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26 January 2011

Streetlight Photography

Not quite dark, not always quite there
Dry Ship Yard, Paleo Faliro

Over the course of this winter, I've occupied myself partially with what I call "streetlight" photography. Meaning that I have loaded some Tri-X in the Canon F-1 and carry the camera with my after dark. The reason for this is mainly that it's already dark when I leave the office. But it's also a chance to learn something about the technical and aesthetic aspects of handheld night photography in the city.


Election propaganda booth in Petralona

I'm not much of a "street" photographer, meaning that a.) I shy away from photographing strangers on the street and b.) I rarely see that much sense in it, at least not in the mass of it apparently going on in some circles nowadays. So in my pictures there aren't that many people. I might wait for someone to have left my frame, especially if I sense that maybe they don't want to end up in some unknown guys picture. I might have people in there, but mostly when they have become anonymous, more parts of the city than recognizable human beings. Combine that with the 28mm wide angle (my only reasonable lens choice right now) and I get a lot of too empty scenes.

Technically, I learned that streetlamp light is mostly about the same levels of light. Measuring the light is tricky. My camera's center weighted metering gets confused easily with light sources (lamps) in the picture. I own a good handheld meter, but I'm too lazy to carry it with me every day. What I do is point the camera around to get an overall "feeling" for the light level, then set the camera manually - mostly to the same values: 1/30th of a second, f:2.8 - which means the film would be exposed at ISO 1600. More important is actually looking at what the light is doing in front of the camera. The scene might be ok with my exposure, but maybe that face (or whatever detail you're interested in) is in the shade.

Neoclassical columns in Panepistimiou street

Contrast can be harsh. Developing film in Diafine (a "compensating" developer) helps a lot with that, while traditional "push" development aggravates contrast problems. With Diafine you let the shadows go very dark (which is what setting your meter to ISO 1600 does), but the compensating part of the developer makes the highlights still bearable.

You might even get what I call the "diafine glow": Due to the compensating character of Diafine you get more information in the very lightest highlights - they don't block so easy as with "normal" developers. so for example a fluorescent lamp on the street is not just a white blob, but there is a tiny outline of the lamp still there. The lamp seems to glow.

Posted by betabug at 18:58 | Comments (0) | Trackbacks (0)
ch athens
Life in Athens (Greece) for a foreigner from the other side of the mountains. And with an interest in digital life and the feeling of change in a big city. Multilingual English - German - Greek.
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