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Thread: Focus and composition in very dark conditions.

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    Focus and composition in very dark conditions.

    Hey all,

    This is a rather silly question, especially since I've been making a living from photography for over ten years, but...

    How the heck do you compose and focus a view camera at night, or when photographing in dark conditions? I was out today and the contrast of the scene was extremely low and I could not view the image on the ground glass. I got my girlfriend to walk into the foreground and shine a torch on something so I could at least focus on that point and make an informed guess about the overall composition. Now, I know I was using a dark lens (a 90mm f/8 SA) but the situation wasn't much better with my 150mm f5.6. Honestly, I'm so used to using a rangefinder (Mamiya 7II) and being able to focus on almost anything that I've forgotten what it's like using a ground glass / SLR.

    Can anyone give me any pointers that might aid in quick and easy setup etc?

    Thanks for your help,

    Tim

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    Senior Member thrice's Avatar
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    Re: Focus and composition in very dark conditions.

    Wide angle fresnel, good dark cloth, a good loupe and a lot of time for your eyes to acclimatise. Other than that, you're right f/8 is a little slow for GG evaluation in low light. I struggle somewhat with f/4.5 in the dark! a powerful torch is a necessity.
    Others may have more tricks, I'm only really a noob at LF myself But given 30 mins or so my eyes are usually up to the task.
    Last edited by thrice; 31st July 2011 at 01:47.

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    Senior Member routlaw's Avatar
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    Re: Focus and composition in very dark conditions.

    Tim

    You did not mention what GG & camera combination you're using. If you have not already, investing in an aftermarket GG that is much brighter than standard issue is well worth the money and would help enormously under these conditions. Unfortunately there aren't many shops that churn out improved GG these days due to the huge drop in LF camera usage. Maxwell screens seem to be about the best thing going these days, unless you have an Arca Swiss, or Ebony. Jeff at Badger tells me the AS screens are better than the Ebony's and most Ebony users who have tried the Maxwells tend to stick with the Ebonys, indicating standard issue Ebony to be as good if not better than the Max.

    In the hey day of LF, Beattie Intenscreens seemed to rule at least for a few years but they are also long out of business I believe and not as good as the Maxwells from what I understand.

    Other than this, following Daniels advice and using a strong flashlight and letting your eyes adjust, using a faster lens is about as good as you can hope for.

    Hope this helps.

    Rob

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    Re: Focus and composition in very dark conditions.

    Quote Originally Posted by tjv View Post
    Hey all,

    This is a rather silly question, especially since I've been making a living from photography for over ten years, but...

    How the heck do you compose and focus a view camera at night, or when photographing in dark conditions?
    Tim
    Use a small digital camera (like my GH2) as a viewfinder.

    Use a Leica Disto lazar measure as a rangefinder, and set the extension/movements with a digital micrometer. The maths are detailed in Merklinger's "Focusing the view camera".

    (Digital to the aid of analog)

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    Re: Focus and composition in very dark conditions.

    You can also try a lazer pointer and point it from the leg of your camera and focus the dot on the ground glass. I use rubber bands to attach to leg and just point. I usually point at nearest object first and not where focus is ona MM scale on my camera then the farthest and note how far I moved the focus. Say 5mm. Then multiply the displacement by 5, for 4x5. So 5x5 = 25 and so my Minimum aperture is F25 for all to be sharp. Now move the focus on the scale back 1/2 way between near and far, and all will be sharp when you shoot.
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    Re: Focus and composition in very dark conditions.

    +1 Use a laser pointer. I just bought a green laser that can project a grid pattern of dots for under $10. Green lasers are easier to see than red.
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    Re: Focus and composition in very dark conditions.

    You may not like the idea at all but the easiest way I've found is to set the camera up in good light and wait for the desired light. For many situations this has the added advantage of giving you time to spend in a place that's attractive enough to want to spend time shooting at all. Just returning from Death Valley, I did this routinely and found it very satisfying. 8x10 photographer Ben Horne sets up his camera in bright light and leaves it out overnight to get a morning shot. I do plan to look into the green laser concept though, for more opportunistic photography.

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