One of the toughest times to capture on film is at night. Regardless of what your subject is, if you don't have a flash, having such little light restricts your ability to photograph in the same way as the middle of the day. That being said, I have 3 tips on how to improve your film photos during those darker times of day. 

 Tip #1: Use a tripod

It's not the most exciting method, but it's the most straightforward. Pairing a tripod with a cable release (if your camera lets you user one) will help you to reduce your camera shake by 95%. It will also allow you to take long exposures, or feel confident shooting at speeds under 1/60. If you have really steady hands, you may be able to go down to 1/30 handheld, but I wouldn't chance it, personally. 

This was shot on a tripod, allowing me to make a long exposure showing the movement of the people inside the bar. 

Tip #2: Shoot wide open

"Shooting wide open" refers to your lens' aperture, particularly the number on the lens/the smallest number on its aperture ring. For nighttime photography, I would recommend using a lens f2 or wider (1.8, 1.4). The great thing about night photography is that whatever is out of focus is much harder to notice since a lot of your frame will be dark. Shooting wide open will let in the most light possible, as well as getting you a nice amount of depth of field/bokeh in your images. Shutter speed is the most important setting when it comes to night photography, so anything you can do to make it faster will help you immensely.

This photo was shot wide open and while the foreground is blurry, it adds depth as well as helps draw your eye to the main subject in the image. This also allowed me to shoot as fast as I possibly could.

Tip #3: Get to know the film you're shooting

This is going to be a bit geekier than the other two tips, but bear with me. Many film stocks have a "box speed" (the number on the box or roll, e.g. Portra 400). Some films perform better at different speeds than advertised, especially dependent upon the time of day. There is a concept in film photography called "reciprocity failure" which, as simply put as possible, refers to when shooting at a shutter speed longer than (X) amount of time, you need to add more light to compensate for its loss in sensitivity. So, while your light meter may say "15 second shutter", you need to add an additional (X) amount of light to compensate. All films have different ratings, so I'd recommend giving it a quick Google search before going out. For example: if you are shooting Portra 400, it recommends overexposing by 2 stops if your shutter is 60 seconds. If you're shooting a ~5 second shutter, it's more like 1/4 of a stop. 

All of this is to say, film is an inherently physical medium, and because of that, it has its own quirks, like reciprocity failure. Thankfully, all it takes is looking at a graph. 

This was shot on Kodak Ektar 100, and metered at a 60 second shutter. According to its reciprocity chart, the correct time to counter this roughly double, at 115 seconds.



Shooting film at night is one of my favorite activities. Being able to roam the empty streets and view your area in a new way is a really fun way to branch out in your photography. All it takes is a little more preparation. With these tips, you should be better prepared to take on the nighttime with your camera. 

Happy shooting!

Matt Rygh

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