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Night Photography

Night scenes are fascinating, the lack of daylight and the activity it brings introduces a kind of mystery into a scene. Your left wondering at the purpose of a structure, its geometry and the way every single facet of the building is mirrored in a stunning show of orderliness. A structure such as Crease Clinic is almost bazar in its show of architectural order, the loading dock is mirrored on the opposite wing and every window and door aligned with obsessive precision. Perhaps the goal was to surround the patents with the most ordered setting possible, as a form of treatment for their disorderly state upon admittance to a psychiatric facility. 

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Crease Clinic Loading Area

           The photograph above was taken without a tripod by using a fast prime and the light given off by the floodlights attached to the Crease clinics doorways. I would exercise caution when shooting handheld photographs at night as the results can be unpredictable. Streetlights, floodlights and even car headlights can introduce flares and ghosting to your image. I’ll include a section with more information on night photography at the end of the article. 

East Crease
Crease Clinic East Wing

           Buildings constructed in the earlier period of the 20th century tend to have greater quantities of windows than their contemporaries, because artificial light was often much dimmer than natural daylight. This lead to buildings featuring long hallways and wings protruding at specific intervals that allowed many if not all the wards and various rooms to feature some form of natural light. Additionally, natural light and views of the gardens surrounding hospitals like the Crease Clinic was thought to be relaxing and therapeutic for psychiatric patients. 

         Unlike the hospitals of today that feature mostly private rooms, those of the past used large often crowded wards to care for patients. I imagine this would have produced chaotic results in the case of psychiatric hospitals especially before medications to treat psychiatric illnesses became widely available. Interestingly, operating rooms were naturally lit in the early 20th century and often featured large windows. This form of lighting was considered ideal particularly before bright incandescent and other forms of artificial lighting became available. 

West Crease
Crease Clinic West Wing

           Does this doorway look slightly familiar? It’s exactly the same as the doorway in the previous image but on the opposite side of the Crease clinic. The style of architecture displayed by the Crease Clinic is known as art deco or style moderne it became popular during the 1920s to 1930 in the west. Art deco was succeeded by styles of architecture including the infamous ‘brutalist’ and utilitarian 'modern' post war architecture. 

General Tips and Cool techniques for Night Photography

           I wrote before about the basics of using a tripod and manual exposure here, I’ll give more ‘advanced’ information. To take handheld night photos I recommend using a fast lens, by fast I mean a lens that has a wide maximum aperture such as a prime like Nikons 35mm f/1.8, a fast standard zoom (f/2.8) or a normal 50mm f/1.8 as offered by Cannon and most other manufacturers. There are other more expensive options like the fast standard zoom lenses and fast wide angle primes available these are highly versatile lenses and well worth the price. Kit lenses have an inconsistent aperture for example, at their widest focal length say 18mm the maximum aperture is f/3.5 it will change to f/5.6 as you begin to zoom in on your subject, the resulting images will be underexposed or too grainy with most cameras.

           Flairs or ghosting is created when light reflects across the surface of a lens, leaving a UV or other kind of filter on a lens will create worse flairs in your photographs. Lenses with poor coatings such as some kit lenses, old M42 lenses and even cheap third party lenses are more prone to flairs. To reduce the chance of a flair appearing in your photograph use a lens hood this blocks light from reaching the sides of the lens and reflecting across the front element. Also avoid pointing a lens towards bright nearby lights, using a viewfinder on a D-SLR you should be able to find an angle that minimizes or eliminates the glare, resulting in a flair free experience. 

           Now that we’ve discussed handheld low light photography, ever wondered how to introduce ‘starbursts’ into your image without using a photo editing tool? Depending on the construction of a lens, the number of aperture blades in particular, when you photograph using smaller apertures at night, light sources will distort into what resembles a starburst. 

Annacis Island
Annacis Island-Starburst Example

           Getting to the point, to create a starburst in a night scene you must use a tripod or other stable surface and a longer shutter speed to compensate for a smaller aperture. The smaller the aperture value the greater the starburst effect becomes f/8-16 will create large starbursts while f/1.4-4 will create a smaller starburst or eliminate the effect entirely. Try it out and have fun!


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