View Full Version : Metering at Night time

brian steinberger
27-Jan-2007, 18:41
I'm intersted in starting to shoot nighttime scenes around my hometown. I'm going to shoot with TMY 400 to avoid major reciprocity failure.

I don't understand how to meter for night time scenes. Everything I've read seems to indicate "winging" it for exporsure. I'm a diehard zone system person. I understand to meter for the shadows, but at night everything is a shadow!

And what about lights? Street lights and biulding lights... I can use semi stand in Pyrocat HD to tame those, but what is a good approach to metering at night?

John Kasaian
27-Jan-2007, 19:14
Check out www.thenocturnes.com for lots of good info online. Theres also an excellent book on the subject, Night Photography by Andrew Sanderson published by Amphoto. One more good source for info is, believe it or not, those old Graflex Photography annuals by Morgan & Lister (about .75 cents at thrift stores--the Salvation Army is on to how useful these books are and will often ask a whopping $2.00!)

27-Jan-2007, 19:32
I'm a diehard zone system person. I understand to meter for the shadows, but at night everything is a shadow!

You don't meter for the shadows, you meter for the deepest shadow you want to hold texture in.

For the contrast range of night shooting I would add to that sentence "without irrevocably blowing out the highlights you want to hold texture in."


27-Jan-2007, 21:08
meter a zone VII or zone VIII and base your exposure on that. Correct that meter reading for reciprocity if necessary. Forget about metering for shadows and do NOT meter for shadows and then correct for reciprocity unless you want badly blown highlights.

I know this goes against everything you have been taught or read but just try it and you will see for yourself that it works.

and don't use high contrast film. i.e. NOT film with upswept curve.

al olson
28-Jan-2007, 18:58

Why not accept reciprocity failure and live with it. I do a lot of urban night photography and with the LF I typically us ISO 160 films. I set the aperture to f/8 or f/11 and my exposure times will run from 4 to 10 minutes. (For star trails you can leave the lens open for hours.) The reciprocity failure acts as a governer to keep point light sources and other overexposed areas from blowing out (a little blooming is acceptable).

For point light sources shining into the lens you will get a star-shaped bloom based on the smallness of the aperture and either equal to the number of blades in your aperture or twice the number of blades, depending upon the curvature of the aperture blades.

Your other alternative is to meter on an evenly, well-lit surface and determine which zone you wish to place it in. Then adjust your exposure accordingly.

I have published a guide for existing light photography that is available for download from my website, www.photo-artiste.com/existinglightguide.html, that you may find helpful. It also has a list of references in the bibliography that you will find very helpful.

Go out and shoot some long exposures. Reciprocity failure is not a monster to deal with as you may think.

Mike Chini
28-Jan-2007, 19:11
I found getting good exposures at night easier than in daylight. The beauty of night cityscape photography is that 99% of the standard sodiumn vapor (?) lighting is the same so you get really good at guessing exposures very quickly. You should be able to hold shadow detail from all but the blackest shadows and highlight detail from direct streetlights themselves. I suggest doing a film test outside of your house at f16 - f22 starting with 4 minutes. I develop in D76 but agitate every few minutes which gives me less contrast. I'm not sure how you could adapt Pyrocat for this though. If there is a way to consistently develop in Pyrocat for lower contrast, do that every time. After a few trips out, you'll know exactly how to expose your negs regardless of what you're shooting.