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The Light on The Street is...

I love night photography. Something about a photograph made at night embodies the Cinematic. Traditional still portrait photos are shot in airy, well lit studios. Movies have night scenes on location. I want my images to look like movies. For me, that often comes down to creating the look of night, rather than capturing it using only whatever light is available and adjusting the camera accordingly. 
      Over the last few years, I have noticed a number of films where much of the action takes place in a night-scape lit by the orange/amber glow of sodium streetlights. While I had never been a fan of that light in real life, I decided to try my hand at creating the look for a photo project. Since using real sodium streetlights would mean either a very high (and grainy) ISO, or long, long, long shutter speeds, I determined pretty early on that I would be using flash. I will spare you all of the technical details of why using flash to replicate street light is a challenge, but I will say that there are a number of manufacturers who offer gels to do just that. Both Lee and Rosco offer "sodium light" variations, and while I have not tried them yet, I am impressed by what I have seen others do with them. It's just that... I wanted to create my own. 
      I started with the usual suspects: 1/2 CTO and some variations of yellow. I added in the occasional 1/8 CTG for different experiments. In the end, I wound up finding some vinyl sheeting used for arts and crafts for sale online. It is essentially a 10 gauge iridescent orange plastic. Since it is relatively "clear," it does not cause very much light loss. So I combined that with some amber yellow cellophane wrap found in a local party-supply store. In essence - readily available supplies. So what does the end result look like when used in a photograph?  Take a look:

In this shot, the gelled "streetlight" to the right was supplemented with an amber gelled flash in the back to simulate a following car's headlights. A blue gelled LED light inside the car simulates instrument panel light.   ISO 320 50mm Nikkor  f/2.8 and 1/50th sec WB 5000K

In this one, the gelled strobe was positioned in the street and shot through a 36" umbrella on a 12' stand, to mimic the throw of light from an extant streetlight just out of frame. Shutter speed was dragged to bring in the other sodium light at the bottom of the hill.  ISO 3200 50mm Nikkor  f/2.8 and 1/20th sec WB 5000K

Bear in mind, there was not a little dodging, burning, color tweaking, and all of the other PhotoShop fine tuning that goes into taking a raw image and making into a finished photo. But overall, I do kind of like the end results. I have learned over time that the lighting solutions used in motion pictures are frequently quite different from what might be used in still photography. So duplicating what they do in Hollywood is often replaced by emulating it.
      Of course, after all of that work creating the right mix of gels, I am noticing that the familiar old high-pressure sodium lights are disappearing now. They are being replaced by 5000K white-light LED streetlights. But I won't complain: The new LED's look like the lighting in La La Land (2016) and that look is MUCH easier to emulate with flash!!  


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