When the sun goes down, night photography in film requires a different set of skills, know-how, and sometimes, luck. Other than the basic photography knowledge, you also need to know your camera. Here’s what I do to learn more about the cameras I have.
Night photography, be it in a brightly lit street or a dark (but hopefully safe) street, is a different kettle of fish. Unlike digital photography, where you can immediately review your photo, film photography requires lots of trial and errors – especially when shooting at night.
Just because you have loaded a fairly fast film in your camera does not mean that your photos will turn out well-exposed and clear even in a brightly lit environment. The only way to know how to make the most out of your roll of film in such a situation is obviously through experience. And very often, this is by making mistakes. But the other way is to simply shoot a roll and learn from it.
One evening on my way back from work, I passed by an event crew busy setting up for a public exhibition.
It was the final leg of the NS45 Showcase @ Our Heartlands at Toa Payoh, Singapore (NS is the acronym for National Service in Singapore).
As I was going to be elsewhere that weekend I knew I would miss this exhibition. So I took out the camera that I had with me, which was the Olympus XA3 and a roll of ISO400 speed film and snapped away.
The Olympus XA3’s automatic shutter speed, which goes from 2 seconds to 1/500 and its largest aperture is F3.5, makes the camera ‘unpredictable’ as you just can’t control the settings. While I would normally reach out for a roll of ISO800 film such as the Lomography CN 800 for night photography, I only had half a roll of ISO400 film in my camera.
Reviewing my photos, I realized the mistakes I made (some were just so basic that I felt like kicking myself.)
Key lesson learned and relearned is to have strong foundations. I had no tripod with me. So the best I could do was to brace myself appropriately, hold my breath, keep my arms close to my body and squeeze the shutter. For some shots, it worked.
For others it didn’t as the exposure time was much longer than I could keep still.
Given such a situation, it would be “take it or leave it” kind of shot. So if the shot is really needed, then you do have to brace yourself for it.
For me this is an opportunity to practice night time low light/existing light photography without a tripod with this particular camera. This was a good experiment as I needed to understand how best to use the Olympus XA3 and a roll of ISO 400 film if stuck in other low light situations without a tripod.
I experiment at with my film cameras under different conditions quite a fair bit. Do you do the same too?