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Newport Harbor Night Sky with Fog by Guy Loughridge

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About This Gigapan

Taken by
Guy Loughridge Guy Loughridge
Explore score
Print Pricing
$6.00 to $871.00
0.06 Gigapixels
Date added
Jan 04, 2014
Date taken
Jan 03, 2014
landscape, long exposure, night

Taking night shots... A long learning curve.

Learning how to take both sunset shots and night shots has been a journey for me. I would enjoy getting your comments on this subject.

Night Shots - be sure to not underexpose:
I had multiple goals such as pinpoint stars and no grain in the final photo. For sunsets I wanted the deep colors and I wanted the foreground. At first all my long exposures were grainy. I found out that the grain was caused because my exposures were all underexposed. I was told to make sure that the histograms contained data that was not jammed up against the left side (the dark side). A color histogram is a representation of the distribution of colors in an image with back at the left and white at the right. That's about all I'll say right now because this concept is just, now, sinking into my own brain. So my pictures improved dramatically once I made sure that the night shots were not under exposed. I could verify that while taking the shot and looking at the histogram. One other thing... remember that there wont be much data in a night shot on the right side. That's because most of the data lives on the dark side of the histogram. You should aim for having at least some data everywhere. Remember the height of the curve at any point is only the total count of those colors. So you will have lots of black, etc. You will have less data to the right. Specular data, like street lights live on the right side but the total pixel count will be small because your picture is primarily composed of darkness with some specular data. (Sorry if my lingo is not spot on).

Sunsets - Use graduated neutral density filters:
I have been struggling with them for six months. The sun and the brightness of the sunset is very strong / intense. The foreground data is often very dark. Our human eyes see everything at both ends with no problems. A camera does not. So we stop down our cameras for the sun and sunset and that will cause us to lose the foreground. We open up for the foreground and we blow out the sunset. The problem is the immense dynamic range in the photo. The difference in F-Stop range might be 6, 9 or more stops of difference. Cameras cannot accommodate this huge dynamic range. So, initially, I found no solution and I was frustrated.

Graduated neutral density filters were part of the solution. I bought some Lee Filters (ND .9 soft grads) which darken the upper part of the sky by 3 stops for each filter. But that wasn't enough. I had to actually stack multiple ND .9 filters... sometimes I went so far as 3 filters... thus nine stops difference. I would expose for the foreground, and my photos started resolving more beautifully.

I am using a PhaseOne digital back which has a dynamic range of 13 stops. So in my photos I do have a distinct advantage over normal DSLRs. That's because typical digital SLRs have about half that much dynamic range... about six stops (3 each side of the center exposure value)

In short, by using Lee Filters the photos were much more manageable. I could slide my white recovery and black recovery sliders to tone down the highlights and recover the "blacks".

Attempts with HDR Software - Not what I wanted:
I have been told to take multiple shots and combine them in post using photoshop. So far I have only used the filters so I accomplish part of what I need in camera. I have also been told that there is a very narrow time window around sunset to take the photos. What I found out was that simply using my eye and finding that perfect time where the sky and the foreground were not too far apart in stops helped my photos a lot. Then, when I saw the optimal look and feel in the sunset all I had to do was use the filters to accommodate for the F-Stop range. This doesn't always work, because the sunset often look best when they have huge dynamic range. Those I an sure will be very difficult to capture using the inca,era approach with Lee Filters.

My solution is not perfect, but that makes photography fun. Nothing is ever perfect, but I really enjoy learning.

PS: If somebody has a nice workflow for combining multiple pictures in Photoshop then please let me know. I have Photomatix but so far I have had little success in automated HDR done in that software. The results are less than I have been looking for.

The take away for all of this for me was to make sure that the histograms had some data everywhere and to manage the dynamic range... somehow.

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