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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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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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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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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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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Aperture Starring

009_CarlsbadFootbridgeLightsThe stars come out at night … in more ways than one.

Most stationary light sources are seen as bright round spots to the naked eye.

But in an expanded moment, lights turn to stars through the eye of the camera.

Aperture openings are not round. They are polygons, constructed by overlapping blades that make up the diaphragm. Where the blades cross, corners are formed. When light passes through the aperture, the rays bend at the corners, and voilà … stars are born.

The number of spikes per star is twice the blade count in the diaphragm, i.e. two spikes per corner.  For an even number of blades, twin spikes may appear as a single spike.

As aperture size decreases, starring spikes become thinner and sharper. As exposure time increases, starring spikes grow longer.

Not all light sources are created equal. Starring of direct light sources is the strongest. Starring of diffused or covered light sources is weaker, and sometimes completely absent.

Starring varies with different lenses. How lens elements bend light plays a significant role in the formation of stars. Experience with a given lens is the best way to know what to expect.

You typically won’t see starring in your monitor or viewfinder. The effect emerges with time.

The recommended aperture setting described in my post aperture settings is a good starting point for Goldilocks starring … not too weak, not too strong.

IMAGE : Footbridge & Lights, Carlsbad, NM

This footbridge has crossed the Pecos River for as long as I can remember. As a kid I ran across it many times. It seemed endless.

I wanted to capture the length of the bridge stretching to the opposite shore. I placed my tripod on top of a nearby bench for a high angle shot. I stood on a step ladder to frame the image through my viewfinder.

This was taken on a clear winter night. The water was perfectly calm so the reflections were as intense as the lights.

The still, dark water made the bridge seem to float in mid air, even though it actually floats on the water.

This image is the result of a 30 second exposure shot at f11 with TMAX 3200 film. This created crisp starring of the light sources and reflections.

The smaller aperture was chosen for a long depth of field. I also shot this at f16 but found the starring to be too strong, overwhelming the importance of the footbridge.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySelenium

In the darkroom a slight Selenium toning creates a purplish tint in the darker tones and cools the highlights. I duplicated this tinting effect to emphasize the look of the starring in the brisk night air.

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 “GallerySelenium” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Aperture Starring

Compose an image containing light sources with your favorite lens.

Capture a wonder of stars via multiple bracketing sessions, each with a different aperture setting. Record your exposure information for each shot.

Examine the resulting images to see what amount of starring makes for a balanced image. Pay attention to how starring is affected by exposure time and aperture setting. Take note of what to expect for future image making.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

NEXT TIME : “Light Metering”

 


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Light Sources

005_CampbellTreesOLightOne notable aspect of the night, not seen in the day, is a multitude of light sources.

They draw our eye and add to the visual interest of the night.

One of the great joys of night photography is the opportunity to include light sources in our images.

In populated areas there is a wide variety of man-made light, AKA artificial light. In the heavens there are numerous natural sources of light. Most nighttime scenes are lit by more than just a single light source.

Light sources can play a significant role in photographic compositions. They can be an important part of an expressive image, one that draws the viewer’s eye in an uncommon way. These visual elements highlight the difference between the nighttime and the daytime.

Photographing light sources directly has a number of challenges. We will examine these in upcoming posts, and offer tips and solutions.

IMAGE : Trees O’Light, Campbell, CA

This is one of my earliest nighttime images, taken on a damp winter night. I had ridden this bike path many times in the daylight so ventured out one night to check it out.

The light fog filled the air, diffusing and softening the light. The footlights portrayed the trees as characters on a stage, an effect unseen during the daytime.

I looked and beheld seven Trees, and at their feet, seven Lamps, each giving light to the Tree above. Then I heard a voice saying, “Come and see, for these are the Trees O’Light, each cradling a Mystery within.”

I looked and I saw the Lamps giving shape to the Trees. Then I heard another voice saying, ”Come and witness the seven Mysteries sealed within the trees, each illuminated by the Lamp at its root, for these are the Mysteries O’Life that you long to see, and to hear, and to know.”

I looked, then said, “Nah … I’ll just take a picture.”

After bracketing I found that the best exposure was 30 seconds shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryGoldTonerLite

In the darkroom Gold toning creates image hues ranging from light to deep blue. Moderate Gold toning produces a bluish gray hue. This was chosen to evoke a feeling of the cold night air filled by lamplight.

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 “GalleryGoldTonerLite” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Light Sources

Take your camera into the night and look for a simple composition which includes one or more light sources.

Pay attention to balancing the light sources with the other visual elements in your image.

Be sure to bracket, not only for exposure’s sake, but also to see how the light sources change in an image as shutter speeds increase.

Be sure to review the “Safety & Precautions” Page.

NEXT TIME : “Framing, Leveling & Focusing”

 


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The Great Diversity of Light

004_JemezMonumentMoonThe night is not just about darkness. It is about the Great Diversity of Light painted on a black background. It is about lighting possibilities and an abundance of photographic choices.

Unlike sunlight during the daytime, the night offers photographers a wide range of lighting conditions created by many varied sources of light.

Places take on a different personality at night, a different look, a unique feel.

Often I’ve studied places during the day to imagine how they might look at night. I am almost always surprised by the reality of the nocturnal scene.

Night light is so much more diverse than daylight. The difference is like, well … night and day. The night literally forces you to see differently.

IMAGE : Jemez Monument & Moonrise, Jemez Springs, NM

Every year the Jemez Monument has a holiday lighting of over 1500 candle-lit farolitos. When this was taken, the moon was rising and highlighting the clouds. The face of the monument was lit by nearby bonfires. The entire scene was awash with moonlight.

The difference in lighting among the monument, the moon and the moonlit clouds was extreme.

This image is the result of bracketing then blending a 4 minute exposure of the monument with a 4 second exposure of the clouds and a 1/30 second exposure of the face of the moon. All exposures were shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryBrownTone

The Brown tone was created to convey an organic sense of the ancient Southwestern earthen structure.

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 Color Map “GalleryBrownTone” created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : The Great Diversity of Light

Go out at night and observe the diversity of light. Pay attention to the medley of light sources and variations in lighting.

See what kind of light and lighting captures your attention the most. Be aware of the impact this has on you, that is, the feelings, sensations, or thoughts this evokes in you.

Consider how you would compose an image to re-create your visual and inner experience.

Be sure to review the “Safety & Precautions” page.

NEXT TIME : “Light Sources”

 


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