How to Take Photographs at Night With 35mm Film

By Keith Allen

Night photography occurs between dusk and sunrise. The amount of light available is obviously less than during other times of the day. This can create some interesting pictures if done properly. The skills needed for night photography with a 35mm camera also are applicable with other film formats and digital photography.

Night Photography

Select the right film. The International Standards Organization (ISO) number represents the light sensitivity of the film. The higher the number the more sensitive, or faster, the film. The downside of high-speed film is an increase in graininess and a decrease in color saturation.

Mount the camera on a tripod. The tripod keeps the camera steady during the long exposures common to night photography. A tripod should be used any time the camera shutter speed is slower than the focal length of the lens. For example, a 50mm lens should be mounted on a tripod anytime the shutter speed is less than 1/50th of a second. A 200 mm lens should be tripod mounted if the shutter speed is slower than 1/200th of a second.

Use a fast aperture. The aperture is the adjustable opening in the lens. A larger opening allows more light to reach the film. The size of the aperture is referred to as the f-stop. The lower the f-stop, the larger the opening. A lens with a large aperture is referred to as “fast.”

Determine the correct exposure. The through-the-lens light metering of a 35mm camera can be a good starting point to determine the correct exposure. In night photography, the correct aperture will likely be a slow shutter speed with a fast aperture. Depending on the camera, the shutter may not stay open for periods longer than a half second. In this case, the shutter can be held open with a bulb remote. This device depresses the shutter and holds it open until it is manually released by the photographer.

Compose the picture. Night photography offers a number of creative opportunities. The slow shutter speed will make the headlights of cars look like streaks of light across the scene. A statue lit by spotlights will stand out against a black sky or sunset. Any of these scenarios, and many others, makes excellent night photography subjects.

Tip

Take shots both slower and faster than the exposure indicated by the camera or light meter. This is known as bracketing and increases the chance of finding just the right shot.

About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.