Digital Night Photography Article Collection

Dia-Log Truck -- by Joe Reifer

Dia-Log Truck — by Joe Reifer

The exposure time for the image above was 9 minutes at f/8 — shooting 4 nights before the full moon required an extra stop of exposure that was gained by using ISO 200 instead of the more typical full moon exposure of 6-8 minutes at f/8, ISO 100. Two RAW conversions of the same file were combined for the final image — one at 4500K for a neutral to warm foreground, and a second version using a virtual copy in Lightroom at 3450K for a cooler, deeper blue sky. The warm and cool conversions were combined in Photoshop using Layer Masks.

Troy Paiva and I cover a lot of ground during the afternoon sessions of our night photography field workshop. Some of the most popular topics and most asked questions have been addressed on this blog — below is a list of a 11 articles of interest to night photographers:

  1. Processing Night Photography Shot Under Mixed Lighting — getting your color balance right is an important part of post-processing night photographs. Here’s an example of how I adjusted a RAW file in Lightroom using the HSL panel.
  2. Lightroom Tone Curves — sometimes the Fill Light or Shadow/Highlight tools are not enough. Lightroom Tone Curves are a quick and powerful tool for adjusting the amount of shadow detail in your night photos.
  3. Calculating Exposure & Full Moon Schedule — when does the moon rise relative to the sunset, and how much light do you need for night photography?
  4. Night photography: Digital and/or film — shooting with two camera setups for increased productivity and longer star trails. Using film results as a guideline for post-processing your digital night photographs.
  5. Color temperature, and light painting for dimensionality — understanding how to utilize the blend of color temperature in your camera, and the color temperature of your light source. Using oblique angles to create a more 3D look when light painting.
  6. Night Photography Lexicon: Part I, Part II, Part III — photographic influences, and abandoned places night photography’s (APNP) place in the realm of conceptual art.
  7. Digital night photography: Sky color secrets — post-processing tips for punchier, deeper blue skies.
  8. Digital night photography: Exposure balance – how to read your histogram for night photography (aka “Expose to the Middle”).
  9. Flashlight: Everybody’s got a little light under the moon — one of the most asked questions about light painting is “what kind of flashlight should I buy?”
  10. Canon 5D wide angle night photography — using the Olympus Zuiko 21mm lens on a Canon digital SLR for night photography because it’s small, sharp, and easy to focus at night. Contains useful information about focus scale calibration.
  11. 18mm prime: Finding compositions in the dark — follow the moonlight to find your compositions, keep the ISO low, and use test shots to assess your framing and exposure.

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

Pearsonville Fire Truck Moonrise: Processing Night Photography Shot Under Mixed Lighting

Pearsonville fire truck moonrise -- by Joe Reifer

Pearsonville fire truck moonrise — by Joe Reifer

The image above was exposed for 90 seconds at f/11, ISO 100. I shoot most night photos at f/8, but stopped down to f/11 to give the moon a more pronounced star pattern. The exposure time was still short enough to minimize the moon movement. The lighting is a mix of street and road lighting, moonlight, and flashlight through the back window of the fire truck. Color temperature was set to 4450K for this blend of mixed lighting, and the tint was purposefully pushed towards magenta in order to mix purple and oranges in the foreground, and help give the sky the deep blue color.

Sometimes there are ways to make your image more technically correct that can ruin the feel of the image. A more neutral foreground could be achieved by pushing the white balance tint towards green, doing a separate conversion with a magenta tint for a deeper blue sky, and then blending the conversions together using a layer mask in Photoshop. I ended up really liking the what the magenta tint did to the purples and oranges in the foreground against the blue of the sky. Another post processing possibility for this image would be to reduce the hot area on the inner passenger side window by cloning from another part of the window. The small blown out area mirrors the blown out area of the moon, so I left it alone.

I used the HSL panel in Lightroom to make the following adjustments (screenshot below):

  1. The red hue slider adjusted to reduce the amount of orange in the reds, which helped pull some of the sodium vapor effect off the front of the fire engine.
  2. Orange saturation was reduced in order to counteract of the overall sodium vapor lighting. Blue saturation was increased to deepen the sky color slightly.
  3. Red and orange luminance were increased to brighten the front of the fire truck. Playing with the orange luminance slider also helped me assess how much of the sodium vapor light was still in effect on the truck.

I hope these post-processing tips are useful. Look for more images from last weekend’s Pearsonville Night Photography Workshop in the next few days, and don’t miss the Pearsonville Workshop Pool on Flickr!

Lightroom HSL Panel

Birds of Paradise: Scanning Holga Images with Borders

Birds of paradise (24 hour security by Firstline) -- by Joe Reifer

Birds of paradise (24 hour security by Firstline) — by Joe Reifer

I need to start printing Holga work for a show coming up in July. Up until recently I’ve been lazily scanning both regular 120 Holga and 35mm sprocket hole (“Sprolga”) negatives for web use by just putting them directly onto the glass of my flatbed scanner. I needed a better solution for high resolution scans. I have limited access to a drum scanner at work, but drum scanning seems like overkill for Holga images. I also have access to an Epson V750, but wet mount scanning is too tedious.

I decided to try one of Doug Fisher’s custom film holders for my Epson 4990, and sat down this evening to experiment. I got a single channel, variable height medium format film holder with a piece of high quality anti-Newton Ring glass. I followed the excellent instructions to get the height of the holder calibrated, which optimized the focusing for my scanner. There was a small but noticeable improvement in sharpness over the standard Epson holder.

High resolution scans of 35mm Holga negatives are now really easy — I just carefully tape the negative to the anti-Newton Ring glass, place the glass into the holder, and scan away.

Scanning regular 120 Holga or Diana negatives also works well — the custom holder shows a bit more of the film edge than the stock Epson holder, but part of the edge is still obscured. Towards the bottom of the info page for the anti-Newton Ring glass, I found a good solution: part of the thin inner film channel of the 120 negative holder can be removed with a sharp blade in order to scan Holga negatives all the way to the edge of the frame. By only cutting a space large enough for one negative in the center, the holder can still be used to scan regular strips of 120 film without having to tape the neg to the glass. Sweet. Plunk the negative into the holder, put the glass on top, and scan. So far this film holder setup looks like $75 well spent. There’s a lot more information and detailed instructions over on betterscanning.com

Digital night photography: Sky color secrets


Gather outside — by Joe Reifer

My previous post on getting a night time feel in your digital night photographs focused on exposure. Today I’m going to talk about sky color. After shooting with various film cameras at night in a variety of conditions, I settled on a color slide film with reasonable reciprocity characteristics, and nice tonal rendering for night work: Kodak E100VS — a daylight balanced slide film with intense reds and blues that produces lovely tonal gradations in the sky. If you prefer a tungsten balanced film, Fuji RTP 64T is superb.

When post-processing digital night work with Canon digital SLRs, it was sometimes difficult to achieve the E100VS look — especially in the skies. A few years ago I was on a workshop with Craig Tanner of The Radiant Vista, where I learned the power of Photoshop’s Selective Color layer for subtle alterations to image tonalities. Adapting this technique to night photography post processing, here are some basic starting points for creating richer blues in night time skies.

  1. Start with a RAW conversion color balance in the 3200-3800K range, depending on the blend of moonlight and artificial light and/or light pollution
  2. Create a Selective Color Layer in Photoshop
  3. For each color, drag the Black slider on the bottom both ways to see if that color will be effected
  4. Experiment with adding/subtracting Cyan, Yellow, and Magenta within each effected color
  5. For more intense skies, choose the color Cyan, and start with +10 Cyan, +10 Magenta, and -10 Yellow
  6. You may also want to choose the color Blue, and add a little bit of Cyan and Magenta

Sometimes you can warm up the foreground in an image by selecting the color Red and subtracting Cyan and adding Magenta. Experiment with the sliders on a layer — don’t be afraid to overdo it slightly, and then reduce the effect with the layer opacity.

Using a Selective Color Layer can sometimes offer more refined, subtle control over image tonalities than the heavy hand of Hue Saturation Brightness (HSB) adjustments. With a little bit of practice and experimentation, you’ll arrive at some settings that work well for your images, and then you can create a Photoshop Action as a quick starting point for your adjustments.

Digital night photography: Exposure balance


View from the deep end — by Joe Reifer

One of the challenges of digital night photography is achieving a balance between a technically correct exposure and a night-time feel. If you somehow missed the pivotal Luminous Landscape article about exposing to the right on your histograms, it’s a must read. This advice needs to be modified for night photography — pushing the highlights to the right side of the histogram to maximize your total dynamic range is important, but not always the main goal. Rather, digital night photography requires making sure you have enough exposure value to pull details out of the 3/4 tones when necessary, but that your full moon images don’t look like daylight.

If your histograms are clipping in the shadow areas, you probably need a little bit more exposure value. If your histograms are pushed to the right, you may be overexposing. A little bit of clipping on the low end may be fine — you don’t necessarily need to be able to pull detail out of all the shadow areas — sometimes dark areas with no detail can really enhance a night image. The best rule with night photography seems to be expose to the middle.

The image above was exposed for 7 minutes at f/11, ISO 200, with a focal length of 45mm on a full frame dSLR. The exposure time of 7 minutes did not require noise reduction, and is a nice balance between star trail length and shooting productivity. Another option would have been to shoot 7 minutes at f/8, ISO 100, but I wanted to stop down to f/11 to ensure the pool wall and building were both in focus. For more reading on this delicate balancing act, the article Common Obstacles In Night Photography does an excellent job discussing the tradeoffs of exposure time, depth of field, ISO speed, and noise.

You can see from the histogram that under the expose right method this image needs almost another full stop of exposure. The shadows are barely clipping with the exposure set at 0.00 in Adobe Camera RAW, and there is certainly room to bring the exposure value an additional half or 2/3 of a stop without worrying about adding extra noise. But I don’t want any more shadow detail in this image — that would ruin the mystery and feel.

A good strategy for pulling more dynamic range out of this image would be to go ahead and increase the exposure value in the RAW converter by 0.5 to spread the histogram over a wider area. While the image would look too bright in the RAW converter, a Curves adjustment could be used to bring things back to a night vibe.

After some slight tweaks in the RAW converter, this image was brought into Photoshop and further adjusted for contrast and color to create the finished image above. The more intense blue saturation in the sky, and subtle improvements to the foreground tonalities were achieved with a very simple, quick adjustment in Photoshop that will be discussed in part II. Stay tuned.