|Offices at Night, Voightländer Bessa RF, HP5|
There are essentially two strategies, both of which I use: either a combination of a fast film with a fast (enough) lens; or steadying the camera on an immovable object for a long exposure. In terms of the subject matter for night photography, it's often a case of looking out for scenes lit up with street lights, or internal sources of illumination within buildings; light sources themselves can be the subject of the photograph.
The fastest films currently available are Ilford Delta 3200, Kodak Tmax P3200, and Fuji Neopan 1600, none of which have a true ISO as fast as the manufacturers' names suggest, being in the range of 800-1000, but these films give a 'normal' contrast range when exposed at box speed and developed accordingly. With night photography, low-light urban subjects tend to be high contrast to begin with, so push processing in an attempt to squeeze more speed out of a film can make contrast an issue (it may make more sense to pull the film to reduce contrast).
|Seven Dials, Canon A1 with Ilford Delta 3200, hand-held|
For hand-held night shots, one needs a fast film, a fast lens, and a slow shutter speed. The issues with each of these factors are: grain; a shallow depth of field; and camera shake, respectively. The first two factors can perhaps be accepted as a fait accompli, although the appearance of grain partly depends on the developer, and wider-angle lenses have greater depth of field. Of most concern is camera shake blurring the image. The general rule of thumb for avoiding camera shake is to use a shutter speed higher than the focal length of the camera's lens. On a 35mm camera with a 50mm lens this means 1/60th (or 1/50th depending on the shutter). However, this rule of thumb is worth taking with a pinch of salt- a shutter speed one stop slower is not too difficult to hold with a steady hand, i.e. 1/30th-1/25th with a 50mm lens. Some claim to be able to hand hold speeds of 1/15th or 1/8th, which they may be able to do, but I've found that I do get camera shake at these speeds.
|Montmartre, Canon A1, Ilford Delta 3200 rated at 6400 EI, hand held|
|Gartenstraße, Baldalux with Ilford Delta 3200, hand held|
For long exposures without a tripod, the first consideration is having a camera which will sit flat while exposing. While most modern cameras will happily stand on a flat bottom plate, this is not necessarily a given with vintage cameras. I'm particularly keen on old folding cameras, and often these will only rest on the vertical with a fold-out stand, like the Balda Rigona. Depending on the format, this is either portait or landscape: for example the image below is from a Plaubel Roll-Op, a medium format 6x4.5 camera. Some cameras simply will not stand on their own at all: despite being level on the bottom, the Kodak Retina is too front heavy when opened (it rests on the corner of the front cover facing at a slight downwards angle), and does not have a fold-out stand for vertical shots. Street furniture is good for places to stand a camera: benches, litter bins, post boxes, but also the flat tops of walls, railings, window sills, or even the pavement itself.
|Lea Bridge Road, Plaubel Roll-Op, with RPX 400|
|Mildmay Park, Baby Ikonta, Efke R100|
|Sacre Coeur, Canon A1, Ilford Delta 3200, rated 6400 EI, hand-held|
|Wallis Road, Wallace Heaton Zodel, HP5, rated 1600 EI|
|Zagreb, Agfa Record I, HP5|
|St Giles, Canon A1, HP5 rated at 1600 EI|