Category Archives: Night Photography Core Course

Night panorama post processing: Abandoned cement plant 360

Abandoned cement plant 360 degree night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

Abandoned cement plant 360 degree night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

This 360 night panorama of an abandoned cement plant is composed of 14 vertical images shot with a Canon 5D Mark II and 24-70/2.8L lens at the 24mm setting. The exposure time was 1 minute at f/8, ISO 800. The short exposure time helped get the right amount of cloud movement in the sky, and kept the white disc of the moon relatively static. Jupiter is visible at center right.

The Perseid meteor shower was intense last night — I haven’t seen so many shooting stars in a long time. The animals were also enjoying the full moon at this location. We encountered bats, owls, and a rather aggressive skunk.

My technique for shooting and stitching panoramas is continuing to evolve. I used to adjust all of the images in Lightroom and then use Photo — Edit In — Merge to Panorama in Photoshop. This activates Photomerge, which works really well in Photoshop CS4 and CS5. If you’ve shot the images in the exact order that you want them stitched, this technique is great. But sometimes the composition might look better if the images were laid out in a different order. By separating the loading, aligning, and blending of layers in Photoshop, you can easily control the layout of your pano in post-production. Here’s how:

  1. Adjust all of your RAW files to the same settings in Lightroom or ACR. Applying lens corrections and removing vignetting at this stage can help with the success of your Photomerge.
  2. From Lightroom choose Photo — Edit In — Open as Layers in Photoshop. If you’re using Bridge, choose Tools — Photoshop — Load Files into Photoshop Layers.
  3. Assess which image you’d like to have in the center of your composition. Select this layer in the Photoshop layers palette, and click the lock icon. This tells Photoshop to use this layer as the middle of your panorama.
  4. Next use shift+click to select all of the layers for your pano.
  5. Choose Edit — Auto Align Layers. I typically use the Cylindrical projection for this type of panorama.
  6. Choose Edit — Auto-Blend Layers. Make sure to select Panorama and check the box that says Seamless Tones and Colors.

If you didn’t pick the right image for the center of your pano, just go back a few steps in your Photoshop history. Unlock the layer that you chose the first time, lock the one you’d like to try next, and start again at step 4 above. I hope this tip for how to control your composition when using Photomerge is helpful!

Night photography: Alcatraz hospital operating room

Alcatraz hospital operating room -- by Joe Reifer

Alcatraz hospital operating room — by Joe Reifer

A flashlight was used to light paint the operating room inside the hospital at Alcatraz prison. All of the lighting was done with a Streamlight Stinger flashlight from a 60 degree angle to the left of the camera position.  I lit the back wall at a hard angle, skimmed the floor to throw 3/4 backlight on the table, and lit the operating lamp on the ceiling. The exposure time was 36 seconds at f/8, ISO 200 using an Olympus OM 18mm lens on a Canon 5D Mark II. The room was completely dark — the exposure time reflects how long it took to open the shutter, walk to the back left corner and do the lighting, and then return to the camera to close the shutter. Thanks to Amy Heiden and Janet Blake for allowing me a few minutes of yerba mate fueled light painting antics during our limited time at this great location.

Night photography: Moonrise over Bodie ghost town

Moonrise over Bodie ghost town -- by Joe Reifer

Moonrise over Bodie ghost town -- by Joe Reifer

The moonrise over Bodie ghost town image was photographed on the night of the June full moon. The streak of light you see beginning over the horizon is the moon! I opened the shutter just as the moon cleared the hills behind town. There was still a very faint amount of twilight left to help light the foreground. Light painting from various photographers is visible in the foreground.

The exposure time was about 50 minutes at f/16 with Kodak E100VS film using a Mamiya 7II camera with a 43mm f/4.5 wide angle lens. I often get asked what kind of film works well for night photography, and I highly recommend E100VS for moonlit landscapes. For shooting street scenes in urban areas with mixed lighting, Fuji RTP (64T) is an excellent choice.

My typical full moon night exposure with E100VS is 45 minutes at f/11. I stopped down to f/16 due to the remaining light of the blue hour, and because I was shooting into the moon. I wasn’t sure if shooting directly into the moon would work without flare, and I’m happy with the results. I may experiment with using a polarizer or ND filter to extend exposure times at f/11 or f/16 into the 2+ hour range for a longer moon trail. The 43mm lens stops down to f/22, but the sharpness is not optimal due to diffraction.

Do you have experience with hours long exposures shooting into the moon, or know of any night photos with long moon trails?

Bodie Night Photography: 5D Mark II Wide Angle Lenses and Noise Reduction

Bodie at night: 1927 Dodge truck and gas pumps -- by Joe Reifer

Bodie at night: 1927 Dodge truck and gas pumps -- by Joe Reifer

The 1927 Dodge truck and gravity gas pumps are a popular subject for photography at Bodie ghost town. This 24 minute night photograph was taken during the 2011 Mono Lake Night Photography Festival.

Wide angle lens for night photography

I shot the entire night at Bodie with a Canon 5D Mark II and an Olympus OM 18mm f/3.5  lens. The Olympus OM system lens can be used on the 5D II with an OM-EOS adapter. The Olympus lens is small, light, and easy to zone focus at night. At an aperture of f/8 or f/11 the lens is quite sharp across the frame, and offers better edge performance than Canon zooms. The Olympus lenses also have a different signature look than other wide angle lens choices. The 18mm is hard to find and can be expensive. The Olympus 21mm f/3.5 is a more readily available, reasonably priced alternative. The 24mm f/2.8 is also quite good. If you prefer a standard wide angle to a super wide lens, the Olympus 28mm f/3.5 is a stellar performer at f/8, and can often be purchased for less than $50. My adapter for the 28mm cost more than the lens!

Image stacking and long exposure noise reduction

Four exposures of 6 minutes at f/8 ISO 200 were combined for the final 24 minute image. There were about 25 night photographers shooting at Bodie — exposure stacking was very useful for removing people and light painting from the foreground. Using this stacking technique also meant that I did not have to run long exposure noise reduction (LENR) in the camera. This helps productivity and battery life.

5D Mark II Auto setting for long exposure noise reduction (LENR)

Photography instructor Scott Martin let me know about his experiments with the Auto setting for long exposure noise reduction (LENR) on the Canon 5D Mark II. Normally I do not recommend letting the camera decide what to do, but Scott’s LENR experiments may prove otherwise. There are 3 settings for LENR:

  1. Off — long exposure noise reduction does not run on any shot.
  2. On — long exposure noise reduction runs for the same amount of time as your exposure. A 10 minute shot with LENR set to On will run noise reduction for 10 minutes after the exposure ends.
  3. Auto — long exposure noise reduction will run if the camera determines it’s necessary, for the amount of time necessary to optimize the image.

Here’s the really interesting part — noise reduction won’t necessarily run for the same amount of time as the exposure. Auto LENR runs for as long as necessary to reduce noise — this could be shorter or longer than the original exposure time.

I’d like to thank Scott for sharing his Auto LENR research, and I look forward to my own testing. If you have experience with the Auto LENR setting I’d love to hear how exposure time and temperature correlate to when noise reduction kicks in, and how long Auto LENR tends to run.


Night photography: ISO settings and panoramas

Abandoned gold mine night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

An abandoned gold mine above the living ghost town of Randsburg, CA

Night photography panorama technique
This night panorama is composed of 10 vertical images shot with a 28mm lens at f/8 on a Canon 5D Mark II. I use an L-bracket on the camera for verticals, and an Acratech Leveling Base on my tripod to keep the plane of rotation level. The leveling base saves time in the field, and ensures you don’t lose too many pixels at the edges of your shot when stitching. The camera can be tilted slightly upward to change the sky/ground relationship, and the pano will still stitch fine. I don’t use a nodal slide. The pano was stitched using Photomerge in Photoshop CS5 using the cylindrical setting. Keeping the exposures short is necessary when there is cloud movement in your pano. Shorter exposures also help the stars look correct by minimizing star trails.

The best ISO for night photography
For digital night photography, shooting at the native ISO of the camera yields the least noise. Typically this means ISO 100 or ISO 200, but it’s best to do some controlled testing with your camera to see what works best. I often shoot at ISO 200 with the 5D Mark II and find little difference in noise between ISO 100 and ISO 200. A properly exposed shot at ISO 200 is going to have a better noise profile than an underexposed shot at ISO 100.

Due to the speed of the clouds I bumped the ISO to 800 to keep the exposure time down to 45 seconds for each shot. Sometimes the rules about the best ISO for night photography need to be broken in order to get the shot. This is especially true when shooting clouds. The weather was around 40 degrees, which helps quite a bit with keeping long exposure noise at reasonable levels. Only a minimal amount of noise reduction in Lightroom was necessary. Make sure to test your camera’s capabilities before an important shoot, and review the images to decide how much noise you can tolerate. Pay close attention to the the temperature when testing — the colder it is, the more you can push the limits of short exposures with high ISOs, and long exposures without noise reduction.