Question Please, RE: ISO in low light

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by Ricochetrider, Dec 13, 2020.

  1. Howdy folks.
    I have a project coming up in which I'll be shooting film in a potentially dark setting- indoors. Actually there will likely be variable lighting so not all dark. Little to zero natural daylight, some incandescent lighting almost certainly.

    Currently I have a bunch of lower ISO film, like 50 and 100. Most of the target places aren't easy to get into- each location will be a one-time access. So I don't want to mess this up! I'll be shooting everything on a tripod with a cable release on my 500cm.

    Can you all talk to me a bit about this please? What would you guys do?
    Thanks in advance.
  2. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    You don't say of color is required. if not, Ilford XP 2? Has enormous ISO latitude.
  3. Ah yes, sorry. I'll be shooting in black and white on film. I have a partner in this who shoots top end pro Canon gear. I'll leave the color to him.
  4. I once lost a bunch of shots due to metering that was inaccurate at low levels. Check that. If you end up using long exposures, look up reciprocity failure for the film. Some types are better than others. Do you have time to turn down the lights in the living room and do some tests?
    Jochen likes this.
  5. I'd let my partner establish the necessary exposure with his (presumably) digital Canon. But establish ahead of time, via an actual test, how the two exposures correlate. Like Conrad suggests, make sure you consider the reciprocity characteristics of the film; if you test with film x, don't count on film y behaving the same. (Note: I'm presuming that it's potentially too dark for reliable exposure meter readings; if not then I'd just rely on the meter.)

    I'd probably bring along a hot-shoe flash or two, to be used manually, to either supplement or otherwise "dress up" the existing light a little. If you use exposure times longer than a few seconds you'll probably have time for several low-power flashes that you can manually direct at different parts of the scene. Again, test ahead of time to make sure you know what exposure effects to expect from the flash. If your exposures are too short for manual use of flash you could still use the camera sync to fire them (radio slaves would let you put them wherever you want).

    Make sure you have a means to focus your camera - a hand-held light bright enough to focus with, or even a long tape measure to allow using the focus scale on your lens.

    This is an example of something just like I described - too dark to focus without a flashlight propped on the engine. Handheld hot-shoe flash manually flashed 8 or 10 times during the roughly 10-second exposure. (This was the culmination of a series of test shots, tweaking the position and angle of the flash until I was more or less satisfied.)
    doug grosjean and Ricochetrider like this.
  6. This is a simple problem. Shooting from a tripod with a cable release shoot Tri X and expose/develop at ISO 800. I am assuming your subject will be stationary so fast shutter speeds won’t be required. You can shoot at ISO 400 as well. I wouldn’t push the film unless you need the faster shutter speed. I am also assuming available light will be used.

    Rick H.
  7. I assume flash is not part of your plan. In any situation where shooting in variable low light meter failure may be a problem. Rather than depend on my memory and often faulty exposure guesses, my inclination would be to get a copy of the Black Cat Extended Exposure Guide which uses estimates of lighting in unusual situations to give you a starting point. You compare your lighting to the listed situations and set the guide. Then bracket from there. You can preplan your options for probable expected conditions and quickly adjust as you go. It lets you quickly do what if comparisons. It's a handy inexpensive little pocket tool. Even with access to a good meter, I'd really want that as a backup. It's quick to use, no batteries, and will give you something to work with in situations where a meter may fail miserably. The starting points it gives for dark lighting account for reciprocity failure possibilities. You can check it out by Google.

    Also think long and hard about DOF in that situation. If the lighting is really low, carry a small red lens flashlight to read your settings. Sounds like you're setting forth into one of those love/hate situations, love the challenge but hate the possibility of wasting too many shots. One reason I still like film. It forces me to think.
  8. Not use film for a start!
    Any film camera is going to limit your exposure possibilities, and make more noise than a digital camera in 'quiet' mode.

    It might be time to put aside any purist, film-using principles and go for a more pragmatic and practical solution.
    Last edited: Dec 14, 2020
  9. Bracket, bracket, then bracket some more!

    You have to go with what feels right, but -1,0,+1,+2,+3,+4 might not be excessive, giving you two shots per roll, or 0,+1,+2,+3 for three per roll.

    Incident meter would be a good idea.

    Also a small, dim (filtered?) head torch for reloading film in the dark, seeing camera settings, etc.
    Ricochetrider likes this.
  10. thanks and yes. I plan on bringing a ladder and a headlamp (torch). We can always turn on the lights, ya know, but want to shoot in the ambient lighting for various reasons.
  11. If you must, or simply insist on, using film, Ilford XP2 is the one to use
    Pdf technical sheet available at
    XP2 SUPER 35mm

  12. Ahhh.. I see. I had sort of envisioned something like a semi-abandoned industrial property. Where perhaps it is too dark to even get a meter reading, etc.

    Now, given that you have the ability to turn on the lights, I'm guessing that it's normally lit by minimal-access lighting during the off hours. So something else you might consider is to split your exposure with lights on/off. As an example, if you could stretch it out to, say a 10-second exposure, you might turn the main lights off at the 2-second point. Or, if possible, a double exposure. This would let you balance the lights on/off situation to your liking.

    Regarding exposure, sure you can do lots of bracketing, etc. But personally I would just get my partner to give me some baseline exposures based on trial and error with the digital camera. Then I'd do much more limited bracketing based on that - I tend to be more frugal with the film.
  13. Regarding film, a couple people suggested XP2 for its wide exposure latitude. To be honest, I've never ever tried it - I never quite got the point except that it could be processed in the ubiquitous C-41 minilabs of the day.

    Let me counter with an example set of curves for Kodak Tmax 100. This also shows a tremendous "luminance recording range." (Personally I don't wanna be the guy making the prints once the film density starts getting near 3, but the point is that it can be done.) I'm guessing that the high-density Tmax is gonna print grainier than the XP2, but it's just an educated guess. Anyway, just a little more fuel for the fire...

    this link >> Video: 'Why We Still Love Film' by NBC
  14. 00N9Vf-39472384.jpg Find a place with similar lighting to test.
    Shoot the film at it's rated ISO.
    Add 1 step exposure to the reading the digital camera reccomendations. Or even 2 steps. Why? You can get detail from overexposed BW film, but not from underexposed.
    Example is a badly overexposed 4x5 negative. By at least 2 steps. Negative looks like something you could use to protect eyes when welding. Yet it scans beautifully.

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