Wolf Ridge Night Photography Gallery, and Lightroom Tips

Wolf Ridge, downstairs, San Francisco view -- by Joe Reifer

Wolf Ridge, downstairs, San Francisco view — by Joe Reifer

I’ve just posted a gallery of night images from Wolf Ridge in Marin.

If you’re interested in taking a trip up to Wolf Ridge, check out Andy Frazer’s photography guide for this great location.

A Few Notes on Organizing Your Photos with Lightroom, and Exporting for the Web

Finding the images from Wolf Ridge in my Lightroom archive was easy — all of the shoots from Wolf Ridge have file and folder names with the same structure: wolfridge_YYYYMMDD_01.CR2. In the Grid View in Lightroom I selected Text — File Name — Starts With — wolf. Next I clicked on Attribute and selected a rating of 2 stars or better. I made a rough edit for the gallery by hitting the B key to add images for the gallery to a Quick Collection. After making the final selections, I proceeded to post-processing.

I was able to do post-processing for almost all of the images without bringing them into Photoshop. The image above was the only exception because I needed to do more complex tonal corrections for the sky and fog that required masking. When outputting for the web from Lightroom, I use a combination of capture sharpening in the Develop module (the Sharpening settings under Detail), and Output Sharpening under File — Export (typically set to Screen — Low).

A good starting place for capture sharpening with the 5D and 5D II is about 28% at .6 Radius, with Detail at 80 and Masking at 40. By zooming in to 100% view you can check the Detail and Masking settings by holding down the Option (Alt) key and dragging the sliders. The Masking control is really useful for night photography — just drag the slider until you only see star trails in the sky. This masks the areas of the sky with no detail — protecting you from enhancing any noise that may be present in the sky.

I hope you enjoy the new gallery, and that these Lightroom tips are useful!

Digital Night Photography: Test Exposures, Noise Reduction, and Image Stacking

A tree, trailer, fencing, and various geometric forms studied for 15 minutes -- by Joe Reifer

A tree, trailer, fencing, and various geometric forms studied for 15 minutes — by Joe Reifer

Technical Details
Canon 5D Mark II with an Olympus Zuiko 21mm f/3.5 lens — the lens is very small, light, sharp, and has a manual focus scale.
Long exposure noise reduction was turned off in the camera, greatly increasing productivity and battery life.

The test exposure to check the composition and histogram was 15 seconds at f/5.6, ISO 1600.
Let’s do the math: moving to f/8 is 1 stop, to f/11 is 2 stops, to ISO 800 is 3 stops, to ISO 400 is 4 stops, to ISO 200 is 5 stops.
We compensate for closing down the aperture and reducing the ISO by changing the exposure length 5 stops: 30 seconds is 1 stop, 1 minute is 2 stops, 2 minutes is 3 stops, 4 minutes is 4 stops, 8 minutes is 5 stops.
The result: 8 minutes at f/11, ISO 200.
Because the main subject is white and metallic, I protected the highlights by slightly reducing the exposure to: 7.5 minutes at f/11, ISO 160.

To achieve the 15 minute star trails in the image above, I set the Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote to make 2 exposures in a row of 7.5 minutes at f/11, ISO 160.
I adjusted the RAW files for tone and color in Lightroom.
With both files selected in Lightroom, go to the top menu and select: Photo — Edit In — Open As Layers In Photoshop.
Next just set the top Layer to Lighten Blending Mode as pictured below to add the star trails together. Lighten Blending Mode adds anything on the top layer that’s brighter to the bottom layer – when you flip to Lighten Mode, voilà – you’ve added the star trails together.

Lighten Blending Mode in Photoshop to Stack Star Trails -- by Joe Reifer

Lighten Blending Mode in Photoshop to Stack Star Trails — by Joe Reifer

Remember: The secret to making this technique work is keeping the interval between exposures to 1 second or less. Otherwise you’ll have unsightly gaps in your star trails. I hope this useful technique saves you time and battery drain. Give it a try the next time you’re shooting at night.

Night Photography: Film Reads As Night, Use the Results for Digital Post-Processing

Various trucks, cans, detritus -- by Joe Reifer

Various trucks, cans, detritus — by Joe Reifer

45 minute exposure at f/11 with Kodak E100VS slide film.
Mamiya 7II with 43mm lens (21mm equivalent for 35mm cameras).

The technique necessary to make a 45 minute exposure with a digital SLR would be either to:

  1. Shoot for 45 minutes with noise reduction on, and then wait an additional 45 minutes for in-camera noise reduction to run
  2. Shoot multiple shorter exposures and stack them in Photoshop (e.g., 9 exposures of 5 minutes each)

My shooting strategy for the last few years has been to use a medium format film camera for long exposures of 45-60 minutes, while shooting with a digital SLR for the more typical 5-10 minute exposures. Not only does shooting with 2 setups help with productivity, but the medium format film work provides an excellent guide to post-processing the RAW files from the digital SLR. During the 80′s, 90′s, and into the aughts, medium format film defined the look of color night photography. Slide film reads as night. Emulating the look of slide film when post-processing in Lightroom and Photoshop helps the digital images read as night, too.

Calculating film exposures for images lit by the full moon is pretty easy. Start by taking a few test shots with your digital SLR — I typically use 10 seconds at f/4, ISO 1600 as a digital test exposure. If the histogram looks good, this exposure equates to 5 minutes at f/8, ISO 200 — or 10 minutes at f/8, ISO 100. When using Kodak E100VS, you’ll need to almost double the digital exposure time to help cope with reciprocity failure — about 18 minutes at f/8 during the full moon. When shooting at f/11, add another stop and a half — 45 minutes at f/11. Depending on the amount of shadow detail you’re trying to capture and the position of the moon in the sky, 60 minutes at f/11 may be more appropriate. With exposures this long, you have quite a bit of flexibility — the difference between a 60 minute and 45 minute exposure is only a 1/2 stop.

Remember these simple rules when dialing in the exposures with your favorite film:

  1. When using slide film (E-6), overexposure risks blown highlights (just like digital) — when in doubt, underexpose for night photography
  2. When using negative film (C-41), underexposure risks a thin negative with blocked up shadows — when in doubt, overexpose slightly for night photography

And remember — you don’t need a fancy camera to shoot long exposure night photographs. Even a $25 Holga does the job quite nicely. Give it a try next full moon!

An alligator and a minotaur take a ride in an amphibious vehicle

An alligator and a minotaur take a ride in an amphibious vehicle -- by Joe Reifer

An alligator and a minotaur take a ride in an amphibious vehicle — by Joe Reifer

Technical Details: This panorama was created by shooting four horizontal images hand-held with a Ricoh GRD II, and automatically stitching using Photomerge in Photoshop CS3. Photomerge did an excellent job except for one small area of the power lines. I’m testing Autopano Pro on this image and some additional hand-held panoramas. So far Autopano Pro is performing better than Photoshop CS3 on panos shot handheld, but the 64-bit version for the Mac is crashing somewhat often. I’ve previously tried PT Mac which works well but is labor intensive. More pano experiments soon.

Night photography post-processing: A Warm Car on a Cool Night

RAW Conversion Comparison -- Photo by David Dasinger

RAW Conversion Comparison — Photo by David Dasinger

During the second afternoon of last week’s Pearsonville Night Photography and Light Painting Workshop, Troy Paiva and I critiqued 4 images from each participant — our goal was to help everyone make better photos the second night. Seeing all of the amazing work from the first night before shooting again was really inspiring. A lot of the photographers have uploaded images to the Pearsonville Workshop Flickr Group, and Troy and I have provided some further comments online.

During last Fall’s workshop, I offered to make a 16×20″ print of the image that Troy and I decided was our favorite from the first night. The winning shot was by Aaron Siladi, and the print is now hanging on his wall. Last week we upped the ante by providing a 16×20″ print and a Hostess Chocodile. I thought the Chocodile was extinct, but the Fastrip in Ridgecrest still has ‘em (although they no longer feature the Chauncey the Chocodile mascot I remember from my youth).

Anyhow, the image above by photographer David Dasinger was the Chocodile (and print) winner this time. David’s well placed addition of light to the underside of the hood was an extremely creative move that really brings out shape and texture of this mashed up beauty. Here’s a few words from David about how he lit the image:

Kept it super simple. 2 minute exposure, f/5.6, Stinger flashlight, just held it facing up under the hood crease and gave it about a 30 degree arc. The Stinger is so bright it was very quick. This one was about all that moonlight and the crinkly hood.

While working on the print over the last few days, I asked David if I could use his image as a split-conversion post-processing example and he agreed. Above are two different interpretations of the RAW file using the Virtual Copy feature in Lightroom. The warm version on the left is has a color balance of 4450K, and the cool version on the right is 3250K. I really like the orange against blue motif on the car in the warm version, but prefer the deep cyan sky of the cool version. Why not have the best of both worlds? Below is a step-by-step of how I combined the two versions of the file to make a print:

Quick Selection Tool Sky Masking -- Photo by David Dasinger

Quick Selection Tool Sky Masking — Photo by David Dasinger

  1. Bring both versions of the file into a Photoshop CS3 file, with the cool version as the top Layer.
  2. Use the Quick Selection Tool to select the sky (screenshot above), and use the Refine Edge tool to slightly feather the selection.
  3. Select the Channels palette, and click the “front loading washer” to make an Alpha Channel out of the selection.
  4. Go back to the Layers palette, select the top layer (cool version), and click the “front loading washer” to load the Alpha Channel as a Layer Mask.
  5. The opacity of the top layer to was reduced to 50% to have the sky look saturated but realistic (see version 1 below) . The reduced opacity and feathered mask selection are both useful ensuring a smooth transition from sky to ground.
Crumpled Blue -- by David Dasinger

Crumpled Blue — by David Dasinger

After dialing in the sky and foreground balance, I flattened the file, converted to the ICC profile of my printing service, and sharpened for output. The sky and the hood looked great in the first print, but the sand in the foreground was a little too orange, and the tonal value of the car’s front grill needed to be slightly brighter. I made a few quick adjustments to the master file as follows:

  1. Add a Curves Layer, increase the Green in the 3/4 tones — on the Layer Mask, paint in the effect in on the ground using a soft brush at a low opacity.
  2. Add a Hue/Saturation Adjustment Layer, slightly reduce the Saturation of Red and Yellow — on the Layer Mask, paint in the effect in on the ground using a soft brush at a low opacity.
  3. Play with the opacity of both Adjustment Layers until the foreground looks right.
  4. Add a Curves Layer to increase the brightness of the grill and engine area — on the Layer Mask, paint in the effect using a soft brush at a low opacity.

If you are intimidated by Layer Masks, I highly recommend Katrin Eismann’s book Photoshop Masking & Compositing.

By neutralizing the ground just slightly, and bringing out the 3/4 tones on the front grill and engine compartment, more attention is focused on our main subject, the car. This effect is subtle on the web, but makes a big difference in a 16×20″ print. Going back and doing a second or third round of adjustments on a print until it looks right is a great learning experience, and an important part of finishing the work. Below is the final image.

Crumpled Blue (final version) -- by David Dasinger

Crumpled Blue (final version) — by David Dasinger

Many thanks to David Dasinger for allowing me to use his beautiful image for this post-processing demo. And thanks to all of the workshop participants for their spirit of adventure and creativity — Chocodiles for everyone, I am still dreaming of cars!