The Nocturnal Flaneur

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 ·


I love Baudelaire's interpretation of the French word "flaneur" - gentleman stroller of the streets. I'm not sure about the gentleman part but wandering city streets with a camera in hand is high on my list of favourite things to do. Now I have the Nikon D700, I've become a nocturnal flaneur, able to capture night-time scenes whenever I choose. I prefer Paris but usually have to settle for Carnoustie on Scotland's east coast...

Everything is quiet and peaceful (most of the time) in residential streets at night and I feel much less conspicuous taking photographs under cover of darkness. I'm not a great fan of snow but now I can't wait for a heavy fall and some nice fog if possible to create some really atmospheric effects.

I've already noticed that I'm taking photographs of many things I'd simply ignore in daylight. The "Barrier" shot above, for instance, is a scene I've walked past countless times without raising a camera to my eye. It would have been great to have captured an out-of-focus figure on the path but, despite waiting a while, no one appeared. I'll go back with someone in tow next time and shoot it again.

This was a very dark scene indeed, maxing out my self-imposed (for the meantime) ISO limit of 6,400 and requiring 1/30th at f2 - wide open on the 35mm Nikkor. If you spend a lot of time on the internet, you've maybe seen a couple of reviews of this lens that say it's a bit soft wide open. Maybe it is but in this case it was the only game in town - and that's better than no game at all as far as I'm concerned!

"Street Scene" is one shot I have taken before but with the Pentax K10D (see my continuing Pentax blog here). The Pentax is a great camera but its low light capabilities can't approach those of the D700 (neither does the price, in fairness!). This scene, however, is quite bright and well within the K10D's range. It's one of those that would look great with the aforementioned snow and fog. Sometimes it's handy having a mental list of locations like this so that when the right conditions arrive you don't have to waste them thinking about what to photograph.

The thing that's special about the D700, in my opinion, is the way it retains sharpness at high ISOs. The "Paterson" shot is an example of this. It was taken at 1/30th at f2 at 6,400 ISO but there is still plenty of detail on the name on the side of the skip. Some full frame cameras do OK up to around 1,600 ISO and then steadily reduce details to mush as they try to rub out noise but the D700 has the ability to hold on to sharpness in a way matched only by the Nikon D3.