London at night

I thought I would share my experiences shooting film at night for the first time.

I ran a little twitter poll as I couldn’t decide if I should start with black & white film or colour film.  Twitter picked B&W and it was highly recommended I start with Fuji Acros 100 for night and long exposure. So thank you everyone for that.

I mention long exposure as that was always my aim for a number of reasons. I prefer the sharpness long exposure can give over and above using a high ISO film.  The areas I had planned to shoot in are also tourist areas so I knew I would need to blur out people in certain places with a longer exposure.  My ever evolving photography style is based around calm and relaxed so long exposure works for me in that respect also.

My equipment for the evening was as follows:

  • Olympus OM1
  • 50mm & 28mm Zuiko lenses
  • Cable release
  • Tripod
  • One roll of Fuji Neopan Acros 100
  • Fujifilm XT1 camera

You will notice no mention of a light meter. I am a lazy bastard photographer and normally meter using the OM1 camera meter, I cannot be bothered carrying more than I need or indeed having to take lots of readings with a meter before taking a shot.  The laziness also includes not taking some photos as I can’t be arsed to kneel down to get the right perspective, anyway I digress.

I knew I would need some help with getting the right exposure so for this I took my Fuji XT1 digital camera.

I got to the area around sunset but then waited for an hour or so, my logic being I wanted the sky to be dark so I could get as black as sky as possible.  A bit of context, London, like most cities is full of night lights and light pollution.  The sky at night can quite often by a murky brown haze and not look particularly great.

Another bit of context, I do research what I’m trying to do but am also guilty of making things up as they sound right in my head, you may notice that in this piece.

You will be pleased to know I don’t plan on talking about reciprocity as you can google all about it.  All I will say is my understanding told me I am fine for up to 120seconds with Acros and from previous digital experience knew that would be plenty.

So the first thing I did was set up the XT1 to work out how long I would need. I set the ISO to 100 and the aperture to F20 and view to black & white. Why F20, again my logic, I wanted longer exposures to blur out people and also to get sharper images.  With a bit of trial and error I settled up at 15secs as a good time.  The image below is from the digital camera at F20, ISO 100 and 15 secs.


I used this timing as a reference for all the shots taken that night adjusting where I felt I might need to due to differences in the lights.

Now I did openly say I think I underexposed every image I took that night and was expecting pitch black nothing basically.  That really wasn’t me trying to be humble but because I truly believed I had made many mistakes that night I list some of them below

  •  My reference aperture was F20, yet I used F22 on the 28mm lens and F16 on the 50mm lens
  • I planned on bracketing every shot one over and one under in terms of time, i.e. 10secs, 15secs and 20 secs. Yet did 5secs, 10secs and 15secs for no particular reason
  • The digital camera stayed in my bag I didn’t make any further readings

Thus on one 36 roll I took 3 shots each composition, thus 12 images to end up with.

I send my films to a lab so can’t give you any developing times or scan settings (note as mentioned I’m lazy) but when the scans came back I was very pleased that I had got images.  I am going to stop wittering now and show you a set of images, they are self explanatory.  The tweaks I made in Snapseed were shadows, highlights and contrast (inc curves contrast).

Side note I am totally fine with digital editing of film photos, I got over myself a while ago trying to be too purist.  I do agree however adjustments should be subtle and similar to darkroom edits, hence there are no unicorns or rainbows in my images below.


F16 5 secs, 10 secs & 15secs, no adjustments


Final image below I choose the 10 secs exposure and made adjustments in Snapseed.


The below is to show you some of the difficulties I experienced. One is an iPhone shot of the scence the other the film image at 5 secs.  The issue being that buildings are very well lit so getting the exposure balance right across the scence is difficult in some set ups. For me the tower is too bright and no editing is really going to change that.

This next one again shows how bright the lights are, so I really should have gone for a much shorter exposure.

5secs, no adjustments



The first one is f22 at 10secs.  Below it is the 5 sec exposure adjusted and cropped.  Basically over 5 secs and it was getting too bright.


The first one below is 16secs as you can see the film is picking reflection from somewhere and it’s showing in the sky.   The second one is 8 secs and adjusted in Snapseed.


The below are 10,15,20 secs and then my adjusted scan using the 15 second exposure.


Below is 8,15 & 20 seconds and then my adjustments using the 8 second exposure


So overall it was a successful night, there was luck involved and I have been advised going two stops under with Acros is good.  I hope you have found this useful, next week I’m trying colour slide film in the same location!


4 thoughts on “London at night

  1. Great article. Now I want to try shooting at night with my Om2n with 24mm. I love the shot with the “Arrival” Spaceship in the middle!


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