Nightman (vol. 1)

Want to know how to meter at night while in a priority exposure mode or without live view? Read on night shooter, this one’s for you!

Minolta x570; Kodak Tmax p3200 @ box speed; HC110 (b)

“Luke, you switched off your targeting computer, what’s wrong?!”

“Nothing”

When you don’t have live view and/or shoot in a priority exposure mode, you have to have a bit of a deeper understanding of your camera’s meter, the scene, and what the result will be after you press the shutter button. This means understanding how the camera interprets the scene and knowing how that is different from how you interpret the scene.

With a center-weighted or an average metering system, if bright lights are included in the frame for the reading, it will throw off the exposure. The camera will think the scene is much brighter and lower your exposure time. It doesn’t know you’re trying to expose for something under the lights, as opposed to the lights themselves. So, how do you expose for a car at night with center-weighted (and whole scene average) metering? Here are some generic tips:

  • Get up real close to the car and look down at it.
  • Try to split the frame 50/50 down the middle between the front end of the car and the ground.
  • Take your reading.
  • Switch to manual mode and set your exposure to what the camera told you or stay in the priority exposure mode and hit the exposure lock button.

That will get you close, but the camera doesn’t know it’s nighttime, so you need to tweak a bit for the shadows. If the car/ground are in the light (or if you have a light colored car), decrease the exposure from the reading half a stop to a stop. If they are in the shadows, increase the exposure a stop or 2.

Minolta x570; Cinestill 800t @ box speed; C41

Let’s move on to spot + manual exposure mode. You will first want to figure out what f-stop you want to shoot at and set your camera to it. Next, meter off the brightest thing in the frame, that ISN’T a light. Set your shutterspeed as necessary to get normal exposure for it and remember the setting. Now meter off of something in the shadows. As you click the wheel/dial to lower the shutterspeed, count the stops. If you hit 1/250 for the bright and 1/15 for the dark, that’s 4 stops (1/125, 1/60, 1/30, and 1/15). Think about the range of 1/250 and 1/15. Your desired shutterspeed is generally the middle. In this case, 1/60.

There’s still a chance that some clipping of highlights/shadows will occur (lights will be blown out, but that’s ok, they’re bright!), but this is literally the middle-ground because math! Of course, tweak exposure up/down from here as necessary for the desired effect of your subject.

Minolta x570; Kodak Tmax p3200 @ box speed; HC110 (b)

Well, by now you should have a good idea of how to properly expose a photo at night. Stay tuned for part 2, where we’ll learn how to avoid the shaky cam!

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