|What to Leave Out
by Tim Baskerville
When we speak of 'leaving out' things, we are referring to the image area, the 'frame', the 'shot.' I suppose another whole TIPS page could be devoted to the advantages of "packing light." Ah, but that's another day . . .
Much of what I choose to exclude from the frame is dictated by the type of film I use. Over the years, because I almost exclusively use color transparency film (slide film) for my night photography, which has limited range of rendering highlights to shadows, I've learned to 'shoot' accordingly. One technique I use involves what I call 'in-camera dodging.'
Let me explain. Let's assume your camera is at eye level and you are photographing from a bridge's roadway. The lines of the roadway and the bridge's railing are in your photo, as well as many little pinpoints of light (hotspots), streetlights, car headlights, taller buildings and the rest of the bridge. Because you are using transparency film, and because of the inherent 'contrasty-ness' of most night scenes, those 'highlights' will 'blow-out,' i.e. there will be no detail (at minimum) and will produce flair and ruin your shot (at worst). While that might be OK if that is the effect you're looking for - it's probably not. The role of a night photographer is, by and large, to take these aberrant light sources and funnel them through the relatively narrow bandwidth of film and photographic processes. To somehow match the film's characteristics with the human eye's capabilities, or more specifically, our mind's eye. Come to think of it, that's the role of photographers, in general, isn't it?
Anyway - "back to the bridge" (with regards to James Brown). By lowering your camera a bit (maybe a lot is needed, but that tends to change your angle of view drastically, and hence your composition) you can 'drop' those annoying, unsightly highlights BEHIND the bridge railing, BEHIND the tower, the supports, the lightpoles, etc., leaving an image with a much more even (and printable) tonal range. You can also add supplemental light during your long night-time exposure - in a sense creating a 'fill' light, over time - and that is covered in TIP #3, "What to add" (CLICK! on link below). Again this is primarily a tip borne of necessity, due to the nature of Transparency films, but the same common sense approach applies to all night imagery, because of its inherent contrasty nature. Color Negative films prove to be a little more forgiving, that's all.