Film photography has made a strong comeback in recent years thanks to its nostalgic tones, smooth highlights, and organic-looking grain. Digital cameras have caught up with film and eventually surpassed its capabilities in many areas, especially in low-light. However, with the right equipment and techniques, you can achieve great results at night without missing out on that timeless analogue look. We asked director and photographer Adam Warmington about his experience capturing American nightlife on film.
What guides your photographic eye to the American cultural landscape?
I am originally from Bristol, England, but have called the USA home for the last 20 years. It feels both foreign and like home at the same time. I am not American, but am an American citizen. My kids were both born here, but I cheer for England in the football. Because of this, I am afforded a unique way of looking at this country, both removed and from within. I like to think my photography reflects that.
Is there something you learned as a film director that transfers well to your photography?
Filmmaking has definitely deepened my relationship to light, specifically from non-natural sources as I tend to be on bigger sets with more toys. I hope that some of the knowledge from DP’s and gaffers I’ve had the fortune of working with has made it’s way into my subconscious when I’m walking around the streets with my Leica.
Shooting at night on film is notoriously difficult. How do you get the most out of it?
There’s a sweet spot that isn’t actually night. Some refer to it as the ‘blue hour’ – soon after the sun sets, into when it’s actually dark. The streetlights are on and it ‘feels’ like night, but there’s still enough ambient light to craft a rich image with a broad dynamic range. The foreground can be exposed without blowing highlights and the sky and street are almost at the same stop. That’s my favourite time of day to shoot.
What is your preferred setup for low-light photography?
Both my Leica M7 and M3. Which ever one has the right film in it at the time. I’ve been shooting Cinestill 800t, pushed a stop to 1600. This gets me almost through the blue hour, up to around f/2 @ a 1/30th. I love how Cinestill film handles highlights, specifically the halo/glow it creates. My Summicron 35mm V4 stays on the M7 and my 5cm (50mm) collapsible 1950’s Summicron, on the M3. I use only natural and practical light in still photographs but am very intentional with it. I’ve been using The Darkroom for processing with great results.