Seven photos of 6-minutes at f/8 ISO 200 were stacked for a cumulative 42-minute exposure under a full moon at Paul’s Junkyard. A faint amount of light painting was used at an oblique angle down the side of the Volvo 122 on the left. The warm yellow of the desert sand against the cool cyan of the night sky was slightly enhanced using a curves adjustment in the LAB color space. This fast and effective Photoshop technique also helped bring out more hue variation in the green truck. Stay tuned for a step-by-step look at using curves in LAB. See a long exposure dark sky image of this truck.
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?
I’m continuing to refine my pano gear, shooting, and post-processing techniques. Photographer Tong Lam emailed recently to let me know that he’s been enjoying the night 360′s, and referred to this growing body of work as unreal estate. The most common use of 360×180 panoramas is for virtual tours in the real estate world. The locations that I’m interested in photographing, and the surreal nature of long exposure night photography make unreal estate a very fitting play on words (even if it is already the title of a death metal album).
During last month’s full moon I made a total of ten 360 degree night panoramas at Big M Automotive. Using a technique that’s common in virtual tours, I’ve been experimenting with adding hotspot areas that allow you to move from one panorama to another. If you click on the workshop building in the panorama above, you’ll be taken to another panorama inside the workshop. Click above the red Fury in the interior pano to go back outside.
Linking between panos only works in the Flash version, not on the HTML5 version that’s viewable on an iPad and iPhone. After putting together the rest of the panoramas from the Big M, I plan to experiment with linking them all together for a virtual full moon tour of the yard. Stay tuned.
This night panorama shows the back of the abandoned cement plant in a 300 degree view. I shot 14 images but only ended up using 12 for the pano because the brightness of the full moon was too distracting. The distortion produced by the cylindrical projection option in Photoshop CS5 Photomerge works well with the long cluster of buildings on the right leading up into the nearby hills. The cylindrical setting also bends the clouds into interesting arc shapes, providing a rhythmic connection between the different groups of structures. These were 2 minute exposures at f/8, ISO 400 with a vertically mounted Canon 5D Mark II and a 24-70/2.8L lens at the 24mm setting. The graffiti on the small stone in the left foreground says “Musk,” which cracked me me because I encountered a rather aggressive skunk while shooting this image. I must have set my tripod up close to the skunk’s den. No skunks were harmed in the making of this picture.
For this alternate view of the plant I chose to center the big tree and buildings, and have the dirt path enter the frame from both sides. The impact of the cylindrical projection is minimal on this image. The increased space between the camera and subject matter gives the image less impact at web size, but would help achieve a more documentary spirit of place in a large sized print. Exposure and camera setup details were the same as the previous image.
The view from the SE corner of the plant also shows an irrigation channel on the left. The cylindrical projection creates a very natural looking flow on the left side of the image with the pond, telephone pole, and domed building. The right side of the image has more intense distortion than the other night panos, because I was closer to the stone walls. I am still experimenting with the post-processing on this image in Photoshop, and may also try some of the tools in Autopano Pro.
I hope you enjoyed this series of full moon night panoramas!
I’ve been preparing for next week’s night photography workshop at Paul’s Junkyard, and found the image above while putting together my post-processing demo. In the past, I’ve covered how to develop night photos in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw. The all new post-processing demonstration for this workshop will primarily focus on making subtle adjustments to tone, color, and sharpness in Photoshop. These techniques will help workshop participants learn how to finish their images for web or print.
Notice anything different about the night photo above? This image is an ISO 6400 test shot from a Canon 5D Mark II. Noise reduction was applied in Lightroom 3. Is it a little bit noisy? Yes. But the file is fine for web use, and with a little bit of work it would make a nice print. Save those test shots! Who knows what you may be able to rescue from your archive as the post-processing software gets better and better.
Low light sensitivity and high ISO performance are improving with every new generation of digital SLRs. Will it be long before we’re doing night photography hand-held? Star trails may start to look pretty old school in the not too distant future!