I’m a big fan of night time photography, I love the mood and the artificial lights, or maybe it is just that most of my free time is in the evenings so it is what I have got used to. I’m also a big fan of Ken Rockwell’s website (http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/00-new-today.htm) although I appreciate that not everybody is. In general he gives very sound, common sense advice however there are sometimes exceptions. As with anyone who is giving out advice you should always question whether what they are saying is correct.
In one of Ken’s most recent posts he comments about the new Canon 5D MkIII and that “stupid-high ISOs like ISO 25,600 work, but look crummy” which I am sure is correct though I have no direct experience of it. He then goes on to state that “Photography means drawing with light, not darkness. If it’s too dark, turn on some lights!”.
Errm, I beg to differ. Firstly I believe that successful photography is not just about drawing with light but also about the patterns that the light and the dark make, along with the contrast between the light and the dark. Secondly, and much more importantly, the advice to “turn on some lights” is downright stupid. What if I want it to be dark? That may be the way the scene actually is and I may want to capture the scene that way. Even if the scene is fairly well lit I may want to capture the mood that I feel when I look at the scene which may be darker than the reality of the scene. What if there are no lights to turn on!
To be fair to Ken he does go on later in his blog to say that if the light is too dim use a faster lens rather than crank up the ISO which is sound advice as long as you own a faster lens. The other more obvious option is to use a tripod with a longer shutter speed though this is of course only possible if you have a tripod, have time to set it up, and that the subject of your photo is stationary.
In some situations turning on the lights may be the best answer whether they be continuous light or by using a flash but in most situations I find that artificially lighting the scene is the last thing that I want to do.