Night photography part I

I just printed the negatives from the last night I went out with my camera.

The results aren`t so bad actually, film is definitely a great medium for long exposures. I used an Ilford PanF+ which I developed in a low dilution ID-11 (1+3). The reason why I`m doing this is because I heard it “unlocks” additional mid tones so that the film has even more information on it; in addition, the manual also says it increases sharpness. I can`t really tell this from the prints because I haven`t really got anything to compare it to since I`m so new at printing.

What I can say is that there is no sign of grain even at exposures up to 20+ minutes. Film is so much better than digital at this because it doesn`t gain noise like digital sensors do while they heat up for long exposures.

Printing some of the negatives is however, hard, because I have to dodge and burn zones that have relatively complicated zones; seems I don`t have enough fingers 😀. But when I do manage it, it`s great. Birmingham can be interesting at night, streets are nearly empty, buildings light-up and lights are kinda interesting from a photographers point of view.

The night I went I also had the luck of a clear sky and the moon rising over. I used this great calculator that tells me where the moon is going to appear and when. Planning is indeed important when you plan to photograph the night sky. I tried putting the moon in context with the city by photographing it next to a building but I immediately stumbled on a problem:

  • the moon is so bright, especially during full moon, that anything else you try to put in the frame will appear black. It`s something like 1/60 at f5.6 on ISO 50. Even if I try to overexpose the moon and burn the sucker later in printing, I would eventually go beyond the capabilities of the film in terms of exposure latitude. It`s funny how photography can sometimes be full of technical difficulties.
  • the good news is that I only need a 200mm lens on 35mm format in order to have a decent image where the moon is easily visible. this means that I can still have some landscape there and don`t need to haul fast lenses either (my Nikkor 70-210 f/4 manual focus is more than able to do the job).

The only solution to this problem is trying to photograph the moon exactly as it rises. I noticed that sometimes, a moonrise is very subtle, the moon is a pale yellow-orange, the same as sodium street lamps and is not very bright, we don`t even notice it. What does this mean? It means it`s my best chance. The moon`s brightness will be closer to the city`s so I may, with some very nasty dodging and burning, be able to get a decent pictures.

Another thing that I haven`t tried is using a different film. Both PanF+ and HP5+ for example can be pulled one stop in development for lower contrast but PanF+ at ISO 25 is a bit to slow for the moon. And besides, I don`t think that lower contrast really means a bigger exposure latitude. It`s worth trying though.

The next full moon is on December 10, so expect a part II of this post sometime around Christmas 😀.

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