Monday, August 15, 2016

Taking The Fuji X-E1 To The Streets ...At Night (Hand-Held Night Street Photography)

Historic 25th Street Dragon - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/160, ISO 800, 50mm.
I've always loved photographing at night. The artificial light can make for amazingly weird colors. Neon lights come on downtown. The shadows can add a mysteriousness to a scene. Different people walk the streets. Places transform into something different when the sun goes down. 

One of my first night photography experiences was a train yard outside of Dallas. I'm not sure why, but the railroad employees allowed me surprising access to the place--they let me go anywhere I wanted, just as long as I didn't climb on any equipment. I'll I did was ask. I was young and I had a 35mm SLR and tripod, and times back then were different, so perhaps I seemed harmless. A few weeks later when the film came back from the lab, I was blown away by the images!

Back then I shot on film. I mostly used ISO 100 or less and relied on long exposures. I considered ISO 400 to be "high ISO" and rarely used films with a higher ISO than that (although I would occasionally push-process ISO 400 a stop or two). A tripod and shutter-release-cable were essential tools. I used Kodachrome 64 that night.
Downtown Light Post - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/125, ISO 1600, 18mm.
Photographing after dark is a completely different experience today. Digital camera technology has made high ISO photography no big deal. Add to that image stabilization, and hand-held low-light photography is quite practical now. You almost don't even need to think about camera settings.

The Fujifilm X-E1 (really, any Fuji X-Trans camera) is especially good for this type of photography, because it has high-ISO capabilities that are right up there with expensive full-frame cameras. You can go right up to ISO 6400 and not think twice about it! Even out-of-camera JPEGs at ISO 6400 look good.

But that's not the limit of the X-E1. The photograph below, Making Sense of Poverty, is something that I wouldn't have been able to capture with any other camera I've ever owned. It was a dimly-lit corner. I saw that the store window said "Making Scents" (and "scents" and "sense" are homophones), and the sleeping homeless man allowed for a play on words and social commentary.
Making Sense of Poverty - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/38, ISO 6400, 55mm.
I was about to cross the street with my family when I noticed the scene, so I only had a moment to capture it. I aimed the camera and, realizing that the shutter was going to be slow (I was in aperture-priority mode), I quickly adjusted the exposure compensation dial down one f-stop (so that the shutter speed wouldn't be too slow--in this case 1/38 instead of 1/20-ish). Click. Later I reprocessed the RAW file in-camera, increasing the exposure by one f-stop, to make it, essentially, an ISO 12800 image. A usable ISO 12800 image from an APS-C sensor is unheard of! 

Things like that impress me. Sure, if I had spent a couple thousand dollars more I could get slightly better ISO 12800 results. But that's the point: I got good results and I didn't spend gobs of money. A gently used Fuji X-E1 with Fuji's excellent kit lens can be had for a similar price as an entry-level DSLR with a crummy kit lens, yet the Fuji delivers results that are more in line with expensive full-frame cameras.

I walked the historic 25th Street district in Ogden, Utah two nights ago. I was as blown away at the results from that outing as I was 18 years ago after the nighttime visit to the train yard. What was impossible not very long ago is now readily available to the photographer. Last night I found myself at the Utah State Capitol Building once again photographing hand-held in the dark. Amazing!
Time Square Hearth - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/56, ISO 6400, 18mm.
Maintenance Man - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/100, ISO 6400, 55mm.
Neon Roosters - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/125, ISO 2000, 55mm.
Red Hair Candy - Ogden, Utah
f/5, 1/105, ISO 6400, 36mm.
25th Street Reflection - Ogden, Utah
f/4, 1/56, ISO 6400, 55mm.
Lighthouse - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/125, ISO 5000, 45mm.
Craft Burger - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/120, ISO 6400, 18mm.
I Could Use A Beer - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/125, ISO 2000, 55mm.
25th Street After Dark - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/60, ISO 6400, 55mm.
Little Boy Waiting - Ogden, Utah
f/4.5, 1/34, ISO 6400, 21mm.
Night At The Capitol Building - Salt Lake City, Utah
f/3.2, 1/42, ISO 6400, 21mm.
Utah State Capitol - Salt Lake City, Utah
f/4, 1/58, ISO 6400, 45mm.

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