Low Light Photography (Part 3)

 

 Low Light Moon 1503-36Moonrise, Lincoln Memorial

 Photographing the moon, stars, and the Milky Way brings a different set of challenges, most often in planning where to be and when.  Happily, this is no longer as hard as it used to be,  because there are various apps such as The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) or PhotoPils that enable you to predict where the moon and other astronomical bodies will be at any given time and location.

The picture above was taken in 2001 when such things did not exist. You needed a compass and a chart with the azimuth of the moonrise.  On March 9th, the moonrise was at 6:19 PM, 10 minutes after sunset.   

Low Light D-09-09-05-51_52_53 (Moonrise, Washington) Moonrise over Washington DC 

(Tech: Nikon D200 with 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, @ 200mm, exp:  1.8 sec. @ f/5.6, ISO 200; 3 vertical images, photomerged)

Capturing a full moon rising over Washington, DC from this location near the Netherlands Carillon is a much desired goal of many local photographers.  These days, when the alignment is expected to be good, you will find as many as 100 photographers at this location poised for the opportunity.

The image above, however, was photographed on Sept 5, 2009, the night after the full moon, and also back before TPE and other apps were generally available.  There were less than a half dozen photographers up there that night.  The next chance for an almost identical shot at this location will be on October 5, 2019.

Low Light D-11-05-28-8051_58 Iwo Jima Iwo Jima and Crescent Moon

The moon doesn’t necessarily have to be full to find an interesting angle, but it might mean that you have to get up early in the morning.  This was taken at about 5:20 AM, during civil twilight when the waning moon was about 19% full.

(Tech:  Nikon D200, 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 lens at 200mm; exp 0.6 sec. @ f/20, ISO 2500)

Low Light D-14-10-08-2014 EclipseLunar Eclipse Multiple Exposure

(Tech: October 8, 2014, Total of 18 Exposures over a 64 minute period, exposures varied depending on brightness of moon)

A lunar eclipse is a relatively rare event, but it can be photographed in a variety of ways depending on the timing and track of the moon across the sky.  In this case of an early morning eclipse, I tried an application of the stacking technique I learned in a Michael Frye workshop for shooting star trails (discussed below).  The next total eclipse in Washington, DC will be on the night of 20-21 January 2019.  Information of the date and locations of upcoming eclipses anywhere can be found here.

Low Light D-14-08-23-3525 (Gaylor Lake)Milky Way over Gaylor Lake, Yosemite National Park

When photographing Stars, one has to get away from the light pollution of city lights.  Dark skies, such as Yosemite National Park, are increasingly rare.  One place to find them is at the Dark Sky Association website.

This kind of photography involves a number of considerations.  According to Michael Frye: “Capturing pinpoint stars requires relatively short exposures, otherwise the stars become streaks instead of points. You can get away with exposure times as long as 30 seconds with wide-angle lenses.  To gather enough light to show faint stars and the Milky Way with such short exposures, you need both a wide aperture and a high ISO. The wider the aperture and the higher the ISO, the more stars will appear in your photograph. But you might not want to use the widest aperture on your lens, because all lenses are sharper when stopped down a bit. Or if you have something in the foreground you may need to stop down slightly to get sufficient depth of field.  To start with, try 15 to 30 seconds at f/2.8, with the ISO at 6400. If that doesn’t show enough stars, try a wider aperture or higher ISO.”

The Milky Way is not visible in the Northern Hemisphere during January and February.  For a comprehensive discussion of when and where to photograph it, check this link.

 

Low Light (Star Trails) D-13-09-08-3496Star Trails, Sonora Pass, California

The technique for capturing star trails is similar to shooting the Milky Way in that a fast (f/2.8 or better) wide angle lens (24 mm or wider)are necessary.  But instead of one relatively short exposure, this kind of image requires a series of long exposures at a relatively low ISO.  The above image involved 30 separate exposures, each four minutes long with a 1 second interval between each one.  The aperure was f/5.6 and the ISO was 400.  An intervalometer was attached to the camera to manage the sequence of shots.

Then, during postprocessing, you can load all the images into photoshop as layers.  You then click off the visibility (the little eyeball on the left of each layer) of all layers except the bottom layer.  Then Cchange the blend mode on all layers to “lighten” and the star trails will appear.  This action blends the layers together keeping only the lightest areas of the photo.  Merge the image as a single layer.

I hope these three posts on low light photography are of some use to readers interested in taking on the low light challenge.  For now, however, I will be taking a break from my blog for about 6 weeks as I get ready for an upcoming trip to the monarch butterfly preserves in the Sierra Madre Montains of central Mexico.  You can get an advanced peek at what I hope to see there by checking out my post from 2016.

You cn also check out my Instagram feed (@photographybykent) which will have occasional posts over the next several weeks.  In the meantime,

Keep Shooting……….

 

 

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…………..

 

One Photo Focus-Augsut 2016

One the first Friday of each month, Stacy Fischer’s AfterBefore Friday Forum invites all participants to work their magic on the same image–an image that is selected by one of the participants in advance.  Hence the title of the event is “One Photo Focus.”  It happens that this month I am the one supplying the image and I can’t wait to see what creative license is taken with it by the other participants.  Their creations can be found at Visual Venturing and I hope everyone will check them out.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 Original Raw Version)

Original Raw Image — Unprocessed

The original image (above) was taken during a recent trip to London.  I’m sure everyone recognizes the iconic London Eye, a 443-foot-high Ferris wheel, erected in 1999.  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. The photo was taken from the Westminster Bridge and, if one looked 90 degrees to the left one would see an even more iconic scene, the buildings of Parliament and the grand tower with the famous clock known as Big Ben.

I decided to take the straight approach this time and stayed away from my favorite sandbox, AKA the Filter Gallery.  I followed my normal workflow by using Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) to set the black and white points, increase the clarity and vibrance a bit, and then opened it in Photoshop.  Once in Photoshop, the tilt of the big wheel was annoying so a slight adjustment with the Transform function (Edit->Transform) was used to fix the problem. There was also a smudge-like apparition in the clouds left of the wheel’s center that needed removal. These adjustments are shown in the image below.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 Color Version)

Image after ACR and Basic Clean-up in Photoshop

Thinking what to do for One PhotoFocus, I thought he dark clouds seemed to be the most dramatic feature.  One possibility that seemed promising was to take advantage of those clouds in a black and white photograph.  This was accomplished with an Adjustment Layer (Layer->New Adjustment Layer->Black and White.  The High Contrast Red Filter preset was used to further emphasize the clouds.Finally I used a mask and a curves adjustment layer to strengthen the contrast of the water and the right half of the building.  The final image is shown below.

Robin Kent 1PF August 2016 BW Version)

Final Image

Thanks once again to Stacy Fischer for keeping our merry band of post processors on track.  Please visit her site at Visual Venturing to see the creative imaginations of the other participants.

OnePhoto Focus (March)

It’s the first Friday of the month and that means it’s time for Stacy Fisher’s famous OnePhoto Focus where everyone gets a chance to apply their magic touches to the same image.  But before we get to that, a flash back to last month when I visited the Washington National Cathedral for a morning shoot.

National Cathedral 02

Morning Light, National Cathedral

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 44mm; two images photomerged, exposure 0.5 sec@ f/16, ISO 400)

The National Cathedral has recently started a series of special sessions for photographers who wish to capture images of the interior before the doors open for the public.  The number of photographers is limited to about 25 and reservations can be made in advance. Tripods are allowed and, depending on the day some areas may not be open. Cost of admission is $30.  Details can be found here.

Now back to our main program, the monthly OnePhoto Focus.  This month’s photograph was contributed by Nancy Merrill.  The original is shown below.

March 2016 1PF Before

Original Image by Nancy Merrill

The building, as the sign indicates, is a theatre dedicated to the works of Shakespeare.  The theatrical theme seemed to be a good one to run with and, as we all know, theatre deals with fantasy.  So I thought I would go with that.

No need to go into the boring details of the “image prep” phase in Adobe Camera Raw, largely because Nancy has kindly provided us with a clean, well-exposed, and sharply focused image that needs no heroic efforts.  Only a few standard tweaks were applied.

The next step was to set the scene and it seemed that a visit to Photoshop’s Filter Gallery would be a good place to start.  The “Glowing Edges” effect under the Stylize tab produced an electric effect and, after a little trial and error, the image shown below emerged. The  sign was “protected” from the effects of the filter tool because I had other plans for it.

Robin Kent 1PF March 2016 Step 2A

“Glowing Edge” Effect Applied

Since this is a Shakespearean Theatre, it seemed appropriate to make that fact very obvious.  A quick online search produced an image of a poster for one of the bard’s most famous plays.  It was superimposed as a separate layer and the opacity was slightly reduced.  A mask was used to paint out the unwanted sections of the poster.

Robin Kent 1PF March 2016 Step 4A

Sign Added

With the stage and scenery ready, some characters are needed.  Back to the Internet.  This search found several willing participants: a fashion model, a photographer, and a couple descending the stairs.

Robin Kent 1PF March 2016 Final

Final Image

On a technical note, the procedure I used for adding these elements was to first create a new layer above the background.  The copied images were scaled down using the Edit–>Transform–>Scale tool on the inserted layer (be sure to hold the shift key down to maintain the original aspect ratio).

Thanks again to Stacy for organizing this monthly event. You can see the other versions by the participants by clicking on this link.  And thanks to Nancy for a fun image to edit.

AfterBefore Friday–OnePhoto Focus (September 2015)


This is the first Friday of the month and that means it’s time for Stacy Fischer’s OnePhoto Focus, (1PF) where photographers from all over take their turn on the same image.  The range of interpretations is always impressive, and you can find the links to the other submissions at Visual Venturing. For those who wish to get into the game, the guidelines can be found here.

This month, our image has been provided by Ben Rowe of Aperture64 and, as anyone who has visited his site already knows, Ben is a highly skilled user of post-processing software.  Consequently, it was with some trepidation that I undertook the challenge this month.

Robin Kent 1PF September BeforeHDR version from Adobe Camera RAW

But, as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained.  When I saw that Ben had provided 3 versions of the image, taken at different exposures, I figured at the very least I could try out the new HDR feature in the most recent release of Adode Camera RAW.  The default choices produced the image above, an evenly balanced exposure that has no areas of under or overexpsure.

The next step was to take the result through the standard Camera Raw workflow to set the white and black points, open some of the shadows, add a little contrast with the Clarity slider, and a little saturation with the Vibrance slider.  Nothing special was needed here because the image really had no exposure problems.

It was also clear that Ben had made an excellent choice for the group because the image provides a wide variety of creative possibilities. I can’t wait to see what the other participants have done.

But before I started the intrusive surgery, a couple of standard Photoshop tools were used.  The sky was darkened with a Curves Adjustment Layer, the grass was fertilzed with a Color Balance Adjustment Layer, and the Castle was also warmed up with a Color Balance Adjustment Layer. The results are shown below.

Robin Kent 1PF September Before 02

After Photoshop Adjustments

It seemed that one approach was to take advantage of the open spaces that could be filled with interesting objects so  I decided to go in that direction.  But I didn’t take notes because I knew some ideas would not work, directions were likely to be reversed, and restarts might be frequent.

For those who like puzzles, I ended up adding 12 changes  to the image, some of them quite obvious (e.g., the 4 planes count as 4).  Others, such as color changes may be a little harder to find.

Robin Kent 1PF September After

Final Image

At any rate, I invite you to zip over to Stacy’s site and take a few minutes to enjoy the other ideas for post-processing this image.  You can find them here.

 

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.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 60 Before

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.

OnePhoto Focus (and More)

This is the first Friday of the month and that means it’s time for Stacy Fischer’s OnePhoto Focus, where photographers from all over take their turn on the same image.  The range of interpretations is truly impressive, and you can find the links to the other submissions at Visual Venturing.

But first, a quick trip to the front yard where some butterflies seem to be evaluating the worthiness of some flowers growing there.  Hard not to pick up the camera and walk 30 feet to the subject.

Butterfly 01

Cabbage White

Butterfly 02

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Butterfly 03

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Female Dark Form)?

I am not certain about the identities of the above three butterflies, especially the one immediately above.  If there are any experts out there, I would be most interested in any corrections they might have.  At any rate, all three photos were taken with a Nikon D880E, handheld, using a 28-300mm  f/3.5-5.6  lens.  Various focal lengths and shutter speeds, all shot at f/9.0, ISO 1600.

Now back to our regularly scheduled post, OnePhoto Focus.

This month, the challenge image was submitted by Katie Prior.  Many thanks to her for allowing us the use of her photograph, shown below.

Robin Kent 1PF August Before

Original Image by Katie Prior

As usual, I opened the image in Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) and made a series of fairly standard adjustments (setting black and white points, claity, and vibrance).  The result of this first stage is shown below.

Robin Kent 1PF August Before 02

Katie Prior’s Image after ACR Processing

This is a case where I got caught up in the process and failed to keep notes.  After opening the image in Photoshop, it seemed that Black and White would be the most promising approach, so my first step was to create a Black and White adjustment layer.  I then added a few Curves Adjustment layers and a gradient layer, but while the image was becoming more dramatic as a pure B&W, it seemed to missing something.  So I used another Curves Adjustment layer but instead chose (I think) the Cross Process preset. That made it a little more interesting.  I then switched tactics and began to simplify by turning off the Black and White Adjustment layer and then all but two Curves Adjustment layers (removing 6 in all).  At the end, the image had only 3 layers, the background layer (as it came from the ACR), a standard Curve Adjustment layer, and the Cross Process layer.

R Kent 1PF August After

Final Image

Please chack out the many other interpretations of Katie’s image by visiting VisualVenturing.com.  I haven’t seen any of the other posts yet , but based on previous episodes, there is no telling what kind of amazing creativity you will find–mystical scenery, romantic lighting, prehistoric creatures, perhaps even an appearance by the Loch Ness Monster.  But it will be entertaining.

Keep Shooting…….