Photography by Jim Doty

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Jewel Box Lighting is a name given to that time in the evening after sunset when lighted buildings look so nice against deepening sky colors.

Here are two ways to do Jewel Box Lighting, one takes two evenings and is more precise, the other  takes only one evening, but takes more film.

Two evening procedure (building exposure priority):

Go at night to the building you want to photograph.  Get close enough to the building to meter the side of the building.  If the building is quite light or dark in tone, you will need to compensate for subject tonality, just like you would in any other kind of photography (see exposure).

Once you have your starting exposure, back up so you can see the whole building and take a series of exposures including bracketing one or two stops on either side of your base exposure. Take notes on what you did. When you get your slides back, see which exposure was best. Write this down. This will be the only exposure you will use on the second night.

Pick an evening with good possibilities of giving you some nice color in the sky.  You already know the best exposure for your building with the film you want to use from your first night's testing.

Meter the sky above or next to the building. When the sky gives you about the same exposure meter reading as your pre-determined exposure from the test night, begin taking pictures.

Using your predetermined exposure, take a picture every three or four minutes until the sky is dark. When you get your slides back, the building will look the same in every photo, but the sky will get progressively darker.  Some of the exposures will be just what you want.

One evening procedure (sky exposure priority):

Begin when the sky looks lighter than the side of your building.  Meter the sky (not the building) and use that as your beginning exposure. Recompose to include the building and take at least three pictures. Bracket one stop on either side of the sky meter reading. If your beginning sky meter reading is f/8 at 1 second, make that your first picture, but take pictures at f/8 at 2 seconds and f/8 at 1/2 second. You might even want to bracket in half stops.

Wait a few minutes and repeat. The next time your sky meter reading might be f/8 at 4 seconds. Recompose to include the building and take three pictures: f/8 at 4 seconds, f/8 at 8 seconds, and f/8 at 2 seconds.

Repeat this procedure every few minutes until the sky is dark.

When you get your slides back, you will have bracketed sets of sky exposures with the building getting progressively lighter through the evening (as you follow the darkening sky). One set will give you some very nice exposrues.

Both of these procedures work. When I have two evenings, I do the first procedure.  When I only have one (like on a vacation) I use the one evening procedure.

Feb 15, 2001

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