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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