Selective Exposure

PointArenaLighthouseFogPhotographing at night means taking long exposures and capturing all our camera sees.

But we don’t have to take it any longer!

Wait, let me rephrase that. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to take long exposures to capture our expanded moments.

It just means we don’t have to accept everything the world happens to throw at us while our shutter remains open.

If we don’t want to record intermittent interference from extraneous light sources, we don’t have to. If we don’t want to capture the interplay of light trails streaming through our image, we don’t have to. And if we don’t want to include momentary lens flaring that comes our way, we don’t have to.

During a lengthy exposure, we can actually pick and choose from what we are given to design the expanded moment we desire.

We can anticipate the expected, or respond spontaneously to the unexpected. In either case, we must remain vigilant to exclude the wrong moments at the right time.

Selective editing gives us the opportunity to create a more distinct image of finer quality, something unseen in continuous time by our naked eye.

Editing during image capture is not the same as altering an image after the fact. It expands our potential for capturing images that cannot be created through image editing alone.

HOW TO : Selective Exposure

The goal is to shield our camera from unwanted repetitive or one-time intrusions of light by simply blocking and unblocking our lens during a long exposure.

  • block your lens with a black card or clothe as needed
  • make sure no light is shining on the card, or your camera will record that as well
  • stay attentive to react quickly when the undesirable moments occur
  • remember: effective exposure = total exposure – lens blocking time

IMAGE : Point Arena Lighthouse, Point Arena, CA

  • Mouse over the image above to view the scene without selective editing. If mouse over does not work, go to Selective Exposure on my blog.

The fog caught the light beam as it circled the lighthouse. I had to climb over two fences to reach my ideal vantage point near the edge of the cliffs overlooking the ocean below.

While I watched and waited during 1, 2, 4 and 8 minute exposures, I was blinded by the light beam every time it circled then faced me and my camera.

I decided to try one last exposure as a first time experiment. I visualized an image of the beam shining only out to sea, to the left. So I blocked the lens with a black card while the beam was shining at me and to the right. Success demanded my undivided attention.

The altered image was shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. The effective exposure was about two minutes, captured during a total exposure of around 6 minutes.

The unedited exposure was 2 minutes, also shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySeleniumGoldToner

In the darkroom, Selenium toning combined with Gold toning creates a purplish hue in the darker tones and a cool bluish gray tint in the highlights. The toning effect was selected to enhance the look of the light beam caught in the foggy night air.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GallerySeleniumGoldToner” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Selective Exposure

Find a nighttime scene affected by occasional, and undesirable, lighting changes.

Practice blocking the lens during an exposure to remove any unwanted lighting effects. Don’t forget to subtract the lens blocking time from your total exposure. That is, make sure your effective exposure does not include the time you spend blocking the lens.

For example, perform selective editing to remove lighting due to passing car headlights. Block your exposure before the car headlights shine on the scene. Unblock the lens once the car has passed.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Selective Exposure

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Light Intensity”

 


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Light Trails

EurekaPassingBoatSpeaking in practical terms, our camera sees and records moving objects differently than our eyes perceive them, especially during long exposures.

The camera, like the human eye, sees light, and only light. That’s it, pure and simple. But in night photography that is where the similarity ends.

During an expanded moment the camera and the human eye register light differently in two significant ways.

First, the human eye is sensitive to a much greater variation in light intensity, aka dynamic range. Unlike our eyes, our camera can only capture a narrow range of light.

Secondly, our eyes perceive motion as distinct momentary snapshots. But our camera accumulates change as a single continuous event through an open shutter.

You see it here,
You see it there,
Your camera sees it everywhere.

Traveling light sources leave a wake of light trails behind them, written across the image. Reflected light from objects appears as fleeting flickers along the path of movement.

“So how come no dark trails?” you might ask.

Well, moving dark sources, that is low lit objects, pass undetected, invisible to the camera, even if seen with the naked eye. Any dark trails will just be gaps between the light trails.

We can witness both the light and the dark elements of passing objects, but the camera can only capture the most obvious light from objects in motion.

For example, during a long exposure, people can walk in front of us in the dark and remain unseen by our camera, unless they are carrying a light source like a flashlight.

In simple terms, moving light is seen, and moving dark is unseen.

Be sure to use the suggested aperture setting to capture light trails.

IMAGE : Dock & Passing Boat, Eureka, CA

  • Mouse over the image above to view the scene without the passing boat. If mouse over does not work, go to Light Trails on my blog.

Long story short. I was on this dock with my camera and tripod looking for some photo opportunities. I had to step gingerly past holes in the decking, then climb back around the “no trespassing” fence extending over the water, to get back to shore. I set up this shot and opened the shutter just as the fishing trawler entered the scene. Whew!

The site was very dark, much darker than it appears in the image, lit only by some distant street lights behind me.

I left the shutter open for several minutes after the boat passed to guarantee a decent exposure of the dock to go along with the light trails. I then bracketed a series of shots afterward to capture the scene without the boat lights.

The overall exposure for this image is 4 minutes shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film. The light trails are thin due to the small aperture. The boat crossed the frame in 15 to 20 seconds.

Even with the long exposure, the resulting negative was very thin, i.e. under exposed.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryCool

A cool tint was applied to the image to match the look and feel of the cold ocean air.

This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GalleryCool” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Light Trails

Find a night scene with moving cars, boats, trains or airplanes. Compose a shot to capture an expanded moment containing the light trails left by the movement.

Notice the difference in how you observed the movement of light and how your camera captured the light. Also compare how you saw the darker portions of the moving objects versus how your camera handled the lack of light.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Light Trails

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Selective Exposure”

 


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Fireworks

017_CarlsbadFireworksPecosFireworks are a kaleidoscope of sights and sounds that excites and ignites a sense of childlike wonder in most of us.

They are an exhibition of pure light and color, moving in unison with a symphony of booming, whistling and crackling in the night sky.

The word photography literally means “drawing with light”, which is exactly what fireworks do as we watch.

So how can we, as photographers, resist capturing this spectacle of light raining down from the heavens right in front of our eyes, and our cameras?

The answer is, we can’t … or at least, we mustn’t.

Our visual experience of fireworks is a movement of light. Every burst is a naturally occurring expanded moment of light trails ready for the taking.

What could be more fulfilling than capturing this extravaganza as it captures us?

HOW TO : Photographing Fireworks

The life of a firework begins with a shot into the sky, followed by an explosion and burst of light, then ends with a shower of light, fading as it falls to earth.

Photographing fireworks is one part anticipation, one part recognition and a lot of luck. You must be prepared to recognize what you have not yet seen, then capture the light trails as they streak across the sky.

Each expanded moment is defined by two decisive moments, opening and closing your shutter “at the right time.”

The right exposure is pretty straight forward:

  • aperture determines the thickness and intensity of the light trails
  • the length of the exposure determines the length of the light trails
  • use the suggested aperture described in aperture settings
  • set Auto Exposure (AE) off
  • turn off Noise Reduction to avoid delays between exposures

Timing is everything:

  • initial shots and explosions can over expose and cause hot spots
  • light bursts and showers offer the best image opportunities
  • open and close your shutter manually as you see fit

Framing is not an exact science:

  • point your camera toward the center of the action
  • zoom out a little to capture full bursts, crop your images later

Focusing takes a little work:

  • set Auto Focus (AF) off
  • focus manually on the first few bursts
  • or focus on objects as far away as the fireworks

Aesthetic choices:

  • multiple bursts are more dramatic than single ones
  • include ground level or foreground elements to add context or a sense of place
  • shapes vary, look for ones that please you the most
  • watch for a diversity of color

IMAGE : Fireworks & Pecos River, Carlsbad, NM

As long as I can remember, my hometown has hosted an extraordinary fireworks show every fourth of July over the Pecos River.

I shot an entire exhibition at ISO 400 with my aperture set to f8, one stop down from the suggested setting. I opened and closed the shutter manually, varying the exposures as I witnessed the bursts, pretty much between 1 and 10 seconds each.

This color image is a 6 second exposure shot with a digital camera. It is one of over 100 images shot at the event.

EXERCISE : Fireworks

What more can I say? Go out and photograph fireworks. Every chance you get!

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Fireworks

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Light Trails”

 


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Return to the Scene

016_CarlsbadFootbridgeLightStreamExplorers do it, archeologists do it, and they say that even criminals do it.

That is … they all return to the scene.

And of course, photographers do it too.

There are plenty of reasons for this, yet in simple terms, it is our eye for discovery that keeps us coming back for more.

One of the best reasons to revisit a subject is to challenge ourselves to see differently, to search for the hidden gems we missed on previous treks, and grow our vision.

So our goal should be to re-vision a scene, not just re-version the site.

Typically, we photograph the obvious on our first visit. On later trips, we must expect the unexpected, look for the overlooked, and notice the unnoticed to photograph anew.

The trick is to bring the same zeal, and sense of awe, that we brought to our initial visit, and experience a familiar place again for the very first time.

Learning to see differently is an iterative process. We can learn from what our camera saw previously. Returning provides a chance to refine, and re-find, our craft and artistry.

One benefit this exercise provides is the opportunity to compare our earlier perspective to our current vision, and recognize how our sense of aesthetics and style has evolved.

It is essential that we look beyond our past experience to see what has passed us by. This is easier said than done, especially if we have fallen in love with our earlier successes.

HOW TO : Return to the Scene at Night

The practice of returning to the scene is certainly not unique to night photography, but there are some outward challenges that will appear only in a nocturnal setting.

Long exposures give you the opportunity to re-vision a location as an expanded moment you missed on previous journeys, and to see through your mind’s eye in a new way.

To recapture a favorite place in a fresh way at night, look for the following:

  • inclusion or exclusion of light sources
  • changing light due to motion
  • lighting effects like lens flare haze or aperture starring
  • changes in lighting due to weather conditions
  • details hidden in the shadows
  • variations due to longer or shorter exposures
  • unique, one time visual elements
  • addition or subtraction of elements
  • differences in compositions due to camera angles

IMAGE : Footbridge & Light Stream, Carlsbad, NM

I have returned to photograph this floating footbridge many times. The bridge has been repositioned over the years, but the camera placement options have remained limited.

My initial success was captured from the opposite shore in Footbridge & Lights. Since then I’ve revisited this site looking for something unique. It’s been quite the exercise in patience.

On my last visit, the bend in the bridge from the river current added a new element I had never seen before. The footbridge curved to the left catching the stream of reflected light.

This image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 1 minute exposure shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySelenium

Selenium toning was applied to the image to support a sense of depth to the footbridge.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GallerySelenium” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Return to the Scene

Go back to one of your favorite spots to photograph at night. Look for other compositions, or expanded moments, that match your current experience of the place.

Compare your previous images to your current vision. Gain an appreciation for changes in your new way of seeing.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Return to the Scene

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Fireworks”

 


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Lens Flare Haze

SalemDryDockOur dance with lens flare consists of many different steps.

And our performance can take place before, during and after image capture.

It is easy to believe that managing artifacts and haze means letting lens flare take the lead, then following with work arounds.

But our assumptions can easily blind us from seeing some artistic potential inherent in lens flaring.

It doesn’t have to be just about repair and recovery work.

Instead of dancing around the effects of flaring, we can take the lead by taking the time to notice the presence, and the presents, of lens flare haze.

Haze gives us the opportunity to add a more dramatic or less common look to an ordinary image, a chance to take advantage of an optical side effect for visual impact sake.

HOW TO : Lens Flare Haze

When a bright light source is outside of the frame, but still shining on the lens, lens flare can appear as haze washing over the image, creating a ghostly appearance.

Capturing this synthetic fog is not an exact science, it varies among lenses. It generally takes some experimentation to see it, and then find what appeals to you most.

Start by composing your image with a single light source right at the edge of the frame. Remove your lens shade to allow the light to strike the lens fully.

Zoom in until haze begins to appear, then fine tune your zooming for maximum hazing.

Depending on the focal length, the light source should be just outside of your line of fire, without encroaching on the image directly. Wide angle lenses catch hazing more readily.

To find the optimal lens-to-light angle, you may also need to reposition your camera backward or forward, then perform zooming again.

Double check there are no lights along the edge of the frame during image capture. You must keep light sources out of the image completely to record haze as purely as possible.

Experiment with multiple light sources outside of the frame for varying results.

IMAGE : Dry Dock, Salem, MA

I was experimenting with different compositions of the Salem Boat Yard on a clear night, when I discovered hazing on my lens from the nearby light sources.

I completed my dance by adjusting the lighting imbalance with luminosity painting in Photoshop, by burning through the “Darks” mask, and dodging through the “Lights” mask.

This image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 15 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film.

  • Mouse over the image above to view the original hazing before luminosity painting. If mouse over does not work, go to Lens Flare Haze on my blog.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilverLite

The light silver toning, applied to the Salem Boat Yard taken the same night, was used again to cool the ghosting effect of the haze.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GallerySilverLite” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Lens Flare Haze

When photographing a scene with nearby light sources, experiment by positioning your camera to capture the lens flare haze produced by one or more lights outside of the frame.

Balance any uneven lighting afterward by burning and dodging via luminosity painting.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Lens Flare Haze

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Return to the Scene”

 


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Lens Flare Recovery

CarlsbadEngineLightsNot a 12 step program, at least not the kind we usually hear about.

“Hello my name is Dana, and I’m a night photographer.”
<Hi, Dana!>
“I have been lens flare free for more than a month now.”
<applause>
“But now I am ready to get out there and try to control it again.”
<crickets>

OK, OK … lens flare cannot be controlled, but it can be tamed.

Restoring our images to full integrity, in spite of lens flare, is the challenge.

When we find bright lights staring back at us, it is a safe bet there will be lens flare. And we can begin the recovery process during image capture.

  • The Problem: Lens flare artifacts and haze can easily ruin image details, cause color changes, and introduce unwanted visual distractions.
  • The Solution: Make sure we capture all of our subject matter by shooting multiple image variations along the vertical or horizontal axis. By photographing a scene at different angles, we gain the potential for restoring an image 100%.
  • The Secret To Recovery: Rebuild the damaged features by blending two or more varying compositions, replacing the aberrations with authentic image details.
  • Mouse over the image to view the original shot before recovery. If mouse over does not work, go to Lens Flare Recovery on my blog.

HOW TO : Lens Flare Recovery

First capture your image variations:
1. compose your desired image, perform bracketing session
2. alter camera angle, no more than a 35% change from initial frame, to shift flaring
3. perform bracketing session
4. repeat previous two steps for additional exposures at different angles (optional)

Before any image editing, combine two or more image variations in Photoshop:
5. layer your images taken at different angles, all shot at the same exposure
6. select all layers, perform “Edit > Auto-Align Layers” with “Auto” projection
7. zoom in to check that alignment was successful, move layers to align if necessary
8. change the Blend of all but the bottom layer to “Darken”
9. add “Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels…” with a ”Clipping Mask” to adjust layers where flare shows through (optional)
10. select and merge all layers
11. perform “Filter > Distort > Lens Correction” to adjust perspective to original
12. crop image to original composition, or as you see fit

There ya go, 12 steps.

This should remove all or most of the lens flare. Depending on your camera angles, you may need to supplement blending with some touch-up work.

IMAGE : Engine Lights, Carlsbad, NM

I set up my camera and tripod as the train engine backed into the railyard at midnight. I first composed the image I wanted, which was not easy.

The lights were extremely bright, almost blinding, especially through my viewfinder. I realized there’d be plenty of lens flare, but I saw what I wanted, and I knew how to get it.

After my initial round of bracketing, I repeated my exposures two more times. First by pointing my camera downward about 30%, then upward to center the flaring circles around the light sources.

I was lucky. The engine lights stayed on during all of my exposures, then off shortly after.

Moving the flare to different areas of the frame gave me plenty to work with. I ended up blending the original image with the downward facing shot, then cropped off the bottom.

Removing the lens flare artifacts puts more attention on the subtle rays of light glowing from the face of the engine.

The final image is the result of blending two 30 second exposures shot at f11 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryAshBrown

The grayish brown tint was created to convey the look and feel of the soot filled railyard.

This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GalleryAshBrown” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Lens Flare Recovery

Next time you photograph a scene with light sources, experiment with the steps outlined above to recover the image details muddled by lens flare.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Lens Flare Recovery

Leave comments on this post to share your ideas and experience, or ask questions.

NEXT TIME : “Lens Flare Haze”

 


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Lens Flare Repair

SalemBoatYardYes, Virginia, there is lens flare.

Even if we use lenses that reduce the effects of flare, the potential is still out there, waiting to pounce when we least expect it.

And there is nothing we can do about it …

Or is there? Well, Yes and No. Lens flare cannot be stopped, but it can be repaired.

  • Mouse over the before image to view the results of lens flare repair. If mouse over does not work, go to Lens Flare Repair on my blog.

Flaring artifacts vary in size, and can spread across the image. Like aperture starring, their intensity depends on the strength of the light sources, and changes with aperture settings.

The greatest challenge is that flaring haze and artifacts wash out underlying image details, usually accompanied by color shifts.

Traditionally, prints have been repaired manually by applying spotting inks. This takes time and patience, a whole lot of practice, and must be repeated for every print.

Digital editing can be much more exacting, goes straight to the source of the problem, and only needs to be done once per image.

There are plenty of instructional guides and videos on the internet offering various plans of attack in Photoshop. Here is one approach to fixing this inevitable reality:

HOW TO : Lens Flare Touch-Up

The first step is to decide which flaring effects are desirable, then touch-up the rest.

The toughest part of touch-up is removing the flare marks seamlessly. The goal is to break up the patterns to remove the visual distractions.

One method is to use the Clone Tool to return details to washed out areas.

Another means is to burn and dodge flare spots where there is little or no details to restore. The best approach is to perform luminosity painting through a luminosity mask on a Soft Light layer above the image layer.

For complex artifacts, a combination of the two techniques can be most rewarding.

HOW TO : Luminosity Painting

Thanks to Tony Kuyper, who has written many fine tutorials on the subject of Luminosity Masks, a versatile set of tools for image editing.

Start with Luminosity Masks for a general description of the masking techniques.

Read Luminosity Painting for specifics on burning and dodging through luminosity masks.

Go here for an index of masking topics.

IMAGE : Boat Yard, Salem, MA

In 1692, my ancestor Susannah Martin was one of the first women hung at the Salem Witch Trials. I went to Salem to visit the Witch Trials Museum and Memorial. As I drove out of town that night, I came across this boat yard. It was well lit, but still kind of spooky.

The double lights on each side of the boats were very bright, causing extreme starring and flaring, especially with a small aperture. All of this was obvious in the viewfinder.

Trying to touch-up a darkroom print by hand was quite frustrating. Using both luminosity painting and cloning in Photoshop proved to be successful.

This was a 30 second exposure shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilverLite

A light silver toning was applied to the image to cool the highlights.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GallerySilverLite” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Lens Flare Repair

Take night shots of a scene with bright light sources that create lens flare. Clean up the image artifacts by following the guidelines for Luminosity Painting.

This is good practice for any kind of touch-up work.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

NEXT TIME : “Lens Flare Recovery”

 


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Lens Flare

012_DurangoCirclesTo coin a phrase, “Lens Flare happens”.

It is a natural physical phenomenon, the product of light bouncing around inside a lens.

Lenses are designed to bend light, but the lens elements also reflect light to some degree.

Modern lenses are coated to reduce mirroring, but cannot remove the effects completely.

Light sources shining directly into a lens cause internal reflections among the lens elements.

A reasonable exposure means that light sources become over exposed. The echoing of light within the lens components produces artifacts and/or haze in the final image.

This fallout depends on the placement of light sources in the image frame, and sometimes just outside the frame.

Artifacts form as circles or polygons, shaped like the aperture opening, and vary in size. They appear along an axis, from the light source across the center of the frame.

Lenses made up of a large number of elements, such as zoom lenses, tend to exhibit greater lens flare due to the increase in reflective surfaces.

Often flaring is not seen in the viewfinder or monitor. The impressions accumulate during a long exposure.

The effects of lens flare are usually undesirable, and introduce visual distractions which can diminish the intent of the overall image.

When photographing the great diversity of light at night, there is always potential for lens flare. We will discuss solutions to handling this tricky anomaly in the next few posts.

IMAGE : Circles, Durango Railyard, CO

This is the product of my first journey into the railyard, quite the challenge. I did not notice flare in my viewfinder. The intense light caused both artifacts and haze.

I did some touch-up work but was unable to clean up the most obvious circular artifacts to my satisfaction. So I did the next best thing, I titled the image “Circles”.

Kind of like one of those kids’ puzzles: “How many circles can you spot in the picture?”

This was a 2 minute exposure shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryTintype

A tint reminiscent of a tintype was used to spotlight the look and feel of the vintage setting.

This B&W image was toned in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GalleryTintype” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Lens Flare

Aim your camera at a scene with bright light sources that create lens flare. Make sure you can see the flaring in your viewfinder or monitor.

Move your camera vertically and horizontally to see how the artifacts change. Attempt to minimize the flaring by centering the light sources in the frame.

Photograph your subject by bracketing to see the effects with varying exposure times.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

NEXT TIME : “Lens Flare Repair”

 


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The Eye in Discovery

011_StanfordPointsOLightThere is more to night photography than meets the eye.

Pioneer photographer Philip Hyde said, “A photographer has to look around.”

Not the most inspiring quote I’ve come across, but still a good reminder.

Unfortunately, he left out the main ingredient, “… and take notice”.

Because looking without noticing is like hearing without listening.

It is our intention that matters the most when we are looking around, so we should also ask ourselves, “What am I not noticing?”

This is the visual discovery process in a nutshell.

With short exposures, we usually capture what we notice with the naked eye. Our images pretty much reflect what we observe in a single moment, a snapshot in time.

But when photographing at night, “noticing” takes on a-whole-nother dimension. Spotting our subject matter in the dark is only where the challenge begins.

We have to look into the night with our mind’s eye to anticipate how changes in light and lighting will unfold during a long exposure.

We must train our mind’s eye to see beyond the current moment, to view the not yet seen. And learn to visualize the possibilities in time, to capture the not yet scene.

One of the best ways to train our mind’s eye for discovery is through experimentation.

During nighttime exposures, we have the time to survey our surroundings, envision how movement and change will affect the final image, then dream up experiments with light to expand our photographic intuition.

It is with this eye towards change and the expanded moment, that we open the door to a much richer spectrum of image making.

IMAGE : Points O’Light, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

This is one of my images I call “experiments gone right.”

The Rodin Sculpture Garden is dramatically lit at night. When I noticed three street lights in the distance, I composed with them in mind to see how the camera would treat them.

I beheld a trio of lights at the tip of his finger.

The lights grew brighter, and I heard them saying,
“Come hither, share what is in your heart.”

I gave pause, then asked,
“How do I learn to photograph at night?”

The lights burned, turned to stars, and spoke again,
“The answer lies within your question.”

I pondered on this, then replied, “Huh?”

The stars decreased, the lights dimmed, the voices whispered,
“Sorry, you only get one question.”

My discovery: Since aperture starring occurs in the camera, the stars advanced forward in the image. The result: The 3 stars seem to emerge from the finger tip of the sculpture.

My experiment taught me something to look for in the future. Plus it added a personal touch to the image (pun intended).

This image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 2 minute exposure shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilverLite

A light silver tint was applied to the image to accentuate the sculpture’s metallic highlights.

This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GallerySilverLite” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : The Eye In Discovery

The next time you go out at night, look around and notice any movement or change in light. Imagine how that might appear in a long exposure.

Entertain ideas on how to capture the changes that are visually compelling.

If you are uncertain how these changes might materialize in a final image, think up some experiments to try the next time you photograph at night.

This is a great way to practice seeing the possibilities with your mind’s eye.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions Page.

NEXT TIME : “Lens Flare”

 


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Light Metering

010_AbqRailRunnerSleeperAnd now some bad news … light meters cannot be trusted at night.

But the good news … there’s no big mystery to understanding how light meters respond to nocturnal lighting conditions.

First of all, light meters don’t work in the dark, otherwise they would be called dark meters. When light meters fail, you are literally left in the dark, not knowing what to do next.

Secondly, light meters are overly influenced by light sources. Excluding light sources from your metering frame will remove the interference. Pointing your light meter in a different direction with similar lighting is the best approach.

If you are anticipating an expanded moment with incoming or outgoing light, you can trust a light meter reading taken without light sources. It is safe to vary your shutter speed a bit to capture the changes you’re after.

You need not worry about metering light sources directly, they will take care of themselves, as will lighting changes introduced during exposure.

Light meters only help us find the best “starting point” exposure. Keep in mind, you still need to Bracket to cover your ass.

Follow these steps to determine your “starting point” exposure when using your light meter:

HOW TO : Light Metering

  • review Bracketing steps outlined in Exposure Guidelines
  • pick your own aperture, or use the setting recommended in Aperture Settings
  • make sure your digital Auto Exposure (AE) is set to MANUAL

HOW TO : Light Metering Conditions

  • if light metering with light sources, go to Action #1
  • if light metering without light sources, equal shadows and highlights, go to Action #1
  • if light metering without light sources, more shadows than highlights, go to Action #2
  • if light metering without light sources, more highlights than shadows, go to Action #3
  • if light meter does not work because it is too dark, go to Action #4

HOW TO : Light Metering Actions

  1. use metered shutter speed for starting point exposure
  2. use double the shutter speed for starting point exposure
  3. use half the shutter speed for starting point exposure
  4. use 15 seconds for starting point shutter speed

IMAGE : Rail Runner & Sleeper, Albuquerque, NM

In 2010 I was one of six photographers selected by the Albuquerque Arts Program to photograph the city. My portfolio, “Rhythm of the Night”, depicts people and the city in motion. This is one image I shot for the assignment.

The Rail Runner is a commuter train that runs between Santa Fe and Belen. I went to the downtown station, and the first thing I noticed was this guy asleep on the bench.

To capture him with a train pulling into the station, I first set my aperture to f16 to handle the long depth of field.

The bright lights impacted my light meter, so I pointed my camera down, excluding the direct lights, to measure the proper shutter speed. I then doubled the shutter speed to record the details in the shadows.

Four trains came and went, and the sleeping guy never budged. This gave me the opportunity to capture more than one exposure of a train arriving while he slept.

The trains approached me very slowly, giving me the time I needed for my exposures. Eventually a train left and the guy was gone. I guess he woke up at the right time.

The small aperture setting created thinner light trails. It also increased the aperture starring of the bright lights.

The wide angle image was a 30 second exposure shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryWarmCool

I selected a warm tint with cool highlights to strengthen the tonal separation and enhance the clean, sharp look of the lights and light trails.

This B&W image was tinted in Adobe Photoshop with an ICC Profile I generated from my Mac App SuiteProfiler. The Profile was derived from the “GalleryWarmCool” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

Click these buttons to download the ICC Profile and SuiteProfiler Color Map:

EXERCISE : Light Metering

Challenge yourself by photographing scenes that are “too dark” and “too light”. That is, search for subjects that are difficult to meter, as well as ones that include light sources.

Follow the light metering steps to determine the “starting point” shutter speed for your desired aperture setting. Perform your bracketing steps as usual.

When there are light sources in your composition, practice metering by excluding the lights from your reading.

Record the exposure choices you made to begin each bracketing session. Review the results to learn from your experience using your light meter.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

NEXT TIME : “The Eye In Discovery”

 


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Support The Art of Night Photography.

Thank you!