Fire

026_CarlsbadFireFires burn really hot, and can be really cool to photograph.

Unfortunately, fires are too often unexpected, unwelcome, and unpleasant events.

But still they can be a great opportunity to capture some really spectacular shots.

From a photographic standpoint, fires fall into one of two categories: under control and out of control.

Controlled fires, like campfires, make for a serene and tranquil setting. Small fires as a part of a gathering are a chance to capture a quiet and thought provoking moment.

On the other hand, uncontrolled fires can be extremely intense and visually dramatic. Photographing them is exceptionally challenging because we must respond quickly and cautiously to capture the ever changing moments.

Most light sources we see at night are unchanging points of light. No matter how bright, they are easy to handle as visual elements. But fire burns as a changing mass of light, creating both technical and compositional challenges.

Artistically we want to capture a subtle sense of movement of the smoke and flames, and also record the neighboring landscape lit by the fire. Sub-second exposures will typically capture the blaze, but may still under expose the rest of the scene.

Fire on its own is something that invites contemplation and personal reflection, but does not necessarily make for a compelling photograph. It is the relationship of fire to its setting that gives an image visual strength and evocative power.

The challenge is two fold. Not only do we need to be in the right place at the right time, but we also need to compose an image that captures the interaction of the fire with the people and things in its environment. An interesting mix of luck and presence is needed, because fire as a visual element is constantly changing in shape, size and light intensity.

Keep in mind that fires can be very dangerous, so always practice safety first. Keep your distance from the heat. In other words, don’t use a wide angle lens close up.

HOW TO : Photograph Fire

Fires burn unpredictably, but we can still manage our exposures correctly. Light metering will be inaccurate when facing a massive fire, but will provide what we need to get started.

  • begin by setting your f-stop to that recommended in aperture settings
  • take a light meter reading, keeping in mind that this will cause under exposure
  • multiply the shutter speed by 4 for your initial exposure
  • follow the exposure guidelines using this as your starting point exposure
  • capture a range of exposures for each scene if possible
  • concentrate on grabbing as many variations as you can

IMAGE : Fire, Carlsbad, NM

I was driving around one night looking for something to photograph when I found myself surrounded by smoke. I turned into the wind to find the source, a burning building on the corner of a residential neighborhood.

I began shooting, and kept on shooting from various vantage points, until the building was a pile of hot embers on the ground. I was invited to move back many times by firemen.

My shutter speeds were short, between 1/8 and 1 second. This image is a 1/8 second exposure shot at f8, chosen from a series of similar images.

EXERCISE : Fire

You can’t exactly go out and find a blazing inferno to photograph when you feel like it. But you can be prepared for the night you might happen upon one.

Practice by photographing a campfire and its surroundings. Experiment by bracketing a wide range of exposures to familiarize yourself with what to expect.

Know in advance what your initial aperture setting and shutter speed should be, because you will have to respond quickly to capture what you see as it unfolds.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Fire

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

NEXT TIME : “Smoke”

 


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Light Painting

025_KolbTugOfWarLight painting is a more dynamic form of supplemental lighting.

In very dark or unlit places, light painting can be used to bring an image to life.

If used exclusively, the creative possibilities are boundless.

The practice of light painting begins by opening our shutter, venturing away from our camera, and exploring the scene with one or more lighting tools in hand.

Then we are free to roam into and around our scene selectively lighting as we go. And of course, we eventually return to our camera and close the shutter.

Light painting is done with common lighting tools, such as flashlights, pen lights, or hand held lasers. Or anything we can dream up that emits light.

As long as we stay on the move, we can operate freely, undetected by our camera, lighting whatever strikes us in the moment, by design or on a whim.

With long exposures, we definitely have the time to create what we want. Plus we can always combine light painting with stationary fill lighting to supplement any existing light.

HOW TO : Light Painting

There are two approaches to light painting:

The first approach is a mobile form of supplemental lighting. You move through the image lighting or highlighting objects or areas with lighting tools, directed away from your lens.

The second approach is to perform in front of your camera with a light source visible to your lens. By drawing light trails, you introduce your camera to your imagination.

Just like writing your name with sparklers when you were a kid, you sculpt an image with light by writing on the wind, and create your own personalized expanded moment.

Light painting is a great opportunity to think a little more radically. Well OK, a lot more radically than usual, and explore your eye in discovery.

There really are no rules or guidelines. Let your imagination run wild. The possibilities are endless. The key is experimentation. So experiment, experiment, experiment … and play.

IMAGE : Tug of War, Edgewood, NM © Stephan Kolb

One assignment in the night photography class I taught at UNM in Albuquerque was light painting. Stephan showed up with his rendition of four men competing at tug of war.

What is so incredible about this image is how expressive it is. The simple lines of light truly portray the strain and struggle of the figures.

First, he hung a light rope between two stakes. Then he had a friend take on each posture, while he drew the outline with a pen light.

This was done in complete darkness, which hid the existence of his activity. Talk about dynamic. Quite a creation from an inventive mind.

The image is a 139 second exposure shot at f2.8 with a focal length of 24mm.

You can see more of Stephan’s work on Flickr and Tumblr.

EXERCISE : Light Painting

Experiment with both styles of light painting. Find a scene with a large area that needs fill lighting. Use a flashlight to paint the dark parts with light as you move through the frame.

Also, try drawing a scene for the camera with a small light source. You can draw just what comes to you in the moment, or plan the picture ahead of time.

Compare the resulting images to what you imagined while painting or drawing. Take the time to fine tune your light painting techniques. But most of all, have fun.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Light Painting

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

NEXT TIME : “Fire”

 


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Supplemental Lighting Revisited

024_JemezBuddhaIn night photography, our use of supplemental lighting can add a whole new dimension to picture taking than the standard still fill lighting.

With long exposures, stationary lighting can be used to capture changes that unfold during an expanded moment.

Instead of focusing on lighting things, we should think more about lighting the space that surrounds our scene.

Then anticipate how we will catch any movement or change appearing in the light while the shutter remains open.

We can treat our scene like a fixer upper, and extend our use of supplemental lighting for the sole purpose of highlighting otherwise unseen motion.

The idea is to go further than just filling in the blanks. We allow our camera to see changes in time, and capture all of the moments beyond the momentary. In short, we supplement our vision by supplementing our lighting.

By lighting movement, we enhance the scene with something we see only in our mind’s eye, and create a more dynamic or expressive image.

IMAGE : Buddha, Jemez Springs, NM

Every New Years Eve, the Bodhi Mandala Zen Center lights their grounds with farolitos for a walking meditation. The most photogenic area is the hot springs next to the Jemez River.

I wanted to capture more than just the figure of Buddha and the bags of light. I placed a lantern behind the statue to catch the steam rising from the hot springs, and create the inspirational light I envisioned.

The lantern played a dual role. It provided fill lighting for the background, and illuminated the rising steam in the foreground.

I came up with the lighting idea when I did not have any lighting tools with me. So I had to wait a year to return to the scene to capture the image I imagined.

This image is a 30 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film, chosen from an entire roll of film shot to capture as many variations of the ethereal lighting as possible.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryAshWarm

A warm grayish tint was chosen to boost the intimate appearance of the glowing mist.

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 “GalleryAshWarm” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Supplemental Lighting Revisited

Find a nighttime scene with repeating movement. This can be subtle or dramatic. Add fill lighting to guarantee that the motion is caught throughout the exposure.

Bracket your exposures, and compare how the changes were captured at different shutter speeds. Take the time to capture many image variations.

Search your results for the image that best satisfies your expectation of the dynamic scene.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Supplemental Lighting Revisited

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

NEXT TIME : “Light Painting”

 


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Supplemental Lighting

023_YosemitePioneerCabinSupplemental lighting at night goes way beyond the usual fill lighting to which we have grown accustomed in daylight.

Fill lighting a nighttime scene begins with the same goal. We add lighting to highlight missing details hidden in the shadows, or to draw more attention to certain objects or areas of a scene.

Typically, this is done by distributing one or more stationary lights throughout the landscape, enhancing the scene with light that persists during the entire exposure.

But at night, we can also introduce light sources into a composition, something that would have little or no effect in sunlight.

Extra light sources can be hidden to light desired portions of a setting, or displayed in plain sight to grace a scene with additional points of interest.

We can think of our subject as the raw material that we enhance to literally bring our vision to light, a personalized interpretation unseen by the average passerby.

The nice thing about nighttime fill lighting, with lanterns, flashlights or other lighting tools, is that we can see what to expect before we open the shutter.

We already spend a lot of time taking long exposures. We might as well take the time to experiment with supplemental lighting, and get what we want, not just what we are given.

This is similar to selective exposure except we are adding to an expanded moment instead subtracting from it, and creating our own version of the great diversity of light.

IMAGE : Pioneer Cabin, Yosemite, CA

  • Mouse over the image above to view the raw scene without added lighting. If mouse over does not work, go to Supplemental Lighting on my blog.

This is the first cabin built in Yosemite in the 1870′s. It is preserved at the Pioneer History Center in an area of the park called Wawona. This is one spooky place at night. I spent over an hour shooting this cabin. It felt like someone was watching me the whole time.

The setting was lit by moonlight from the upper right and a light to the left. Both created deep shadows. After stacking a bunch of nearby firewood 4 to 5 feet high, I put a lantern on top of the pile to light the sides of the cabin.

I wanted to light the inside of the cabin but it was locked. So I placed a flashlight on the window sill on the opposite side, shining it through the cabin onto the window in the image.

The added lighting gave the cabin a nice sense of moonlight, along with that “someone is at home” look. Without it, the dark shadows convey that eerie look and feel I experienced.

The final image is a 1 minute exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. It was chosen from multiple bracketing sessions, each with a different combination of lighting.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySeleniumGoldToner

A traditional blend of Selenium and Gold toners was applied to the image to strengthen the look of moonlight pouring over the cabin of yesteryear.

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 “GallerySeleniumGoldToner” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Supplemental Lighting

Equip yourself with a small arsenal of lighting tools the next time you venture into the night to photograph. Find a scene that begs for additional lighting, and play with the possibilities.

There are a vast number of choices, so be patient. Explore a variety of ways to add lights and lighting to your subject. Keep it simple, but be thorough.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Supplemental Lighting

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

NEXT TIME : “Supplemental Lighting Revisited”

 


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Inspirational Light

022_SantaClaraLightedOneThere are many kinds of light and lighting to explore in the great diversity of light we find at night.

One of the most dramatic is seen as streaks of light breaking through the atmosphere, usually caught by fog, mist, dust or smoke.

Often this style of lighting depicts a more spiritual or ethereal aspect of a subject, and can be thought of as inspirational light.

It adds significance and strength to an otherwise average subject, creating something greater than the subject itself.

The light energizes the subject, brings it to life, and makes it more compelling.

In the daytime, this unique light is commonly seen as shafts of sunlight streaming out of the clouds, shining down on us from above, as if the sky is opening up and speaking to us.

At night, this evocative light is seen as beams from veiled light sources stretching upward toward the heavens, or reaching out into the world from some dark corner.

Shafts of light create an interesting visual paradox. As the beams pull our eye away from the subject, the light actually draws more attention to the subject, giving it greater import.

IMAGE : Lighted One, Santa Clara, CA

This statue of ”Our Lady, Queen of Peace” stands 32 feet tall, and is lit from below by a bright spotlight. It is part of the Roman Catholic parish of the Diocese of San Jose.

returned to this scene many times in search of a shot that would portray the essence of this religious symbol. I finally captured the sense of spiritual light I was hoping for in heavy fog. The figure was made of a metal mesh that added a sense of light shining from within.

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

IMAGE TINT : GallerySelenium

Selenium toning creates a cool purplish hue in the darker tones and cools the highlights. The toning was used to strengthen the tonal separation in the statue and streaks of light.

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 : Inspirational Light

Look for beams from a single light source caught by some atmospheric effect, like rain, fog or smoke. Compose an image to capture the inspirational light.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Inspirational Light

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

NEXT TIME : “Supplemental Lighting”

 


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Why Bracketing?

YosemiteAhwahneeSo how do we get that one ideal exposure in night photography?

The answer is … there isn’t one. That is, there isn’t just one.

Maybe the question oughta be, how do we capture an expressive image at night?

Getting a technically accurate exposure is not always the same as finding an expressive one. The former is commonly treated as purely objective, and can be analyzed to death. The latter is more subjective, and rests solely on what we see and how we see.

Unlike daytime photography, there is a lot less conventional wisdom about how nighttime images should look. Getting an expressive exposure is not just about matching what we see with our naked eye. Bracketing gives us the freedom to explore the possibilities.

One of the great benefits of bracketing long exposures is that we end up finding more than we are looking for. After all we are not just trying to take pictures. We are striving to make expressive images that reflect our own personal style and vision.

The more image variations we capture, the more options we have to choose from, and the greater the opportunities to discover, or rediscover, our ideal of the light we see at night.

Under exposure can produce an extremely low key, minimalistic style image that is dark and mysterious with very few details.

Over exposure can create a high key, impressionistic image with a strong sense of light, or a gentle glow reminiscent of soft focus lenses used early in the 20th century.

The result of over exposure is not the same as changing the luminance curve during image editing. The subtleties due to light spread create a unique look that cannot be duplicated through image editing alone.

Not all exposures of a given scene are necessarily desirable, or meet our aesthetic criteria, but we don’t really know until we actually witness the possibilities.

We expose ourselves to the possibilities by exposing our camera to the unexpected. And in the process, we learn to see how our camera sees, and embrace the unexpected.

IMAGE : The Ahwahnee, Yosemite, CA

  • Mouse over the image above to view the scene from an average exposure. If mouse over does not work, go to Why Bracketing? on my blog.

The longest exposure, or should I say the most over exposed shot from my bracketing session, produced a high key image. Lens flare haze contributed to the strong sense of light, giving the scene a more evocative look than an average exposure.

Most of my nighttime images are low key in nature. I chose the high key interpretation, over the less exposed renditions, to portray the setting in saturated light. This bathed the scene with a softer, more romantic atmosphere.

This high key image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 2 minute exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. The average image is a blend of 15, 30 and 60 second exposures.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryCoolGray

The cool tint was chosen to convey the sense of light infusing the cold winter night.

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 “GalleryCoolGray” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Why Bracketing?

Find a night scene with a full range of highlights and shadows. Perform a bracketing session making sure you capture plenty of under and over exposed images.

Afterwards identify the exposure that matches what you observed at the scene. Compare this to the less and more exposed images to see if any of the “unrealistic” versions have a stronger impact on you than the expected shot.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Why Bracketing?

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

NEXT TIME : “Inspirational Light”

 


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Light Intensity

020_JemezLightShadowIt is the change in light intensity that gives the night its dramatic edge.

The intensity of light from any source is not fixed. It diminishes as it travels outward from its origin.

In the daytime, sunlight is spread evenly across the surface of the earth, because the sun is essentially the same distance from every point on our planet.

As a result, we do not witness a change in light intensity at any given moment.

Not so at night. Once the sun sets, we are dealing with lighting from sources at much shorter distances than our solar neighbor.

The intensity of light falling on our subject is determined by the distance from its origin. So changes in light intensity from nearby light sources are fairly obvious, especially from single isolated light sources.

There is a simple explanation for this phenomenon, namely the Inverse Square Law, one of the fundamental laws of physics that pertains to light.

OK, that can sound a bit ominous. But in practice the concept is pretty straightforward. Mathematically it describes how light intensity decreases exponentially as the distance from a light source increases.

EQUATION : Inverse Square Law

∆ (light intensity) = 1 / ∆ (distance) ^ 2

The Delta symbol ∆ stands for change.

In words, it is the inverse of the change in distance squared that determines the change in light intensity.

The equation is not an absolute measure of intensity. Instead it describes how a change in distance effects a change in light intensity.

For example, the light intensity at 10 feet from a light source is 4 times as strong as it is at 20 feet. Put another way, the intensity is 1/4 as strong at twice the distance. Likewise, the intensity at 30 feet, three times the distance, is 1/9 as strong.

“So why do I care?”, you might ask.

The Inverse Square Law has several implications and applications in night photography.

We will take advantage of this law when we explore alternative lighting techniques in upcoming posts. For example, we will learn how to calibrate a flash or flashlight for supplemental lighting purposes.

As photographers, we are naturally drawn to uncommon lighting. Even though variations in nocturnal lighting can seem obvious, it is good practice to consciously seek out varying light intensities in our quest for more evocative image making.

IMAGE : Light & Shadow, Jemez Springs, NM

I hid the light source behind the tree branch to showcase the dancing trees, the spreading shadows, and the gradation of light on the snow without distraction.

I also wanted to avoid any lens flare or aperture starring that might draw attention away from the more subtle elements in the final image.

This image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 1 minute exposure shot with a wide angle lens at f11 on TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilverLite

The silvery tint was used to highlight the look of the cold textures in the snow, and support the overall look of the cold winter night.

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 : Light Intensity

Find a night scene lit by a single light source. Compose a shot to catch as many variations in light intensity as possible.

Bracket for a variety of exposures to make sure you capture the full range of light cast by the light source.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Light Intensity

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

NEXT TIME : “Why Bracketing?”

 


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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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