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This article was written by the New York Institute of Photography, America’s oldest and largest photography school. NYI provides professional-level training via home study for photographers who want to give their images a professional look, and perhaps earn extra income with their camera.
Then, There Was Low Light
Here's the kind of moody scene you can record if you're ready to experiment with low light photography. Later on in this series, we'll show you how to make photos like this.
Here's a low light photo where timing is everything. We see a dramatic cityscape that hinges partly on good luck (you need a great sunset), good timing, and good exposure. All three are part of low light photography.
Taking low light (or available light, as it is often called) photographs is not always easy. In fact, it can be quite difficult. Over the next few months, we will explore the possibilities and procedures for taking low light photography. With some guidance and practice, you will be prepared to venture into the nocturnal world and make it come to life.
First, A Look BackWith the technological advancements of the last 100 years, it's easy to forget that in the beginning there was only low light. Electricity was not invented until the 1890's, and it wasn't in mass use until the early 1900's. Photography came years before and so was created to work with the little light available. It is a field, which was built upon by many artists and inventors, all adding to the advancements of their predecessors. Though there was one whose name stuck-before Darwin, Newton, Ford, and Lindbergh, there was the French artist Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre.
Daguerre was born near Paris in 1787. A successful commercial artist by 1825, he also promoted the giant theater, the Diorama, which encased huge 22 x 14m. paintings of historical, allegorical, and picturesque scenes lit to simulate movement. With the assistance of Joseph-Nicephore Niepce, Daguerre developed a method of making photographs, which excited commercial success. He called his invention "The Daguerreotype." By beginning with a plate of silver upon copper, polishing the plate with steatic calcareous stone, and iodizing the surface to create a pale yellow tint, the novice photographers had their first materials to create replications of their physical world. The plate then goes into the camera obscura (a small box with a hole in it), the lens is directed onto the object, and the rest depends entirely on the lighting.
By 1839, the French government had made the Daguerreotype public by publishing Daguerre's process of photography for the entire world to learn. In a matter of days, everything that related to the making of a Daguerreotype-iodine, lens, copper-was emptied from the opticians' and chemists' stores in Paris. To the cartoonists and satirists, it was nothing short of "Daguerreotypomania."
In Daguerre's era, photos of buildings often took half an hour or more to record. People walking past, along with dogs, carriages and other moving objects, didn't appear unless they stood still for a long period of time. Today, one way to record modern architecture is by taking photographs at night, such as was one with this photograph. We'll analyze how it was done in a later part of this series.
The Fever is ContagiousThis fever to create photographs spread rapidly overseas and took hold in America. The daguerreotype excited the appetite for adventure of the Western pioneers, the artistic sensibilities of the eastern painters; and in everyone, it touched deeply a desire to place the temporal world into small, silver-plated portraits, which could literally be held outside of time. One of the most novel aspects of the first camera was that it had not been patented or licensed. So, anyone from the wealthy to the farm hands could get their portrait taken or even construct their own daguerreotype. It truly was a new communication medium, and it created a similar frenzied productivity and excitement that today surrounds the World Wide Web. By 1843, an explosive portrait industry had emerged.
Low light mixed with bright lights makes for streaks, something that can add or detract from a low light photo. For rides in an amusement part, these combination can show us things we can't see with our eyes.
Here's a common low light problem. Professional sports stadiums have bright, expensive lighting that makes night games easy to photograph. What can you do when your subject is high school sports and the lighting is lousy? Naturally there are limits, but we'll tell you about the state of the art in a later installment.
Low light doesn't just mean nighttime. A good dreary winter day also qualifies. Low light is in the eye of the beholder, just waiting to be captured by the photographer.
© 2003 |New York Institute of Photography