I have just got back a film that I used in my Polaroid 900Z – this is a fairly advanced compact camera from the end of the 1990s. In common with many later compacts it has a ‘night mode’ – this is a slow sync flash that fires the flash but also exposes for the ambient lighting – out in the street at night this can give some long shutter speeds. I have used this technique a lot, but have only recently started using it in night time streets.
The image I was most looking forward to is ‘Streaking Bus in Headingley’ the first in this gallery. I fired the flash on this as the bus drove past, waiting until it was past me so as not to startle the drive. This has created an interesting image as the more defined area of the bus is at the rear of the streaks, with them moving out in front of it. This is the opposite to what we would normally look to do, which is why DSLRs often have a rear curtain flash that fires the flash as the shutter is closing, and allowing the trails to come towards the viewer. In this image, I feel it creates a nice effect.
I have been discussing this work with another photographer, Andreas Andrews, who also uses light trails and long exposures in his work, though often in his case with a very steady set up so that the background is rendered sharp and the trails very clean. I think that both styles have their appeal – there is a definite calm to clean straight trails, but sometimes the atmosphere of a place is better rendered with some chaos and confusion. This was my aim in ‘Drunkscape’ (in the gallery), which I also used in my MA dissertation. Often it is discussed in image based research about the reality of the image – this is clearly abstract to an extent, but one of my participants commented that the use of the long exposure as a visual technique captured the feel of the place (and so for my purposes worked better as an elicitation prompt) than a static image would.
So here is a gallery of some light trail images, using the flash technique and without, and also handheld and not; using a tripod (or more often a wall or a bin).
The image in Westminster takes this effect to extremes, the many many lights burning a trail along the barrier which is seen in the bottom of the image. The Lomo Fisheye 2 has a dual flash firing at the start and the end of a bulb exposure and creates a double image and curved trails.
The two images of the A600 taken with the Smena 8M were shot to slide film – the Rollei Cross Bird was cross-processed and the shot was handheld creating the more wavering trails. The second was shot to Ektachrome Panther and processed E6 creating sharp and crisp colours almost as distinct as a digital file; the camera here was balanced on the barrier, but the lightweight camera still shook slightly. The Canon EOS 1000D shot of the A600 used a star filter to create an extra effect.
For the image of Kings Cross I set the camera on the wall of the Betjeman Arms and used a shorter shutter speed to capture some of the shape of the bus rather than just a trail. The final shots were taken in Meanwood – the shot of Monkbridge Road used a tripod and a small aperture to get the star effect. The final shot used the star filter again.