Author: Lance Keimig
Publisher: Focal Press
Review by Conrad J. Obregon
As an optical instrument, the human eye is generally better than the camera, with a wider dynamic range. But in one case, night photography, because of the ability of camera media to keep gathering light over time, the camera may actually be better able to see in the dark. In Night Photography: Finding your way in the dark Lance Keimig attempts to explain how to capitalize on this ability.
After a brief history of night photography the author begins with a discussion of the equipment to use. At first the owner of a digital SLR may feel slighted because he is not shooting a large format film camera which the author favors, but most of the book recognizes that many night photographers will be digital single lens reflex owners. The author provides general instruction in the process of night photography, although one may come away with the impression that night photography doesn’t vary much from day photography with a few exceptions. For example, auto-focus will not work in the dark so the author recommends manual focus, including using non-autofocus lenses and the use of the live view features on a camera for more accurate focusing. Both film and digital sensors get their chapters with a few special instructions and lots of tables of recommended settings. A chapter is devoted to digital workflow, but it mostly seems like a review of Adobe Lightroom, and version 2 at that. Recognizing that the dynamic range of a night photograph may be greater than a daylight image, there is a review of high dynamic range photography, but while the chapter is excellent, it won’t offer much new to individuals familiar with the technique. The book finishes up with chapters on moonlight and star trails, and light painting. Several other photographers contribute to the text and excellent pictures by Keimig and others support the text.
I have to confess disappointment. The author has been a vocal proponent of long-exposure night photography. He has said Night Photography is about the accumulation of time and light in an image- be it film or digital, and the way that the camera can record time in ways that the eye cannot see at night. This is certainly verified by the photographs in the book where night and long exposures transform even mundane views into something wonderful. However, Keimig hardly discusses the nature of long-exposure photography and the many questions raised by it, like how one envisions what the photograph will look like when one cannot see what the effect of low light will be, or, how one recognizes what subjects will work as long-exposure night photographs?
The author states that this book is not for the beginning photographer, so perhaps he didn’t feel a need to explain these issues, but given the fact that much of the information, such as the instruction on the use of Lightroom, was at a basic level, more detail about the accumulation of light and its effect on composition was called for.
So far, I haven’t found a perfect book on night photography for the digital age. For those pursuing this genre the book will surely prove interesting and probably useful, but it is not the definitive work.