This section is from the book "Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography", by J. B. Schriever. Also available from Amazon: Complete Self-Instructing Library Of Practical Photography.
498. A field of photographic work that but few amateurs enter, except for the hit or miss exposure, and one in which great possibilities lie, is photography at night. Although exposures at night have not as yet reached the snap-shot stage, they are by no means lengthy, this being due, of course, to the rapid strides made in the manufacture of fast plates and lenses. What the future holds in store for us as regards quick exposures depends largely upon the skill of the lens maker and plate manufacturer. Many photographic workers consider that night photography has few pictorial possibilities, and to a certain extent this is true. Of the thousands of subjects we have by day, perhaps only one may be suitable at night. Then again, night work does not permit of such variety of treatment as the artist is able to produce in daylight. The lighting is so different, highlights and shadows being much more difficult to handle. As the slightest sign of faking is distinctly noticeable upon the negative, it is not possible to remove this, or take out that, and put something else in its place.
499. The aim in night pictures is a correctly exposed and properly developed negative, with the shadows almost clear glass with but a suggestion of detail and the highlights of moderate strength but free from any pronounced halation. When printing from such a negative, whether by contact or by the enlarging process, you may subdue or alter the print to conform with requirements. Although night work may have but few pictorial possibilities, yet it has a charm all its own. Photographing in a large city at night you see what during the day was a busy, noisy street, practically deserted. You find clumps of heavy dark shadows emphasized here and there, where a street lamp throws its reflections over the pavement.
500. If darkness were absolute at night, then photography, except flashlight, might be out of the question. At no season of the year is there any time of night perfectly dark from a photographic point of view. There is ever a certain amount of actinic light energy, even in the open country away from all apparent illumination, where there is not the least suggestion of artificial light. Even on the darkest of nights, when the eyes become accustomed to it, absolute blackness cannot be felt. The fences and trees by the roadside all stand out from the darkness of shadow to the darkness of an inky sky and are discernable. Now, if the eye can discern objects at night, it is obvious that the lens and sensitive photographic plate will do so; and, at the same time, they will record many things that the eye could not see. If objects are discernable in the open country at night, how much more so must they be even on a very dark night in a city, where lights from thousands of different stores brighten up the darkness and are reflected back from the sky, giving a diffused light and picking up the detail in the shadows. Then, on a clear moonlight night, there is a wealth of soft white light that is so highly actinic that even in December it is easy to over-expose and secure a daylight effect.
501. Night photography is dependent then upon the amount of actinic light available at night, and this may be only the 1-25,000 part of that obtainable at mid-day of an open city view. In other words, the 25th of a second with stop F. 11 will become 15 minutes with the same stop at midnight. Yet the pictorial aspect of the work lies, not in the direction of light, but in the proper handling of the shadows. It is soft, mysterious, suggestive shadows, set off by a little light here and there, that appeal to the imagination.