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Thread: How do you meter night shots.

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    New York, New York

    How do you meter night shots.

    So, I use a Sekonic L-358 with the 1 degree spot finder attachment to meter for large format (generally). That said, in darkness it is both hard to see and cant effectively meter truly dark areas. If the light levels are below a certain point it simply cannot meter effectively at all. As a result, I am unsure what to do as I want to go shoot some night cityscapes in NYC.

    I could take along a second camera (digital) and base the LF exposure off of that camera, but that seems really clunky and I am hoping there is a better way.


  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jun 2006
    Pasadena, CA

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    Google for the ultimate exposure computer...a chart for exposures in all conditions. It'll get you in the ballpark and more. A great handy device...check it out. It works!

    Then after you see the results from a few outings, you'll know exactly what you need to do.

  3. #3
    Format Omnivore Brian C. Miller's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jun 1999
    Everett, WA

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    You don't have to measure everything. I've found that if I can measure a white card, that will tell me the highlights. My Pentax spotmeter has a dial calculator on the side. I read a value (1-19) on the meter, and then position the reading on the calculator. For instance, if using my Pentax spotmeter it gives me a 3 for the white card (zone 8) and I'm shooting ISO 100, then say at f8 my base exposure is a minute, and then I factor in reciprocity according to the film. When I read that, the calculator is effectively at 0 for zone 5, and -3 for zone 3.

    Another thing you can do is go out and use your incident meter to measure the light under a street light. All of the street lights are going to be showing similar light, so you can use that reading when something is under a street light.

    The best thing you can do is go out and experiment.

  4. #4
    Lachlan 717
    Join Date
    Apr 2007

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    If it's that dark, you're going to be in reciprocity failure by a fair way.

    Open the aperture, set the lens onto T, fire it, and come back in an hour.

    Seriously, it has to be pretty dark not to get a reading on a Sekonic in a city. Perhaps you're reading the wrong areas when you're spotting? I'm assuming that you're trying to make the scene look like night, not day. If so, you'll need some blacks...

    You miss 100% of the shots you never take. -- Wayne Gretzky

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Dec 2010

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    If you can't meter the dark areas, don't. Meter your highlights and adjust accordingly since you're probably not going to get much info out of the dark areas anyway.

    As I recall, I metered off the sky for this picture and increased the exposure 1 1/2 stops to place it around Zone VII, it was with color neg...

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Morristown, NJ USA

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    Not to discount what others have said here and in other threads, but I find it is almost useless to attempt metering at night. All my night shooting is done by experience and once the sun has set I rarely bother using my light meter any more.

    From experience I find that city skylines (i.e., building lights) will balance very nicely with skylight when the sky is about eV6. And most films I shoot at eV6 have about 2-stops reciprocity failure. I will shoot these scenes on 100ASA film f16 @ 8 or 15 seconds. As the skylight decreases I increase exposure accordingly but I find the nicest balance is with skylight about eV6.

    After that, when skylight is eV0 I use similar exposures for city scenes, typically f16 @ 15 - 30 seconds with ASA 100 speed films depending on the scene's overall brightness. And of course I recommend bracketing... the cost of film and processing is cheap compared to the cost (in $$ and effort) in getting to the scene you want to photograph.

    The following examples with exposures used:

    1) f8 @ 15 sec; RDP II with 2-stop split ND grad to darken the top
    2) f22 @ 15 sec; RDP II, sky eV 7.5
    3) f22 @ 60 sec; RTP II
    All natural images are analog. But the retina converts them to digital on their way to the brain.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Apr 2010

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    I shoot color negative at night in urban settings. I rely more on experience than metering when shooting. In the type of photos I tend to take, many lit elements are always at the same light level. Car headlights, the average office window, average road light, signs/neon etc. I don't meter the sky, I wait until the light drops to the level where it is balanced with the ground.

    My metering strategy would probably not work very well with slide film. You can see some photos here. For any given shot, there is a fairly high chance it was taken at F16 2 minutes

    I've decided to expose brighter for my upcoming photos. I'm pleased with the consistency of my current method, but I'm willing to pay for more shadow detail by blowing even more highlights.

    I do bring a digital compact camera with M mode to check exposure if the scene has few familiar components. It weighs less than a spot meter.

  8. #8

    Join Date
    Aug 2009

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    I agree experience is more important than metering. I shoot 8x10 color transparencies, negs and b&w at night. I have used multiple methods including spot metering and using a digital camera to guess. The digital camera can really mislead you, especially if you have any lighting compensation modes turned on ("Active D Lighting", for instance). At this point, my own guess is just as good as anything. When you are talking reciprocity failure, etc., it really is just not that exact... the difference between a 6 minute exposure and a 12 minute exposure is one stop. What I mean is, if you decided six minutes is the perfect exposure, and you let it go to seven, it is going to be fine. Especially given that as you go from 6 mins to 12 mins, the reciprocity failure of most films will be such that it isn't even a stop of difference anymore.

    Experiment and take notes. You'll have it down in no time.

    The most important advice is to shoot at civil twilight, not at "night". It is so important, that I feel like saying it over again, but I won't. ;-)

  9. #9
    multi format
    Join Date
    Feb 2001

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    Quote Originally Posted by PViapiano View Post
    Google for the ultimate exposure computer...a chart for exposures in all conditions. It'll get you in the ballpark and more. A great handy device...check it out. It works!

    Then after you see the results from a few outings, you'll know exactly what you need to do.
    exactly !

  10. #10
    ki6mf's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Austin, TX

    Re: How do you meter night shots.

    If shooting B&W you should shoot and bracket exposures by 5 10 15 20 40 minute exposures. You have to remember what the available light is like. Lots of bright lights from buildings with low overcast sky is not the same as lots of bright lights on clear night. Read the Nocturnes for hints on working at night. Light meter is useless.
    Wally Brooks

    Everything is Analog!
    Any Fool Can Shoot Digital!
    Any Coward can shoot a zoom! Use primes and get closer.

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