Snowfall

033_JemezWinterShadowsLittle is more beautiful than snowfall in the wintertime, especially on a cold winter night.

Snow falling from the heavens can transform an ordinary place into a world full of mystery and magic.

In low light, snow looks like stardust falling softly from the sky.

Snowflakes, floating gently to the ground, add a sense of calm and quiet to a scene … the silence is deafening.

With long exposures, falling snow becomes invisible to our camera’s eye, but light caught by snow crystals creates a subtle glow that fills the air.

But keep in mind that photographing snowfall after nightfall can have some minor pitfalls.

It is normal to seek shelter in the snow when shooting at night to protect yourself and your camera. But finding a safe place from which to shot can be a double-edged sword.

Be forewarned. Be careful where you take cover. Snow does not drop only from the sky.

Snowpack or icicles can also fall unexpectedly from tree limbs, rooftops and electrical wires, or from anything overhead where snow collects.

Having a pile of snow come crashing down on you is not necessarily dangerous, but it can be quite a shock, and certainly an unwelcome interruption to a desirable photo session.

Other than the exercise in caution to protect yourself and your camera, photographing at night while it is snowing is an exhilarating experience.

By taking just a little more risk than usual, photographing a nocturnal winter wonderland can reap tremendous rewards, namely more evocative images for your nighttime portfolio.

IMAGE : Winter Shadows, Jemez Springs, NM

One moonless night, a relatively heavy snowstorm came to town, so of course I grabbed my camera and headed out to explore the possibilities.

When I set up my tripod and camera for this shot I didn’t notice that I was standing under several electrical lines covered with snow. In the middle of a 4 minute exposure, I was surprised by a giant pile of powder crashing down on me and my camera.

“Not to worry,” I thought, “I’ll just dust the snow off my camera and clean the lens.” Then to make sure my lens was free of snow dust, I blew on it. Bad idea. I didn’t just fog my lens, the moisture from my breath froze and created an ice sheet on the glass.

So I looked around and found a place to get out of the falling snow. I then put my camera under my coat for a few minutes to warm it up and melt the ice. Then I had to dry off the lens with my shirtsleeve, because everything else was wet from the snowy assault.

Finally, I returned my camera to my tripod, and finished my photo session. Lesson learned.

This image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 2 minute exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. The long exposure was necessary to capture the snow in the foreground.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilver

Silver toning is the perfect choice for this black and white image to convey the look and feel of the snow filled nighttime scene.

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

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

EXERCISE : Snowfall

Next time you look out the window and see snow falling at night, go out and photograph a scene covered in snow.

A lens hood and a cloth draped over your camera should protect your equipment, but take an umbrella along just in case.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Snowfall

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

NEXT TIME : “Snowstorms”

 


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Winter Nights

032_YosemiteWinterCabinIn one half of the world, winter is once again upon us. Some would swear that it has already arrived, and a good time to stay indoors warming ourselves by a fire.

But it is also a great opportunity to not only go out and experience the cold winter weather, but also a chance to capture our experience of the cold, crisp light we see after the sun goes down.

Cold winter nights seem quieter and more peaceful. We are more likely to find ourselves alone than during the warmer seasons. It is a time to roam freely and seek out the more still and thought-provoking scenes in our hunt for the great diversity of light.

Freezing temperatures at night create an interesting mix of sensations to portray in our images. The air feels soft, but light looks stark. The weather feels chilly to the skin, but can be heart warming. Trees are alive, but bare, taking on a more dramatic form. Everything seems more acute to the eye, and to the camera, in the frigid night air.

Winter nights show us a different way to see the world, and a different way to capture our experience of the world through image making. It gives us a chance to create images that convey a sense of quiet impact, a personal interpretation of the night.

IMAGE : Winter Cabin, Yosemite, CA

For over 24 years I spent a lot of time in Yosemite, especially in the winter time. It is the season of less people and more spectacular weather conditions. When I started doing night photography, I spent many cold winter nights capturing the park’s wonders in a different light than the norm.

I came across this scene one winter night after I drove into the park and was walking to the lobby of Yosemite Lodge to check in for the weekend. The back lighting, combined with the slightly smoke filled air catching the light from the front of the cabin, was very dramatic.

This particular cabin, similar to the one I usually stayed in, was washed out in a flood in the late 1990′s. It was never rebuilt.

Much like the pioneer cabin taken at Wawona in Yosemite, this cabin has the look and feel of someone at home, all warm and cozy within, as the nighttime freezes without. The lack of shadow detail in the cabin beckons us to solve the mystery of what lies inside.

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

IMAGE TINT : GallerySelenium

In the darkroom Selenium toning creates a cool purplish hue in the darker tones and strengthens the tonal separation in the subtle highlights. The toning was selected for this black and white image to enhance the look of the brisk winter night.

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

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

EXERCISE : Winter Nights

We all know how a cold winter night feels. Next time you photograph at night during the coldest season of the year, take the time to compose an image that captures both the look and the feel of your experience of the cold winter night.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Winter Nights

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

NEXT TIME : “Snowfall”

 


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Fire Revisited

028_CarlsbadFireFightersWhere there is smoke, there is fire … and a lot of the time, firemen and fire trucks on the scene to get a blazing inferno under control.

Such an event gives us an opportunity to capture some great editorial shots of fire fighters in action.

The combination of the intensity of the fire, the glow of smoke, and firemen at work can be incredibly photogenic. We get to capture not only the movement of the smoke and flames, but also the activity of the fire fighters caught in the throes of what they do best.

Review how to photograph fire in my earlier post.

IMAGE : Fire Fighters, Carlsbad, NM

This was taken the same night as the fire and smoke images in the previous two posts. I captured these fire fighters just before the side of the building collapsed.

This image is a 1 second exposure shot at f8.

EXERCISE : Fire Revisited

Review the exercises in the posts on fire and smoke.

If you have the opportunity to photograph the scene of an out of control fire, try to capture shots that are dynamic, ones that portray the interaction of the firemen battling the flames.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Fire Revisited

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

NEXT TIME : “Fire Trails”

 


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Smoke

027_CarlsbadFireTrucksSmokeSmoke is used in many songs, like “smoke gets in your camera’s eye.”

The use of smoke as a metaphor abounds.

There are a lot of sayings about smoke, but there isn’t a whole lot to say about it.

Like fire, smoke is ever changing. The constant movement of smoke in the breeze creates unlimited photo possibilities, from the powerful to the sublime.

The presence of smoke can appear as a thick cloud or a light mist filling the landscape. As shutter speeds increase, smoke morphs into a ghostly presence, giving us the opportunity to capture differing expanded moments.

We can utilize the presence of a smoke screen to mask unwanted visual distractions, and at the same time, reveal the essence of our chosen subject.

Smoke can turn an ordinary scene into something mysterious. The changing light caught in the smoke can soften a harshly lit setting, or make an action packed scene seem peaceful.

IMAGE : Fire Truck & Smoke, Carlsbad, NM

  • Mouse over the image above to view the scene without the cloud of smoke. If mouse over does not work, go to Smoke on my blog.

I had photographed the scene of this fire for over an hour. I was down to my last 3 shots. I wanted to capture the fire truck and fire fighters on the street.

A giant cloud of smoke swept across the scene from the ashes upwind to the right. As the smoke passed in front of me, I grabbed 3 shots of the fire truck peeking out of the haze.

The smoke did a great job of hiding the uninspiring aspects of my composition, revealing only the parts that caught my attention in the first place. Mouse over shows the image with the distracting details unhidden by the smoke.

This image is a 1 second exposure shot at f8. A 2 second shot might have given me more to work with, however the low key rendition matches the visual impact I witnessed at the moment of capture.

EXERCISE : Smoke

Of course, finding clouds of smoke to compose an image around is not that common.

But when you do get a chance, be sure to photograph it at various shutter speeds to familiarize yourself with the very different and dramatic effects smoke has to offer.

Also look for shots that use smoke to mask out undesirable portions of a scene.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Smoke

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

NEXT TIME : “Fire Revisited”

 


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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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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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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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The Expanded Moment

007_BelenCrossingTrainWhen you take a long exposure, “what you see ain’t what you get”, at least not what you see with your naked eye.

What you do get is an Expanded Moment, including all of the changes in light seen by your camera.

French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson adopted the term “The Decisive Moment” to describe his personal style of photography. Essentially “being in the right place, at the right time” … in the right frame of mind.

About the creative moment, Cartier-Bresson said, “There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera.”

With long exposures, the “creative fraction of a second” becomes an Expanded Moment, an event which includes an element of time as well as space in the final image.

The trick is to learn to anticipate how your camera will record the changes you witness during a single exposure.

The challenge is a strange mix of anticipation and recognition. In the right frame of mind, we want to anticipate the moment without expectation to recognize the potential.

Image possibilities increase exponentially as exposure times increase. We are given greater opportunities to capture both our experience and our observation of an event in an uncommon way.

It’s kind of like shooting a short film then showing it as a single image. It’s a different way of telling a story.

IMAGE : Rail Crossing & Train Lights, Belen, NM

It was very dark. I had just completed one round of multi-minute bracketing of the rail cars and signal lights when I heard train whistles in the distance to my right.

I said out loud, “Here comes the magic.” After all I was alone in the dark so nobody could see or hear me talking to myself.

I opened the shutter as the oncoming train began to light up the rail cars and tracks in front of me. About the same time an all terrain vehicle came from the left on the other side of the tracks, highlighting the signal stands. I watched as the engines approached and passed, then closed the shutter after a dozen or so rail cars had gone by.

Turns out the vehicle was railroad security coming to tell me I was on private property and not allowed to take pictures. Little did he know he contributed to the shot.

This is a good example of being in the right place, at the right time, and making some quick decisions to take advantage of my good fortune. My original composition was a quiet scene but I ended up with something far more dynamic.

This turned out to be a 30 to 40 second exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySteelGray

A slightly cool gray tint was applied to the image to convey a steely look, a better rendition of my visual experience than the neutral grayscale.

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

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

EXERCISE : The Expanded Moment

Next time you go out at night without your camera, take the time to look at the light that is changing around you. This may range from very subtle to quite dramatic.

Pay attention to how long these changes take. Imagine how you would capture these changes with your camera, and when you would open then close the shutter.

Begin breaking the habit of seeing the world as things, and start thinking more of just seeing light.

NEXT TIME : “Aperture Settings”

 


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