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Film for night photography


Fast film is not required for night-time pictures since slow shutter speeds necessitate the use of a good camera support anyway. Use a slow, fine-grained film for your night time exposures for best results.
Fast film is not required for night-time pictures since slow shutter speeds necessitate the use of a good camera support anyway. Use a slow, fine-grained film for your night time exposures for best results.

Many people assume they will need a super fast film or a high sensitivity setting in their digital camera (ISO 1000 or faster) in order to take pictures at night. In some cases, this is true. In the evening or at night, when you are shooting in available light and need action-stopping shutter speeds, you must have fast film or a high sensitivity setting. Extreme low-light police surveillance work, for example, requires fast shutter speeds, and therefore fast film speed or a high ISO sensitivity setting when using a digital camera.

But, when you are taking pictures at slow shutter speeds, with the camera steadied on a tripod, there is little need for fast film. In fact, your images will generally be better if you use film or a digital camera's sensitivity setting in the range of ISO 100 and even slower. Very fast films cannot match the fine grain and color saturation of slow films. (The exception occurs when shooting the far-off, faint light of the stars, when fast film in the ISO 400 and faster range seems to produce the best results. For more information, see Star trails.)


USE FAST FILM FOR HAND-HOLDING IN LOW LIGHT

If you aren’t using a tripod and have no means of steadying the camera other than by hand-holding it, you will need a fast film for low light photography. (See Slow shutter hand-holding for minimum shutter speeds using lenses of different focal lengths.)

Film speed in the ISO 400, 800 or 1000 ranges will permit sufficiently-fast shutter speeds for hand-holding in dim light. A fast lens (f/2.8 or faster) will permit higher shutter speeds, but the depth of field will be shallow, so accurate focusing is essential.

Shutter speed selection should correspond with an aperture setting that provides sufficient depth of field so near and far objects are in focus.
Shutter speed selection should correspond with an aperture setting that provides sufficient depth of field so near and far objects are in focus.

In the far north, in the land of the midnight sun, there is no sun in winter, but the Northern lights make up for it. This spectacular midnight scene showing the aurora borealis was captured by Robert Dall of Northern News Services.
In the far north, in the land of the midnight sun, there is no sun in winter, but the Northern lights make up for it. This spectacular midnight scene showing the aurora borealis was captured by Robert Dall of Northern News Services.

USE SLOW FILM WITH SLOW SHUTTER SPEEDS

Using slow film when your camera is supported by a tripod, your shutter must be kept open for longer times to obtain proper exposure, but that is all right. Indeed, a longer shutter speed will capture a longer trail of moving lights, for example, or will permit a dark figure to walk across the scene you are photographing and not be recorded on the film..

How can someone be in front of the camera when the shutter is open, and not be recorded on film? In extremely long exposures, a moving person or object, especially one that is either crossing the film plane or moving quickly, is not in one place long enough to register on the film. Let us suppose the shutter is open for 30 seconds. A person walking across the scene blocks the light behind them for perhaps only a second or less, while the portion they blocked so briefly will record on film for the remaining 29 seconds of the exposure. The image will record almost as if the person had never been there.


However, if the person is wearing bright or reflective clothing and passes through relatively bright light, or if a moving object (a car, for example) has lights on it, the person or object can register on the film. Of course, if someone stops and remains in one place for the duration of the exposure, that person’s image will be on the film unless they stopped in an area of deep shadow. If someone stops briefly, remaining in one place for say half the exposure time, he or she will only partially register on the film, and will have a transparent, ghost-like look. In fact, the effect is known as "Ghosting."

The advantages of using slow speed film for low light photography include richer coloration, finer detail and longer exposure times. A very slow film (ISO 25) will allow even longer shutter speeds. Photographers must be aware, however, that long exposure times may turn out too dark (underexposed) even when you feel the exposure was correctly calculated. This is due to reciprocity failure (or reciprocity effect). When making exposures longer than one second, the normal relationship between shutter speed and aperture becomes altered, and the film must receive more exposure to avoid overly-dark images. Visit Reciprocity failure for more information.

The see-through, spectral appearance (known as
The see-through, spectral appearance (known as "Ghosting") in the center of this image resulted from someone remaining still for less time than it took to make the total exposure.

This super-long time exposure over several hours shows not only the soft effect of moonlight on the bridge and trees, but also captures star trails in the sky. Moon trails, however, are to be avoided since they look so unnatural.
This super-long time exposure over several hours shows not only the soft effect of moonlight on the bridge and trees, but also captures star trails in the sky. Moon trails, however, are to be avoided since they look so unnatural.

WHAT TYPE OF FILM SHOULD BE USED FOR STREET SCENES AT NIGHT?

Cities provide us with many opportunities for interesting night pictures. But, it is often difficult to know what the predominant light source is, and street scenes often have mixed lighting. This is usually not a problem for any black and white film, but can provide mixed results with color films.

If you are shooting color negative film, your best bet is to use normal daylight film. Much color correction can be made at the printing stage. Transparency (slide or reversal) color film choice is governed by the type of light illuminating your subject. If the predominant street lighting is from sodium lamps, which produce yellowish light, tungsten film (Type B) is your choice since it is designed to balance scenes illuminated by household bulbs which give off a warm light, whereas mercury vapor lighting is more greenish-blue, making daylight film your best choice for acceptable results. The images will never have a completely-balanced appearance since these lights don’t emit the full range of wavelengths, so you can expect strong color casts in your images. When in doubt, especially when there is a mixture of lighting sources, daylight film is probably your safest choice, since its warm color cast will look more natural than the blue cast of artificial film.


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