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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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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