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Night photographers have one big thing in common: a true love of the dark. Rather than looking at night photography as an extension of daytime shooting with added complications, they embrace the unique challenges of nocturnal photography for the tremendous wealth of creative opportunities it offers. That’s just what this book does. But if the idea of setting out into the deep, dark night with just your camera (and maybe a cup of coffee) gets your creative juices flowing, dive right in. Lance Keimig, one of the ...
Night photographers have one big thing in common: a true love of the dark. Rather than looking at night photography as an extension of daytime shooting with added complications, they embrace the unique challenges of nocturnal photography for the tremendous wealth of creative opportunities it offers. That’s just what this book does. But if the idea of setting out into the deep, dark night with just your camera (and maybe a cup of coffee) gets your creative juices flowing, dive right in. Lance Keimig, one of the premier experts on night photography, has put together a comprehensive reference that will show you ways to capture images you never thought possible. If you have some experience with photography and have always wanted to try shooting at night, you'll learn the basics for film or digital shooting. If you're already a seasoned pro, you'll learn to use sophisticated techniques such as light painting and drawing, stacking images to create long star trails, and more. A chapter on the history of night photography describes the materials and processes that made night photography possible, and introduces the photographers who have defined night photography as an artistic medium. A chapter on how to use popular software packages such as Lightroom and Photoshop specifically with night time shots shows you how to make the final adjustments to your nocturnal creations. In this book you'll find history, theory, and lots of practical instruction on technique, all illustrated with clear, concise examples, diagrams and charts that reinforce the text, and inspiring color and black and white images from the author and other luminaries in the field, including Scott Martin, Dan Burkholder, Tom Paiva, Troy Paiva, Christian Waeber, Jens Warnecke and Cenci Goepel, with Foreword by Steve Harper.
*Includes the most complete information available for learning the art of light painting
*Covers both film and digital shooting
*Stunning color and black and white images from some of the world's most well-known night photographers provide creative examples of the techniques discussed within the chapters
From Daguerreotype to Digital
Nighttime has been associated with solitude, danger, mystery, and the unknown throughout human history. The night transforms our notion of the world from one of routine certainty to one of mysterious unknowing. The night holds secrets—secrets that may engage our curiosity, shelter us, or frighten us. There are those who seek comfort in the night and those who recoil from it. Brave was the ancestor who stepped outside of the light of the fire circle, for he might never return.
The motif of night was established in Western art long before the advent of photography. Artists as far back as the Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch played off the instinctive fear of darkness and the night in his masterpiece from 1503, The Garden of Earthly Delights. The 16th-century German printmaker Albrecht Dürer and Dutch painter and printer Lucas van Leyden repeatedly invoked night scenes in their work. Aert van der Neer was a 17th-century Dutch painter whose main body of work consisted of moonlit landscapes of his native Netherlands. Rembrandt famously relied on dark tones and deep shadows to evoke powerful emotions in his work, and several of van Gogh's most famous paintings are night scenes. Captivated by the night, van Gogh wrote in a letter to his brother that, "I often think that the night is much more alive and more richly coloured than the day." James McNeill Whistler painted a series of night and twilight scenes entitled Nocturnes, and of course Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, which conveys a sense of urban isolation and loneliness, is one of the most recognizable paintings of the 20th century. It seems only fitting that photographers should be drawn to the night as well for inspiration. Although painters put down on canvas whatever they see in their mind's eye, the photographer's camera records only what passes before the lens. In the case of the night photographer, the time that passes during the exposure is as important as the light.
Due to the limited sensitivity of early photographic processes, exposure times were exceedingly long, even in the daytime. The oldest existing photograph, which was taken by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce in 1826 or 1827, is a scene from his window in Le Gras, France. Although it is not a night photograph, the materials he used required an exposure of many hours to record the image on a pewter plate coated with a light-sensitive layer of bitumen of Judea. As the Sun moved across the sky during the long exposure, shadows were recorded on both sides of his house. The first commercially available photographic process was the daguerreotype, and when the process was introduced in 1839, exposure times of 10 minutes or more were required to take a photograph in sunlight. Although exposures were generally reduced to 5–10 seconds within a few years, photographing at night in the weak artificial light of the time or by moonlight was still impossible. The wet-plate collodion process was a tremendous technical advance over the daguerreotype when it was invented in 1851. However, because collodion plates had to be exposed and developed before the emulsion dried on the plate, the lengthy exposures required at night made nocturnal photography essentially impossible. In 1871, Richard Leach Maddox, an English physician and photographer, proposed combining gelatin with light-sensitive silver nitrate and cadmium bromide to make dry glass plate negatives. In 1878, Charles Harper Bennett, who was one of the first to produce dry plates, discovered that by heating the emulsion to 90F, it would become dramatically more light sensitive and stable. With this advance, plates were soon manufactured in Europe and North America and were widely available by the end of the decade. It was this introduction of the gelatin dry-plate process with its inherently greater sensitivity that once and for all opened the doors to night photography.
A few early photographers experimented with night and low-light photography, and throughout the 19th century photographs were often manipulated to appear as though they were taken at night. In 1840, the American John Draper made the oldest known daguerreotype of the Moon, which required a 20-minute exposure. From 1849 to 1851, Boston inventor and photographer John Adams Whipple and George Phillips Bond made daguerreotypes of the Moon through a telescope equipped with a clockwork mechanism that moved the telescope in sync with the Earth's rotation. The light-gathering power of the telescope also served to shorten the exposure time. After many attempts, they were able to record details of the Moon's surface for the first time. One of the resulting plates, which was made at the Harvard College Observatory where Bond's father was the director, won a gold medal at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851.
During the 1850s, Thomas Easterly was the first to record lightning strikes on a daguerreotype plate. There were numerous efforts to photograph in low-light conditions with artificial light sources beginning about 1860. The French photographer Félix Nadar photographed the catacombs and sewers below Paris, making about 100 plates between 1861 and 1862. Nadar used both magnesium lamps and electric lights powered by primitive batteries for these photographs, and he employed mannequins to represent workers because of the lengthy exposures. In 1863, Whipple experimented with electric lights to photograph a fountain on Boston Common at night. He determined that an exposure that would require one-half second in sunlight required 90 seconds by the electric lights. In April 1865, Charles Piazzi Smyth, Astronomer Royal of Scotland, made use of magnesium wire to photograph the interior passages of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
It wasn't until Paul Martin in London and William Fraser and Alfred Stieglitz in New York began to photograph at night at the very end of the 19th century that anyone produced a significant body of true night images. Beginning in 1895, Martin photographed London street scenes, starting to work just before the last hint of twilight faded away to shorten the lengthy exposures required at night. Martin attracted the attention of passersby who wondered what he could possibly be doing out at night with a camera. The police also took notice and questioned his motives on more than one occasion. To this day, many night photographers find themselves faced with similar experiences.
William Fraser began photographing New York at night about 1896, but there are very few existing prints of his work because he preferred to exhibit his photographs in the form of projected lantern slides. An article in Scribner's Magazine from 1897 stated that Fraser "has succeeded in taking some remarkable park and street scenes on snowy and rainy nights [that] show with surprising distinctness and truth, very picturesque and interesting aspects of New York." It was also noted that Fraser took advantage of the "moon's diffused light" for these photographs. The light of the Moon no doubt made more of a contribution to these images than it would if the same scene was photographed today because the nighttime level of artificial illumination was much lower at the end of the 19th century.
Alfred Stieglitz is one of the most important figures in the history of photography, both for his images and for his promotion of photography as an art form. He was perhaps the first person to record recognizable figures in a night photograph, and he used exposures of about 1 minute to photograph New York street scenes in 1897. One can't help but notice that all three of these night photography pioneers chose to photograph in poor weather conditions. Wet pavement, rain, snow, and fog all tend to add drama and atmosphere to night photographs (something that is not lost on contemporary night photographers). They were also no doubt aware that wet surfaces reflect lights in the streets. The image from 1898 reproduced here, "Icy Night," is a perfect example of how foul weather can yield spectacular results, as Stieglitz later wrote about this image:
One night, it snowed very hard. I gazed through a window, wanting to go forth and photograph. I lay in bed trying to figure out how to leave the house without being detected by either my wife or brother.
I put on three layers of underwear, two pairs of trousers, two vests, a winter coat, and Tyrolean cape. I tied on my hat, realizing the wind was blowing a gale, and armed with tripod and camera—the latter a primitive box, with 4×5 inch plates—I stole out of the house. The trees on the park side of the avenue were coated with ice. Where the light struck them, they looked like specters.
The gale blew from the northwest. Pointing the camera south, sheltering it from the wind, I focused. There was a tree—ice covered, glistening—and the snow covered sidewalk. Nothing comparable had been photographed before, under such conditions.
My mustache was frozen stiff. My hands were bitter cold in spite of the heavy gloves. The frosty air stung my nose, chin, and ears. It must have been two o'clock in the morning. After nearly an hour's struggle against the wind, I reached home and tiptoed into the house, reaching the third floor without anyone hearing me.
The next day I went to the camera club to develop the plate. The exposure was perfect.
Stieglitz had been suffering from pneumonia at the time and had been ordered to take care of himself. His success is all the more remarkable in the face of such adversity.
The preference for photographing in rain, fog, or snow was probably influenced by the pictorialist style that was prevalent at the end of the 19th century. Pictorialist photographers used soft focus and manipulation in their prints to create idealized, romantic images that evoked the impressionist paintings that were popular at the time. Photography had not yet achieved widespread acceptance as an art form, and another decade would pass before photographers had the confidence to present photographs that truly represented the new medium's mechanical potential to convey reality.
Stieglitz would go on to inspire his colleagues at the New York Camera Club to brave the night with their cameras. These photographers included Alvin Langdon Coburn, Karl Struss, Paul Haviland, W. M. Vander Weyde, and most notably Edward Steichen, who all created significant numbers of night photographs between 1900 and 1910. Although other photographers outside of New York and London most certainly were experimenting with night photography at this time, it is mostly the images of Stieglitz and his colleagues that survive today as a record of these early endeavors. There was some rivalry between club members, particularly Coburn and Steichen, and they both made twilight studies of the famous Flatiron Building. Steichen's version is considered one of his masterworks, and he made some truly remarkable gum over platinum prints of this image, three of which are housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Steichen made another significant contribution to the genre with his series of 1908 photographs of Rodin's sculpture of Balzac that were taken entirely by moonlight. Although there had been various other efforts to photograph by moonlight before Steichen, most notably by John Frith of Bermuda, who made moonlit exposures of up to 6 hours in 1887, it is the Balzac photographs that are the best extant examples of early moonlight photographs. Because there was no precedent for determining exposures, Steichen made a series of exposures of varying lengths over 2 nights. He had gone to France to photograph at the invitation of the sculptor himself, who commented that the images would "make the world understand my Balzac through these pictures." Steichen brought three large prints back to America, which were exhibited at Stieglitz's 291 Gallery in 1909. Steichen made exposures by moonlight, at dusk and dawn, and even one by flash, but the three he exhibited were all taken by the full light of the Moon. Stieglitz was so taken with them that he bought them for himself.
Inspired by their better-known contemporaries, many other photographers began to photograph at night shortly after Martin, Fraser, and Stieglitz. There is a remarkable record of the development of style and technique in the photographic journals dating roughly from 1898 to 1916. Writing in response to an 1897 article in Scribner's Magazine that praised the night photographs of Stieglitz and Fraser, a Detroit photographer by the name of Edward Van Fleet expressed his desire for recognition of his own night photographs taken from the roof of the Detroit Tribune Building in 1896. A photographer by the name of A. H. Blake proposed and organized the Night Photographer's Society of England in 1908. Blake shared his night photography experiences with the American audience in the journal American Photography in 1910. Undoubtedly, there were many photographers experimenting with night photography at this time aside from the few who are mentioned here.
The new century brought a significant change in the style and subject matter to many of these photographers' work as the romantic sensibilities of Pictorialism gave way to the more objective and sharply defined aesthetic of Modernism. Beginning around 1910, there was a shift from impressionistic pictorialist images to crisply focused modernist photographs that is evident in the work of each of these photographers. This change seemed to be an appropriate response to advances in technology and changes in attitude that came with the dawn of the 20th century. Although Modernism was well established by 1920, there were those like Adolf Fassbender who employed pictorialist sensitivities well into the 1930s.
Although the photographic record seems to indicate that early night photography was limited to Europe and North America, this was not at all the case. The photo historian Peter Yenne has worked diligently to promote the remarkable photographs of the Vargas Brothers of Arequipa, Peru. Carlos and Miguel Vargas Zaconet opened a commercial photography studio in Arequipa in 1912 after apprenticing with a photographer named Max T. Vargas (no relation). Their timing was incredibly fortunate because Arequipa was just beginning to blossom with newfound prosperity and the influence of European culture and ideas. Their studio flourished, and in addition to their portraiture business, they created a remarkable body of night images through the 1920s. Yenne says that "the influence of Pictorialism is clearly evident in the nocturnes, their most self-consciously artistic work." Yenne surmises that it was advances in photographic technology and the advent of electric light that led to this body of work. In an article accompanying an exhibit of the brothers' work titled The Vargas Brothers, Pictorialism, and the Nocturnes, Yenne writes that "taking a cue from the silent screen, they concocted a series of elaborate tableaux using moonlight, lanterns, bonfires, flash powder and street lamps. These theatrical scenes required exposures of up to an hour, and meticulous attention to detail."
In contrast to the theatrically staged images of the Vargas Brothers, some photographers photographed at night for journalistic or documentary purposes. Lewis Hine was a sociologist who worked as a photographer traveling the country for the National Child Labor Committee (NCLC) during a 10-year period beginning in 1907. Hine documented the cruel conditions of child labor in factories and children who worked in the streets selling newspapers and as messengers. Unlike the pictorialist photographers, Hine was not concerned with making art, but instead with recording working conditions to aid the NCLC in its aim of ending child labor in America. That he made many of these photographs at night was only incidental to the fact that children were being forced to work late into the night. Most of Hine's night images are portraits of children working in factories, as newsies, or as messengers, and were primarily lit with flash powder.
Excerpted from night PHOTOGRAPHY by LANCE KEIMIG SCOTT MARTIN Copyright © 2010 by Lance Keimig. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Foreword: Steve Harper
Introduction: Why Night Photography?
Chapter 1: The History of Night Photography: From Daguerreotype to Digital
Chapter 2: Night Photography Equipment
Guest section- access, security, and trespassing- Troy Paiva
Chapter 3: Basic concepts of Night Photography
Chapter 4: Film Based Night Photography
Guest section- large format color film, Tom Paiva
Chapter 5: Digital Night Photography
Guest section- What If It Moves?, Christian Waeber
Chapter 6: The Digital Darkroom for Night Photography
Chapter 7: High Dynamic Range Imaging
Guest section- Manual Layer Blending in Photoshop, Christian Waeber
Guest section- HDR and tone mapping, Dan Burkholder
Chapter 8: Moonlight, Star Trails, the Natural Environment
Chapter 9: Light Painting
Guest section- All That Shines, Cenci and Jens
Guest section- In The Absence of Light, Scott Martin
Posted May 21, 2011
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