Category Archives: Post Processing

Glowing Figures and Dark Shadows: 360 Night Pano Technique and Extreme Lightroom Noise Reduction Settings

360 Night Panorama of 19th Century Stone Ruins -- by Joe Reifer 360 Night Panorama of 19th Century Stone Ruins — by Joe Reifer

Figures rendered in glow-in-the-dark paint walk in the shadows of these 19th century stone ruins.

360 Panorama Equipment and Exposure

This spherical panorama was shot with a Canon EOS 60D and a Canon 8-15mm f/4L fisheye lens at 8mm. Four exposures were made with the camera in the vertical position on a Really Right Stuff PG-02 panohead with a 192 FAS nodal slide. Each exposure was 2.5 minutes at f/8, ISO 800.

The weather was in the low 60′s at 9:30pm when I made this image. Under typical full moon conditions, the exposure time for these panoramas is about 1:15 or 1:30. Because the moon wasn’t quite full yet and this area was quite dark, this image needed a longer exposure time. Even with doubling the exposure time for an extra stop of light, I still had to boost the exposure in Lightroom by +0.60. The resulting image was incredibly noisy.

Extreme Noise Reduction in Lightroom

At first glance, I didn’t think the pano would be usable. Normally my luminance noise reduction settings in Lightroom have an amount between 2-10. I cranked up the noise reduction to twice those settings, but the noise still looked terrible. I tried various Photoshop noise reduction tricks, but still wasn’t happy with the massive luminance and color noise in the shadows. After some experimenting, I was able to get the noise reduction right by turning the detail slider way down. If you’ve got a really noisy image, you may need to sacrifice detail in order to smooth out the noise. I increased the sharpening settings slightly to compensate. A before and after noise reduction comparison is below, along with the Lightroom noise reduction settings.

Noise reduction comparison

Lightroom Noise Reduction Settings

Lessons Learned for Future 360 Night Panos

This is by far the most noise reduction that I’ve ever used on a finished image. Next time I’ll use Long Exposure Noise Reduction (LENR) in the camera. When shooting panos at night, it’s important to keep the exposures short and not wait too long between exposures so the stars stay aligned properly when stitching the image together. Some Canon digital SLRs such as the EOS 5D Mark II, allow you to shoot right away without waiting for LENR to run. The LENR is held in a buffer until you finish all of your shots, and then runs on the images in the buffer. This technique would have allowed for slightly crisper images with less post-processing.

Fall 2012 Paul’s Junkyard Night Photography Workshop

A prop cockpit from the movie Timecop sits next to a pile of airplane parts and a Huey helicopter in this 360º night panorama at Paul’s Junkyard.

The fall 2012 Paul’s Junkyard Night Photography Workshop registration opened to our email list on Monday and filled in just over 1 day. The good news is that light painting juggernaut Troy Paiva is considering adding an alumni shoot-only workshop for the October full moon. This will potentially open up 3-4 spaces for the full workshop experience that runs September 28-30. Contact me to get on the waiting list!

Paul’s Junkyard is a Mojave Desert night photography paradise. Part movie car storage yard and part hardcore metal recycling facility, Paul’s is packed with photographic possibilities. We’ll spend 3 full moon nights helping you improve your light painting, and 3 afternoons in the classroom doing critiques and learning techniques.

Speaking of techniques, I’ll be showing 3 new night photography post-processing demos during the workshop. These Photoshop techniques will help you put the finishing touches on your images and quickly solve some common problems with light painted images.

1. Intense warm and cool – deepen the blue night sky and warm up the desert sand at the same time for rich, intense color.
2. Impossible highlight repair - An easy and natural looking fix for blown highlights from light painting.
3. Quick detail rescue – A simple way to recover detail in areas where gelled colors are oversaturated.

There’s more workshop information on my website. Contact me to get on the waiting list or if you have any questions!

Night photography: The Weehawken Utility truck is really a star catching device

The Weehawken Utility truck is really a star catching device -- by Joe Reifer

The Weehawken Utility truck is really a star catching device -- by Joe Reifer

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.

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?

Unreal Estate: Further adventures in 360 night panoramas

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.