Author: Jill Waterman
Publisher: Amphoto Books (Watson-Guptill)
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
Many photographers put away their cameras when the light grows dim or dark, thus forfeiting at least half the opportunity to take photographs. This book seems aimed at those photographers.
Jill Waterman has assembled a team of 30 top professionals to talk about low-light and night photography. The book begins with the usual mandatory discussion of equipment, although this chapter contains many tips on equipment use, such as stabilizing one’s lens against glass if shooting through it. There are also some unusual pieces of equipment mentioned, like large portable spotlights for painting with light. Other chapters include discussions of color temperature; black and white photography, which emphasizes the role of the chemical darkroom in extending range; lighting techniques, which emphasizes light painting; weather, night time phenomena, like the aurora; and post production tools. There is a chapter that analyzes the styles of seven of the photographers and a final chapter that talks about the availability of workshops.
The difficult part of the project was probably wrangling the work and ideas of thirty different photographers into a coherent instructional body and it shows. The book lacks orderly development and approach to this kind of photography and often lapses into a kind of esoteric tip book. Occasionally there were interesting pieces of information that were never tied to anything else, like the distinctions between civil, nautical and astronomical twilight.
What I found strange was the feeling of having entered into a time warp with discussions of film, two-part developers and enlargers. A theme seems to be that film lends itself to a greater range of exposure values then digital, although that may require chemical processing to achieve. The advantages of digital photography’s HDR processing to capture a wide range of light were mentioned but not in detail, or to show special considerations for the use of the technique in the dark.
The example photographs themselves were interesting, although many were too self-aware and arty to easily serve as teaching vehicles for most photographers, who probably would be interested in simpler, more direct night and low-light themes. Yet, for the experienced photographer, looking to expand his vision, these same pictures might provide some inspiration.
Although I didn’t down-rate this book because of the layout and design, I hated it. Many pages are printed in black with white text, or include large blocks of black-backed white text and white-backed black text on the same page, or juxtapose black background pages with white background pages, all of which are quite jarring to the eye. As difficult are the tiny guest photographer portraits adjacent to tiny unreadable dark gray text on a black background.
Despite problems, there were useful hints here and there, such as changing the point of view when taking pictures to exclude illumination that would be too contrasty or using reflections to add drama to night shots.
Unfortunately, I have not found many recent books about low-light and night photography that are straight forward in teaching the less experienced how to become children of the night (oops-just a joke). For photographers determined to push on into the darkness, this is about as good as anything around.