A while back, I produced a zine featuring work shot by Dan Smith and I, using old TLR cameras and Fujifilm Neopan Acros. All of the pictures were taken in the dead of night.
Long before putting the zine together, I’d had an idea of how I hoped a collection of my nighttime stuff might be presented. I wanted the paper to be matt black and for the edges of each photograph to blend into the page, meaning that the point at which the image and the background met was not always obvious.
I even thought about the idea of making a book that would be delivered with an underpowered torch and that should only be viewed in complete darkness (I may still investigate this idea in the future; and if not in zine form then in an exhibition).
Anyway, at the end of February, I had a new Mamiya RB67 to try out, but no free weekends. That meant that I’d have to get out for a nighttime shoot, just like those old days when I was putting ‘Nighttime Adventure In Neopan’ together. As it was a special occasion, I broke out one of the last 20 or so rolls of Acros film that I have tucked away in the freezer too.
The factory where I work had just had a new car park built and the spanking tarmac and freshly painted white lines were lit by LED lamps. Perfect.
The results from the camera were encouraging. Both lenses seemed to work well when using the mirror lock-up and cable release direct to the lens. The blacks and grey reminded me just how good Acros is and what a pisser it is that Fuji have discontinued it. FP4 has been working for me recently and it’s good, but it’s not quite this good.
I don’t have a spot-meter, only a Sekonic 308 which averages the whole scene and so isn’t useful for this sort of thing. So generally, I’ll carry a digital camera(!) with me and use it to fine tune the exposure. I’ll avoid exposing for the lamp itself or the darker shadows, and meter somewhere in between. Then, I’ll underexpose by two-stops to make sure that those blacks are completely black.
I’m quite happy to drop the black slider further once the image is in Lightroom and fully encourage clipping the left edge of that histogram. If you’re feeling bold, such dark images also allow the brazen removal of distractions from those dark areas.
You see, I’m usually trying to leave things out of my nighttime photographs. I want the shadows to be dark and mysterious. I want the viewer to be straining their eyes to see into the darkness, afraid of what might be lurking there. It might sound a bit strong, but I’m playing with our primeval fear of the darkness that we try to hold back with these street lights.
I’ll usually look for the lone LED lamp. The last on the street. The sentinel. A light in the darkness.
(There’s an exception below with TWO (count ’em) lights).
So anyway, with the days getting longer for most of us, I realise that it’s the wrong time of year to be encouraging everyone to go out and shoot after sunset, but I’d love to see your nighttime stuff.
Keep it dark people!
Nighttime Adventures in Neopan is still available here.
Mamiya RB67 with 65mm and 150mm lenses, Fujifilm Neopan Acros 100 developed in Ilford Ilfotec HC and scanned at home.