Lens Flare Recovery

CarlsbadEngineLightsNot a 12 step program, at least not the kind we usually hear about.

“Hello my name is Dana, and I’m a night photographer.”
<Hi, Dana!>
“I have been lens flare free for more than a month now.”
<applause>
“But now I am ready to get out there and try to control it again.”
<crickets>

OK, OK … lens flare cannot be controlled, but it can be tamed.

Restoring our images to full integrity, in spite of lens flare, is the challenge.

When we find bright lights staring back at us, it is a safe bet there will be lens flare. And we can begin the recovery process during image capture.

  • The Problem: Lens flare artifacts and haze can easily ruin image details, cause color changes, and introduce unwanted visual distractions.
  • The Solution: Make sure we capture all of our subject matter by shooting multiple image variations along the vertical or horizontal axis. By photographing a scene at different angles, we gain the potential for restoring an image 100%.
  • The Secret To Recovery: Rebuild the damaged features by blending two or more varying compositions, replacing the aberrations with authentic image details.
  • Mouse over the image to view the original shot before recovery. If mouse over does not work, go to Lens Flare Recovery on my blog.

HOW TO : Lens Flare Recovery

First capture your image variations:
1. compose your desired image, perform bracketing session
2. alter camera angle, no more than a 35% change from initial frame, to shift flaring
3. perform bracketing session
4. repeat previous two steps for additional exposures at different angles (optional)

Before any image editing, combine two or more image variations in Photoshop:
5. layer your images taken at different angles, all shot at the same exposure
6. select all layers, perform “Edit > Auto-Align Layers” with “Auto” projection
7. zoom in to check that alignment was successful, move layers to align if necessary
8. change the Blend of all but the bottom layer to “Darken”
9. add “Layer > New Adjustment Layer > Levels…” with a ”Clipping Mask” to adjust layers where flare shows through (optional)
10. select and merge all layers
11. perform “Filter > Distort > Lens Correction” to adjust perspective to original
12. crop image to original composition, or as you see fit

There ya go, 12 steps.

This should remove all or most of the lens flare. Depending on your camera angles, you may need to supplement blending with some touch-up work.

IMAGE : Engine Lights, Carlsbad, NM

I set up my camera and tripod as the train engine backed into the railyard at midnight. I first composed the image I wanted, which was not easy.

The lights were extremely bright, almost blinding, especially through my viewfinder. I realized there’d be plenty of lens flare, but I saw what I wanted, and I knew how to get it.

After my initial round of bracketing, I repeated my exposures two more times. First by pointing my camera downward about 30%, then upward to center the flaring circles around the light sources.

I was lucky. The engine lights stayed on during all of my exposures, then off shortly after.

Moving the flare to different areas of the frame gave me plenty to work with. I ended up blending the original image with the downward facing shot, then cropped off the bottom.

Removing the lens flare artifacts puts more attention on the subtle rays of light glowing from the face of the engine.

The final image is the result of blending two 30 second exposures shot at f11 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryAshBrown

The grayish brown tint was created to convey the look and feel of the soot filled railyard.

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 “GalleryAshBrown” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Lens Flare Recovery

Next time you photograph a scene with light sources, experiment with the steps outlined above to recover the image details muddled by lens flare.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

FEEDBACK : Lens Flare Recovery

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

NEXT TIME : “Lens Flare Haze”

 


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Lens Flare Repair

SalemBoatYardYes, Virginia, there is lens flare.

Even if we use lenses that reduce the effects of flare, the potential is still out there, waiting to pounce when we least expect it.

And there is nothing we can do about it …

Or is there? Well, Yes and No. Lens flare cannot be stopped, but it can be repaired.

  • Mouse over the before image to view the results of lens flare repair. If mouse over does not work, go to Lens Flare Repair on my blog.

Flaring artifacts vary in size, and can spread across the image. Like aperture starring, their intensity depends on the strength of the light sources, and changes with aperture settings.

The greatest challenge is that flaring haze and artifacts wash out underlying image details, usually accompanied by color shifts.

Traditionally, prints have been repaired manually by applying spotting inks. This takes time and patience, a whole lot of practice, and must be repeated for every print.

Digital editing can be much more exacting, goes straight to the source of the problem, and only needs to be done once per image.

There are plenty of instructional guides and videos on the internet offering various plans of attack in Photoshop. Here is one approach to fixing this inevitable reality:

HOW TO : Lens Flare Touch-Up

The first step is to decide which flaring effects are desirable, then touch-up the rest.

The toughest part of touch-up is removing the flare marks seamlessly. The goal is to break up the patterns to remove the visual distractions.

One method is to use the Clone Tool to return details to washed out areas.

Another means is to burn and dodge flare spots where there is little or no details to restore. The best approach is to perform luminosity painting through a luminosity mask on a Soft Light layer above the image layer.

For complex artifacts, a combination of the two techniques can be most rewarding.

HOW TO : Luminosity Painting

Thanks to Tony Kuyper, who has written many fine tutorials on the subject of Luminosity Masks, a versatile set of tools for image editing.

Start with Luminosity Masks for a general description of the masking techniques.

Read Luminosity Painting for specifics on burning and dodging through luminosity masks.

Go here for an index of masking topics.

IMAGE : Boat Yard, Salem, MA

In 1692, my ancestor Susannah Martin was one of the first women hung at the Salem Witch Trials. I went to Salem to visit the Witch Trials Museum and Memorial. As I drove out of town that night, I came across this boat yard. It was well lit, but still kind of spooky.

The double lights on each side of the boats were very bright, causing extreme starring and flaring, especially with a small aperture. All of this was obvious in the viewfinder.

Trying to touch-up a darkroom print by hand was quite frustrating. Using both luminosity painting and cloning in Photoshop proved to be successful.

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

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilverLite

A light silver toning was applied to the image to cool the highlights.

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 “GallerySilverLite” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Lens Flare Repair

Take night shots of a scene with bright light sources that create lens flare. Clean up the image artifacts by following the guidelines for Luminosity Painting.

This is good practice for any kind of touch-up work.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

NEXT TIME : “Lens Flare Recovery”

 


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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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The Eye in Discovery

011_StanfordPointsOLightThere is more to night photography than meets the eye.

Pioneer photographer Philip Hyde said, “A photographer has to look around.”

Not the most inspiring quote I’ve come across, but still a good reminder.

Unfortunately, he left out the main ingredient, “… and take notice”.

Because looking without noticing is like hearing without listening.

It is our intention that matters the most when we are looking around, so we should also ask ourselves, “What am I not noticing?”

This is the visual discovery process in a nutshell.

With short exposures, we usually capture what we notice with the naked eye. Our images pretty much reflect what we observe in a single moment, a snapshot in time.

But when photographing at night, “noticing” takes on a-whole-nother dimension. Spotting our subject matter in the dark is only where the challenge begins.

We have to look into the night with our mind’s eye to anticipate how changes in light and lighting will unfold during a long exposure.

We must train our mind’s eye to see beyond the current moment, to view the not yet seen. And learn to visualize the possibilities in time, to capture the not yet scene.

One of the best ways to train our mind’s eye for discovery is through experimentation.

During nighttime exposures, we have the time to survey our surroundings, envision how movement and change will affect the final image, then dream up experiments with light to expand our photographic intuition.

It is with this eye towards change and the expanded moment, that we open the door to a much richer spectrum of image making.

IMAGE : Points O’Light, Stanford University, Palo Alto, CA

This is one of my images I call “experiments gone right.”

The Rodin Sculpture Garden is dramatically lit at night. When I noticed three street lights in the distance, I composed with them in mind to see how the camera would treat them.

I beheld a trio of lights at the tip of his finger.

The lights grew brighter, and I heard them saying,
“Come hither, share what is in your heart.”

I gave pause, then asked,
“How do I learn to photograph at night?”

The lights burned, turned to stars, and spoke again,
“The answer lies within your question.”

I pondered on this, then replied, “Huh?”

The stars decreased, the lights dimmed, the voices whispered,
“Sorry, you only get one question.”

My discovery: Since aperture starring occurs in the camera, the stars advanced forward in the image. The result: The 3 stars seem to emerge from the finger tip of the sculpture.

My experiment taught me something to look for in the future. Plus it added a personal touch to the image (pun intended).

This image is the result of bracketing then selecting the 2 minute exposure shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySilverLite

A light silver tint was applied to the image to accentuate the sculpture’s metallic highlights.

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 : The Eye In Discovery

The next time you go out at night, look around and notice any movement or change in light. Imagine how that might appear in a long exposure.

Entertain ideas on how to capture the changes that are visually compelling.

If you are uncertain how these changes might materialize in a final image, think up some experiments to try the next time you photograph at night.

This is a great way to practice seeing the possibilities with your mind’s eye.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions Page.

NEXT TIME : “Lens Flare”

 


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Light Metering

010_AbqRailRunnerSleeperAnd now some bad news … light meters cannot be trusted at night.

But the good news … there’s no big mystery to understanding how light meters respond to nocturnal lighting conditions.

First of all, light meters don’t work in the dark, otherwise they would be called dark meters. When light meters fail, you are literally left in the dark, not knowing what to do next.

Secondly, light meters are overly influenced by light sources. Excluding light sources from your metering frame will remove the interference. Pointing your light meter in a different direction with similar lighting is the best approach.

If you are anticipating an expanded moment with incoming or outgoing light, you can trust a light meter reading taken without light sources. It is safe to vary your shutter speed a bit to capture the changes you’re after.

You need not worry about metering light sources directly, they will take care of themselves, as will lighting changes introduced during exposure.

Light meters only help us find the best “starting point” exposure. Keep in mind, you still need to Bracket to cover your ass.

Follow these steps to determine your “starting point” exposure when using your light meter:

HOW TO : Light Metering

  • review Bracketing steps outlined in Exposure Guidelines
  • pick your own aperture, or use the setting recommended in Aperture Settings
  • make sure your digital Auto Exposure (AE) is set to MANUAL

HOW TO : Light Metering Conditions

  • if light metering with light sources, go to Action #1
  • if light metering without light sources, equal shadows and highlights, go to Action #1
  • if light metering without light sources, more shadows than highlights, go to Action #2
  • if light metering without light sources, more highlights than shadows, go to Action #3
  • if light meter does not work because it is too dark, go to Action #4

HOW TO : Light Metering Actions

  1. use metered shutter speed for starting point exposure
  2. use double the shutter speed for starting point exposure
  3. use half the shutter speed for starting point exposure
  4. use 15 seconds for starting point shutter speed

IMAGE : Rail Runner & Sleeper, Albuquerque, NM

In 2010 I was one of six photographers selected by the Albuquerque Arts Program to photograph the city. My portfolio, “Rhythm of the Night”, depicts people and the city in motion. This is one image I shot for the assignment.

The Rail Runner is a commuter train that runs between Santa Fe and Belen. I went to the downtown station, and the first thing I noticed was this guy asleep on the bench.

To capture him with a train pulling into the station, I first set my aperture to f16 to handle the long depth of field.

The bright lights impacted my light meter, so I pointed my camera down, excluding the direct lights, to measure the proper shutter speed. I then doubled the shutter speed to record the details in the shadows.

Four trains came and went, and the sleeping guy never budged. This gave me the opportunity to capture more than one exposure of a train arriving while he slept.

The trains approached me very slowly, giving me the time I needed for my exposures. Eventually a train left and the guy was gone. I guess he woke up at the right time.

The small aperture setting created thinner light trails. It also increased the aperture starring of the bright lights.

The wide angle image was a 30 second exposure shot at f16 with TMAX 3200 film.

IMAGE TINT : GalleryWarmCool

I selected a warm tint with cool highlights to strengthen the tonal separation and enhance the clean, sharp look of the lights and light trails.

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 “GalleryWarmCool” Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Light Metering

Challenge yourself by photographing scenes that are “too dark” and “too light”. That is, search for subjects that are difficult to meter, as well as ones that include light sources.

Follow the light metering steps to determine the “starting point” shutter speed for your desired aperture setting. Perform your bracketing steps as usual.

When there are light sources in your composition, practice metering by excluding the lights from your reading.

Record the exposure choices you made to begin each bracketing session. Review the results to learn from your experience using your light meter.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions page.

NEXT TIME : “The Eye In Discovery”

 


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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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Aperture Settings

008_CarlsbadTrainBridgeNorthsideHow stationary and moving light sources reveal themselves in an image is strongly influenced by our aperture settings.

The length of a light trail, created by a moving light source, is dependent on the time of the exposure.

The width or thickness of the light trail is determined by the size of the aperture. The wider the aperture opening, the wider the streak of light recorded by the camera.

We will address the effects of aperture size on stationary light sources in the next post.

HOW TO : Aperture Optimization

In my earlier post exposure guidelines, I recommended shooting with an aperture setting of f5.6 at ISO 400. This was based on a relationship between your aperture and ISO sensitivity settings for recording desirable light trails.

For optimal moving light source treatment in an image, set your aperture according to the following equation and examples:

f-stop = SquareRoot ( 0.08 * ISO )

f4.0 ⇐ ISO 200
f5.6 ⇐ ISO 400
f8.0 ⇐ ISO 800

This is a rule, and you should not break it … just kidding.

It is safe to vary this by + or – one f-stop, but any aperture setting outside of this range may be less pleasing, and may render light trails that are overly thick or underly thin.

I encourage you to treat this equation as a starting point for your own experimentation, in search of your own visual aesthetics.

IMAGE : Rail Bridge, Engine Lights & River, Carlsbad, NM

This railroad bridge crosses the Pecos River. Every morning a cancellation of train engines travels north across the bridge to the railyard, where freight cars are on hold.

Yes, “a cancellation of trains” is the correct collective noun.

Five mornings I was up before dawn to capture the engine lights streaming through the frame of the bridge toward me.

I opened the shutter just as the front engine began illuminating the trusses of the bridge. My biggest challenge was to close the shutter at the right time so the streaking lights complemented the shape of the bridge.

This was my favorite of five exposures, all shot with the recommended f-stop for my film speed setting, ISO 800. The length and width of the light trails are aesthetically proportional to the bridge, matching what I envisioned in my mind’s eye.

This was a 45 to 50 second exposure taken at f8 with TMAX 3200 film shot at ISO 800. The engine lights were crossing the bridge in the image for only 5 to 10 seconds.

IMAGE TINT : GallerySteelGray

The cool steely gray toning was chosen to evoke the look of the bridge in the cold damp air. The same toning was selected for the image in my previous post.

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 “GallerySteelGray”  Color Map created in SuiteProfiler.

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

EXERCISE : Aperture Settings

Seek out one or more moving light sources to photography. Take a series of bracketed exposures using the recommended ISO and aperture combination.

Perform more bracketing sessions with different apertures without changing your ISO.

Compare your results to see the difference in light trail widths. Decide what aperture to ISO ratio looks the best to you. Start using that to capture your expanded moments.

Some examples of moving light sources are headlights, flashlights and stars.

Be sure to review the Safety & Precautions Page.

NEXT TIME : “Aperture Starring”

 


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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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Framing, Leveling & Focusing

006_JemezGilmanTunnelsThree fundamental preludes to capturing an image are framing, leveling and focusing.

These are fairly simple tasks in daylight, not so easy in low light.

Composing an image on a digital monitor or in a viewfinder is more demanding at night.

Typically framing is the first order of business, but will take more discovery work than during the day. You will most likely point your camera in different directions to examine the scene for framing and focusing.

Mama always said, “Level is as level does.” Leveling is visually subjective, and is especially difficult to gauge in the dark. Often what “level” means is relative to the visual elements in the image, and should be evaluated when viewing the resulting image.

Here are some suggestions to aid you in your image quest:

HOW TO : Framing

  • use a flashlight to light objects while viewing the scene
  • highlight corners of the image with light sources, like a lantern
  • take test shots, view on your digital monitor
  • take test shots with your flash, then view
  • use digital AF-assist illuminator
  • increase ISO to view on your monitor

HOW TO : Leveling

  • mechanical approach is to use a leveling bubble on your camera or tripod
  • flexible approach is to zoom out a bit to allow room for final image adjustment

HOW TO : Focusing

  • be sure to set digital Auto Focus (AF) to MANUAL
  • focus at infinity first then shorten focal length until in focus
  • focus on something well lit at the desired focal distance
  • use a flashlight to highlight a point of focus
  • take sample exposures, view on your digital monitor
  • measure distance with a tape measure for close subjects

IMAGE : Gilman Tunnels, Jemez Mountains, NM

The Gilman Tunnels are two miles up the canyon from our home. The logging industry transported timber by train through these tunnels over 60 years ago.

One moonless night I drove up to photograph the tunnels during a snowstorm. In my mind I pictured a scene filled with snowfall. When I arrived it was pitch black, no light at all. It was snowing very hard but I could not see anything without a flashlight.

“What to do? What to do?”

I drove through the first of two tunnels, parked my car and left the headlights on. I then walked back through the tunnel to set up my tripod and camera.

I used a lantern to light various points to help me frame and focus. Finally I left the lantern near the entrance to add fill lighting for the tunnel and the rock wall on the left.

I zoomed out a bit to give myself some wiggle room for framing and leveling the image after the fact. Good thing, leveling my camera did not produce an image that appeared level.

This is a good example of a minimalist style image even though it was a 12 minute exposure shot at f8 with TMAX 3200 film. Did I mention that it was very, very dark?

IMAGE TINT : GallerySeleniumGoldToner

In the darkroom Selenium toning creates a cool purplish hue in the darker tones. Combined with moderate Gold toning, the highlights are shaded bluish gray. The toning effect was selected to convey the look of cold light on the rocks.

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 : Framing, Leveling & Focusing

Practice framing, leveling and focusing in a low lit room or backyard. Make use of the suggestions above to familiarize yourself with composing an image in the dark. Experiment with various approaches to discover what suits you best.

When you are comfortable, take your camera out at night, and seek out a very low lit scene. Challenge yourself but don’t overdo it. Compose and bracket to see what your camera sees.

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

NEXT TIME : “The Expanded Moment”

 


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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”

 


Don’t miss my future posts! 

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