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

Eleven interactive 360 panoramas are included in the full moon virtual tour of Eagle Field. The airplane 360 above was particularly challenging to shoot and stitch due to the wide dynamic range and oppressive orange sodium vapor lighting.

360 Night 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 krpano.

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 easier outside due to the fast moving clouds.

Even with the short exposures, blending the clouds between shots was sometimes difficult. In some cases, the Enblend plugin for PTGui did a better job with the clouds. Enblend didn'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 with a natural look

The shot of the plane outside the hangar required a lot of dynamic range, and includes 5 bracketed images at each camera position. The interior shots of the hangar and radio room also required HDR exposure techniques.

Photomatix was used to combine the bracketed exposures. I've been impressed with the natural looking blending options in this software.

Reducing the orange glow of Sodium Vapor lights

The orange sodium vapor lighting was really intense in the exterior shot of the airplane. Placing the white balance eye-dropper on the silver airplane or gray sidewalk gives a color temperature reading of 2000K. This makes the sky a deep intense cyan that just looks wrong. A color balance of 3250K looks much better for the sky.

If you pick a white balance in the middle and then reduce the yellow and orange saturation during raw conversion, the image can look pretty fake and lifeless. In this case, a split conversion was necessary -- one for the foreground, and one for the sky.

I used a blended version of all 5 exposures at 2000K for the foreground. Next I did a 3250K version of the 30 second exposure of the sky, because it had the best exposure and cloud movement. The images were combined with layer masks in Photoshop before stitching.

Enjoy the tour, and I hope these technical tips are helpful!

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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.

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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?

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Night panoramas: Abandoned cement plant

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer
Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

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.

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer
Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

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.

Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer
Abandoned cement plant night panorama -- by Joe Reifer

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!

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Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error

Lightroom -- Import from Catalog
Lightroom -- Import from Catalog

When I travel for a shoot, or work on organizing a new project in Lightroom, I often create a new separate catalog just for a particular set of images. The smaller catalog runs faster and keeps things simple. When everything is processed, I'll then import the smaller catalog into my master catalog by going to: File -- Import from Catalog:

Recently I encountered an issue with this workflow -- when trying to import one of these small working catalogs into my main Lightroom 3 catalog I got an error message that said: Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error:

Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error
Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error

Not a very helpful error message, huh?

After some troubleshooting, I figured out the conditions that cause this error to occur, and how to fix it. The problem occurs if the catalog you're trying to import was upgraded from Lightroom 2 to Lightroom 3, and there are photos in the catalog that are offline or missing, as indicated by the question-mark icon in Library Grid View:

Lightroom Library Grid View question mark
Lightroom Library Grid View question mark

The question mark indicates that you've moved or deleted photos outside of Lightroom, and Lightroom no longer knows where to find the file. To remedy this situation, click the question mark and locate the file, or turn on the external hard drive where the images are stored. If the files have been deleted, you can click delete and remove the images from the Lightroom database.

When you have resolved all of the images that are offline or missing in your smaller catalog, you will be able to import the catalog into your master catalog. If you haven't created extensive collections in this catalog, another solution would be to create a new catalog for these images in Lightroom 3. Catalogs that are native to Lightroom 3 don't seem to have this problem (i.e., catalogs native to LR3 with offline or missing images will import into another LR3 catalog just fine). If you choose this fix, make sure to write your metadata changes to XMP so you don't lose your work.

I hope this bug fix saves you time!

Note: I'm running Mac OS 10.58 10.64 with Lightroom 3.0.

Update: I ran this issue by Victoria Bampton, The Lightroom Queen, who let me know that duplicate files can also cause this error message (i.e., the same photo is in both catalogs). Hopefully this issue will be fixed in LR3.2.

Update: Tom Hogarty, the Product Manager for Lightroom at Adobe, let me know they're working on a fix for this issue.

Update: According to a reader's report, this issue looks to be fixed in Lightroom 3.2 (release candidate).

Update 8/29/2010: I found another variation of this bug. I was trying to import a working catalog that I recently created in LR 3.0 into my master catalog. The Library -- Find Missing Photos command did not yield any images, but I kept getting the Lightroom could not import this catalog because of an unknown error message. Turns out there were 3 images that WERE missing, but Lightroom wasn't finding them. Here's how I figured it out:

  1. In the working catalog, go to Library -- Show Photos in Subfolders, and make sure this feature is unchecked. This will give you an image count for each individual photo in your catalog.
  2. In the Grid View, make sure you have Index Numbers turned on to count the actual thumbnails. You can turn on Index Numbers by right clicking a thumbnail in Grid View, choosing View Options, and then checking Index Numbers.
  3. Now go through folder by folder and match the folder image count on the left, to the index number count in the Grid View. In my case there were 3 TIF files that Lightroom was not seeing.
  4. Next I saved the metadata to the files in the folder with the missing images by going to Metadata -- Save Metadata to Files.
  5. Highlight the folder on the left, right click, and select Remove to temporarily remove the folder from your catalog.
  6. Now go back to the file menu and choose Import Photos to re-import the folder. In my case the image counts now matched up, and I was able to import the working catalog into my master catalog.
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Night photography: Lightroom 3 process version 2010

Lightroom 3 was released yesterday and includes a completely retooled raw processing engine. I've been experimenting with the new raw processing for night photography, and the results are encouraging. The raw file processing engine from Lightroom 2 is now the 2003 process engine, and Lightroom 3 is the 2010 process engine (reflecting the year of their release). When you first open a Lightroom 2 catalog in Lightroom 3, your photos will maintain the look and feel of the 2003 process engine. To take advantage of the newer processing technology in Lightroom 3, you'll need to update your files to the new 2010 process engine. Here are three different ways to handle the update:

  1. In the Develop module, click the exclamation mark that appears on the bottom right. This button will only appear if you adjusted sharpening or noise reduction in Lightroom 1 or 2.
  2. From the Settings menu at the top, choose Update to Current Process (2010)
  3. In the Camera Calibration panel, choose Process: 2010

After any of these 3 methods you'll be presented with the Update Process Version Dialog Box:

update process version dialog box
update process version dialog box

Review Changes via Before/After gives you the 2003 and 2010 process engine versions side-by-side. I recommend looking at a few photos in the before/after view to get a feel for how the new processing engine effects the color and tone of your images. Once you're comfortable with the 2010 engine, you can bulk convert larger numbers of images to the new engine using Update All Filmstrip Photos.

Great news for night photographers: The Fill Light processing appears to be a big improvement. Without changing anything other than the process version, I'm noticing a consistent improvement in the rendering of the Darks (i.e., 3/4 tones). Darks is the tonal area between the shadows and mid-tones where a lot of the tonal information in a night photograph resides. I feel like I'm seeing into the shadows just a bit more, without losing the feeling of night. The sharpening algorithm appears to be adding a bit more kick to the Darks as well.

I'm going to continue to refine my night photography post-processing settings with Lightroom 3 in anticipation of the Fall 2010 Pearsonville Workshops. In between 3 nights of shooting at an amazing desert junkyard, we'll spend some classroom time going over how to make your night photographs really sing using the new features in Lightroom 3 and Photoshop CS5.

The settings in the images below are exactly the same -- the only difference is the process version. Click the image for a closer view of process 2003 vs. process 2010:

Lightroom 3 2010 Process Engine comparison -- by Joe Reifer
Lightroom 3 2010 Process Engine comparison -- by Joe Reifer
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Night photography: Burned orange 1966 Lincoln with flame job

Burned orange 1966 Lincoln with flame job -- by Joe Reifer
Burned orange 1966 Lincoln with flame job -- by Joe Reifer

Technical details: Three exposures of 7 minutes were stacked for 21 minute long star trails (7 minutes at f/9.5, ISO 200). There is a 1 second interval between exposures -- any longer would show gaps in the star trails. The Canon 5D Mark II is clean at 7 minutes without the need for noise reduction, as long as the ambient temperature is not too warm.

On the first image I did not light paint. The 2nd and 3rd exposures had different light painting. After the first three images were complete, I reviewed the light painting on the back of the camera. The interior and side of the car looked great in image #3, but there was a hot spot above the front grill. I did a fourth exposure of 3 minutes at f/8 to re-do the light painting on the front of the car. Below are all 4 images in Lightroom.

1966 Lincoln
1966 Lincoln

Here are the steps involved in post-processing the final image:

  • The first 3 images for stacking star trails were processed in Lightroom with identical settings
  • The 4th image was processed in Lightroom just for the light painting
  • On the top menu in Lightroom, I opened all four images into one file using: Photo -- Edit In -- Open as Layers in Photoshop
  • The 2nd and 3rd image were set to Lighten blending mode to stack the star trails
  • I selected the sky and made a layer mask on the second and third image to hide the light painting but keep the star trails
  • I added a layer mask to the 4th image, and filled it with black
  • Using a soft brush at 20% opacity, the light painting from the 3rd and 4th image was added using layer masks
  • A Selective Color adjustment layer was used to make subtle changes to the color of the car and also the sky

I hope this behind the scenes look at creating a light painted image with long star trails is helpful.

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