Low Light Photography (Part 1)

Low Light (Pilings) D-07-08-25-0028Moon over Abandoned Pilings, Marquette, Wisconsin

Recently, I was asked by a local camera club to give a presentation on “Low Light Photography” and I thought perhaps an abbreviated version might be worthwhile on my blog.

Because the majority of my photography involves landscape scenes and urban architecture, I decided to concentrate on that area, even though low light scenarios can occur in many other situations such as when you are indoors and cannot use a flash.

Low Light (Shuttle) D-07-07-02-0057Night at the Museum, NASA Shuttle Enterprise in the Udvar-Hazy Center  

The above image is not typical of what I do, but when an opportunity arises to get inside a major museum after closing, you don’t pass it up.  Especially if it’s authorized.

For me, however, twilight is a classic example of how a low light situation can present opportunities for especially dramatic images that are not possible during daylight hours.

Low Light (Mid-Hudson 01) 2137-33Mid-Hudson Bridge, Afternoon Scouting Image

Low Light (Mid-Hudson AM) 2138-02Mid-Hudson Bridge at Dawn, (the next morning)

We all know we that twilight is a relatively short period of time after the sun has gone below the horizon.  Even though the sun has disappeared,  scattered sunlight from the atmosphere continues to provide illumination.

Low Light GraphicTransition from Day to Night

But there are three different categories of twilight, based on how far the sun is below the horizon as shown in the chart above.  Understanding those three categories is important because the quality of the light and therefore one’s photograph changes significantly depending on how long it’s been since sunset. It also depends on whether you are pointing your camera away from the location of the sunset/sunrise or toward it.

So let’s look at some examples.

Low Light (WW I MEM) D-14-06-28-1750 WW I Memorial at Twilight, Washington, DC

(Tech Data: 19 Minutes after Sunset, Civil Twilight, looking Northwest 1.6 sec., @ f/16, ISO 400, Nikon D800E)

Here, during the first phase of twilight, there is still a fair amount of ambient light to show detail in the subject and the sky is taking on the classic blue of the “Magic Hour.”

 

 

Low Light (Kennedy Center) D-13-03-17-6064_70Kennedy Center at Twilight, Washington, DC

(Tech Data:  40 Minutes after Sunset, beginning of nautical twilight, looking Southeast, 1.3 sec @ f/5.6, ISO 400, Nikon D800E)

Here, the sky is much darker, in part because it is a bit later than the previous image and also because the camera is pointing away from the western horizon.  The image also demonstrates another technique that can porduce a more dramatic look at night: the use of a reflection in a body of water, be it river, pond, or rain puddle.

Low Light (WW II Mem) D-11-04-30 7062_63 WWW II and Washington Monument at Night

  (Tech Data: 51 Minutes after Sunset, near the end of nautical twilight, looking East, 6 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400, Nikon D800E)

 Low Light (Ferris Wheel) D-13-07-19-044County Fair with Moon, Madison, Wisconsin

(Tech Data: 1 hour 51 minutes after Sunset, after end of Astronomical Twilight, looking generally East, 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100, Nikon D800E)

The glare (a typical problem for night shooting) was managed by using a small aperture to get the star effect which is more attractive than a blown-out spotlight or street lamp. It’s also good idea to use the lens shade when shooting cityscapes at night, to minimize glare from bright lights just outside the composition .

There are many possible subjects for night-time shooting, including cityscapes, landscapes, a staged scenario, and astronomical phenomena.  We’ll go into that in Part 2 of this series.

In the meantime, I would be interested in comments from readers about low light situations you have encountered and how you resolved them.  I expect to be speaking on this subject again and it would be great to bring in some additional ideas .

Until, then…Keep Shooting

 

Moonrise

I know, I know.  I promised scenes from the Galapagos would be in my next post, but……

A week ago (March 12), there was a full moon, an event that happens every 29.5 days.  But for photographers in Washington, DC, it was a special night because the moon would rise in a location on the horizon that was pretty close to perfect for the so-called “Holy Grail” shot.  It happens, on average, every one or two years.

Full Moon March 2017

Moonrise over Washington, D.C., March 12, 2017

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.6 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken )

There is a spot in Arlington, Virginia where one has an excellent view of the city of Washington with a compositionally sweet alignment of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol.  The location is the base of the Netherlands Carillon, just to the south of the Iwo Jima Memorial.

Before the advent of the smart phone/tablet, anticipating this event was not easy, requiring a compass and access to some publicly available software on the website of the U.S. Naval Observatory.  But now, with the availability of numerous apps, such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) or Photo Pils, anyone can figure it out. For example, on this night, even with temperatures hovering around freezing, there were over 60 photographers there, each with at least one tripod and a big lens.

Other than the cold weather, conditions looked pretty good on this evening.  The sky was clear and the moon would rise at 86.0 degrees azimuth on the horizon and 13 minutes after sunset.  That was a bit further south than ideal, and a bit later than desired relative to the sunset. Nevertheless, it would be the best opportunity in 2017 with only one other chance (October 5) that will be in the ballpark.  However, in October, the blue twilight period (Civil Twilight) will end before the moon gets sufficiently elevated.

Moonrise D-17-03-12-9670

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 1.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 7:32 PM)

Although the official time of the moonrise was 7:27 PM, it would be a bit later before it would appear above the skyline.  It was first sighted by the group at about  7:29 and the image immediately above was taken about 90 seconds later.  By this time, the end of civil twilight is approaching and we would soon lose the classic blue color that is essential to this kind of image.

 

Moonrise D-17-03-12-9696

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 200mm on tripod;                Exposure: 2.0 sec @ f/11, ISO 400; taken at 6:36 PM)

Furthermore, the combination of a very clear sky with the rapidly fading twilight would cause the moon to become extremely bright as it rose above the dimming effects of the ground haze.  The above image was taken at 6:36 PM, about 3 minutes before the end of civil twilight.    Already the moon is becoming increasingly bright and the excellent details on its surface have almost vanished.  Any images taken after this point would require increasingly heroic post-processing efforts.

So when you prepare for a moon shot, make sure you check more than the location.  The relationship in time between the sunset and moonrise and civil twilight can have a significant impact on your results.  If you are in a classic landscape situation where no artificial lighting typical of an urban scene is expected, you may want to evaluate the prospects on the night just before the actual full moon.  This is especially true where a mountain may be blocking the moon at the time of the “official” moonrise.

 

Next (and I promise): Scenes from the Galapagos Islands.

 

The Lincoln Memorial

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, a man who is regarded by many as the best President in the history of the United States.  The Lincoln Memorial is my favorite of the many monuments and memorials in Washington and has been the subject of many of my photographs.  I thought it would be appropriate to share a few of those images on this day.

lincoln-memorial-07-moonrise

Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (March 2001)

 

Although sentiment for a memorial to Lincoln appeared almost immediately after his assassination in 1865, it was not until 1914 that construction began.  It opened to the public in 1922.

 

lincoln-memorial-08-night

Lincoln Memorial at Night (February 2002)

But even before funding was found and construction begun, considerable thought had been given to its placement by the little remembered Senate Park Commission Plan of 1902.  This group envisaged the now iconic overall design of the Washington National Mall with the Lincoln Memorial featured as the western anchor.

lincoln-memorial-05-equinox

Lincoln Memorial (Spring Equinox, 2013)

The fact that the Memorial is facing exactly due east and that its interior is open to elements, as envisaged by the 1902 Commission, made the photo above possible.  The alignment is such that only on a few days around the equinox (Spring and Fall) will the rising sun perfectly illuminate the statue of Lincoln with no shadows from the outer columns.  The alignment is perfectly centered for about 20 seconds.

lincoln-memorial-06-sunrise-on-statue

Interior, Fall Equinox 2009 (about a minute after alignment)

Even though the alignment occurs twice each year, one must also have clear skies in the east just as the sun rises, so this moment is relatively rare.

lincoln-memorial-09-memorial-bridge-copy

Memorial Bridge Aligned with Lee House in Distance (March 2002)

The design and location of the Lincoln Memorial was part of a larger plan to symbolize the reconciliation between the North and South in the decades following the Civil War. Four years after the completion of the Lincoln Memorial, work began on the Arlington Memorial Bridge with an alignment directly from the Lincoln Memorial to Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.

But neglect over time has allowed both of these beautiful structures to deteriorate. For example, the above images of the Memorial’s steps reveal that they are quite dirty, a result of the inability of the National Park Service to obtain funding for such maintenance tasks. Observant visitors will find many examples of serious neglect throughout the structure. Fortunately, a major restoration over the next several years has been made possible by an $18.5 million donation by a private citizen, David Rubenstein.  The Memorial Bridge has also been in need of major repair and work has finally been scheduled.

lincoln-memorial-04-interiorInterior, Looking toward South Wall (March 2014)

The interior is still a beautiful space, however.  Depending on the natural light entering the chamber, the interior can take on many moods and repeat visits are worthwhile.  Most visitors spend their time gazing at the massive but elegant statue of Lincoln created by Daniel Chester French.  The actual carving of the stone by the Piccirilli brothers, immigrants from Italy, required four years.

lincoln-memorial-02-gettysburg-address

Interior, Carved Inscription of Gettysburg Address

Ernest C. Bairstow, also an immigrant, carved the inscriptions containing the text of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and his Gettysburg Address on the interior north and south walls.  Evelyn Beatrice Longman, the first woman sculptor to be elected a full member of the National Academy of Design in 1919, completed all of the Lincoln Memorial interior decorative carvings surrounding the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. Visitors today might want to spend a little time re-reading those words.

 

 

 

New York City

First Friday!  One Photo Focus and More!

This year is really speeding by; I can’t believe it’s already May.  I’ve just returned from a short trip to New York City and it’s also time for Stacy Fischer’s monthly OnePhoto Focus Event, so this post will be serving double duty.

In the case of NYC, I managed to squeeze in brief visits to three of the city parks in between some other business.

NYC D-16-04-30-5620_22- RAW Pano

The Pond, Central Park, Early Morning

NYC D-16-04-30-5666_68-RAW Pano

William Seward Monument, Madison Square Park, Early Afternoon

William Seward, a New York native, was Secretary of State under President Abraham Lincoln, but is probably best known for his role in the purchase of Alaska, originally described by his critics as “Seward’s Folly.”

NYC D-16-04-30-5766_74Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain, Bryant Park at Twilight

Josephine Shaw Lowell lived most of her life in New York City where she founded a number of progressive reform organizations during the 19th century including the still operating National Consumers League. Her husband, a Union soldier, was killed one year after their marriage and one month before the birth of her daughter. She never remarried. The fountain, installed 8 years after her death, is said to be New York City’s first major memorial dedicated to a woman.

NYC D-16-04-30-5784_901 RAW Pano

Bryant Park at Night

Bryant Park, located between 5th- 6th Avenues and 40th-42nd Streets, has had an interesting historyover the past 240 years. Retreating American rebel forces under Geaorge Washington passed through this area in 1776 as they fled the British in the Battle of Long Island. In the mid-1800s, it was the site of a massive resevoir, part of a city water distribution system considered one of the great engineering feats of the 19th century. Shortly afterwards, the city’s first major tourist event, the Crystal Palace Exhibition was inagurated next to the resevoir and attracted over 1 million visitors. During the Civil War it was an encampment for Union troops.  A few decades later, the space took on its current name to honor William Cullen Bryant, who was the longtime editor of the New York Evening Post, a civic reformer, and romantic poet.  A major redesign in the 1930s created the space as we see it today.  A detailed history on the park can be found here.

OnePhoto Focus

 

This month’s image was a lot of fun to work with, many thanks to Julie Powell for providing it.  As a reminder, the 1PF Challenge is sponsored by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing and anyone can participate.  Details can be found at  Visual Venturing .

As usual, I first opened the RAW file in Adobe Camera Raw and followed a standard workflow (Setting black and white points, etc.) before opening the file in Photoshop.  The starting point is shown in the image below.

Robin Kent January One Photo Focus Original

Original Image, after Adobe Camera Raw Adjustments

At this point, I thought a late night sci-fi interpretation might be interesting, so I experimented with the Filter Gallery for a few minutes and settled on the following steps:

A duplicate image of the Background Layer was created and I then applied the “Glowing Edges” filter to the Background copy layer (Filter–>Filter Gallery–>Stylize–>Glowing Edges).  The settings were Edge Width=2; Edge Brightness=17; Smoothness=8.  The layer’s opacity was reduced to 61% to allow a certain amount of the original scene to soften the dramatic effect of the filter tool.   I then created yet another copy of the Background Layer and then applied the Trace Contour effect (Filter–>Stylize–>Trace Contour).  The Level was set at 89 and the Edge was set at “Upper.”  The opacity of this layer was set at 13% to give the filter just a slight effect on the image.  The final image is shown below.

Robin Kent 2016 05 One Photo Focus Final

Final Image

Thanks again to Julie Powel for supplying us this image and thanks again to Stacy for managing this monthly event.  It is always great to see what others have done with the same image, so check them out at OnePhoto Focus May 2016.  In the meantime,

Keep Shooting…..

London Scenes

April was a low profile month, blog-wise, but it’s been a little hectic in the real world, mostly involving travel.  However, a short trip to London and then to Oxford afforded some photo opportunities.

2016 April 02 copy

Approaching Storm, Westminister Bridge

Westminster Bridge was nearby and afforded an opportunity to capture some images in cloudy weather.

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 handheld with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 32mm. 7 Exposures bracketed at ISO 400 and post- processed using the Photoshop HDR tool)

That evening, the twilight blue provided a nice counterpoint for the illuminated London Eye, a 443-foot-high Ferris wheel, erected in 1999.  The lines were long, our time was short, and so we opted for the ground-level view.  The building to the right is London County Hall which served as the city of London’s seat of government through most of the 20th century.  It now houses a variety of tourist attractions and an upscale hotel.

One of the problems in these evening shots was the fact that important elements of the scene were in motion (such as the Ferris wheel) which meant that a short exposure was necessary.

2016 April 06

London Eye at Night

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 24mm; Three exposures  1/15th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 800; three images photomerged)

The Elizabeth Tower, better known as “Big Ben” was renamed in honor of Queen Elizabeth in 2012 to mark the occasion of her diamond jubilee.  Here the motion problem was the presence of numerous pedestrians walking by me.

2016 April 07

Elizabeth Tower (“Big Ben”) and Parliament Building

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 24mm; Eleven exposures  1/15th sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 800; eleven images photomerged)

 

2016 April 03A

Moon and Elizabeth Tower

Those who know me will not be surprised to see the moon included in a twilight shot.  Since the vantage point was in a traffic lane, I decided that setting up a tripod would be unwise.

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 handheld with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 70mm; Exposure 1/8th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 400; two images photomerged)

The Monument commemorating the Battle of Britain is relatively new, constructed in 2005.   It honors the heroic World War II air campaign during the summer and fall of 1940 that prevented the German Luftwaffe from gaining air superiority, making a land invasion impossible.   It was the first defeat for the Germans and marked a turning point in the war.  It is located on the Victoria Embankment a short walk from the Westminster Bridge.

2016 April 04

Battle of Britain Monument at Night

Again, the movement of the London Eye (red semi-circle in the background) required a fast shutter speed.

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 24mm. Exposure: 1/50th secs. @ f/2.8, ISO 3200)

 Getting up before dawn is far more difficult when your body clock believes it is 1:00 AM, but the plan for the next morning was driven by visions of a rising sun striking the Parliament building across the bridge from our hotel.  As the image below shows, however, Mother Nature had other plans that day.

2016 April 05

Early Morning Rain, Westminister Bridge

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 45mm. Exposure: 2 secs. @ f/16, ISO 200)

So, before my camera got too soaked, I headed back for breakfast and a taxi ride to the train station.

Keep Shooting…..

Cherry Blossoms at Peak

 

The cherry trees were entering the peak phase today and the tidal basin was lined with photographers at sunrise.  Last night, however, there was a full moon and only three of us (photo colleagues Joan and Cynthia) were shooting in this new location.

Lincoln-Moonrise-D-16-03-23-3932

Full Moon, View from Virginia Shoreline

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 165mm; exposure: 2.5 sec. at f/5.6, ISO 400; taken about 35 minutes after sunset)

While the moon was rising the cherry trees were hard at work, getting ready for this morning.  Both of the images below were taken before sunrise this morning.

Cherry-Blossoms-D-16-03-24-4003

Dawn, Tidal Basin

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 24mm; exposure: 5 sec. at f/16, ISO 800; On-camera flash at reduced power to provide slight fill on blossoms, taken about 35 minutes before sunrise)

Cherry-Blossoms-D-16-03-24-4022

Dawn, Jefferson Memorial

(Technical: Nikon D810 with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 48mm; exposure: 0.5 sec. at f/16, ISO 800; On-camera flash at normal power to provide fill on blossoms, taken about 25 minutes before sunrise)

I suspect none of the photographers there were thrilled to see all those cranes to the left of the Jefferson Memorial.  They are in the early phases of a major development along the waterfront on Maine Avenue.  I suspect most of us will be using Photoshop to “disappear” them.

The blossoms will be with us for a few more days, weather permitting.

Keep Shooting….

Another Moonrise

Mother Nature scheduled a full moon for last Tuesday evening and while the weather was mild enough, my photo colleague Joan and I watched what might be called the dance of the seven veils from 6:02 PM (scheduled moonrise) to about 6:30 PM when the image below was captured.

Moonrise D-16-02-22-2202

Full Moon over Lincoln Memorial, February 22, 2016

(Technical data: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 165mm; exposure setting: 3 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400 taken at 6:28 PM)

The original idea was to catch the moon as it cleared the horizon, just to the left of the Memorial.  Sunset was 5 minutes before the moonrise, so we were hoping for the sweet spot in the period of Civil Twilight.  By the time we were able to see the moon, however, the evening was well into the phase known as Nautical Twilight. For details on these various twilight phases check my post on the subject here.

But that’s OK, it was a really nice evening and no other photographers were around.

On a related matter, the Lincoln Memorial is finally being scheduled for a much-meeded sprucing up, thanks to a substantial donation from a private citizen.  Check here for the details.  The announcement was made on February 12th, Lincoln’s birthday that David Rubenstein, who has also donated funds for the repair of the Washington Monument and Iwo Jima Memorial, had provided a gift of $18 million to fix up the Memorial and add a large visitor center underground.

So before this project begins, those of us who want to photograph the Memorial had best get going.  Hint:  The next scheduled moonrise is on March 23rd.

Keep Shooting…..