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…………..


After-Before Friday Forum

Kent ABFriday After Pan (Week 19)

The Final Image (After)

For the past four months-plus Stacy Fischer of VisualVenturing has sponsored the After-Before Friday Forum where photographers can display examples of how they process their images to accomplish their creative vision.  Sometimes the changes are substantial; other times they can be minimal.   My submission for this week’s Forum is an example of minimal change (if you don’t count the photomerge steps).   The “After” version shown above has undergone a few adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw and the only actions taken in Photoshop were a simple Photomerge, a cropping, and some sharpening.  The scene is the city of Pittsburgh taken from the sidewalk across the street from a restaurant where we had stopped for dinner (Details on location are at the end of the post)

Kent ABFriday Before (Week 19)

Original Raw Image (left side)

 The image above is one of the two photographs that were merged.  Both had the same exposure (Nikon D800E on tripod with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 70mm; 1/6th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 1600).  The reason for the high ISO and wide-open aperture is the moving boat in the river.

Kent ABFriday Before 02 Week 19

Adjustments Made in ACR Dialog Window

Opening the images in Adobe Camera RAW, I made only four adjustments, the same for both images.  The screen capture above shows the changes (red arrows).  The specific settings were:

Highlights: Decrease to -39; Shadows: Increase to +45; Clarity: Increase to +18 Vibrance: Increase to +14.

Kent ABFriday Before 03 Week 19

File > Automate > Photomerge

The two images were then opened in Photoshop and processed through the Photomerge routine.  The screen capture above shows the command sequence which is under “File” on the main command line of Photoshop.  After clicking on “Photomerge” (red arrow), the Photomerge Dialog window appears as shown below.

Kent ABFriday Before 04 Week 19

Photomerge Display Window

The screen capture above shows the dialog window for the Photomerge routine.  If the images are open, click on “Add Open Files” (red arrow) and the image files will be listed (other red arrow).  Usually, the default selections of “Auto” and “Blend Images Together” (yellow arrows) will do the job.  Click “OK” and the system will chug away for a little while and then display the results.

Kent ABFriday Before 05 Week 19

The screen capture above shows a small portion of the merged image and the layers palette (red arrow) showing a separate layer for each image.  The white areas in the mask icons represent the section of the image that was used. The blue arrow shows a section of the irregular border created during the routine.

Kent ABFriday Before 06 Week 19

Merged Panorama Before Cropping

The image above shows the full panorama immediately after the merging is completed.  The borders are always irregular (red arrows), often much more than shown here.  The next step, before any further actions are taken, is to flatten the image.  The only remaining step in this example is a crop to eliminate the uneven edges, producing the final image shown below.  Sharpening should not be applied until the image is sized for printing.

Kent ABFriday After Pan (Week 19)

 Final Panorama

The location for capturing this image is across the street from the Monterey Bay Fish Grotto located at 1411 Grandview Avenue #2 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  It is one of the better restaurants in the city and the window seats boast a view pretty close to this image.   Because the vista is pretty spectacular at twilight, it’s unlikely you will have the sidewalk all to yourself.  But if you are visiting Pittsburgh, this is a location you may want to check out.But before you go there, you should check out the other submissions to Week 19 at Visual Venturing.