Nat Segebre: Low-light Photography & Long Exposures on 120 Film

Generally, when it comes to low-light analogue photography, it's recommended to use a film stock with an ISO of 400 or higher to get a relatively well-exposed image. On top of that, you'll need to compensate with a slower shutter speed and a larger aperture — stretching out what’s possible within the exposure triangle.

These are the basic guidelines, but of course at Lomography we encourage creative exploration and experimentation. Remember that with film photography, even if you follow these rules, you may not always get the expected results. A blurry photo caused by shaky hands, a highly underexposed image with visible grain – these “mistakes” can lead to some of the most memorable and intriguing images, giving your analogue photos a unique dimension.

Nat Segebre, a New York-based film photographer and visual artist who has a breadth of experience and a body of work involving night and low-light photography, has also had their fair share of unconventional experiments and accidents turned memorable learnings. Here, Nat shares five low-light film photographs and the stories behind their creation.

Credits: Nat Segebre

1. Longest waiting time: A shot that took a long time to set up.

A couple months ago, when New York had its first small snowfall for the first time in two years, I saw the snow on the ground and immediately knew that I wanted to go to Coney Island. It’s been a bucket list item to see snow on a beach—you can imagine how odd that would sound to a Floridian. I thought about how beautiful the snowy beach would look at sunrise, so I planned to wake up at five and arrive at Coney around six to see the first light. The reason I’m bringing up this story and this photo, isn’t for how long it took me to take the photo because of the exposure or anything, but because it took me two separate trips and many failed attempts before I was able to get anything.

I woke up early and went to the windy beachside on Saturday in 5-degree weather when I already wasn’t feeling great, and once I arrived and set up my camera—it wouldn’t fire. I’m not really someone who gets upset at inconveniences or things going wrong, I usually see it as a waste of my energy, but man I was standing on that boardwalk with tears rolling down my face. I was cold to the point that my legs up to my thighs were numb, I felt like fainting, and the one thing I came to do wasn’t working out. The important part of this story is that 1. I realized my camera hadn’t worked because my light curtain was engaged, an easy setting to change, and 2. I got up the next day and did it all over again.

When I’m in the pursuit of making images, it’s really difficult for something to deter or discourage me—I get this sort of adrenaline and excitement that makes me unaffected by things that would normally bother or discourage me. I wanted those pictures, and so even though my previous attempt had proven to be a disaster, I got up the next morning and did it all over again. Thankfully my camera worked that second time and a friend accompanied me, which made it more fun too. I was able to make some beautiful images on Velvia which I’m really happy with. The photo I chose is from the moment the sun rose over the sealine and bathed everything once covered in purple twilight with deep orange light and long shadows.

Credits: Nat Segebre

2. Best surprise: A photo you thought would turn out blank but became a gem of a photo once developed.

I was really worried about this photo because the roll went through the X-ray at TSA when I was traveling from Italy back to the US. Just as I thought, the image was fogged and had this weird mark at the top of it that sort of ruined it. I was able to salvage it by bringing the shadows down in post thankfully, and it’s one of my favorites.

Credits: Nat Segebre

3. A “flop” but a learning experience: A photo that you thought would turn out great but instead didn’t meet your expectations.

When I first started to photograph at night and make long exposures, I tried to take an image of an abandoned shop in New Jersey. When I developed the film I realized my shutter had stayed open past what I thought was the end of my photo, and it created this crazy abstract image of light trails. The experience reminded me of the happy accidents that happen with film, and to never disregard or abandon a photo because of a mistake you’re sure happened during shooting. Sometimes, it’s better than you could have imagined. And sometimes it’s completely ruined. In this case, it was thankfully the former.

Credits: Nat Segebre

4. “Pushed” to the limit: A photo you've pushed by the highest number of stops.

I pushed a roll of Ektar to 800 (+3 stops) and shot long exposures in New Jersey. I was curious to see how the film would behave since I heard that pushing film that far would produce wacky color shifts and stronger contrast. It produced this beautiful image that I titled “Abandoned Shopping Carts.”

Credits: Nat Segebre

5. Most experimental, creative, and DIY set-up.

I’d say the most experimental/DIY setup I’ve done was when I made this photograph called “Onlooker.” I shot this in my hometown in South Florida as a part of my BFA thesis project, There Is Something To Be Said About The Night.

I remember walking by this house and seeing a yard light bathing the side of the house in this odd yellow color. I had a headlamp on with a red setting, and when I turned it on it created a really eerie and beautiful effect on the side of the house as it mixed with the yellow light. It began to cast a shadow of the tree—revealing the entire tree’s shape even though only part of it is actually visible in the composition.

Because it was the middle of the night I knew the exposure would have to be long, but I didn’t have all the proper equipment with me.

Ideally, when making a long exposure, you’ll have a tripod, shutter release cable and something to keep time with, but all I had with me was the camera and a tripod. A shutter release cable is what allows you to fire the shutter without the risk of camera shake caused by your hand. It also allows you to make exposures for long periods of time without having to touch the camera or hold down the shutter button, so it’s pretty essential. Since I didn’t have one, I had to resort to just holding the shutter down with my finger, and because I was aiming to do a two-minute exposure, I had to make sure I was completely still for the duration of the exposure. While I was focusing on keeping my body still for the exposure, I was painting the side of the house with the lamp by moving my head around slowly as I kept the rest of my body still. I also didn’t have a way to check the exposure time, so I counted to two minutes in my head.

The whole process was certainly a balancing act and felt like the longest two minutes of my life, but it was so worth it. The blue sky was brought out in the photo from the long exposure time, and it completed the primary color scheme. I’m still surprised I was able to get a clear image considering the circumstances.

Credits: Nat Segebre

Thank you to Nat for sharing their film photographs and stories with us! What night photography film experiments have you experienced? Share your stories and results with us below!

Check out our low-light film photography section in LomoSchool and use it as a jumping-off point to explore and learn this aspect of analogue image-making.

written by macasaett on 2024-04-28 #people #tutorials #tips #night-photography #slow-shutter-speed

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