Virginia City Cemetery Sunset 360 Panorama

Virginia City Cemetery Sunset 360 Panorama -- by Joe Reifer

Virginia City Cemetery Sunset 360 Panorama — by Joe Reifer

The historic Virginia City cemetery is located on a hill just on the north side of town, and features graves dating back to the 1860′s. A wide variety of religious and fraternal organizations have separate burial plots in this area.

This sunset photo was an experiment in HDR 360º panoramas while waiting for the moon to rise. Using a 10mm fisheye on a Canon 60D requires 6-shots around plus a zenith (up shot). Three images were taken at each setting, 2 stops apart. I was able to shoot the 18 images in just over 2 minutes. By the time I was ready to make the zenith for the 360, the color had disappeared from the sky and the clouds had moved quite a bit. For bracketed panoramas with fast moving clouds and fading light, a 4-shot around panorama with a 12mm fisheye on a full frame camera would be a better option because a zenith shot is not necessary.

I’ve been favoring 6 around + a zenith and nadir because the resolution is higher. Using the 60D, the final resolution is about 15,000×7,500 pixels. A 4-shot panorama on the 5D Mark II is 10,000×5,000. Sometimes the resolution tradeoff is worth it to get the shot. Unfortunately the Tokina 10-17mm fisheye is best at the 10-12mm end on a crop sensor camera. I may need to consider the Canon 8-15mm fisheye for the best quality 360′s on full frame. But enough about 360 pano techniques — why not stand in the cemetery and enjoy the view in the interactive version.

Berlin Ghost Town 360 Panorama

Berlin Ghost Town Mine Supervisor's House 360 Panorama -- by Joe Reifer

Berlin Ghost Town Mine Supervisor’s House 360 Panorama — by Joe Reifer

A 360º panorama inside the kitchen area of the former mine supervisor’s house at the Berlin ghost town in Nevada. The house is near the entrance to Berlin Ichthyosaur State Park and is filled with artifacts, photos, and news clippings. Click the image above for a closer look, or use your mouse to explore the interactive version below.

Technical details:

  • Canon 60D with a Tokina 10-17mm fisheye lens on a RRS PG-02 tripod head.
  • 6 shots around at -10º, 1 up (zenith) at 70º, 1 offset down (nadir) at 45º
  • A bracketed set of 3 images was taken with exposures 2 stops apart.
  • PTGui Pro was used to stitch and blend the 24 images. Exposure Fusion was used for photorealistic blending (Yes, this is a HDR 360).
  • The nadir shot was taken by moving the tripod 3 feet and then utilizing PTGui Pro’s viewpoint correction when stitching. The Exposure and Color Adjustment optimization on the Exposure/HDR tab were a key part of blending the nadir.

Night photography: The bug-eyed robot overlord of Paul’s Junkyard

The bug-eyed robot overlord of Paul's Junkyard -- by Joe Reifer

The bug-eyed robot overlord of Paul's Junkyard -- by Joe Reifer

Exposure and noise reduction settings for star trail stacking

Five exposures of 6 minutes at f/8, ISO 200 were stacked for star trails. When you make multiple exposures for star trails, the interval between each shot must be 1 second or less, so there are no breaks in the trails. You can light paint during the exposures, but you won’t be able to review the results on the back of the camera until the stacking is done.

The 6 minute exposure time was selected because f/8 is the optimum aperture for both sharpness and depth of field. The 5D Mark II can make clean 6 minute exposures with in-camera noise reduction (LENR) turned off as long as the temperature is under about 60°. Shooting with LENR turned off is much more efficient because you don’t need to wait for noise reduction to run after every shot. This also helps conserve your battery.

Start with the light painting, and leave one dark

When you’re doing a series of light painted exposures with stacked star trails, it’s a good idea to not light paint on one of the images. This moonlight only image will give you a base for adjusting the lighting in post-processing if necessary. The recommended shooting strategy for a shot like the one above is to do a series of shorter exposures for light painting first. The process of light painting and then reviewing the image on the LCD allows you time to really assess your lighting and composition. Once you’ve nailed the light painting, you can decide if you want to commit the time necessary to fill the sky with star trails, or move on to another shot.

Shorter exposures for light painting

In this case, I actually started the series of star trail stacking images, and went to help someone with another shot. I was confident that I liked the composition, and knew I could come back to add the light painting. Half an hour later, I reviewed the moonlit images on the LCD. I made three additional exposures of 3 minutes at f/8, ISO 200 for light painting. I didn’t worry about the interval between exposures, because these additional shots were only for the foreground subject, not the sky. The shorter exposure time of 3 minutes allowed me to work faster, and made the light painting more contrasty because there is 1 stop less moonlight on the foreground.

The star trail images were stacked in Photoshop using the Lighten blending mode, and the best of the 3 light painting exposures was added to the foreground using a layer mask. Bringing the light painting in on a mask allowed me to make subtle adjustments to the lighting.

Explain the light painting and win a print

Can you tell where I stood to do the light painting? The first person to correctly answer the question in the comments wins a small print of the image.

Hint: Almost all of the lighting was done from one position, and a little bit of fill was done from a second position. Look at the shadows, and explain what was lit from where.

The print will be a 6″ x 9″ image on 8″ x 10″ paper. Lower 48 only.

Update: The image was primarily lit from camera right at a 45° angle from the right of the machine using a Streamlight Stinger flashlight and a piece of Cinefoil to control spill. The tires would have been completely black without light painting, and required quite a bit of light. The shadow on the circular piece between the tires, and the shadow on the left front tires are the key to lighting direction. The interior was lit from the same position, and I pivoted slightly to add a little bit of fill to the tires on the right. A small amount of fill was added from camera left to the muffler area and the 2 metal pieces that stick out above the windshield.

Night photography: Dodge Charger light painting step-by-step

During the Paul’s Junkyard Night Photography workshop, I worked with photographer Michael Bertrand on light painting a cool old Dodge Charger. Having someone stand at the camera position while you test your light painting is a big time saver. Instead of waiting 2-3 minutes to see the results of each lighting experiment, I was able to give Mike feedback right away on the angle and intensity of the light. He did all of the hard work, I just stood behind the camera and watched. Let’s take a step-by-step look at Mike’s shot.

Headlights and interior - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Headlights and interior - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Step 1 – Headlights and interior

Mike wanted to light the interior of the car with a red-gelled flash. If the camera position is low or high, sometimes a flash can be placed directly on the back window of the car. This only works if you can hide the light source from the camera. Stick your face where the flash is going to go and check to see if your camera can see the light. In this shot, the camera position dictated another technique — Mike simply opened the passenger side door, did a few flash pops inside the car to bounce the light around evenly, and then closed the door. The car may move slightly during this process, but it’s such a short amount of time in the overall exposure that it doesn’t compromise sharpness.

Mike walked to the front grill and lit the headlights using a flashlight and cardboard snoot. The key to this technique is to figure out how far away to stand in order for the circular beam of the snoot to fall in the right place. This ended up being about 4 feet away for a few seconds on each headlight.

Grill experiment - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Grill experiment - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Step 2 – Grill experiment

The shot looked good on the back of the camera, but the face of the car was still mostly a big black hole. The grill on this Charger is really deep, and I suggested that Mike try lighting just the front of the grill, but leave the inside dark so the headlights will pop. This take was lit from camera left at a shallow angle along the front of the grill with a snooted and gelled flashlight. The amount of light is right, but looking at the results on the back of the camera, we realized that the grill needs light from both sides.

Almost there - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Almost there - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Step 3 – Almost there

To get even light on the front of the grill, Mike counted his paces from the front of the car to make sure he was the same distance away. Paying attention to the height of the flashlight, and counting the amount of time the light is on are also helpful. The backlight was added by going around the rear of the car and sweeping a flashlight a few inches above the ground to pull out texture. The shot was really coming together now, but there’s too much light on the inside of the left front wheel.

Final shot - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Final shot - Dodge Charger light painting - by Michael Bertrand

Step 4 – The final shot

Mike really nailed the light painting on this final shot. Instead of sweeping the flashlight on the ground, he held the beam steady for a few seconds to add texture to the ground but maintain the integrity of the curvy shadows. This also solved the problem of not overlighting the inside front wheel. The red interior light has a nice glow, and the natural bleed of the pink/magenta headlights on the areas of the yellow grill looks great. Mike worked quickly and methodically, and was able to nail all of the light painting in the camera. Those of you who’ve tried these techniques know that this isn’t easy!

Technical details and a note about exposure

This image is a 90 second exposure at f/8, ISO 200 using a Nikon D300 and 12-24mm lens at 12mm (18mm equivalent). A technically correct expose-to-the-right shot for the light of the full moon would have been 6 minutes at f/8, ISO 200. An exposure time of 90 seconds underexposes the background by 2 stops, which keeps the sky and the background dark. Using the exposure time to control the tonality of the background really helps the light painting stand out.

I’d like to thank Mike for letting me share his light painting setup. To see more of his work, visit: http://www.michaelbertrandphotography.com/

Night photography: Stacking star trails and clouds in the same image

Out in the weeds behind the bus yard -- by Joe Reifer

Out in the weeds behind the bus yard -- by Joe Reifer

This 15 minute full moon photo was taken at a yard that restores and repairs vintage buses. The image was lit by a combination of moonlight, and light from the nearby highway. The green glow on the underside of the power lines is from a light outside of the building. Three 5-minute long exposures were stacked together for the final image. The image stacking technique allows you to shoot without using in-camera noise reduction, which helps with shooting productivity and battery life. The star trails look the same as one 15 minute exposure, but sometimes this can create a strange effect when there are clouds in the sky.

When you’re shooting long exposures, the amount of cloud definition depends on two factors: how fast the clouds are moving, and the length of the exposure. For full moon night photography, fast-moving clouds usually show a good blend of movement and definition when exposing for 2-4 minutes. When the clouds are moving more slowly, longer exposures are possible. If you expose too long, the sky can simply turn white without definition.

In the photo above, each 5 minute exposure captured a distinct amount of cloud movement. When the image was stacked for star trails, the additive cloud definition created a slightly ribbed pattern in the sky. If I hadn’t pointed out this effect would you have noticed? Because the sky is about a 50/50 split between stars and clouds, I think it works in this image. The clouds can start to look unnatural if you try to stack more images, or use shorter exposures.

Each image could stand on its own if I decide that I don’t like the effect. Stacking also allowed me to have different options for the amount of light from cars on the highway and road on the right. The highway shows the cumulative 15-minute exposure, and the road ended up looking better with just the red tail lights of one exposure.

If you’ve tried stacking images for star trails that also have a lot of cloud movement, how did they turn out?