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Black and White at Night: Film Photography at its Best

Updated on April 26, 2014

Black and White at Night

Taking black and white shots at night can be so creative. This article will show you what apertures and shutter speeds you should be using in low light conditions - or at night. By having just a little knowledge of aperture and shutter settings on your camera you too can produce wonderful photographic artwork.

In black and white photography the creative use of light - by knowledge of aperture openings, slow or fast film, and shutter speeds - will give your pictures a head start over other photographs. Nighttime black and white photography can be stunning when done correctly. And this can be achieved not just through a little technical know-how about your camera and its settings - and not just about knowing how light works - but through patience and skill too.

Black and White at Night

Film Photography at its Best

Taking night time shots using black and white 35mm film can produce some stunning results. With night time photography you have to keep in mind that you will now be working with 'artificial lights'.

That is to say, electronic billboards, traffic lights, car lights, city lights - as well as lights from buildings. All involve artificial lights and so you will have to adjust your aperture and shutter speed settings accordingly for that reason.

When out shooting with your film camera in very low light conditions - or night time conditions - you need a lens which is 'fast''. For those who are new to photography, a fast lens is a lens that enables you to use wide apertures alongside fast shutter speeds.

You have to remember that the wider the aperture the more light enters the lens. So an example of a 'fast lens' would be if it had apertures from f/2, down to f/1.4 or f/1.2. The smaller the number the wider the aperture and the faster the lens.

The larger the number the smaller the aperture. So an f-number of f/4 up too f/22 would mean the aperture gradually becoming smaller - with f/22 being the smallest aperture opening. This means that only a little light would be able to enter the lens.

So the smaller the number you use to open your aperture the wider the aperture opening will be. The aperture controls how much or how little light enters the lens. The photographer combines this with shutter speeds.

By shooting with a wide aperture, this then allows you to use fast shutter speeds. This means that you will be able to shoot your pictures in very low light level conditions - or even at night. Obviously you would not use a slow shutter speed with a wide aperture in low light conditions.

This would mean that your shot would be overexposed. So when shooting in low light conditions - or at night time, use as fast a lens you can. Again, to understand about fast lenses you have to understand about f-numbers.

So, an example of standard f-numbers that go up and down in range would be: f/1, f/1.2, f/1.4, f/2, f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f8, f/11, f/22, f32 and so on. So if you want the widest aperture possible, then you would use very small f-numbers such as f/2, f/1.4 and f/1. So, apertures of f/2, f/1.4 and f/1 will allow a lot of light into the lens.

The f-number equals the focal length of the lens. The focal length of the lens could be 50mm, 100mm, 500mm or more. And, the aperture equals the diameter of the lens. The focal length of the lens is divided by the diameter of the lens to give you an f-number.

A 200mm lens, at f/4, would give you a lens of 50mm in width. So when trying to work out how wide your lens is, always divide the focal length of the lens by its diameter to give you the f-number. [200mm/50mm =f/4]

Apertures and shutter speeds are connected. You have to combine wide apertures [low f-numbers] with fast shutter speed settings, such as 125th/sec, 250th/sec 500th/sec, and so on. When shooting with low light, or at night, always keep this in mind about wide apertures and fast shutter speeds.

By knowing a little bit of knowledge about shooting in low light levels, or at night, you too can produce stunning black and white photographic art. The trick is judging what apertures you should use for any given low level light condition.

You also have to remember that light is constantly changing, and so you have to be quick to adapt to changes in light and react accordingly. With practice, you too can produce beautiful black and white imagery, just by the creative use of light, aperture and shutter settings.

Black and white night time photography has produced some of the most evocative photographs over the years. Study them and see how photographers of the past dealt with light and shadow to produce, I feel, quite breathtaking works of photographic art. This is why I believe, black and white photography to be in a league of its own. No other photographic genre captures 'time' quite like this one.

Film Photography - Ricoh KR-5

Black and white film photography has, for me, always stood the test of time. This type of photography captures the essence, I believe, of time itself. Even more so than color. The item below is pure quality. Ricoh is a famous name in the world of photography and I feature a vintage Ricoh, KR-5 35mm SLR Camera in this module.

Black and White - At Night

Beautiful black and white photographic imagery

Module for all of your photographic needs. For those who love film photography.

Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
See how the clouds are brought to the fore, with detail, by using a yellow filter.Wonderful picture of just how powerful light and shadow can be in black and white.Another fine example of light and shadow within black and white photographySee how the face is lit just enough to show enough detail
See how the clouds are brought to the fore, with detail, by using a yellow filter.
See how the clouds are brought to the fore, with detail, by using a yellow filter.
Wonderful picture of just how powerful light and shadow can be in black and white.
Wonderful picture of just how powerful light and shadow can be in black and white.
Another fine example of light and shadow within black and white photography
Another fine example of light and shadow within black and white photography
See how the face is lit just enough to show enough detail
See how the face is lit just enough to show enough detail

Black and White at Night - Film Photography at its Best

Beautiful, evocative, timeless. Those are some of the words that describe black and white photographs.

New Amazon

Ilford 1574577 HP5 Plus, Black and White Print Film, 35 mm, ISO 400, 36 Exposures
Ilford 1574577 HP5 Plus, Black and White Print Film, 35 mm, ISO 400, 36 Exposures

Ilford is the name which is renowned for the production of black and white 35 mm film. It is the film I most often used myself, during my time studying black and white photography in college, many years ago. And it is the film I still use today. Ilford is versatile, consistent with results, and will never let you down.

 
Ilford XP-2 Super 400 135-36 Black & White Film
Ilford XP-2 Super 400 135-36 Black & White Film

I have used Ilford XP-2 Super many times and found it an outstanding film. Again, this is everything that I have said about the above. And, it is a film that will never let you down.

 

Black and White at Night - Film Photography at its Best

Great little video here. These shots of deserted streets were taken during the still dark hours of early morning.

Beautiful video clip this is. Just goes to show you how evocative black and white film really is.

Black and White at Night - Film Photography at its Best

Taking black and white shots, at night, is something that those who are just getting into photography never think about. The general consensus is that when shooting with a camera, you have to wait until the sun is out. Nothing could be further from the truth. Black and white film photography, when shooting at night, can produce some of the most evocative and beautiful shots.

By using what available light there is at night, in a creative way, whether those shots are outside or indoors, you can make your black and white prints stand out from the rest. Of course, knowing a little about shutter speeds and apertures and how they both work in conjunction [as a team, more-or-less] in reference to how much or how little light enters your lens, helps a lot.

But this is soon learned, through experimentation and trial and error. Experiment when you are out with your film camera at night. Take different shots using a mixture of slow/fast shutter speeds and different aperture settings. Do not be afraid to experiment, because it is only then that you learn about what settings you should use, for certain light conditions. Write down what shutter speeds and apertures you used for each shot, as this will come in handy when you go out shooting again. This is because by writing or recording what shutter speeds and apertures you have used, for whatever light condition you are shooting in, it will give you a point of reference.

Are you using a slow film or fast? What type of film would be best suited for night time photography, shooting in black and white? Remember, the higher the ISO Number of the film you are using is, the more sensitive to light it will be. Keep this in mind when purchasing your black and white photographic film.

One point of practice is to use slow shutter speeds and wide apertures - when shooting at night. However, it is all about creativity and experimentation. So, get out your SLR film camera, load it with black and white film and go out shooting your night time shots.

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