So how do we get that one ideal exposure in night photography?
The answer is … there isn’t one. That is, there isn’t just one.
Maybe the question oughta be, how do we capture an expressive image at night?
Getting a technically accurate exposure is not always the same as finding an expressive one. The former is commonly treated as purely objective, and can be analyzed to death. The latter is more subjective, and rests solely on what we see and how we see.
Unlike daytime photography, there is a lot less conventional wisdom about how nighttime images should look. Getting an expressive exposure is not just about matching what we see with our naked eye. Bracketing gives us the freedom to explore the possibilities.
One of the great benefits of bracketing long exposures is that we end up finding more than we are looking for. After all we are not just trying to take pictures. We are striving to make expressive images that reflect our own personal style and vision.
The more image variations we capture, the more options we have to choose from, and the greater the opportunities to discover, or rediscover, our ideal of the light we see at night.
Under exposure can produce an extremely low key, minimalistic style image that is dark and mysterious with very few details.
Over exposure can create a high key, impressionistic image with a strong sense of light, or a gentle glow reminiscent of soft focus lenses used early in the 20th century.
The result of over exposure is not the same as changing the luminance curve during image editing. The subtleties due to light spread create a unique look that cannot be duplicated through image editing alone.
Not all exposures of a given scene are necessarily desirable, or meet our aesthetic criteria, but we don’t really know until we actually witness the possibilities.
We expose ourselves to the possibilities by exposing our camera to the unexpected. And in the process, we learn to see how our camera sees, and embrace the unexpected.
IMAGE : The Ahwahnee, Yosemite, CA
- Mouse over the image above to view the scene from an average exposure. If mouse over does not work, go to Why Bracketing? on my blog.
The longest exposure, or should I say the most over exposed shot from my bracketing session, produced a high key image. Lens flare haze contributed to the strong sense of light, giving the scene a more evocative look than an average exposure.
Most of my nighttime images are low key in nature. I chose the high key interpretation, over the less exposed renditions, to portray the setting in saturated light. This bathed the scene with a softer, more romantic atmosphere.
This high key image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 2 minute exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. The average image is a blend of 15, 30 and 60 second exposures.
IMAGE TINT : GalleryCoolGray
The cool tint was chosen to convey the sense of light infusing the cold winter night.
This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GalleryCoolGray” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.
Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:
EXERCISE : Why Bracketing?
Find a night scene with a full range of highlights and shadows. Perform a bracketing session making sure you capture plenty of under and over exposed images.
Afterwards identify the exposure that matches what you observed at the scene. Compare this to the less and more exposed images to see if any of the “unrealistic” versions have a stronger impact on you than the expected shot.
Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.
FEEDBACK : Why Bracketing?
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NEXT TIME : “Inspirational Light”
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