Low Light Photography (Part 2)

 

As mentioned in last week’s post, possible subjects for night-time shooting include cityscapes, landscapes, a staged scenario, and astronomical phenomena.  In the case of cityscapes, one does not have to live in, or travel to, well-known cities such as Washington, DC, New York City, or Paris.

Low Light (Hartford) D-14-12-04-5599_606Hartford at Twilight

(Tech: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/.28 lens @ 50mm, 3 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400, photomerge)

This was taken during the Nautical Twilight phase, but by looking west, one can still see plenty of light in the sky.  The location was chosen because there was good illumination from city lights over most of the scene and the Connecticut River provided  a nice reflection of the city lights.  Using water to reflect lights can be a very effective technique at night.  As before, the glare from the brighter lights was managed by using a small aperture to produce a star effect.

Low Light (Pittsburgh) D-13-08-17Pittsburgh at Night

(Tech: Nikon D800E with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens @70mm, 1/6th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 1600)

From this location (an overlook in the 1400 block of Grandview Avenue), the city of Pittsburgh provides a dramatic night scene with plenty of illumination.  However, the moving ferry in the river required a relatively short exposure, forcing a setting at a wide aperture and high ISO.

Tactics for Adding Interest

Aside from looking for potential reflections, one can also look for illuminated fountains, use time exposures to  incorporate traffic flow, or take advantage of a special event such as temporary art installations or fireworks.  The city of Washington, DC has many fountains although most are shut down for the winter.

Low Light (WW II Mem) D-13-06-01-9189_209WW II Memorial at Twilight

(Tech: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/.28 lens @ 24mm, 8 sec. @ f/14, ISO 400, photomerge)

The primary reason for using a photomerge in this case was to “remove” the tourists in the scene.  About 17 separate exposures were made, each of a small section of the scene that did not have anyone in it at that moment.  Depending on the situation, there are easier ways to do this in Photoshop, such as the Image Stacking Mode or the Scripts-Statistics  process.  But those techniques have difficulty with any moving object, such as a flag or moving water, that appears in every image.                                                                                   Low Light (Bartholdi)D-11-09-16-2649  Bartholdi Fountain at Twilight

(Tech: Nikon D800E, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 56mm; 10 sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

 This fountain, dating back to 1876, was created by August Bartholdi, a French artist who is better known for the Statue of Liberty.  It is located in Bartholdi Park across Independence Avenue from the US Botanic Garden.

Fountains can be found in most cities around the world; Rome and Paris (see image below) are famous for their fountains,  but Kansas City reportedly is second only to Rome in the number of municipal fountains.

Low Light (Paris Fountain) brighter D-14-06-04-8826_27Place Concorde at Twilight, Paris

(Tech: Nikon D800E, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 24mm; 5 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200)

 

Moving traffic can pose a problem for night photographers, but, by using a long exposure to create trace lines, what might be a flaw becomes a strength.

 Low Light (Kutz Bridge) D-11-03-13-4100Washington Monument and Kutz Bridge

(Tech: Nikon D800E, 24-70mm f/2.8 lens @ 38mm; 8 sec. @ f/16, ISO 200)

When shooting at street level, the brightness of oncoming headlights can still be a problem, even with a long exposure.  Here the traffic was going away from the camera so only the taillights and the blue warning lights from the police car were visible.

This technique does not have to be restricted to street vehicles.  For locations near an airport, aircraft landings and take-offs can also be included as shown in the next two images.

Low Light (Final Approach) D-10-03-20-050Final Approach Over Key Bridge

(Tech: Nikon D200, 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 lens @ 42mm; 30 sec. @ f/16, ISO 100)

There are several locations where you can capture aircraft landing at National Airport.  This was taken on the river’s edge about 200 feet northwest of the Thompson Boat Center.

Low Light (Kennedy Center) D-17-11-29-0794Kennedy Center at Night

(Tech: Nikon D850, 24-70 f/2.8 lens @ 70mm; 20sec. @ f/18, ISO 100)

Special event illuminations such as the recent display by the Kennedy Center can provide unique opportunities because they usually only last for a short time.  This image combines several of the tactics discussed here: a special illumination, trace lights from vehicle traffic and aircraft, and using water to add reflections.

The next and final post in this series will cover astronomical phenomena, photographing the moon, stars, and the Milky Way.

In the meantime, Keep Shooting…………..

 

Happy Birthday, Eiffel Tower

Today marks the 126th anniversary of the opening of the Eiffel Tower.  What better way to note the occasion than to post one of my first images of it?

Eiffel Tower

Eiffel Tower at Night (May 13, 2006)

The tower was the main exhibit at the 1889 Exposition Universelle (World’s Fair), held to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution.  The arched bridge in the foreground is the Passarelle Debilly, a footbridge constructed for the same Exposition. Both were intended to be temporary structures, but fortunately both escaped that fate. The bridge, however, was moved from its original location not far away to where it stands today.

To see a few more pictures of Paris check my website here.

After-Before Friday Week 12

My submission to Stacy Fischer’s After-Before Friday Forum this week is from a recent trip to Paris (which is pretty obvious when one looks at the image).  I am often shooting cityscapes during twilight and one of the challenges in these circumstances is exposing for extremely bright lights scattered across an otherwise very dark scene.  Such was the case with this twilight image of the Eiffel Tower.  The problems are not so apparent when looking at the image in the small size here, but when printed at sizes of 24 inches-plus, a string of overexposed street lamps can be a little obnoxious.  My go-to tool (until I can find something better) for reducing the glare is the “Highlights” slider in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).  The starting image is shown below and is the unprocessed RAW image with no changes.  I should add that the final image, shown at the end of this post is actually a Photomerge with one other image, which explains the slightly wider field of view.  But both images were treated the same.

ABFriday Kent Before Week 12

Original Image, Unprocessed RAW File

The two images were photographed at twilight and the numerous bright lights complicated the exposure because much of the scene was not well illuminated.  I chose an exposure that would provide at least some detail in the darker areas, knowing that further refinements could be made in ACR.  (Technical data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens extended to 31mm; exposure: 5 sec. @ f/16, EV= -0.67, ISO 400). The small aperture was necessary to get a hyperfocal effect, maximizing the depth of field.  Although it is somewhat hard to see at the small size here, the street lamps, carousel lights, and the Eiffel Tower itself are somewhat blown out.

Once downloaded into ACR, a number of adjustments were made to compensate for the initial exposure. The results are shown in the image below.

ABFriday Kent Before 02A Week 12

The settings were as follows:

Highlights: decrease to -93 (an extreme decline to suppress the glare of the blown out lights)

Shadows: increase to +78 (also extreme, to open up the underexposed dark areas)

Clarity: Increase to +18

Vibrance: Increase to +25

The image above, given its size, may not clearly show the difference between the two images.  However, an enlarged detail section below showing the image before and after the ACR adjustments should help show the improvement.  The top section, the image prior to ACR adjustments, shows that in a larger print, the lights of the carousel, street

ABFriday Kent Before 03C Week 12

lights, vehicle lights, and the Eiffel Tower all have a harsh glare.  After the adjustments in ACR, the effect is less pronounced.  One last note; the “star effect” on the street lamps is a result of the chosen aperture (f/16), not a special filter.  In twilight scenes such as this, I find that this optical effect is more pleasing to the eye of the viewer than an unstructured flare around the bulb.

With the ACR adjustments finished, the image was photomerged with another that had received an identical treatment (for more on Photomerge techniques, check my post of August 1st here.)    There was a little clean-up work undertaken, but no major Photoshop steps after the merge were necessary. The final image is shown below.

ABFriday Kent After Week 12

Final Image

Again, I would to thank Stacy Fischer for keeping this forum running.  Please check out the excellent submissions by the other contributors at her Visual Venturing blog.

After-Before Friday Week 6

This post is my submission to the After-Before Friday Forum sponsored by  Stacy Fisher’s Visual Venturing blog, which encourages a discussion among participants and readers on the subject of taking an original photograph as captured by the camera and transforming into the image that was envisioned by the photographer.  The contributions of other participants can be found here

This week’s image is a detail of the Fountain de Medici, located in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris. The historic fountain, despite its desperate need for a major clean-up and repair, is a popular stop for tourists and when there is nice weather, many locals take advantage of the well-shaded chairs beside the long rectangular pool.   For me, the neglected state of the structure with its moss-covered stones seemed to enhance the horrific theme of the central group of statues.  The great dark figure looming above the young lovers is Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant who, according to Homer’s tale, devoured several of the crew members of the Odysseus expedition when they landed on the island of Cyclops.

The weather, bright and sunny, was not in my favor and I had time only for a few quick shots.  But I thought it would be an interesting exercise to see if the original image could be infused with the darker mood that I saw in that sculpture. I’m not entirely satisfied with the results, and would be interested in feedback from readers of this post. (Camera data: Nikon D800E with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 66mm. Exposure: 1/100th sec. @ f/5.0, EV = -0.67)

The original image is shown as the RAW file came from the camera, before any changes were made in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR).

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RAW Image without any adjustments

The first steps were taken in ACR, and the adjustments made were as follows:

Highlights: Reduced to -75, to tone down the bright specular highlights;

Shadows:  Reduced to -44, to add shadow and darken the scene slightly;

Blacks:     Reduced to -20, just to the point of clipping on the histogram, to insure there was a touch of pure black  (Thanks to Stacy for suggesting this technique.)

Clarity:      Increased to +30 standard on most of my images

Vibrance:    Increased to +13 to give just a small boost to the greens

All other settings were unchanged.  The result was then opened in Photoshop CC and looked like this:

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Image after adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw

A quick adjustment to remove the slight tilt was made using the crop tool.  Then a much tighter crop was made to bring the central statues closer, eliminating distractions such as the large body of water in the foreground and most of the people along the sides of the pool.  At this point the statues have become the main point of interest as shown below.

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Image after first crop

But more work was needed.  I used a Curves layer adjustment (blend mode: luminosity) to darken the scene and inject a more somber mood. A mask was added to keep the statues unaffected by the curves adjustment with the intent of giving depth to the scene and drawing the viewer’s eye to them.  This was followed by another Curves layer adjustment (blend mode: luminosity) to create a vignette, darkening the areas outside the center, in an attempt to further enhance the mood.  The result at this point is shown below.

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Things were looking better, but it seemed that one more step might help.  One last crop was applied to bring the viewer closer to the scene and eliminate the bystander with the blue shirt on the right.  The final image is shown below.

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Final Version

Paris: Saturday Night Lights

Weekend nights are pretty lively in this city. Even before the sun has set, the party spirit is gearing up. The banks of the Seine are lined with thousands of young people assembled in small groups sharing food and various liquid refreshments and generally having a great time. The expansive lawns of the Champs des Mars and Esplanade des Invalides are similarly packed, but populated mostly by families and Frisbee tosseurs (not a real word). The streets are filled with tourists, stopping every 20 meters or so to photograph the city’s icons and the now obligatory “selfies.” And this photographer heads to the Pont Alexandre III, considered the most elegant bridge in Paris.

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Waxing Moon, Pont Alexandre III, Paris

This was photographed from the Right Bank at the entrance to Pont Alexandre.  The entrances on both sides are flanked by a pair of pillars such as the one shown here, each with a sculpture of Pegasus, the mythological flying horse.  It was shot at about 10:40 PM.

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Pont Alexandre III and Les Invalides at Night

This was also photographed from the Right Bank, about 25 feet to the left of the previous image.   In the bottom left, you can see the groups of young people celebrating the evening.  In the distance, the illuminated dome of Les Invalides sits astride the massive Esplanade des Invalides.  The two pillars on the left bank flank the entrance on the opposite side. Photographed at about 10:50 PM.

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Eiffel Tower, from Pont Alexandre III

And, of course, the obligatory image of the Eiffel Tower.  Photographed at about 10:25 PM.  As you can see, I am steadily working my way downriver.

My travels about this city have been facilitated by the incredibly useful (and free) app by the Paris Metro system.  It knows where I am and I just tell it where I want to go.  It directs me to the right bus stop and tells me which bus to take and where to get off.  So I knew when I was taking that last shot at 10:50 PM that I could get across the bridge to the bus stop on the other side and catch the 11:00 PM 63 bus that would drop me off abut a block from our home base.  If you are coming here and don’t already have it, you must get a copy.  Just go to the App store and ask for the RATP app.

Paris: Place de la Concorde at Night

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Fontaine de la Concorde at Night

The Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris and is best known for its obelisk with the golden tip.  But the obelisk is flanked on the north and south by a pair of ornate fountains and I have been trying to get a decent picture of one of them for seven years, ever since I first saw them.  It’s always been something:  fountains turned off, lights turned off, lousy light, etc.  In fact, when I came here late yesterday afternoon, it looked like  it might be a repetition of the same story.   The south fountain was both dry and dark.  But the north fountain was running.  Now, I only had to wait and hope they would turn the lights on when it got dark.

Fortunately, they did and the image above is the result.  The building in the background  is the Hotel de Crillon which apparently is being renovated.  The brightly colored design is actually a scrim to hide the unsightly construction work.  In the past, these scrims were graphic designs, often a replication of the structure being repaired, but now the French have taken the opportunity to help finance their renovation projects by renting the scrims as advertising billboards.  In this case, the company is Swatch.

The photograph is another photomerge (two images), primarily because my chosen shooting location (to block out some unwanted objects) put me a little too close to get it all in one shot.  (Technical Data: Nikon 800E on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens set at 24mm. Exposure: 5 secs. @ f/16, EV= -1.33, ISO 200)

Paris: Eiffel Tower at Night

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Eiffel Tower at Night

Photographed from the Pont Neuf Bridge at about 10:45 PM.  (Technical Data: Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-2000mm f/2.8 lens. Exposed at 1/5 sec. at f/2.8, ISO 800)  Normally, I prefer to shoot at f/16 to maximize depth of field, but the motion of the search light made this impossible. So two images were taken, one focused on the dome of Les Invalides to the left and one on the Eiffel Tower to the right.  The framing of the left shot excluded the Eiffel Tower and the right image excluded the dome.  The two were then combined using the Photomerge tool in Photoshop CC.