Ex 4.3 Night Light


“If only you knew the things I have seen in the darkness of night…”

– M. C. Escher


After some quite interesting background reading (and a fair dose of procrastination) I thought it would be better to start actually putting together some shots for this exercise.
I found that by reading through the coming exercises I can always keep those exercises in mind when out and about, and, in effect, I have been taking quite a few shots relevant to these upcoming exercises (as well as mini personal projects I’ve been working on too).
I have been reasonably well organised and have even attempted to create some virtual folders collecting my old and new night shots with the idea being to review some of my older shots together with the new ones here.
Camera settings were the usual: manual, range of lenses (25mm and 50mm fast primes/zooms 14-42; 40-150; low ISO for detail as I was using a tripod and shutter release cable), with an eye on the white balance settings. I also (luckily) did most of my night shots after some rain to hopefully grab some nice effects with reflections and textures alla Brassaï.
All of these shots are JPEGs straight out of the camera unless stated otherwise in the notes below and have no post production.

Nighttime: first efforts and comments

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My initial idea with this tricky shot (it was on a slope) was to try and put the camera’s sensor to the test and try to trap those different light sources.
What I find with these first two shots was how the camera seems to bring out those hidden colours: I really couldn’t see that much orange light – and definitely not the darker shadows (reflected bushes) towards the bottom of the wall to the right.
With shot two, the unintentional torch-light (got in a right state trying to sync my cable release and torch button, twit!) actually adds to the light analysis one could say. Interesting to see how, at first, the overall exposure didn’t really seem to change at all even if I had my camera’s exposure metering on centre weighted? But a closer look at the shots reveals some subtle differences: the whiter light reflected on the furthest wall (with the cable and light switch) in shot 1 is ‘colder’ than shot 2 which has a warmer tone and definitely a touch of yellow tint to it. I also think that the orange wall to the top right of shot 2 is slightly brighter. Ok, decent start, I reckon.

With this second set, my main idea was to again try to reveal any tones and colours of light on the various surfaces available as well as trying to bring out some of the textures with a couple of hand-held torches (I had my slave, I mean, my teenage son to help me out here!).
Overall, I feel that this wasn’t too successful. Shot 1 wasn’t exposed for long enough at 3,2 seconds and what with the low ISO of 400 (trying to maintain detail), and a fairly slow aperture of F/5,6, (also for detail) then, I suppose, that was to be expected.
The other three shots – all taken at a 10 second exposure time – clearly show more details. Again, as with the first attempts above, we can see some nice orange street lights reflected to the right, and my son and I’s “torch play” (especially shot 2) obviously highlights some more details as well as almost balancing the shots in terms of light to the left and light to the right… If you see what I mean. Although, I think we should have lowered the torch-light (they can be regulated) and possibly tried to focus on those curious white sblodges on the ramp itself. Might have produced some interesting effects.

Shot 1, maybe too dark, but still getting some nice reflection/shadows on the wall.
I lengthened the shutter time to try and get some more details/effects as well as using the blue torch-lights to try to create some sort of difference (in terms of light quality, or temperature). Shot 2 with its 20 second exposure certainly gave me more detail on the histogram – especially blue light thanks to the torches, and richer details on the floor too. With shots 3 and 4 I tried to capture my son walking across the frame which didn’t work out to well. Although shot 4 there are a few of him spaced across the frame if you look close enough. Frustratingly, not too successful at catching movement once again…

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I wanted to avoid direct light into the lens, but I thought that this shot with its reflections might provide some nice observations regarding the light.
Shot 1 I used a longer shutter (40sec) and left the WB on auto. I find that the Olympus auto white balance hits the mark 95% of the time (for me of course), and it did a pretty good job here I think considering the tricky amount of light sources in the frame.
Shot 2 was with the same WB but I wanted to see how it looked with a much shorter shutter speed – there’s definitely a less greenish feel to it, and it comes closer to how I saw the scene – although it was much darker to the naked eye. For shot 3 I used the incandescent WB setting and a much longer shutter speed of 57 seconds (as well as dropping the ISO to 100 to try and pry out a little more texture). Clearly the incandescent setting is much colder than auto, almost as if I’d used a coloured filter. We used a couple of torches on the foreground pavement (quite effective) as well as the tress to the right (ineffectual).
The final shot, shot 4 (72 second exposure) I set the camera to a flourescent WB setting, and we can see a difference. At first glance, there seems to be a similar light quality to shot 1 (using the auto setting), but on closer observation shot 4 appears to be a redder, magenta hue even. When compared to shot 1, shot 1 looks green/yellow! I must admit, I dislike both of those tones/hues/temperatures and prefer a mix although leaning towards the magenta temperature. Interesting.

These two shots are quite obviously inspired by my readings into both Brassaï’s immense night work, and the sweet work of Rut Blees Luxemburg.
Here we can see at the top of the frame some white light (from a nearby stadium) reflected on the tarmac which didn’t quite give me the effect I wanted so I used the torches to direct two extra sources of light. The first from the top right behind some bushes which I liked reflected on the pavement towards the camera (almost a mix of backlighting and cross lighting; and then light directed from behind the camera (axial light) just in front of my feet and the camera (seen here to the bottom of the image.
Shot 2 is a edited version where I added some warmer temperature to the overall image and cropped to a square as well as adding a little clarity and raising the highlights a touch. I also tried a BW shot, but found it too dull so I went with this warmer version.

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With these shots I used the 50mm prime lens.  Shot 1 was with the auto setting, whereas shot 2-3 were with the colder flourescent WB settings, and we can see a difference here. Shot 2-3 I tried to change the focus from near to far but can’t say I like these efforts too much but also realise we need to see what doesn’t work as well as what does.
I would stress that with this shot, being taken with a manual lens for full frame, there seems to be some chromatic anomalies: the purple focus plane in shot 2 is evident and I probably would remove that in post production.

There seemed to be some decent light effects here with the puddles and the several different light sources so I first tried with the kit lens (14-42mm – 28-85 equivalent) and then for shot 2/3 I used one of my cheap fun primes from China: a 25mm F/1,4 CCTV lens. The kit lens performs quite well with a good range of tones and detail I thought; whereas the 25mm with its much faster aperture gives us a brighter image at 8 seconds but with noticeable loss of image quality clearly towards the corners and with the characteristic vignetting of these lenses caused by their small size. An important thing to notice here is how the WB (auto mode) manages to produce faithful light qualities with both these very different lenses (bearing in mind the view seemed pitch black to us). Shot three we can just see the oncoming headlights of a car – which adds detail to the road as well as raising the overall brightness of the image with those white lights: a pleasant inclusion for once, as cars tend to usually bug me.

Using the Olympus 50mm prime (which as I said before performs like a 100mm on the micro four thirds sensor) I was looking to get some of that ambient light using a range of apertures. For shot 1 I set the ISO at 3,200 which, I must be honest, I hardly ever do. The orange street light with seems to cast a sickly green light on this scene; can’t say I am a fan of this light, but it has to be said, a lot of detail can be seen and the noise seems to be reasonably well contained by the Olympus compression. Shot 4 I put the ISO down to 800 and at shutter of 2 seconds with fair results, I think: I really like the way the chunky red fence seems to ‘pop out’ thanks to the street light – something that was basically invisible to the naked eye.

Shot 1 (with the kit lens 14-42mm) seems to be dominated by that sickly yellow/green tint (something that I would adjust in post production – although I don’t know why I didn’t try different WB settings here IN CAMERA!?); shot 2 – using the 25mm CCTV lens at F/1,4 I could come down with exposure time to 1 second thanks to the very fast F/1,4 aperture. I also like the less sickly yellows and greens here, the picture seems more natural to me (apart from that ridiculous – but fun – swirling at the borders!).

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I wanted to put these in as they show how different the camera ‘sees’ reality compared to our own eyes. Shot 1 was with the 25mm again, and in terms of the colour quality it is pretty close to how I saw the actual light; the second shot reveals light shadows and colours that were hidden to the naked eye.

Shot 1 was set to auto white balance whereas shot 2 was set to the flourescent setting giving us a slightly more natural feel to the light; shot 3 was the incandescent setting and this is much brighter and has returned to the more orange hue (thanks also to the longer shutter time of 3,2 seconds).

Nighttime: older shots, reviewed

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These two shots taken a few weeks back were with the 50mm again wide open. I was trying to see the difference with and without car headlights on the tarmac (auto WB here).

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Just some fun shots while out and about a little after sunset (edited and cropped in LR).


Learning how to observe the light around us is undoubtedly a prerequisite for successful photography, just as learning how to use our camera’s settings is equally important to the final effect of a picture. I’m not a fan of sitting in front of the monitor for too long (however much I do actually do that!), so getting the WB settings and ISO right in situ is a must for me – and hopefully something that I feel I am beginning to understand as well as getting used to doing: one of those ‘good’ habits to get into.
There are so many variables to get right when taking a picture (in manual mode) and all of them have their importance (I’m thinking: reciprocity); but after having done this exercise and experimented with night shots and the camera’s settings, I think that getting the “correct” white balance setting could be the key to making or breaking a decent photograph.
With the previous exercise (Ex 4.2) the focus was observing the nuances of daylight (something I’d always taken for granted) and there is still plenty to learn about The Golden Hour; Kelvins, and that blue light as well as using shadows throughout the day and the way they change often incredibly rapidly. However, with night-light, things are very different: light behaves in a different way; it casts shadows where none seem to be and reflects and refracts with amazing beauty; it almost seems to reinvent colours and apply them to places and things in a way that only through the camera’s eye can they be revealed. Dealing with one, two or three main sources of light can lead to dramatic moods and long eerie shadows reminiscent of early morning or late afternoon sunlight, but without the incident light bouncing all over the place.
Simply fascinating stuff.


Ernst, B. (1976). The magic mirror of M.C. Escher. New York: Random House. (p17)

Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). Exercise 4.3: reading and research. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/exercise-4-3/ [Accessed 28 Sep. 2016].

Kev Byrne 1971. (2016). Exercise 4.2. [online] Available at: https://kevinbyrne1971.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/exsercise-4-2/ [Accessed 28 Sep. 2016].

Contact sheets


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