Sunday, 21 November 2010

Street Photography at night

Here is my dilemma.  I have had two opportunities to photograph at night.  I didn't want to take my flash as it is so intrusive and crude at night. And a tripod goes against the grain with street photography. So I whacked my iso up to its maximum 1600, stopped down to the minimum of f2.8, put the shutter speed on to 1/80 to ensure the shots were not too wobbly (with hindsight, maybe I should have gone for 1/60 or 1/50).  But unfortunately the noise is in my opinion excessive and detracts from what could have been fairly good images. So what do other street photographers do when they shoot at night?  Do they use flash, faster lenses or don't they? I think probably flash is the way to go...damn...

These are the shots...inspired somewhat by the awesome Matt Stuart and Nils Jorgensen.


  1. Hi Penny

    Not sure that flash is the way to go. As you suggest faster lenses help, and a Canon 50mm f1.4 lens cost less than most speedlites. Bigger pixels really help although this does cost money - the Canon 5D gives far better results in low light. Using your body and street furniture to steady the camera will get usable shots with much lower shutter speeds, and finally using timing and the available light together with careful exposure settings adds to the results. If you look at the EXIF data on photos in this series you will find some helpful pointers.

    Best wishes


  2. Thanks Gareth, very helpful advice. Might try my 50mm lens next time - it's a f1.8 which is faster than the one I used. Maciej Dakowicz's work in Cardiff is all crystal clear and nicely exposed. I don't want to start hankering for a 5d but I can see the benefits. He also alters the exposure bias by one or two stops which I have tried in aperture priority before with partial success. I guess I need to keep practicing!!



  3. Oh and one thing I forgot to mention. For any given conditions it is easier to get a good result with a wide angle lens - notice how Maciej uses a 35mm lens quite a lot of the time. A wider angle lens is more forgiving of camera shake and as you have to get in nearer the reflected light off the subject is stronger. However, it does bring you closer to the subject, which has its downsides.

    Incidentally, and something relevant to the SocDoc course, these pictures were picked up by the Daily Mail and published initially without the photographers permission. The Mail did pay subsequently, but note how they take on somewhat different meanings when they are given titles such as 'Golden days: There's no age limit on a night out' and 'Not so innocent' Article here

    Keep up the good work


  4. black and white "grain" works for some people...

  5. Thanks Gareth for the help.

    I have a sigma 18-50mm stuck at the end of my camera most of the time which I really enjoy using. Although admittedly it isn't the fastest. And, annoyingly I have had way too many unwanted blurred shots recently. I'll keep on battling with it to see if I can improve the shots, but I think as much as I love it, the 450d does have its limitations unfortunately.

    With regards the Mail this is an interesting and concerning situation, yet not unsurprising given the questionable ethics of our tabloid press in general. I bet this won't be the last time this happens. However, posting your entire back catalogue on Flickr will raise your profile but will also attract the 'undesirables' too! And taken out of context you can see how his images have been used to visualise The Mail's own journalistic angle. But I guess where you view an image does alter your perception of it - the same picture in the Tate maybe perceived as honest and inciteful, and lurid and demeaning in the Mail. Different audiences and very different expectations...Hmmm, got me thinking now...always worrying...

  6. Hey Rob, black and white is definitely more forgiving with excessive grain and noise. And is an option. Even desired - I'm sure there is even a feature on Photoshop to recreate the 'noise' effect. However, I'm wanting to stick with colour at the moment - personal preference really. That may change though....