Category Archives: Technique

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: Ride the magic bus to Paul’s Junkyard

Paul's Junkyard Magic Bus -- by Joe Reifer

Paul’s Junkyard Magic Bus — by Joe Reifer

The photo was shot during last month’s full moon using a Mamiya 7 II camera with a 43mm wide angle lens on Kodak E100VS film. The exposure time was 90 minutes at f/16 during the March 2011 supermoon. Yesterday I printed a 30″ x 40″ of this cool old bus in Paul’s Junkyard . The image really opens up at this size — the color, tonal gradations, and sharpness are amazing. Thanks to Chris F. for doing a top notch job on the drum scan of my 6×7 chrome. A 4000 ppi scan yielded a 11,151 x 8,822 pixel file — that’s 98 megapixels! The native size of the file is just about perfect for a 30″ x 40″ print at 300 dpi.

The sRGB web version doesn’t really do the image justice. At 30″ x 40″ you can see just the right amount of grain — and it looks beautiful. The digital file was printed on Fuji Crystal Archive Matte paper using a Lightjet 430 printer. The image is exposed using R-G-B lasers, and then run through the RA-4 chemical process. The result is a beautiful continuous tone C-print. Photographers attending this week’s night photography workshop will all receive a free 11″ x 14″ Custom Lightjet Digital C-print.

I hope you all have a great full moon. I’m looking forward to hitting the junkyard and seeing everyone’s images. And prints!



Oak Knoll Naval Hospital Demolition Time-Lapse Video

Photographer Riki Feldmann and I attended the implosion of the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital yesterday in Oakland. Areas with a clear view along Keller Avenue were crowded with onlookers. We were very fortunate to share an excellent spot with a small group of government employees who were involved in selling the property to the developer SunCal and Lehman Brothers in 2005 for $100 million. We talked to a woman who was born in the hospital, and a few people who had worked there before it closed in 1996. I’ve seen plenty of abandoned places that I’ve photographed disappear, but have never seen one blown up. Quite an amazing experience. Here’s a gallery of night photographs of Oak Knoll.

Time-lapse technical details: I shot 12 minutes of HD video at 30fps with the Canon 5D Mark II and a 70-200/4L lens. The still frames were extracted from the video using QuickTime Pro. Every 10th frame was selected, and then re-imported into QuickTime Pro at 30fps. The time-lapse and video footage were then imported into iMovie, where titles and music were added. The music is The Waltz from the 1969 Art Ensemble of Chicago album Jackson in Your House/Message to Our Folks.


Night photography: Santa Fe Caboose on the Night Plain

Santa Fe Caboose on the Night Plain I - by Joe Reifer

Santa Fe Caboose on the Night Plain I – by Joe Reifer

A train passes an old Santa Fe caboose during a long exposure made in the Mojave Desert town of Boron on a very cold night in November, 2010. The neighborhood dogs were barking, and the moon loomed large in the sky as we got out of the car. Conditions looked great for shooting this lonely red caboose with a long stretch of desert in the background. The only thing that would make the shot better would be if a train came by — and before we could even get our tripods setup, a slow moving train rumbled and clanked through the desert night.

Four exposures of 4 minutes at f/8, ISO 200 were combined for the first version of the image. The foreground is from the first exposure, and the sky contains all four exposures for 16 minute star trails. This split exposure for the sky and foreground was accomplished using a simple layer mask in Photoshop. Theoretically the same effect could have be accomplished in camera by physically masking the bottom of the lens after the first train passed. That would certainly be a difficult task, though!

Santa Fe Caboose on the Night Plain II - by Joe Reifer

Santa Fe Caboose on the Night Plain II – by Joe Reifer

The alternate version of the image is composed of five 4 minute images and includes a second train heading the other direction. This version has no masking and is exactly what the camera would have seen had I opened the shutter for a single 20 minute exposure. The five exposure stacking technique was used to avoid using in-camera noise reduction, which improves productivity and saves batteries. Using multiple exposures also gave me a wide range of variations in light patterns from the passing trains, depending on how many exposures were combined together.

Which one do you like better?

Death Valley Time-Lapse: From Tecopa to Dante’s View

This past full moon I did 2 nights of shooting in the Mojave Desert, followed by being guest instructor at the Nocturnes Death Valley workshop. I’m still processing the RAW files, but was anxious to put together this time-lapse experiment from the drive into Valley from Tecopa. I highly recommend soaking at Tecopa Hot Springs on the way into Death Valley from Baker, and Pastels Bistro serves up what is quite possibly the best food in the Mojave Desert.

The time-lapse video captures the 70 mile drive down Highway 127 from Tecopa¬† through Shoshone, down to Death Valley Junction (Amargosa), and down Highway 190, and then up to Dante’s view. At almost 6000 feet in elevation, Dante’s View looks out over the Badwater Basin, the lowest point in the U.S. at -282 feet below sea level. On a clear day you can see Mt. Whitney, the tallest point in the continental U.S., and only about 100 miles away from the lowest point.

The music is by Souled American, from their first album Fe, which is what we were listening to during this portion of the drive. For fans of Uncle Tupelo and other alt-country bands that haven’t heard Souled American, you’re in for a treat. Aquarius Records in San Francisco is the best place to pick up all four of their fantastic albums.

Many thanks to photographer Hunter Luisi for rolling on this adventure. I hope to feature some of his innovative long exposure night time HDR work from the trip once the processing is done.

Time-lapse technical details: A Ricoh GRD II point and shoot camera was used on manual exposure, cloudy white balance, zone focused, and set to record an image every 5 seconds. The camera was mounted on an OmniPod Camo-Pro7 Beanbag. The 1127 images were identically processed in Adobe Lightroom 3, and then exported as 720 pixel jpegs at 150KB each. The time-lapse was created in Quicktime 7 Pro by simply going to the File menu and choosing Open Image Sequence, and selecting the first image in the folder. Please note that Quicktime X does not have this feature. If you’re running Snow Leopard, you can install Quicktime 7 from your OS 10.6 DVD. The resulting video was saved and imported into iMovie where the titles and music were added. iMovie’s YouTube sharing feature was used for uploading.