Category Archives: Post Processing

Las Vegas Neon Museum 360 Night Panorama

Ernie's - a 360 degree night panorama of the Las Vegas Neon Museum

During last week’s IVRPA conference in Las Vegas, I arranged an after hours photo tour at the Neon Musem. The museum runs 1 hour guided tours during the day and evening, but no tripods or monopods are allowed. About once a month they have a night shoot that allows tripods. Big thanks to the talented photographer eyetwist, who gave me the lowdown, and to Erin at the museum for the hospitality. We had 7 photographers and 2 videographers in our group, which maxed out the small museum space.

As we only had 1 hour in the boneyard, I shot my 360 panos at 4 shots around, using a Canon EOS 6D with the 8-15mm fisheye lens at 12mm. This sacrifices some resolution for speed, producing images that are just over 10,000×5,000 (50 megapixels). I shot a 3 image bracket at each camera position, with exposures of +/- 1.5 stops.

Many of the amazing old neon signs were lit with bright LED lighting that scrolls through different colors every few seconds. I knew this was going to make both shooting HDR and blending the panoramas a challenge.  Surprisingly, Photomatix Fusion didn’t have any problems blending the bracketed images, even though the color and intensity sometimes changed between exposures.

Next, I imported the images into PTGui Pro. Here’s how the pano looked after stitching, but before blending across images.

Las Vegas Neon Museum 360 Degree Night Panorama - Unblended

Las Vegas Neon Museum 360 Degree Night Panorama – Unblended

I tested PTGui, Smartblend, and Photoshop, and the PTGUI blender did the best job feathering the different colored lighting. Adjusting the masking in PTGui helped fine tune the transition areas.

Once I was happy with the results, I used Pano2VR Pro to create the interactive panorama. This pano is my first test using the new HTML5 multiresolution feature. As time permits, I will add a few more panoramas from the Neon Museum and create a virtual tour.

Shooting and processing HDR night photography from Mare Island

The Nocturnes head honcho Tim Baskerville lives on Mare Island, and has been hosting occasional night photography events there since 2006. Mare Island Naval Shipyard was established in 1854, and decommissioned in 1996. A wide variety of old buildings and dry docks remain. Mare Island has enough lighting for night photography whether there is a full moon or not. The mixed lighting conditions can be challenging for night photography. Below are four images from last Saturday’s adventure, along with notes about how to shoot and process HDR night photography.

Mare Island crane D3 and dry dock
The dry docks and cranes at Mare Island are always a interesting subject for night photography. Unfortunately, these areas are fenced, which makes getting a good camera position tough. A lot of photographers at the event marveled at my solution to this problem. I have a Gitzo 3541XLS tripod (now the Gitzo 3542XLS) that goes up to 6.6 feet tall. Add the height of the ballhead and camera, and you can easily shoot over a standard fence, which is how I got this shot.

The image is composed of a five shot bracket of 8 seconds, 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes at f/8, ISO 200. The 5 images were blended together using Exposure Fusion in Photomatix. Then I brought the blended image into Photoshop. Using a layer mask, I used the foreground from the blended HDR image, and the sky from the 2 minute exposure.

Natural Looking HDR

<rant> HDR is a dirty word (or dirty acroynm) in some circles, due to rampant abuse of HDR software. I used to blend exposures on a layer mask to make sure my photos looked like photos instead of clown puke. Over the last few years I’ve realized that HDR can be used for very natural looking results. I want my photographs to look like photographs, not some bad Photoshop filter from the 1990′s. Anyhow, HDR can save you a lot of time when you’re shooting at night under mixed lighting conditions. If you’re interested in learning HDR techniques, I highly recommend Christian Bloch’s The HDRI Handbook 2.0. Even experienced HDR shooters will pick up some great techniques from this book. </rant> Let’s continue with some more night photography examples.

Mare Island crane truck C5 at night
My compositional style typically favors the grand view instead of detail shots. I did two different setups for the picture of this truck, and ended up liking the tighter framing above. This image is a three shot bracket of 24 seconds, 46 seconds, and 2 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. The three images were merged to HDR in Photoshop, and the resulting 32-bit TIFF file was processed in Lightroom. The light in the window at the bottom right was blown out, even in the shortest exposure. I was planning to shoot a few shorter exposures, but I had to move my tripod. I was setup in the middle of the road, and a car drove through before I could finish. The bright area could be adjusted by simply using the clone stamp to bring some tonal value back in the bottom window panes, although I’m not sure that it bothers me.

Mare Island buoys and cranes at night
I scouted this shot during a walk at sunset, and was happy with how dark and mysterious the area looked at night. Shooting this image proved to be complicated because a bright orange building light behind me kept turning off and on every 2-3 minutes. I ended up with a five shot bracket of 15 seconds, 30 seconds, 1 minute, and 2 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. The fifth shot was also 2 minutes at f/9.5, but at ISO 400.

The building light was on for a few seconds in a couple of the exposures. I thought this might help with a little bit of fill light, but it ended up making the resulting colors look weird when I merged to HDR in Photoshop. The Photomatix Fusion results looked better, but the image still had a slight HDR look. I used the 2 minute exposure for the sky, and tried layering the HDR version on top for more foreground detail. The tone of the image looked just about right, but the color in the buoys still looked a little bit off. I switched the HDR image layer with the foreground detail to Luminosity Blend Mode — problem solved! The tone looked good, and the colors looked natural.

Mare Island night geometry with Orion's Belt
The hardest part of this shot was smelling the fumes from the nearby buildings that are used to paint large pipes. The foreground is a four shot bracket of 45 seconds, 90 seconds, 3 minutes, and 6 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200. After reviewing the bracketed shots on the back of the camera, I noticed that Orion’s Belt would be in a good position in the sky soon. I waited a few minutes, and then made a 10 minute exposure at f/11, ISO 100. The 5 shot bracket was blended with Exposure Fusion in Photomatix. The foreground is the HDR image, and the sky is from the 10 minute exposure.

I hope these shooting and post-processing details are useful for those who are interested in shooting HDR at night. You can see bigger versions of these photos, and more night photography of Mare Island on my website.

Target Display Mode: Using an iMac as a 2nd monitor for a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air

I have a mid-2011 27″ iMac as a home computer, a 13″ MacBook Air as a travel computer, and recently got a 13″ MacBook Pro Retina as a work machine. I was thinking about getting a second monitor for using the MacBook Pro at home, but it turns out I can just use my 27″ iMac as a second monitor. The secret? Target Display Mode and a Thunderbolt cable.

Thunderbolt Cable
If you’re using a MacBook Pro as your main computer, but still have one of the iMac models below, Target Display Mode will help you breathe new life into your old machine. All you need is either a Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt cable. This makes an older iMac a great backup computer that doubles as a second monitor.

iMac (27-inch Late 2009) Mini DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt
iMac (27-inch Mid 2010) Mini DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort Mini DisplayPort or Thunderbolt
iMac (21.5-inch, Mid 2011) Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt Thunderbolt
iMac (27-inch, Mid 2011) Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt Thunderbolt
iMac (21.5-inch, Late 2012) Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt Thunderbolt
iMac (27-inch, Late 2012) Thunderbolt to Thunderbolt Thunderbolt

To use your iMac as a second monitor:

  1. Turn on both machines
  2. Connect the cable
  3. Press Command-F2 on the keyboard of your iMac
    *If you’re using F1, F2, as standard function keys, then use Command-Fn-F2
    Some older keyboards may not activate Target Display Mode. I’m using a newer standard Mac wired keyboard and it works great.

To exit Target Display Mode, just hit Command-F2 again or detach the cable. If one of the computers goes into sleep mode, that will also exit Target Display Mode.

Panorama Stitching Challenge: Telephone Wires and Parallax

Night Photography: Panorama Stitching Challenge

Night Photography: Panorama Stitching Challenge

The 8-shot panorama above features telephone lines that are not stitching correctly in Photoshop CS6 or PTGui 9 with the standard software settings. The images were shot with an 18mm Olympus lens mounted vertically on a 5D Mark II. The camera was on a nodal slide, but the setting wasn’t perfect. The power lines were also moving in the wind. You can download a zipped folder with 2000×3000 jpeg versions of all 8 images (33MB download).

Do you have a good panorama stitching technique for correcting parallax error in long sections of telephone wires? The warp tool and masking in Photoshop is too tedious. There has to be a better way. Thanks for taking the time to give this stitch a try — I’ll be curious to see if anyone has a good way to fix the wires!

Update: Below are 2 techniques to solve the powerline panorama problem:

1. Puppet Warp to the rescue — Over on, a photographer from Mexico who goes by the name Eyeball provided an excellent step-by-step technique for fixing power lines using Puppet Warp:

  • Do a copy merge of a section of the power line up to the break. You want to select a long enough piece of the line that the slight change in direction won’t be noticed.
  • Paste to a new layer.
  • Do an Edit>Puppet Warp on the layer with the piece of power line. Select a pivot point at each end of the segment as close to the line as possible.
  • Move the end of the line to eliminate the discontinuity.
  • Accept the Puppet Warp change.
  • Use a quick clone edit to remove any fuzziness around where the line connects.

2. PTGui’s horizontal control points — On, photographer John Houghton from the UK provided a PTGui technique using horizontal control points and an optimizer plugin for PTGui from 2001. This also worked quite nicely. John went the extra mile and provided a PTGui file so I could see his technique.

One thing I love about panoramas is the wonderful community of photographers who will go out of their way to help you. Thanks to Eyeball and John for their help with the powerline panorama problem. Cheers!

360 Night Panoramas: A Full Moon Virtual Tour of Eagle Field

Eagle Field Junkyard Full Moon 360 Panorama

Eagle Field Junkyard Full Moon 360 Panorama

Six interactive 360º panoramas are included in the full moon virtual tour of Eagle Field. Look for the red hot spots to navigate between panos. If you’re on an iPad or iPhone, you can navigate the pano by moving your device around. My portfolio site has more night photography from Eagle Field.

Panorama Gear and Technique
All of the panos were shot with a Canon EOS 6D and an 8-15mm fisheye lens. I used a Really Right Stuff PG-02 panohead on a Nodal Ninja rotator and leveling base. The files were processed in Lightroom and stitched using PTGui Pro. The interactive panos and tour were created using Pano2VR.

Most of the exterior shots were 90 seconds at f/8, ISO 800. The exteriors are 4-shots-around at 12mm with a 5th shot to patch the ground (nadir). The interior of the hangar was 6-around at 15mm plus a zenith (up) and nadir (down). Shooting 6-around provides more resolution, but 4-around was necessary outside due to the fast moving clouds.

Even with the short exposures, blending the clouds between shots was sometimes difficult. In the junkyard image above, the Enblend plugin for PTGui did a better job with the clouds. Enblend couldn’t stitch the foreground well, and the stars weren’t as sharp. So I output a second version with the standard PTGui blender, and combined the two files in Photoshop.

Blending bracketed exposures without that HDR look
The shot of the plane outside the hangar required a lot of dynamic range, and includes 6 bracketed images at each camera position. The 5-shot bracketing available in the EOS 6D’s custom menu worked well, but only goes up to 30 seconds. I switched the camera from M to B and used a timer remote for a longer exposure of 75 seconds at each camera position.

PTGui’s Exposure Fusion was used to combine the bracketed exposures. I’ve been impressed with Exposure Fusion’s ability to quickly create natural looking images. The controls are simple, with only 4 sliders. I’ve found that about .5 of highlight reduction and .5 of shadow boost with a Sigma setting of .11 is a good place to start.

Reducing the orange glow of Sodium Vapor lighting
Before stitching and blending, I wanted to reduce the intensity of the orange sodium vapor lighting in Lightroom. Placing the white balance eye-dropper on a silver airplane or gray sidewalk yields a color temperature of 2000K. This makes the sky a deep intense cyan that looks wrong. A tungsten balance of 2850K looks a lot more natural. I finally settled on a slightly warmer 3250K for the overall scene.

The easiest first step for neutralizing sodium vapor is to switch to the Camera Neutral profile under camera calibration (the bottom panel on the right in Lightroom’s Develop module). This also works in Adobe Camera RAW. Then I slightly reduced the orange and yellow saturation in the HSL panel. This looks more natural than using bigger desaturation moves to deal with the orange cast, especially when the image will be viewed alongside other photos from the same location.

I hope these technical tips are helpful for a few people!