Twilight and Beyond (Part 1)

I recently had the opportunity to make a presentation to the membership of the  Vienna Photographic Society in Vienna, Virginia on the subject of night photography.  A friend and fellow photographer suggested that the subject might also be of interest to write about here.

For openers, many people might ask why in the world someone would want to go out and photograph things at night. And they have a point, because everything is more difficult in the dark.  It is hard to see what you are doing or where you are going.  And then there is the inconvenient fact that photography relies on light.

But despite the challenges, night photography opens a whole new world of photographic opportunities.  After the sun has set, the world begins to be transformed into something unfamiliar and strange.

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Moonrise, near Marquette, Michigan

As the above image shows, photographing a scene at night produces a totally different result in daylight. Much of what we see at day has disappeared while things we could not see are now apparent. Even more interesting is how a scene becomes more abstract as the light fades.  And in certain cases, you have the ability to capture the passage of time.

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Washington Monument at Night

These other worldly characteristics make it necessary to adopt a different mind-set when photographing at night.  For example, in a night-time urban environment one is dealing with many, perhaps thousands, of light sources instead of just one. But in a landscape environment, you may be dealing with virtually no light.

Although the scene may be radically different than in daytime, the photographer faces the same technical constraints.  The four factors of   aperture, shutter speed, and light sensitivity are still with us, but at an extreme level, often pushing the limits of our equipment.

There is some disagreement among photographers over the definition of “night” when discussing night photography.  For me, it covers any photograph taken in the time between sunset and sunrise.  One of the most magical aspects of this genre, in my opinion, is the slow transformation between daylight and darkness (evening and morning) which is known as twilight.

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World War I Memorial, Washington, DC (19 minutes  after sunset)

 

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US Capitol and Senate Garage Fountain (30 minutes after sunset)

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Paris, Place Concorde Fountain (73 minutes after sunset)

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Ferris wheel, Madison Wisconsin (Night)

Twilight begins at sunset, and while the sun is relatively close to the horizon, illumination is provided by the scattering of sunlight in the sky.   During twilight, the earth is neither fully lit nor completely dark.  The twilight period actually is divided into three separate phases, Civil, Nautical, and Astronomical, each of which is about 30 minutes long.  For further details on these terms check this link.

During the transition between daylight and actual darkness, the quality of light changes rapidly and close attention to what is happening in the scene is advisable.  This is especially true in an urban environment when artificial lights begin to become dominant, overwhelming the ambient light from the fading twilight.

Night Photos Washington CityscapeMoonrise over Kennedy Center, Washington, DC (20 minutes after sunset)

Night Photos Washington TwilightPhotographed 5 Minutes Later

 

My favorite technique for adding drama to a twilight scene is to include a rising or setting moon as shown below.  Taken in 2001, there was no “app” to guide photographers to the

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Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial (7 minutes after sunset)

perfect location.  One needed a real compass and a source of information on the lunar cycle, such as the US Naval Observatory website.

Today, the easy availability of products such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris, Photo Pils, and others make it much easier.  But there still are a few additional elements that are helpful to know.   That will be the topic of the next installment of this series.

In the meantime,

Keep Shooting…..

Iceland Part 4 (Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!)

It’s been a busy time since the eclipse on 27 September, primarily because I am running around trying to get ready for my Open Studio Event in 7 days. But that is a subject for another post.  Today, it’s time to bring out some more images from Iceland.

Readers may have noticed that Icelandic place names tend to be extremely complicated and hard to pronounce.  But there is at least one exception, the small town of Vik located on the south coast.  Perhaps the most notable feature here is its black sand beach, characteristic of a country populated by active volcanoes.  Not far away are the cliffs of DyrhÓlaey where we spent the good part of the afternoon.  One doesn’t have to walk far from the parking lot to get a good view.

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Cliffs of DyrhÓlaey

The classic vista here, however, is from a promontory that looks back toward the cliffs.  It is only about a 10 minute walk from the location shown above.  This is a perfect example of how the scenery can radically change in a very short distance.

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View from the Promontory, Looking West

And after a 20-second stroll to the opposite edge of the promontory one is treated to this view.

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View from the Promontory, Looking East

That evening, the group visited the Reynisfjara Beach, best known for its sea stacks.  One thing to remember about photographing on a beach close to the water is the need to pay close attention to the waves.  I have always observed that precaution, except for approximately 3 seconds on that evening when I turned to respond to a question from another member of the group. In that brief moment an unusually large wave pounded ashore with surprising speed and water was suddenly rushing past me above my knees. I turned to rescue my camera and tripod but it was too late.  My camera was down, I followed, and I saw another member of our group being dragged into the ocean while he desperately held his camera and tripod above the water surging around him. One of the tour leaders reacted quickly and grabbed that camera before the water claimed it.  With his hands free, the downed member was able to get back up about the same time I did.  I retrieved my camera but it was ruined, as was the lens.  The photographs on the card, however, were unharmed.  The image below was taken just a few minutes before this happened.

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Fortunately, I had a back-up camera body and lens and managed to capture the sunset about 40 minutes later.

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Sunset, Reynisfjara Beach

Keep Shooting (but watch those waves)…….

Iceland: Part 3

Iceland is a land shaped by fire, ice, and water.   It sits astride two major tectonic plates which are being gradually forced apart by the pressure of molten rock deep within the earth.  At the surface glaciers inexorably move through the mountains, slowly carving new landscape formations.  The melting ice from the warming climate and heavy rainfall in the mountains generates innumerable waterfalls, some tumbling over cliffs 200 feet and higher.

As a result, there are spectacular opportunities for the landscape photographer when weather conditions cooperate.  During our time in Iceland, we were treated to a few special moments but more often found ourselves in fairly challenging conditions.  But the challenges are part of what motivates us to take our cameras outdoors whenever we can.  Because sooner or later persistence will be rewarded with a magical ephemeral moment.  A moment you never forget.

One of the favorite spots for photographers in Iceland is the small blue glacial waterfall called Brúarfoss. Although well known to visitors, it can be extremely hard to find.  Fortunately, we were on a photo workshop led by Ian Plant, ably assisted by Alex Mody, and Ian unerringly directed our driver through a maze of unsigned dirt roads to a trail head.  After a short hike we were there and it was immediately obvious why everyone wants to see it, even in poor weather conditions.

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Brúarfoss from the Pedestrian Bridge (wide angle photomerge)

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Brúarfoss, from the Shallows (wide angle photomerge)

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Brúarfoss, from the Pedestrian Bridge (telephoto photomerge)

The next day we arrived at Gullfoss (Golden Falls, located in the canyon of the Hvítá River) for a sunrise shoot, but my efforts to capture the grandeur of the monster cataract were mostly unsatisfactory.  However, a few attempts were OK and are shown below.

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Early Morning at Gullfoss, View to the West

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Workshop Participants, Gullfoss

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Brief (5 seconds) Rainbow, Gullfoss

At midday, we got a break in the weather just as we arrived at Seljalandsfoss, located close to the Ring Road (Route 1).

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Seljalandsfoss at Midday

Seljalandsfoss is a waterfall approximately 200 feet high.  It has a cavern to the sides and rear that allow people to walk behind the falls.  This image is a side view from within the cavern.

To be continued…….

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Iceland: Part 2

As we continued up Route 47 to the waterfall at Kirkjufell, a series of intermittent showers began to tantalize us with a series rainbows shimmering in the fjord (Hvalfjörður, which is about 30 km long and 5 km wide). We finally found a place with enough room to park off the road, but as we scrambled out of the vehicle we were immediately buffeted by extremely strong wind gusts.  Nevertheless, a complete rainbow hung over the water and we would not be deterred.

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Rainbow over Hvalfjörður fjord, Iceland

This was the last we saw of any sunshine on this day.  By the time we reached the waterfall, the wind was approaching gale force (my opinion, based on the fact the rain was going more or less sideways).  But extreme weather can be an exhilarating experience and while I captured no memorable photos at this waterfall, I’m not likely to forget the power of the wind and rain during my brief excursion around the falls.

Based in Hellnar for the night, we headed out to Arnarstapi for a twilight photograph of the Gatklettur Rock, a natural arch formed on the beach.  The rain had slackened, and the dark clouds provided a foreboding scene. Two members of our group can be seen in the lower left corner of the first image, prviding a sense of scale.

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Gatklettur Natural Arch from Overlook

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Gatklettur Natural Arch, Close View from Overlook

Since the images of the horses were well received, here is one more which I suspect is an equine interpretation of the verb “photobomb.”

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I failed to mention in the previous post that the horses were located in a large pasture along Route 47, about 7 km northeast of the intersection of Route 1 and Route 47.

To be continued….

Iceland: Part 1

I’ve finally returned from Iceland and while the weather was not highly cooperative, the country’s famous scenery made it possible to capture images at most of the spots we visited.  Probably the most agreeable conditions occurred at an unplanned stop on the morning we departed Reykjavik. About two hours northwest of the capital, we spotted a sunlit pasture with about a dozen of Iceland’s famous horses.

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According to the Lonely Planet Guide and other sources, all horses in Iceland can be traced back to the animals imported by the Vikings.  The small breed is hardy and long-lived, well-conditioned for the country’s harsh conditions and still plays an important role in Icelandic life. Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.  They have five gaits, including the unusual töit, a running walk so smooth that riders can drink a glass of beer without spilling a drop. In addition to performance competitions, horse racing is a popular sport and the animal is also used for traditional sheepherding.  Some are raised for slaughter and much of the meat is exported to Japan.

Based on our brief experience interacting with the herd we encountered, the Icelandic horse is social, curious, and seems to enjoy having its nose petted.

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Shortly after we resumed our drive, the weather took a turn for the worse.

To be continued…..

Off to Iceland!

Tomorrow I will be heading up to Iceland with a pair of photo colleagues for about eight days on a photo workshop.

We have been on several joint ventures previously but this will be the first time our little trio has joined a workshop.  It’s also the first of our photo expeditions to a location that none of us has seen before and our first international destination.  Given all of that, this promises to be an interesting time.

After the workshop I will be heading to New York City for about 5 days where I hope to meet up with a few fellow bloggers.  The itinerary will probably prevent any postings for a while, but I hope to resume sometime after the 3rd week in September.

So, in the meantime, here are a few images from some of my previous photo shoots with my two colleagues.

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Potomac River Rapids, near Great Falls, Virginia

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Elakala Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

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Shays Creek, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

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Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia

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Yosemite Falls, Yosemite National Park, California

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Yosemite National Park, California

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Clearing Storm at Sunset, Yosemite Valley

ABFriday Week 57

This week’s ABFriday Forum was in serious jeopardy of not happening because our usual hostess (Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing) is out of town this week.  However, a heroic rescue by Loré Dombaj of “Snow’s Fissures and Fractures” has made it possible for all of us to continue.  As usual, this week’s forum allows pparticipants to submit an example of  how they transform an image to reveal their creative vision.  You can see all of the others at Loré’s post here.  And as always, you can get all the guidelines for participating in this forum by checking out Stacy Fischer’s site here.

Sometimes its a good idea to go back and review the image files from a major shooting session to see if a good image might have been overlooked.  This week’s submission to ABFriday is an example.

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Before Image (Original RAW File)

The above image apparently escaped my attentiona few months ago when I was selecting images for an exhibit. on Antarctica.  But this image caught my eye during a subsequent review of the image files a couple weeks ago.  I remembered the scene as being much more colorful and thought there might be some potential.

The scene was taken as our boat was heading north in the Gerlache Strait at about 10:45 PM. The sun’s last light hitting the top of the mountain was similar to the alpenglow effect I had seen in the past.

As usual, the image was first opened in Adobe Camera RAW.(ACR) and the adjustments were fairly standard (setting the black and white points, reducing Highlights, opening up the Shadows, adding some Clarity and Vibrance). Then, in Photoshop CC, two Curves Adjustment Layers were added, one to increase the contrast of the mountain and snow, the second to darken the sky.  A Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer was used to slightly increase the saturation of the sky. Next a bit of the sky was cropped out for balance in the composition and, as a final step, a gradient layer was used to darken the sky (Blend Mode: Soft Light).  Now it looked like the scene I saw that night. Robin Kent ABFriday Week 60 After

Final Image

Thanks again to Loré Dombaj for organizing this week’s After Before Friday Forum.  Please visit her site to see all of the other submissions by clicking here.