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…………..

 

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.

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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.

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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…..

Twilight and Beyond: Photography at Night (Part 2)

In the first installment of this mini-series, I suggested including the moon in a night scene as a way to add interest and provided a few examples.  In this segment, we’ll look at the moon in a little greater detail.

In the Washington, DC area, capturing images of a full moon rising has become increasingly popular, largely due to the availability of mobile “apps” to help you be at the right place at the right time.  The general approach is to find a location from which one can photograph the moon perfectly positioned in relation to one of the major monuments.   The image below was captured at the most popular of these locations, on a hill in Rosslyn, Virginia directly in front of the Netherlands Carillon.

Night Photos D-09-09-05-51_52_53

Moonrise, Washington, DC (September 5, 2009)

An image like this is not as easy to obtain as it would appear, even with the help of an app like TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris). Aside from the obvious need for good weather, the time between the moonrise and sunset are critical as is the precise location of the moonrise.  In the case of this image, it was actually taken on the night after the full moon.  On the previous night, the weather was cloudy, the moonrise was 13 minutes before sunset and well to the right of the Lincoln Memorial. On the night of this image, the moonrise was 13 minutes after sunset at the perfect azimuth reading—85.5 degrees.  This photograph was taken about 10 minutes later, very close to the end of civil twilight.

For those wanting to know when the next such opportunity comes, they might want to mark their calendars for October 15, 2016.  It is the night before the full moon and the moon will rise 2 minutes after sunset.  That’s a little closer than ideal, but the azimuth reading is close to perfect, at 84.1 degrees.  Not as good as September 5, 2009, but worth a try if the weather is favorable.

A word of warning:  You will be sharing this location with as many as 100 other photographers, all with tripods.

The Jefferson Memorial is probably the second most popular spot for a moonrise image, often attracting 30-40 photographers on a promising evening. The advantage here is there are more vantage points along the sidewalks of the Tidal Basin.

Night Photos Jefferson and Moon D-15-07-31-5527_33

Moonrise, Jefferson Memorial (July 31, 2015)

(Technical notes: Moonrise 2 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 106.2 degrees; photograph taken 18 minutes after sunset.)

A similar alignment will occur on April 22, 2016 with a full moonrise 3 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 105 degrees.

One of the challenges in photographing a full moon is exposure.  Once it gets well above the horizon on a clear night, an exposure chosen to capture a twilight scene will often result in an overexposed moon. This will happen even with illuminated buildings as the primary subject.

Night Photos Jefferson Fireworks

Jefferson Memorial, Full Moon and Fireworks (April 4, 2014)

(Technical notes: Moonrise 21 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 99.1 degrees, photograph taken 63 minutes after sunset.)

Tactics for resolving this issue can range from hoping for a light cloud cover to blending two separate exposures in Photoshop or using the HDR bracketed exposure procedure.  Another method is to try for a crescent moon.

Night Photos Lincoln Moonset 01

Crescent Moon with Lincoln Memorial (August 17, 2015)

Photographed 35 minutes after sunset.  Note:  In this case, the photograph is taken in same direction as the setting sun.  Therefore, the twilight blue lasts longer than when you are pointing in the opposite direction.

Always consider possible locations when you travel.  Apps like TPE can be really helpful if you check the destination before you go.  For example, Mother Nature had kindly scheduled a full moon during our visit to Paris in 2014.  A check with TPE revealed that it would be possible to have it in a picture with the Eiffel Tower.

Night Photos Paris D-14-06-13-0876_79

Full Moon and Eiffel Tower (June 13, 2014)

(Technical Notes: Moonrise 8 minutes after Sunset at Azimuth 119.5 degrees. Photograph taken 50 minutes after Sunset. Twilight tends to last longer in Paris than in Washington, DC.)

The next full moon will be on February 22nd.  Pick a spot and …

Keep Shooting….

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.

Night Photos D-07-08-25-0028

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.

Night Photos Washington Monument 4100

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)

Night Photos D-14-06-04-8826_27 PAN

Paris, Place Concorde Fountain (73 minutes after sunset)

Night Photos Ferris Wheel 01

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

Night Photos 1503-36 (retouch 9 X 14) Final 7600

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…..

Moonrise: Thanksgiving Eve

Last night, my sister (who is a photographer based in Pennsylvania) and I decided to try and capture an image of the full moon rising.  My sister is visiting for the Thanksgiving holiday and the coincidence of a full moon in late November on a perfectly clear night with temperatures in the low 60s was impossible to resist.  The result is posted below.

Moonrise D-15-11-25-0173_177

Moonrise, Washington, DC

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Keep shooting….