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Sunday, 16 December 2007


How delightful! I thoroughly enjoyed the photo and the prose and the helpful hints on how to do it too! Thanks.

Lovely! It must have required bracketing like crazy to get each little R, G, or B fully saturated, and the illuminated surfaces similarly rich. Before I go back to view them at greater length, I think you should know that the initial price of $495 still appears down a few pages in the site, undercutting the current price of $895. Compared to the per print price, each may still be a bargain.


Can't complain about the photography Ctein but I am dismayed that a production with the word "Christmas" in it has no reference anywhere to the birth of Christ - I thought your countrymen usually called this time of year "Holidays"?

Merry Christmas, Robin

Dear Robin,

I quote myself from the monograph's essay:

"... you can delight in Christmas decorations whether or not you celebrate the yule, just as you can delight in fireworks whether or not you are a flag-waving patriot."

I love both. I'm neither a Christian nor a patriot. I don't care about the birth of Christ. This is a book of folk art not religious worship.

Interestingly, the majority of displays I see have no religious content. I didn't try to pick it that way, but the representation of religion in the displays in the book (about 20%) isn't far different from what I see in the world. The motivation may have religious origin, but the displays people make of it are remarkably secular.

A sociologist might have a lot of fun with that. Me, I'm just a humble artist and a fan of pretty, shiny lights.

Happy holidays back to you!

pax / Ctein

Dear Scott,

You folks are amazing! You're the second reader to tell me that I had a link into an obsolete page. That link's been out of date for at least two years, but until the readers here spotted it nobody had ever mentioned it.

Thanks, and all the links SHOULD be pointing at current info (famous last words).

Technical info: all the photos in the monograph (in contrast to the two posted here) were made on medium format color negative film. That'll easily record well in excess of ten stops linearly. Printing it's another matter, but it's there on the film.

I've got exposure down to such a foolproof routine that I *never* bracket. Every photo on a roll's unique, unless I think I made a boo-boo. One display, one photo, usually.

I start out by setting the meter for two stops "overexposure" (IOW, if I'm using ISO 100 film, I set the meter for EI 25). Then I take an averaging reading of the scene. Since the exposure times run to seconds, I then add in the reciprocity failure correction factor. And that's my final exposure. That simple! Hardly ever fails.

I have no idea how you should meter if your using slide film-- personally, I think it's entirely the wrong film for the subject. For digital, just bracket like mad and let HDR be your friend.

Film: if you can't get tungsten balance color neg film, you can use daylight balance with a tungsten conversion filter. Either works great. Tungsten films usually come with the data for reciprocity failure correction out to several minutes. Daylight films? You'll have to experiment. But they work fine with long exposures, no matter what you may have been told. I'd start with the following: if yur estimated exposure is 5 seconds, use 10 instead. If it's 20 seconds, use 80 instead.

Printing: OK, here's where computer assisted printing wins big. In the wet darkroom, you'll HAVE TO do contrast-control masking. Even if you're printing something as long-range and exotic as dye transfer. Straight prints on conventional print materials will not cut it.

But, a decent scanner can pull in the entire range of the negative and portray it with better tonal distribution than even a dye transfer print. This is one of those cases where computers win, fer shure. For most of the photos in my monograph, I like the digital prints I've made better than the dye transfers.

px / Ctein

"The motivation may have religious origin, but the displays people make of it are remarkably secular."

Actually, Dec. 25th was the birthday of Mithras, the god of a demotic religion that competed with early Christianity for converts, much as Mormonism and the Southern Baptist Convention vie for most of the converts today. It coincided with Saturnalia, the all-purpose Roman solstice holiday (the Romans were pretty practical about religion--i.e., tolerant and unobservant). The early Christian fathers were highly disapproving of all this pagan revelry, and made concerted attempts to stamp it out; but their followers were so insistent on retaining the celebrations that in the 4th century CE the church figured "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," and summarily assigned Christ's birthday to Dec. 25th by decree. The holiday's "origins" are about as Christian as all its 19th-century trappings (the flying sleigh and reindeer, for example, were dreamed up by Washington Irving, author of "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" and "Rip Van Winkle," of all people) and 20th century materialism--that is, not very.

--Ebeneezer S. Johnston

Dear Mike,

I'm afraid this post wanders further afield and has even less to do with photography... but...

I'm reading a book that's somewhat related to the topic at hand: "GOD'S MECHANICS-- How Scientists and Engineers Make Sense of Religion" by Brother Guy Consolmagno, S.J. I think a lot of your readers would find it very interesting.

Guy is an MIT-trained physicist, and astronomer (meteorites a specialty of his)and a member of a loose social group called "General Technics." These guys are frequently too techie for *me*! He's also a Jesuit, in the employ of the Vatican Observatory.

Note these biases: Guy is a casual friend, and I was interviewed for this book (which seems to be partly responsible for some content). So I am not an impartial observer.

But I wouldn't recommend a book that I didn't find both thoughtful and enjoyable.*

pax / Ctein

(*Unless I was getting royalties, of course.)

Ctein, i love shooting the street at night, all the hustle, bustle, bodies and totally different attitude that emerges as the sun goes down, also more contemplative nocturnal material. I am continually frustrated by my underdeveloped results with film and so took copious notes from your method. Can you tell me if your 2 stop "overexposure" ASA setting applies even to the very fast films, 800, 1600 and 3200? Thanks, i am extremely appreciative for any advice. dya~

"Can you tell me if your 2 stop "overexposure" ASA setting applies even to the very fast films, 800, 1600 and 3200?"

Ctein's right that for color negatives 2 stops over will give you a usable negative just about every time. Even when you get out to the 3-5 minute range that should work (I have used a bit of Reala and 160C for long-exposure night shots). However unless you want a grainy look there's no real advantage to shooting that fast a film on a tripod for several minutes.

For the street scenes you describe with a fast film I recommend shooting +1/2 to +1 stop over the recommended exposure as you'll likely also need to do this to remain hand-holdable. Greater than 1 stop would be better but then you're dropping the shutter speed.

Dear Dya,

Hey, a photographer after my own heart! I've been enraptured by night photography ever since my college days when I experimented with loading up a roll of Pan-X at night and let the exposures just run up into the minutes if need be. I was amazed at the world it opened up to me.

If you're working with a tripod, you'll generally be better off with slower films. The exposure times won't get excessive, and you'll love the fine grain and delicate tonality. But fast films work fine. And the exposure rules aren't any different.

That said, I'm not sure my guidelines will work for non-Xmas-light subjects. Night scenes are awfully unpredictable. and the very high luminance ranges tend to throw off meters. I think R Smith's advice is good. That's about the bias I use for general night stuff, and it's worked for me with exposure times up to 45 minutes. Quel boring! But sometimes ya just gotta stop down for depth of field. I bring along a book and a flashlight.

Here's a generally-useful metering technique at night. If the light illuminating your scene overall is similar to the light where your camera is, meter off a sheet of white paper (that gets you about a sixfold improvement in meter sensitivity). Set the meter EI to the film ISO. Make a meter reading. Multiply the time by 12X-- that's your starting exposure time. Then apply any reciprocity corrections.

If you're consistently seeing underexposure, the answer is straightforward-- drop your Exposure Index. Don't push-process the film if you can help it-- the last thing you need is more contrast.

If you need more guidance, drop me an email (ctein-at-pobox-dot-com). If you want to attach a scan or two of your unsatisfactory results, that'd be fine and might help me give you more useful advice.

pax / Ctein

thank you, R. Smith!

Those are HDR captures?

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