Glowing Figures and Dark Shadows: 360 Night Pano Technique and Extreme Lightroom Noise Reduction Settings

360 Night Panorama of 19th Century Stone Ruins -- by Joe Reifer 360 Night Panorama of 19th Century Stone Ruins — by Joe Reifer

Figures rendered in glow-in-the-dark paint walk in the shadows of these 19th century stone ruins.

360 Panorama Equipment and Exposure

This spherical panorama was shot with a Canon EOS 60D and a Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens at 8mm. Four exposures were made with the camera in the vertical position on a Really Right Stuff PG-02 panohead with a 192 FAS nodal slide. Each exposure was 2.5 minutes at f/8, ISO 800.

The weather was in the low 60′s at 9:30pm when I made this image. Under typical full moon conditions, the exposure time for these panoramas is about 1:15 or 1:30. Because the moon wasn’t quite full yet and this area was quite dark, this image needed a longer exposure time. Even with doubling the exposure time for an extra stop of light, I still had to boost the exposure in Lightroom by +0.60. The resulting image was incredibly noisy.

Extreme Noise Reduction in Lightroom

At first glance, I didn’t think the pano would be usable. Normally my luminance noise reduction settings in Lightroom have an amount between 2-10. I cranked up the noise reduction to twice those settings, but the noise still looked terrible. I tried various Photoshop noise reduction tricks, but still wasn’t happy with the massive luminance and color noise in the shadows. After some experimenting, I was able to get the noise reduction right by turning the detail slider way down. If you’ve got a really noisy image, you may need to sacrifice detail in order to smooth out the noise. I increased the sharpening settings slightly to compensate. A before and after noise reduction comparison is below, along with the Lightroom noise reduction settings.

Noise reduction comparison

Lightroom Noise Reduction Settings

Lessons Learned for Future 360 Night Panos

This is by far the most noise reduction that I’ve ever used on a finished image. Next time I’ll use Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) in the camera. When shooting panos at night, it’s important to keep the exposures short and not wait too long between exposures so the stars stay aligned properly when stitching the image together. Some Canon digital SLRs such as the EOS 5D Mark II, allow you to shoot right away without waiting for LENR to run. The LENR is held in a buffer until you finish all of your shots, and then runs on the images in the buffer. This technique would have allowed for slightly crisper images with less post-processing.

4 thoughts on “Glowing Figures and Dark Shadows: 360 Night Pano Technique and Extreme Lightroom Noise Reduction Settings”

    1. Haven’t tried DPP. For this shoot the 5D II was the primary camera for stills, and the 60D was the backup camera for panos. I may replace the 60D with a 6D next year.

  1. Apparently 5DmIII is a killer for the night work one pro photographers said that shooting at ISO 6400 on mIII compares to what was an ISO 1600 on mII.

  2. I’ve played with a 5D III and it’s 1-2 stops better in high ISO performance. The big difference is the AF. Neither of these matter much for long exposures with manual focus at low ISO. I’m interested in the 6D because it will autofocus to -3 EV — which is the best low light AF performance of any Canon dSLR ever made. We’ll see if it can AF under full moon conditions!

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