Working with Czech-made Fomapan Classic in my Nikon F3, I’ve wandered the streets of Dublin seeking timeless images.
By careful chemical manipulation in the processing of the negatives, I aimed to extract exceptional shadow detail, maintain rich black tones and control highlight areas.
I’ve exposed these views over the last few weeks. In many instances, I’ve set my lenses to their widest apertures both to let greater amounts of light to reach the film, but also for the effects offered shallow depth of field.
Weather, including fog, added to the challenge and the atmosphere.
I’d use ‘gray’ in place of ‘dark’, but apparently the phraseology has assumed new meanings.
I could just say ‘Dublin in Black & White’, but that isn’t really correct either.
Working with my Nikon F3 loaded with Foma Classic 100 black & white film, I made these photos during March 2018 wintery weather in Dublin.
To keep my camera steady for long exposures, I used various tripods, depending on the surface and circumstance.
My exposures varied, but most were between 1 and 8 seconds. I calculated exposure manually using a Minolta IV Flash meter (in reflective mode).
I processed the Fomapan 100 film in Ilford ID-11 stock mixed 1-1 with water at 68F for 7 minutes 15 seconds, plus pre-soak with a token amount of Kodak HC110, then scanned negatives using an Epson V500 flatbed scanner.
The other night I made this digital photograph of Boston’s South Station.
Working with my FujiFilm X-T1 with 12mm Touit, I set the ISO to 1600 and handheld the camera at ¼ sec.
I calculated exposure manually using the camera meter, and then intentionally increased the exposure by about ½ stop. (In otherwords I let in more light to the sensor than recommended by the meter).
In post processing, I adjusted contrast and exposure to control highlights and lighten the night sky in order to overcome two of the common failings of night photographs: blasted highlights and excessive inky blackness.
Irish Rail’s Kent Station in Cork City is a cool place to make photos. It’s unusual curved train shed, plus antique platform awnings and brick station buildings have a Victorian appearance that offer a contrast with the modern trains that now serve passengers here.
Using my FujiFilm X-T1 fitted with a Zeiss 12mm Touit Distagon, I exposed this evening view at Limerick Junction.
At right is the down train from Dublin Heuston destined for Cork Kent Station, on the left is the shuttle train to/from Limerick .
I imported the camera-RAW file into Lightroom, and made nominal adjustments to the contrast while lightening shadow areas. Significantly, I cooled the colour temperature to compensate for the harsh effects of sodium and fluorescent lights to make for a more natural appearing colour balance.
Dusk is a great time to make captivating images, provided you get the exposure right.
I made this view at Buchloe, Germany in southwestern Bavaria. It was a little while after sunset, and the cool glow of a winter’s evening sky made for some interesting lighting. The platforms at the station were lit using common sodium vapor lamps, while a lamp in the yard on the left appears to be of the mercury vapor variety.
Among the advantages of twilight is the ability to find a good balance between natural and man made light. Once the glow in the sky fades, the black of night makes balanced exposures more difficult.
Here, I opted to use a Fujichrome emulsion (probably Provia 100F) that had filtration layers designed to minimize discoloration from the spectral spikes typical of man-made lighting, such as sodium and fluorescent sources. These spikes are largely invisible to the human eye, but can produce unnatural color casts on slide films.
One of the features of this image is the old DB Class 218 diesel, a type known colloquially as a ‘Rabbit’ because of its rabbit-ear exhaust stacks.
Back in the mid-1980s, I’d often visit Springfield Union Station (Springfield, Massachusetts) with Bob Buck .
We’d arrive in his green Ford van, typically after another event, such as a meeting of the West Springfield Train Watchers or a concert at the Springfield Symphony.
I’d come equipped with a tripod, Leica and large handheld Metz electronic flash unit (strobe). Often, I’d wrap the head of the strobe in a white garbage bag to diffuse the light (on the recommendation of Doug Moore). This eliminated the hard edge often associated with electronic flash.
[My old prewar Leicas predated electronic flash sync. However they do have a ‘T’ setting, and this allowed me to lock the shutter open indefinitely.]
I’d place the camera on the tripod, position it in a way as to minimize light falling the front element of the lens, open the shutter, then walk around using the Metz flash unit to illuminate shadowed areas of the scene as to even out the exposure. I’d keep the flash at relatively low power and make a series of bursts for the most effective results.
Typically I’d leave the shutter open for about 30 seconds.
In 1919, Prague main station was renamed Wilsonova Nádrazi in honor of American president Woodrow Wilson. The name was dropped after German annexation and occupation during World War II, and appears to have been forgotten during the postwar period of Soviet influence that prevailed until the Czech Velvet Revolution in November 1989. The name change was the least of the station’s problems. During this dark period of Czech history, the station was allowed to deteriorate and by the mid-1990s was a dismal shadow of its former glory.
On an evening last week, using my Lumix LX-7, I exposed this time exposure of Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Belges’s (Belgian National Railways or SNCB) Gare de La Hulpe.
This railway line is being transformed from double track mainline line to a quad track line to facilitate an improved suburban service akin to the Paris RER.
To make this image, I rested the camera on the bridge railing, exposed a pair of trial exposures to gauge the lighting conditions, then set the camera (shutter speed and aperture) manually to allow for sufficient exposure of the sky and shadow areas.
As previously mentioned on Tracking the Light, to make successful night photos it is important to give the scene sufficient exposure (usually 2/3s of a stop more than allocated by many built-in camera meter settings), while keep the camera steady for the duration of the exposure. Keeping flare to a minimum is also helpful.
It was a dark and rainy night on January 2015. Pat Yough and I were watching the railroad roll. I made these views of CSX freights moving along the Trenton Line (former Reading) at Neshaminy Falls, Pennsylvania.
I exposed these images handheld using my Canon EOS 7D set at high ISO for greater sensitivity in low light. The images have a gritty high-noise look to them. Let’s just say, it wasn’t Kodachrome weather. But then, there isn’t any Kodachrome anymore.
In response to my recent nomination by Phil Brahms and Blair Kooistra for the Facebook Night Photo challenge, I’ve selected five groups of photos that I feel might be interesting to review on Tracking the Light.
I have to admit, I’m not clear on the rules for this challenge. As a result, I’ll follow my standard policy and just wing it. Who needs rules anyway?
Among the difficulties in selecting photos for this challenge has been simply finding them. For the most part I’ve not organized images in regards to the time of day they were exposed. A related problem is the large number of night views that I’ve attempted over the years.
Portugal shares the broad Iberian standard gauge with Spain: rails are five feet six inches apart. Despite this commonality, today there are relatively few international services between the two countries.
One of the few cross-border trains is the nightly combined Lusitania/Sud Expresso connecting Lisbon with Spanish cities. The Lusitania runs Lisbon-Madrid, while the Sud Expresso is a vestige of the old Wagon Lits luxury express that once connected Lisbon with Paris, but now only goes as far as Irun on the Spanish-French frontier.
The train operates with RENFE (Spanish Railways) TALGO train hotel equipment, which makes it anomalous compared with the majority of Portuguese passenger trains.
On April 3, 2014, I planned to photograph the eastward Lusitania/Sud Expresso (train 335/310) during its station stop at Entrocamento, Portugal.
This is a big station, adjacent to freight yards, shops, and Portugal’s National Railway Museum.
The train departed Lisbon Santa Apolónia at 9:18 pm, and arrived at Entroncamento a little more than an hour later. I had less than five minutes to make photographs.
Then I quickly swapped the Lumix for my Canon EOS 3 with 40mm lens loaded with Provia 100F, and made a three exposure bracket. With film, I find it difficult to gauge night exposures, so I aided my efforts with my handheld Minolta Mark IV light meter.
Provia 100F has a filtration layer that minimizes undesirable color spikes caused by fluorescent and sodium lighting.
In the middle of this time-exposure exercise, I also made several handheld images using my Canon EOS 7D set for a high ISO. I figured that covered most of the angles.
I was distracted during my efforts by the arrival of a Takargo Vossloh E4000 diesel (powered by an EMD 16-710 engine) hauling a container train.
As soon as the train hotel pulled away, I repositioned to photograph the diesel-hauled container train.
For me, SEPTA is one of the most photogenic American big city transit systems. Sure, other cities have their charms, but Philadelphia has a lot going for it; variety, accessibility, interval services on most routes, real time displays at stations, visual cues to its heritage, interesting and varied equipment and etc.
On January 16, 2014, my brother Sean and I, spent an afternoon and evening wandering on SEPTA’s rail systems making photographs. I had a minor agenda to ride a few pieces of the network I’d not yet traveled on.
I worked with two cameras; Lumix LX3 and Canon EOS 7D, but traveled relatively light (no film body or big telephotos)
All of the lines we traveled were well patronized (some at standing room only) and yet everything seem to run to time. SEPTA’s staff were friendly and helpful. (Especially when we were running for trains).
Last Friday evening, November 16, 2013, I stopped by New England Central in Palmer, Massachusetts on my way to meet friends for dinner.
The moon was nearly full and a venerable GP38 was resting in the yard. Here was an opportunity for a photograph (or two)!
I’ve made numerous images of New England Central 3855, since this locomotive arrived with the creation of the railroad nearly 19 years ago. So why bother make more, especially on a chilly November evening?
My short answer: because it was there to photograph.
The long answer: the moon was out casting a surreal glow across the Palmer yard and the mix of moonlight and sodium vapor street lights inspired me to expose some long time exposures.
I positioned my Lumix LX3 on my large Bogen tripod and manually set the camera. I carefully avoided direct light by using tree branches and nearby buildings as natural lens shades. I also minimize the effect of street lamps in the photograph, while aiming skyward to catch the twinkle of evening stars. (On the full-sized un-scaled RAW file, the stars are very clear in the sky. Unfortunately the scaled and compressed images do not translate as well as I’d hoped.)
Heuston Station (known as King’s Bridge Station until its 1966 renaming) is a multimodal transport hub. In addition to being one of Irish Rail’s primary long distance and suburban stations, it’s also an important LUAS tram stop (one of only a few with a turn-back siding) and a terminal bus stop for 145 and 747 buses.
I made this time exposure with my Lumix LX3 on Monday morning. Since I didn’t have a tripod, I set the camera on a waist-height railing and set the self timer for 2 seconds to minimize camera shake.
I had the camera set in its ‘Vivid’ color mode which enhances the blue effect of dawn while making red lights more prominent. To calculate exposure, I used the ‘A’ aperture priority setting with a +2/3 (2/3s of a stop over exposure to add light to the scene).
This override is a means of compensating for the dark background and dark sky combined with bright highlights from electric streetlight (which have a tendency to fool the camera meter).
Although Palmer is a relatively small town, it has long been the focus of railway activity. Today, it hosts yards for both New England Central and CSX, as well as nominal terminal facilities for Mass-Central.
CSX has a four-mile dispatchers controlled siding the runs from CP79 to CP83 (the numbers are based loosely interpret mileage from South Station, Boston). Just past the west switch at CP83 is the level crossing with New England Central—colloquially known as the Palmer Diamond. The popular Steaming Tender restaurant occupies the old Union Station between the two lines.
After 10pm, trains converged on CP83. A CSX westbound on the main track met an eastward freight running via the controlled siding, as New England Central’s northward job 606 was looking to cross CSX to double its train together before heading toward Vermont.
The awkward nature of the former Central Vermont yard at Palmer complicates operations over the CSX diamond. Not only is the yard too short to hold long trains, but the yard was built on a grade which crests at the CSX (former Boston & Albany crossing).
Challenges for railroaders produce opportunities for photography, especially in the evening hours. As the railroads weaved their trains through Palmer, I made a series of photos.
However, time was catching me up: I’d had a long day and by 11pm, I needed a bit of that elusive commodity—sleep. As Bob Buck would have said, I was the ‘hero’, and departed as more trains were focused on Palmer. The approach lit signals at CP83 were still lit when I hit the road. The regular gang can report on what I missed!
Yesterday (July 10, 2013), I posted night photos I made in Palmer on June 28, 2013. I mentioned that my night photography efforts were part of a long standing tradition. So I dug up this image of the Palmer station exposed nearly three decades earlier.
This was undoubtedly made on a Friday evening. A thick fog from the Quaboag River had enveloped the valley. In the station parking lot, and out of sight, Bob Buck is holding court.
That night I made several views of the Palmer station in silhouette. All were exposed with my old Leica 3A and a 50mm lens, probably a Canon screwmount which I favored at the time. I was using my father’s Linhof tripod to support the camera. Exposure was calculated strictly from experience, and was probably about 30 seconds at f2.8.
Interestingly, just the other day (July 9, 2013) I had the opportunity to interview Jim Shaughnessy about the night photography techniques he used to capture steam locomotives on film back in the 1950s. While similar to mine, his approach was very different and he perfected it more than three decades before my image was exposed.
Where I used 35mm film and strictly ambient light for this image, Jim tended to use a 4×5 camera and a skilled combination of ambient and artificial flash.
Of course, I was well acquainted with Jim’s work by the time I made this photo. There has been a copy of Donald Duke’s 1961 book Night Train on our shelf for as long as I can remember! This features Jim’s work among that of other well-established practitioners of the art of railway night photography.
I don’t remember making my first night photo in Palmer. But I do recall spending Friday evenings there in the 1980s with Bob Buck and company, watching and photographing Conrail and Central Vermont. See: Drowning the Light
The Friday evening tradition was maintained on June 28, 2013, when a group of us convened, as we have for many years, near the old station. A few weeks earlier, I posted some photos made on exceptionally wet Friday night. By contrast, June 28th was warm, dry and very pleasant. And busy too!
The variances of railway freight operations make it difficult to pin point precisely when trains will pass or arrive Palmer. Complicating matters on the week of June 28, was on-going undercutting on CSX’s B&A route (see: Ballast Train East Brookfield), and the after effects of a serious derailment on the Water Level route near Fonda, New York a few days earlier.
However, these events appear to have benefited us on the evening of the 28th. I arrived at CP83 (the dispatcher controlled signals and switch at west end of the controlled siding, 83 miles from Boston) just as CSX’s westward Q437 was rolling through.
New England Central had no less than three trains working in Palmer, jobs 604, 606, and 611, and these entertained us for the next couple of hours. In addition, we caught more action on CSX, including a very late train 448, Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited.
I made these photos using my Lumix LX3 and my father’s Gitzo carbon fiber tripod. Some of the exposures required the shutter to remain open for 25 seconds or longer.
Infrastructural Views Fresh From the Digital Cameras.
The other day, I landed at Midway where I was met by Chris Guss. We immediately set to work making images of America’s most railroad intensive city. It’s been nearly two years since I was last here; and nearly 30 years since my first visit. Time passes and much has changed, yet there are many vestiges of old railroads.
There’s always a wheel turning in Chicago, but these pictures are more about the railroad infrastructure than the trains themselves. There’s a book in this somewhere.
Going back to at least the 1980s, a group of us would convene in Palmer on Friday evenings. It used to be that after closing Tucker’s Hobbies on Fridays, Bob Buck would come down for dinner along with customers and friends from the store. Afterwards, we’d head over to ‘the station’ to watch the railroad.
I recall seeing Central Vermont’s old Alco RS-11s on sultry summer evenings, belching clouds of exhaust and sparks, while we waiting for the parade of westward Conrail trailvans (intermodal piggy-back trains); TV-5, TV-13, and etc. Back in the day, I’d make night shots with my Leica 3A. That seems like a long time ago.
This past Friday, a group of us convened at the usual spot; Doug and Janet Moore, Bill Keay, Rich Reed and myself. After a few trains, Doug and Janet were the ‘heroes’ as Bob would have called them; they headed home and a little while later the signals at CP83 lit up. To my astonishment, the ‘C’ light was flashing (the small lunar-white light between the main signal heads). I rushed for my cameras . . .
The signals at CP83 are approach-lit. So, when the signals light, it means that something (usually a train) has shunted the circuit. Among other things, CSX’s CP83 governs the switch at the west end of a controlled siding that begins at CP79 (about four miles to the east). When the signals light with a high green, it means a westward train has been cleared to continue past CP83.
Conrail installed the present signaling system back in 1986 when it converted the Boston & Albany route from directional double track under Automatic Block Signal rule 251 ( ‘signal indication will be the authority for trains to operate with the current of traffic’) to a largely single main track system with controlled sidings and governed by Centralized Traffic Control-style signals with cab signaling.
As a result there are now only wayside signals at dispatcher control points such as CP83. CSX assumed operations from Conrail 14 years ago.
It’s rare, but occasionally a locomotive suffers a cab-signal failure, or a locomotive that isn’t cab signal equipped leads a train. There is a provision with the signal system using the ‘C’ light, to allow a dispatcher to authorize a train to proceed without operative cab signal.
CSX rule CR-1280A names the ‘C’ light aspect as ‘Clear to Next Interlocking’. This gives the train permission to proceed the full distance to the next block ‘approaching next home signal prepared to stop’.
Why am I going into such specific operational details? Because, I’m fascinated by signals, but also in the 27 years since Conrail installed this signal system I’ve only witnessed a ‘C’ light lit, three times. And, I’d never before seen the C-light lit at CP83. I’ve been to CP83 more times that I can count, so for me, that is a really unusual event. (I saw a shooting star that night too, but those are common by comparison!)
Fortunately, I had cameras handy, and, perhaps more to the point, I had my dad’s Gitzo tripod, which made this sequence of images possible. (Other wise I would have trying to balance the camera with stacks of coins on the roof of my Golf, but, we’ll save that for another event . . .)
I just wish that Bob Buck could have been there with us to watch the train pass. He would have enjoyed that.
All images exposed with a Lumix LX3 set manually at f2.8 for 15 seconds, ISO 80.
I selected this image of Budapest Keleti Station as part of a exhibition of more than twenty of my photographs titled Silver & Steel that made its debut in November 2008 at the GONe Studio. I exposed it at the beginning of an Eastern European rail adventure that ultimately brought me across Hungary, through Romania to Vlad Tepe’s birthplace, over the Carpathians and then into eastern Ukraine. Keleti or ‘Eastern’ Station is a principle Hungarian terminus for international rail travel; it’s a classic railway temple featuring a magnificent train shed that faces the city through an enormous fan-shaped window.
The trick to getting this dramatic angle was working my old Nikon F3T with its detachable prism. I focused manually, then removed the prism, and laid the camera on the platform, fine-tuning composition looking down on the mirror image while using a combination of Euro coins to prop up the lens. During exposure, I used my notebook to shade the front element from flare. To minimize vibration, I set the self-timer and stood back. My faithful Minolta IV light meter was key to calculating base exposure, but I then added a full stop to compensate for the cavernous quality of the train shed and the film’s reciprocity failure (owing to long exposure time). I made several exposures, most of which came out blurred because of nominal camera vibration. Ultimately, I locked up the F3T’s mirror for this final image.
Braving frigid temperatures to take advantage of incredible low-light; on this day, three years ago (February 8, 2010), Pat Yough, Chris Guss & I were in Toronto photographing in suitably arctic conditions. Cold but clear—there’s a fantastic, surreal quality of light in sub-zero temperatures which can lead to great images if you chose to endure the conditions. Not, only were we up early, but the night before we spent an hour or more making night shots from the Bathurst Street Bridge. It didn’t get any warmer by daybreak, which we photographed from the lake front west of the city center. On that morning, after setting up the tripod, my numb hands only managed to record in my note book, “0646 [6:46 am]—ugg. Twilight—cold.”
While we made an intense tour of Toronto area railroading, among the most memorable images were those exposed toward the end of daylight near Queensway & King Streets along the Canadian National quad-track line west of Union Station. This is one of the busiest lines in Canada, and hosts a flurry of trains at rush hour. For me the highlight was a pair of in-bound GO Transit trains with new MP40PHs running side-by-side as the sun hugged the horizon over lake Ontario. A few minutes later, I scored a VIA train gliding under a signal bridge in last glint of sunlight. At the time, I was still working primarily with film, and I kept both Canon EOS-3s busy. One was fitted with my 100-400 IS zoom, the other with a 24mm AF lens. The only digital camera I had was my Lumix LX-3, which I learned tends to chew through battery power in sub-zero conditions. By the end of the day, I’d drained three full batteries. The McDonalds on King Street made for a nice place to thaw hands on cups of hot chocolate while watching TTC’s trams glide by at dusk. On the way back we swung by Niagara Falls, my first visit to the famous waterfall, despite having photographed trains crossing the gorge on several occasions over the years.
It’s been a long time since the old tower at the west-end of Pan Am Southern’s former Boston & Maine yard served as intended. Yet it survives as a landmark and lends to the heritage of the place. I’ve photographed this building many times over the years; by day, by night, by sun, and in the fog. This Monday evening (January 21, 2013), I exposed a few time exposures during a snow-squall. The lightly falling snow diffused the light from the yard making for an eerie glow—a quality of light well suited to night-photography. Finding a focus-point in the dark was a challenge, as was remaining out in the frosty evening while the camera exposed the photos.
There are very few places where I my memory predates the railway. However, Dublin‘s LUAStram system (opened in 2004) offers one example. I made my first photos of Harcourt Street in March 1998. It was a rainy evening, and I was experimenting with some tungsten balanced Fujichrome to enhance the blue twilight glow.
Moving a dozen years forward, on November 3, 2010 I was interested in replicating the effect of my earlier efforts (without any attempt at precisely recreating the scene; my 1998 photo was made from the south-end of the street looking north, while the 2010 image was from the north-end, looking south). The image of the tram was made with my Canon 7D with the 28-135mm lens. Here, the tungsten color balance was accomplished in-camera using the ‘light bulb’ white balance setting. (See: Steam at Dusk, December 15, 2012) . This image was made during the final glow of daylight, and rather than neutralize the bluish light by using the auto white balance setting, I opted to enhance the effect while offering adequate compensation for the warm-balance street lamps. I was particularly drawn to reflections in the street and the repeating window frame patterns in the Georgian buildings above the tram. The pedestrian silhouettes seem apropos for the time of year; here past meets present.
It’s late, it’s dark, and it’s bitterly cold (ok, it’s been colder). I’m tired and I’m in Palmer where I’ve made countless thousands of images. I left my tripod at home. However, I’ve been eying the odd wintry textured sky, and then the CSX home signal at CP83 clears to a high green. There’s a train coming west, and it’s not too far away. As always, I’ve got my Lumix LX-3. I dither for a couple of minutes. No, I should make a photo. I’m here, there’s no good excuse not to. So, I walk to the South Main Street overpass. This was rebuilt in the 1990s in a manner ill suited to photography. A high concrete parapet combined with a chain link fence blocks most places I’ve like to work from. Yet, the fence proves my salvation. (I’ve done this before, now what did I do?)
I wedge the Lumix into the chain-links, using the fence to hold my camera. I set the exposure using Aperture Priority (A on the dial), and as explained previously (see: Installment 4: Lumix LX-3—part 2: Existing Light Digital Night Shots) I use the toggle switch to manually override the exposure, setting it to +2/3. This will compensate for the evening’s relative darkness and lighten up the gloomy sky.
I hear the westward train approaching. It’s about a mile away rolling under the Tennyville Bridge (Route 32). Looking west, I make a test exposure at about 7 seconds, but manage to jiggle the fence in the process. My exposure is spot-on but the is photo softened by blur—no good. I try again, but this time the auto-focus can’t find a focus point and the picture is worse.
Now the lights of the train are illuminating the signals. I’d better get it right this time. I make two more exposures. While the first is too dark, the second is spot-on. In this one, CSX’s Q427 (a manifest freight that originates on Pan Am Railways and is destined for CSX’s Selkirk, New York yards) is racing toward the signal. I’ve got it. It works. Yea! Success. I can go back to my car and thaw out, and never mind CSX’s westward Q119 following two blocks behind.
Technique: Use a tripod and select a slow ISO; then after making a test shot, adjust exposure to ‘overexpose’ by about one stop, while using the self timer to actuate the shutter to avoid camera shake.
As described in Installment 3, the Lumix LX-3 is a compact lightweight digital rangefinder camera that features excellent optics (Leica Vario-Summicron f2.0-2.8/5.1-12.8 [mm] ASPH) and the ability to set functions manually. I’ve found this is a great tool for making urban night photos, and I’ve developed a successful technique well-suited to nocturnal railway images. I made this image with my LX-3 on January 11, 2012, at Schwarzach-St. Veit, Austria, which features double-headed Siemens Taurus electrics on a steel train.
Schwarzach-St. Veit offers a well-lit moderate-size station near the junction of two routes, one of which is the OBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen/Austrian Federal Railways) main-line over the famous Tauern Pass through the Alps to Villach (with international connections beyond to Italy and Slovenia). Some Irish friends and I were on a week-long visit to Austria. On this evening, after dinner at a nearby hotel, we spent a little while at this station watching trains and making casual night photos. This OBB steel train had come in from the north and was awaiting a path over the Tauern, and so had paused for several minutes, which provided ample time to make some time-exposures (long exposures). Rather than go through all the effort to set up a large tripod, instead I opted for a relatively compact ‘pocket’ tripod with ball head (to adjust the angle of the camera), which I positioned on a snow bank piled at the center of the platform. Instead of using one of the LX-3’s many automatic modes, I opted to set ISO, shutter speed and aperture manually, which is easily accomplished using the ‘Q-menu’ toggle switch at the back of the camera to step through the appropriate selection menus. (Other cameras that have the ability to make manual settings will have similar means of making adjustments — consult your camera manual or guru for details.)
When making night photos, the tricky part is obtaining a satisfactory exposure while keeping stray light away from the lens. For night photography, ‘faster’ isn’t necessarily better and the first thing I did was select the slowest ISO. The slowest ISO results in less noise, offers better exposure latitude (range of exposure captured from the highlights to shadows), while offering a sharper and more saturated image. Through experience, I’ve found that the LX-3 produced its highest image quality at ISO 80, and above ISO 200 its images tend to toward the unacceptably noisy (‘grainy’ or pixilated to the eye). Since my subject is static and the camera was secured on a tripod, there’s little advantage in selecting a Higher (faster) ISO. Its true that higher ISO allows for faster shutter speeds, but in this case the difference of a stop or two would be effectively irrelevant; since the light was so low, my exposures would be relatively long anyway.
To calculate the appropriate exposure, I’ll make and analyze a test image. Here, my process may seem counterintuitive and it requires me to override the camera’s programming. In a nocturnal situation, where the sky is completely dark and there are a variety of hotspots caused by electric lamps (and in this case, acerbated by bright piles of snow), I’ve found that the LX-3’s automatic metering modes tend to seriously underexpose the image (in other words, it fails to allow sufficient light to reach the sensor). This is a result of the metering biased for daylight situations which has tendency weigh the effects of bright lamps too heavily and thus overly shorten the exposure time for a nocturnal setting. Strictly relying on either the camera meter or the basic automatic settings is an underexposed digital image. (Lumix offers some automated programmed settings to serve these situations, but I prefer to do this manually).
Another problem is the camera display image. In extreme circumstances, such as night photography, the jpeg displayed on the camera screen is a ineffective tool for correctly gauging exposure. Not only is this jpeg compressed and optimized for computer-screen viewing, but on-camera it is presented much lighter than the data in the actual file and so doesn’t provide an accurate assessment of the scene. So, what looks great on the back of the camera may in fact be way too dark in the file.
To overcome these difficulties, I make a test exposure with the camera, then carefully observe the histogram to make manual corrections that increase the exposure. In this nocturnal circumstance the majority of the histogram exposure graph may be too far to the left (indicating overall under exposure). Since I want to retain some highlight detail, I’ll make a second exposure, usually between ½ and a full stop over exposed (that is, I make the exposure lighter than that recommended by camera-meter, usually by increasing the amount of time the shutter is open, say from ¼ second to ½ second; or by using the exposure compensation feature, see below), and then gauge the histogram so that there’s a hint of highlight hitting the far right, but with the majority of the image-data filling the central portion of the graph (rather than too far to the left, as in the first exposure).
In a rushed situation, I might skip the test exposure and histogram analysis, and just increase the exposure by 2/3ds to a full stop. This can also be accomplished by simply adding in ‘+2/3’ or ‘1’ on the exposure compensation menu at the left-hand side of the screen (with the LX-3: using the ‘Q-menu’ toggle, go left until the ‘+/-’ is highlighted yellow on the screen, then with the same toggle, move up two clicks for ‘+2/3’, or three clicks for ‘+1’). Then you can use the camera in either aperture priority mode (‘A’ on the top dial) or shutter priority mode (‘S’ on the top dial). This is a great compromise, if you don’t feel confident reading the histogram. If possible, make several exposures, perhaps increasing them in 1/3 stop increments.
Examining the test exposures, I also watch carefully for flare caused by stray light hitting the front element of the lens. Flare greatly reduces shadow detail and may cause unpleasant or unnatural patterns in the image. While Hollywood productions in the 1970s ‘discovered’ the use of flare as a dramatic technique, and I occasionally use this myself for effect, generally speaking it is best avoided, especially in situations such as that at Schwarzach-St. Veit. If I cannot place the camera in a natural shadow (such as that presented by a mast, canopy, or other infrastructure), I’ll carefully shade the lens with my handheld notebook (or anything else that I have handy). It’s important to insure the notebook doesn’t crop the frame.
One last point, to avoid shaking the camera, I set the self timer for 2 seconds, and then gently stand back and remain still while the camera exposes the frame.
In this particular case I’d been making photos on the platform for about half and hour, and prior to the steel train’s arrival I’d already made a variety of images that helped establish my base exposure. The photo displayed here was exposed at ISO 80, at f2.2 for 1 second. I used the camera’s pattern metering to base the general exposure, then gave it an extra stop. (If I’d followed the camera meter recommendation, I’d have exposed the image for ½ second instead of a full second.)