Film photography is making a big return to the world photography stage, opening up new and old forgotten possibilities of capturing the moment. Night film photography, specifically, is really an art to master, and as it is with any other skill, practice truly makes perfect.
However, despite all the challenges that may come your way, you shouldn’t feel anticipated by it. In this article, we’ll take a look at the top ten tips to get you started on night film photography and help you get the best shots.
Choose High ISO Films
Film photography at night with low to minimal light brings new challenges to the table; thus, the proper equipment you choose will determine the success of the photos you later develop.
Higher ISO films allow you greater flexibility when shooting at night. Such films as Kodak Portra 800 or Cinestill 800T are great choices. Low ISO can still work but may leave your photos with extra grain and possibly some off-colors in the shadows if not properly exposed.
The ISO 800 provides a higher shutter speed allowing you to freeze motion whenever you want. Cinestill 800T, in particular, is a favorite for shooting at night due to the tungsten balance, allowing lights on outdoor buildings to come through in their true color.
Make Sure the Camera Is Steady
In film photography, keeping everything still is the way to get the sharp photo we all desire, and it is even more crucial when filming in low lighting with long exposures. However, there are a few ways to avoid a blurry shot.
The first is setting a shutter speed of around 1/15th of a second if you try to keep your hands extra still during capture. The second, more reliable, is mounting your camera on a tripod to keep it as steady as possible. Lastly, cable release comes in handy in night photography. It ensures that the shots won’t get blurry from pressing the shutter, resulting in slight camera movement.
Use a Light Meter
A common struggle many film photographers face in low lighting is getting the exposure right. Metering light through the lens is helpful to define the correct exposure time for photographing in well-lit places, but it’s not the best option for low light. In night photography, a handheld meter will help you correctly set the aperture for the long exposures needed.
Experiment With the Exposure
Besides using a spot meter, you can also experiment with extra overexposure on the film. Due to the drastic contrast between the highlights and shadows at night, you may face the struggle of either over or underexposing the film. We advise adding more exposure in low-light conditions. Even if you overexpose the highlights a little, you could still bring back the detail during scanning, while underexposure is nonreversible.
Look at the Technical Data Sheet
Before you plan your night photoshoot, check the technical data sheets as some types of films may require exposure adjustment to work best with street lighting at night. Depending on the type, films may respond differently in darker lighting. Some work properly in daylight but are not sensitive enough in lower light. So, make sure you adjust the ISO and calculate proper exposure compensation.
Calculate Reciprocity Failure
Reciprocity failure happens when the law of reciprocity, which is the correct correlation of shutter speed and aperture for the proper exposure, fails. This occurs in low light conditions, with the shutter speed of 1 second or more, when more time is needed for the chemical reaction to happen and the image to be formed. The reciprocity failure can be corrected by compensating the exposure time. A general rule is taking the metered exposure time on your camera and using the ^1.31 equation. This will give you a longer exposure time than the one suggested by your meter and thus compensate for the exposure time in low lighting.
Try Out Black & White ISO
When just starting out at night film photography, you may find it easier to use high black and white ISO film instead of color. This will enable you to make more shots with faster shutter speeds and capture emotions and specific moments on the spot. It’s impossible to do with color film as it needs longer exposures. Although, if you can meter the light and expose the image for the time required, both color and black and white ISO will work perfectly for night photos.
Make the Most of the Lighting You Have
If your filming place of choice happens to be in an urban setting, then you may enjoy the advantages of brighter street lighting. As a beginner in night film photography, you will find that street lighting is your best friend. It gives you more freedom for creativity, reduces the chance of color shifts and reciprocity failure, and enables you to meter short exposures easier.
When deciding on the photoshoot time, you may prefer the hour right after the sunset. The scene will still look as if it is nighttime, especially if you are around all the street and house lights in the urban area, but with more light still left from the sky to let you meter the exact exposure time.
Experiment With Light Painting
Remember that night film photography is first and foremost about having fun and experimenting, trying to capture the perfect moment you’ve envisioned. For instance, shooting on film at night creates the perfect opportunity for light painting. For this, you should set your shutter speed to a low setting of 1 second or more which will not only allow enough light to hit your film for exposure but also enable you to create movement with lights. So grab a flashlight with you or use one on your phone and start moving it around when the shutter is open to create original shots.
Shoot Night Film on a Separate Roll
Last but not least, try dedicating a separate roll of film to the night film shoots exclusively. This will be of help when you develop the pictures. Mixing day and night time photos may result in lower image quality as low-light pictures usually need longer development time. This is commonly referred to as push processing, something our lab can do for you on request.
We hope you found these tips useful. Here at Reformed Film Lab, film photography is our passion, and we are eager to help you master the art of analog photography. Visit our shop to find the right equipment. If you would like to know more about photography, see the rest of our blog.