Thursday, September 28, 2006

In the "Holy Cow" Category

With digital technology moving at the speed of Moore's Law, every so often you hear about some new digital gizmo that makes you think "Holy Cow! I need this for night photography!". Here are two things I spotted in the announcements from Photokina in Cologne, Germany over the past few days.

#1: There's nothing worse than changing a piece of equipment in the dark, such as a flash card, and then losing it. Well, according the nice people at, SanDisk has announced a pair of new high-speed Extreme III compact flash cards capable of storing up to 16GB! At the speed I shoot night photographs, I could probably work for two weeks on just one of those cards. Of course, it probably costs more than my camera did when the camera was new. Maybe someday it will get down to the $49.99 price point.

#2: Most 35mm-class photographers drool over the quality of medium format images. But medium format digital backs are currently suffering from 1). sticker shock, and 2). only limited offerings can support the long exposures required by that most elite group of fine art photographers: the night shooters. Phase One MF backs seem to be able to handle problem #2. And now, according to the equally nice people at the Luminous Landscape, the new Phase One Plus backs can support exposure times of one hour at 15C, and 4-5 hours at 0C. There's no word on who's going to provide the battery that lasts 4-5 hours at 0C, but if you can afford the $20k+ price tag for the digital back, you can probably afford $30 for a three-pronged 100-foot extension cord at Home Depot. On the other hand, 0C (that's 32F for our American visitors...) might be too cold to shoot at night anyway, so it might be a moot point.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Another Night Photography Blog???

It's true! After hosting the world's premier on-line resource for night photography for ten years, The Nocturnes now have their own night photography blog.

(photo: Tim Baskerville)

For years Tim has been actively teaching college-level night photography courses and workshops in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as Los Angeles, the eastern Sierras, Joshua Tree National Park, Cape Cod, and even Ireland. In addition to organizing numerous public exhibitions of night photography, and hosting the best on-line resource of night photography material, he has now joined the blogosphere. So, now he's all set.

In fact, last July Tim was kind enough to arrange for me to videotape a meeting with pioneering night photographer Steve Harper. This material will be available next month in the next installment of my night photography documentary film The Night of the Living Photographers

Along with the Nighthawks and this blog, the night photography universe has three blogs.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Thomas Weinberger

Although many "day photographers" have never tried shooting at night, most night photographers do a lot of productive shooting during the day. It's just that we don't share as many of our day photography on the internet. Although I'm always looking for subjects that would make great night photographs, it's not unusual to find a particular location that looks better during the day. And sometimes, I can't decide if it looks better during the day, or if it looks better during the night.

How is one supposed to resolve such Earth-shattering questions without sending humanity, as we know it, on a downward spiral from which it will never recover?

(photo: Thomas Weinberger)

Thomas Weinberger has one answer. Using a large-format camera, he exposes each negative twice from the same angle: one exposure during the day, and one exposure during the night. This gives his images an eerie effect that looks like a night photograph... but doesn't... sort of.

Thanks to Conscientious for the link.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Ultimate Junkyard

Night photographers love abandoned places full of junk. One of the most intriguing junkyards are the airplane "graveyards" in Arizona and the Mojave Desert.

(photo: Joe Reifer)

Earlier this month, while many other Nocturnes were sneaking through an overgrown abandoned Naval base and evading security guards in the middle of the night, Joe Reifer and Troy Paiva did some shooting at the airplane salvage yard in the Mojave. A short review of this trip is available on Mike Johnston's The Online Photographer, along with links to each of Troy's and Joe's photographs from this trip.

(photo: Troy Paiva)

I was planning on publishing this article yesterday, but Mike beat me to it. That's OK, though, because his blog really is one of the most important photography sites on the internet. If you're not already reading TOLP, as he likes to call it, you should be.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Burning Man... Where's the Art?

Every year, tens of thousands of people converge on a desert in northwest Nevada for the annual Burning Man festival. Featuring huge combustible sculptures, bright lights and music, the event attracts a particularly large proportion of artists and artsy types. Naturally, you would expect that all that artistic talent feeding off each others' mojos in such a visually-appealing location would create some great photographs, right?

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.

For years, I've combed through hundreds (no, thousands) of Burning Man photographs on the internet, looked at many photographs that my friends brough back, and I even visited (with disbelief) an exhibit of Burning Man prints hosted by a group that was very closely associated with the central coven of B.M. organizers. With the exception of some of Susanne Friedrich's daytime portraits, I feel very safe to say that most of the canon of Burning Man photos out there are nothing more than snapshots. Some of them are very nice snapshots, but they ain't art. Maybe there is too much artistic mojo at that place? Or, maybe, they're having too much fun doing other things to create art. But if there's good work out there, they're doing a good job of hiding it.

So, now that I've probably offended ten percent of the population of San Francisco, I want to say that I was eagerly looking forward to seeing what Bay Area night photographer Lane Hartwell was going to return with from this year's Burning Man.

(photo: Lane Hartwell)

We were not disappointed. These were my two favorite photographs of Lane's from Burning Man. What strikes me the most about these two is that it seems that she stepped back and carefully thought about both of them. The above shot says to me that it was taken in a very special place. The shot below says to me that there was something magical going on out there.

Snapshots, as a point of comparison, don't say anything other than "I was there".

(photo: Lane Hartwell)

I'd like to add that I have nothing against Burning Man. It's seems like a great event, and I wish I could attend some year. And I have nothing against the gizillion people who have taken photographs at Burning Man and posted them on the internet or put them out for public display. But if you know of a cache of any other really good BM photos, let me know. I really would love to see them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Adding Revelation

Ken Tanaka has an interesting essay on the wonderful Online Photographer blog titled What the Photographer Adds is Revelation. His point is that a photograph of a man-made object can add interest above and beyond the intent of the original designer/architect/artist if the photographer interprets the building through a different frame of reference, or different lighting.

I think his point about shooting a common-place object under different lighting is one of the key values of night photography. There are probably more daytime photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge than we'll ever need (until it starts to fall apart), but a photograph of (even) the Golden Gate Bridge at night adds a completely new perspective to an old subject.

(photo: Andy Frazer)

Some people might disagree that we already have too many night photographs of the Golden Gate Bridge. That may be so. But if I was under the gun to make an interesting photograph of something that's been done to death before, I would still opt to shoot it at night.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

David Fokos

If you attended PhotoSF last month in San Francisco, you probably noticed the huge 36" and 48" b/w night photographs of David Fokos. David says that he uses long exposures to filter out the "visual noise" of everyday life.
(photo: David Fokos)

You can read more about his philosophy of long exposures here.
(photo: David Fokos)