Project 54: outdoors at night

Task: Explore the variety of lighting effects and colour in artificial light.

Whilst taking photos for Assignment 3 I spent a lot of time around Teesside’s industrial complex at Seal Sands. I thought it would be a challenge to take some of the photos for this project there. The vast spread of buildings and chimneys offered lots of different lighting conditions. I always feel self-conscious when taking pictures around these type of places in case I cause a security alert! Photographing in the dark also presents a greater risk to personal safety so I visited the places I wanted to shoot during the daytime so that I could suitable places to park my car. I decided to challenge myself and just use my 50mm prime lens. I rarely use it and can sometimes rely too much on composing shots with my tele-photo.

ISO 100, f/4.5, 50 mm, 4 secs

1) I left my house just before dusk so that I could get to Seal Sands before the sky went black. I set my ISO to 100 and opened the shutter for 4 seconds. As the course material had suggested, photographing before dark often produces a much more interesting photograph. The image above shows the outline of the chimney stacks and the hill in the distance.

ISO 100, f/5.6, 50mm, 8 secs

2) A few moments later I took the photograph above.This time I decreased the shutter speed to 8 seconds. This has produced a much more dramatic bright blue sky. I prefer this image to the first in this set because it is much clearer and gives it much more impact to the scene. Increasing the exposure time has made the lights sparkle and made the smoke cotton wool-like.

ISO 100, f/5.6, 50mm, 10 secs

3) My third image (above) shows that although this shot was exposed for 10 seconds the scene is much darker, this is partly due to the night time drawing in and the less ambient light from the sun. The colour of the lights appear much lighter and the tungsten / fluorescent mix is not so easily distinguished.

ISO 100, f/3.5, 50mm, 10 secs

4) The road next to the industrial plant is quite isolated with just a few cars passing by. I used an exposure of 10 seconds for the image above. The bright stripe across the centre is a reflective strip from a police van. It is reflecting the light from the factory and it’s brightness has illuminated the grass in the foreground. I found it easier to photograph cars moving away from the camera. The headlights of cars traveling towards the camera were too bright and over-exposed the image. I would have to use a much smaller aperture size to counteract this.

ISO 100, f/1.8, 50 mm, 1.5 seconds

5) The image of a chimney (above) needed a much shorter exposure of 1.5 seconds due to the amount of surrounding light. The mixed lighting made it difficult to achieve a natural colour temperature. The vapour lamps have created a greensnish tinge whilst the tungsten street lighting, out of shot, have added a pinkish tinge to the smoke. The quicker exposure has also meant that the lights appear as dots instead of rays.

ISO 100, f/4.5, 50mm, 20 seconds

6) The image above is a street scene. The red light trails are from a bus which have been capture across the photograph due to an exposure of 20 seconds. There is a clear difference between the tungsten and fluorescent lights. I’m not sure whether the blue lights are from the lampposts or reflection in the lens.

ISO 100, f/5.6, 50mm, 3 seconds

7) The ASDA store above was difficult to photograph due to the large amount of light coming from the windows. With hindsight I should have used a smaller aperture so not as much light entered the camera.

8) During a school lantern parade I found it difficult to use a slow shutter speed because the people walking made the pictures very blurred. I tried using the flash but it bleached the scene and was too bright. The reflective strips of the marshall’s jackets were illuminated, throwing the rest of the scene into darkness. However at the end of the parade everyone’s lanterns were put on the ground in a circle. This was a great opportunity to capture these fantastic sculptures. Although the lanterns were covered with white tissue paper, an exposure of 3 seconds has captured the glow of the candles illuminating the lanterns. This was an effect I was not expecting. When the lantern parade is on next year I would like to experiment more with longer exposures and the movement of the lanterns.

9) Fairground attraction. This scene is of a young couple at a fairground, back-lit by the lights of the ride behind them. I like how the very minimum of the couple’s profiles is highlighted.

10. Planet Burgerland. The tungsten street lighting and the burger bar sign has cast a red tinge to the people queuing for something to eat. The majority of the people are back-lit and silhouetted against the lighting.

Section Reflection

Photographing at night outside was something quite alien to me. I am used to photographing events that are indoors at night time, and have to deal with tungsten lighting. However this project got me out of my comfort zone. There were more possibilities for me because I wasn’t restricted to being in a function room etc. I could choose where to position my camera, choose the viewpoint before taking the picture. However I felt very vulnerable outside at night. I would recommend checking out possible locations in the daylight beforehand including possible places to park safely. It’s also a good idea to let someone know where you’re going to and timescale. Below is some observations I made from reading Michael Freeman’s (2004) book about photographing at night.

As more and more city premises open for longer city lighting has increased to light buildings and advertise services and products. Tungsten might be the source used for street lighting, shop windows and car headlamps, but it is too dim for other uses. In order to produce bright lighting vapour lamps are widely used, especially for replacing street lighting and floodlighting buildings. Freeman (2004) favours this type of lighting by enthusing that:

entertainment and shopping districts in cities are getting brighter and more interesting….the scale of the usual type of outdoor shot is greater.

Vapour discharge lights are much more powerful than either tungsten or fluorescent lights. They are able to illuminate large spaces. Like fluorescent lights they look white to our eyes, however they also cast a coloured light over the scene when photographed. Types of vapour lamp are:

1. Sodium – looks yellow in photos and used for floodlighting buildings and street-lighting

2. Mercury – looks like a cold white, photographs between green and blue-green. They are used in lots of different situations

3. Muli-vapour – looks white and can appear well-balanced in photos. They are used in sports stadiums

However when photographing from a distance there might be a wide variety of lighting types so a particular white balance setting would not cover all possibilities. However Freeman (2004, p. 117) believes that:

when there are other lights in the image, colour balance becomes a much less important consideration.

Digital cameras allow us to bracket exposures and experiment with the way the camera’s sensor reacts with the variety of light.

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