Photographing During The Witching Hour
Street Photography On Halloween
It's half past midnight on
All Hallow's Eve. I'm surrounded by Killer Clowns from Outer Space,
spooks, goblins, and witches. Fortunately, I have a camera and lots of film
or nobody would ever believe me!
I've been photographing Halloween since 1982, first in Los Angeles, then San Francisco, and most recently in New York City. It's not the Halloween parade that attracts me--it's what happens around, outside, and after the parade breaks up. In fact, the best time to photograph Halloween in the streets is after midnight. All the spectators have gone home, taking their sleepy-eyed kids with them. All that remains are the guys and gals who have knocked themselves out to have the best costume, preening up and down the streets and alleys showing themselves off to each other--Carmen Miranda, Glenda the Good Witch, Catman and Catwoman. This is "The Witching Hour." This is the time I do my best work.
The first year I photographed Halloween
on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles I used a Nikon F and a 35mm f/1.4 lens.
Although I came back with a few good images it only took that one experience
to realize an SLR is not the ideal camera for handheld night photography without
a flash. The next year I switched to using a Leica M3 without a meter and a
35mm f/1.4 lens.
The Leica M3 doesn't have a meter and I didn't like carrying one in the streets. I felt that taking an exposure reading was a way of bringing attention to myself. It takes about two weeks of practice for just about anyone to learn to work without a meter--within one f/stop of correct exposure. With color transparency film that may not be close enough. But with black and white film, and color negative up to an ISO of 400, that will take care of almost anything you can capture on film, especially if you err on the side of slight overexposure.
The Leica rangefinder camera is simply the best camera to use for street photography, day or night. This is because you never lose sight of your subject through the viewfinder window, as you do with an SLR. The concept of the "decisive moment" was invented by Henri Cartier-Bresson using a Leica rangefinder, and is not possible to achieve when the mirror of an SLR, any SLR, obscures your view, even for an instant.
Not having a mirror flipping up and down causing camera vibration also means you can use slower shutter speeds. Some of the images accompanying this article were made at 1/4 of a second or less, handheld. This is only possible with a rangefinder camera. Even then, it is important to keep your elbows in tight to your body and brace yourself against a wall, stairway, or other solid object.
When I began my Halloween project
I was using Kodak Tri-X and pushing it to EI 1600 and sometimes as much as 6400,
using vapors of hydrogen peroxide during development. I switched to Kodak P3200
when it became available sometime around 1989, using T-Max developer to obtain
the maximum film speed of EI 3200, and later XTOL. When Ilford introduced Delta
3200 I switched again. Delta 3200 has more red sensitivity, a bonus when it
comes to night photography, as red wavelengths of light are more abundant in
tungsten light. It also has a faster ISO than P3200. Ilford Delta 3200 has an
actual ISO of about 1600, whereas Kodak P3200 is closer to ISO 800, possibly
My current technique is to rate Delta 3200 at an Exposure Index (EI) of 2400 and develop for 11 minutes in Ilford DDX 1:4. DDX is the best pushing formula I have found, and that includes XTOL, T-Max, D-76, Diafine, Acufine, and many others I have tried over the years. I have also found, through experience, that it is not necessary to use an EI faster than 2400 or 3200 for the type of situations in which I photograph.