial lighting, but don't bother to waste your batteries on that white thing bathed in full strength full moon light. The moon will blow out any flashes you do there. Adjust accordingly. Experiment and make mistakes and learn from them.

Don't worry if you get only one or two good shots from a roll of film (especially on your first couple of times out), you're still doing good! For night shooting use Tungsten balanced film. This film has a strong blue cast and is normally used to compensate for that brown tungsten lighting you see everywhere. You can get slide (chromatic) film and made by Kodak and Fuji. Both companies make 160 ASA; Fuji makes a 400 ASA as well. Generally, the 400 is a little grainy (especially for such long exposures where reciprocity failure only makes grain worse). If you do shoot print film, the lab (especially a 1-hour drugstore type) will not know what to do with the oddly tinted negs, and you will probably get back ugly, muddy, murky, green skied prints.

Whatever you choose to do, measure your light carefully and use the correct exposure. You will have vibrant scenes and get interesting colour tones on film

If you know and understand that a black scene can be brought back to life.