Category Archives: LowLight

PHOTOGRAPHING CAR LIGHT TRAILS

20170209_220453.jpg

When you are driving at night as a passenger on the highways all the different lights looks mesmerising if you really focus on it. If you are in the passenger seat with a lot of patience then you can capture the movement of the lights in relation to the car. This makes some dramatic photographs, even if the car you are in is travelling at a speed of 120 kilometres an hour. This section focuses on how to photograph light trails in a moving vehicle.

Note: DO NOT try this when you are driving yourself, but rather only do it when you are in the passenger seat of the vehicle

The following steps provide you with guidelines how to photograph the light trails from street lamps and other vehicles in a moving vehicle.

Step 1: Getting started – take your camera with, and get a patient driver to be your chauffeur for the drive at night on the highway.

Step 2: Make sure you have a fully charged battery as long exposure photographs uses a lot of battery power.

Step 3: Place your camera on the vehicles dashboard, without it being a visual obstruction to the driver

Step 4: Start driving

Step 5: Ive put my lens on auto focus, as there were a lot of lights onto which the camera can focus on. But if you find that your camera doesn’t wat to focus, then put in in manual focus mode and turn your focus ring until the image is crystal clear and in focus

Step 6: Take a test shot. Ensure that the photograph is in focus, and that the photograph is not over or under exposed.

Step 7: Take the photograph. Take as many as possible, as this will increase your chances of obtaining a brilliant photograph.

Step 8: Download the photographs, and enjoy it 

Settings

White Balance:  Change the white balance to Tungsten. Tungsten will compensate for the yellowish light being produced by the streetlights, and other types of lights on the highway.

Aperture: I would recommend setting your lens to the maximum aperture it can go to e.g. f/2.8 so that the maximum amount of detail captured by your camera.

Shutter speed: 2 seconds. I’ve used a slow shitter speed of 2 seconds to create a nice balance between the moving vehicle, oncoming streetlights and other moving vehicles. Due to your fast moving vehicle, the camera will capture long light trails.

ISO: Set the ISO to 100. The low ISO will assist you to capture as much as possible detail.

Focal length: Set your lens to 18mm to capture as much as possible of the scene in front of the vehicle,

Metering Mode: Centre Weighted Average

Exposure Compensation: Set your exposure compensation to -2.5 to compensate for the over exposure.

I have set the exposure compensation as well very dark, because the streetlights produces a lot of light, and it is easy for your camera to over expose the picture. Another way to compensate if your photograph is over exposed is to increase your ISO, so that there is less light captured onto the sensor, or change your aperture to a higher setting.t

How to Light Paint a Car

The following section will cover how to photograph a light painted car in low light conditions. A light painted car can create a very nice effect for your photograph, and something shiny you can show your friends.

 

STEP 1: Setup- your camera

STEP 2: Set the settings – Refer to the next page for the settings

STEP 3: Take a Test Photo

It is always important to take a test shot first to see if your composition and settings are correct. Thus click away and take your first photograph. When you completed review the photo and see if you have the correct composition and exposure in your photograph. If you are not happy then play around with the aperture, and move the ISO a little bit up by 400 and play around with shutter speed until you have the desired effect.

Step 4: Follow the steps as indicated on the right hand drawing:
STEP 5: View Playback

In playback make sure that all the Light painted car shots have pinpoint accuracy. If they are not very sharp then re-focus your lens until the ultimate sharpness can be obtained. If your photo is sharp then sit back and admire your first photograph.

 

 

Live View: Switch off the Live View functionality, as this will reduce your battery power.
Noise Reduction: Turn OFF your camera’s Long Exposure Reduction setting (consult your camera manual to do this).
Metering Mode: I always set my camera to spot metering for car shots, due to the amount of light emanating from the reflection on the car.
 White Balance: I would suggest setting your camera’s white balance to Auto White Balance, as this will give you flexibility if you want to edit your photo later on.
Aperture: I would recommend using a wide aperture range to increase the depth of field – from f/11 to f/13.
Shutter Speed: Set the shutter speed to 16 seconds. But allow yourself enough time to light-paint the car correctly
ISO: Set your camera to a low ISO (6400) – depending on your light. If you see the photograph is to white then change it to 3200.
Exposure notes: If you like controlling your camera’s settings then set your camera to M (Manual), but if you are not so confident then set your camera to TV (Time priority) and play around with your shutter speed. If your camera is in TV mode then it would allow you to change the ISO as well, thus I would suggest reading the next sections as well. If your camera is in M (Manual) then this will provide you with greater flexibility to set the right conditions to your favour.

How to create Sun Burst – Streaking Sun stripes

 

One of the most visually stunning effects that you can do as well in low-light or night time photography is to capture sun/moon or stars that creates stipes’ or bursts. This is when there are lines emanating from your subject which is not normally visible. These lines are in fact generated by using a low aperture. This article will explain to you why this is occurring and how to photograph the burst effect.

 

How to create Streaking Sun-Stripes

 

Explanation: When you decrease the size of your aperture, then the lens opening becomes smaller. Thus when your lens opening is very small and you photograph a bright light (sun, moon and other stars) then the bright light is then filtered according to the corners of the blades in your lens. Note: each lens have different amount of blades, thus different lenses crease different amount of lines.

 

How to: Use your normal camera settings as per the different subject, but use a low aperture: Aperture Small (F16-22). Note: Watch out for sunspots which are caused by the reflection f the bright object onto your lens

 

The same principle can be used on the moon or other Stars/ this can create a different mood or effect in your photograph which can be quite visually pleasing. You can incorporate the lens flare as well to create a specific effect, but this all depends on your personal preference

 

How to do a Night Time Panorama Photo

Overview

This guide will show you in easy steps how to stich photos together which you have taken from the night sky. I take a sequence of photos moving from left to right with 33% overlap of each; with the standard camera settings for Star Freeze (please refer to the related article). After I’ve taken the photos then I use an automatic stitching program to put the photos together.

Software to Use

Microsoft ICE: Software which provides automatic stitching – and it’s for free: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/um/redmond/projects/ice/

Step by Step How to Guide

Step 1: Start Microsoft Image Composite Editor
Step 2: And click on new Panorama from Images
Step 3: Select the files you want to stitch together
Step 4: Click on Next
Step 5: And select “Transverse Mercator” on right hand side
Step 6: Click on Next
Step 7: Select Autocomplete (to crop the correct frame)
Step 8: Save Image and enjoy it

How do you do: Light Painting

I would recommend to perform light-painting on one of your photographs. Light painting is the technique where you control the amount of light entering the camera which are emanating from an external source like a flashlight.

The major benefits is light painting is that you can add depth and control the shadows in ypur photographs. You control as well where in your scene the light must be pointed and what must be illuminated in your scene  that you have an photograph in which the foreground is perfectly exposed. If you do not use light painting thn your foreground will look black with no details, and if you overdo light painiting then everything comes out white, the trick is to practice to get te right amount of light.

1.1.1          Technique

I would suggest to carefully lighting the scene. You can do this by diffusing the light by standing far away from your subject, and flashing the light over the subject from different angles. Be careful of using too much or too little light. If you use too much light then your scene will be too white and harsh and when you use too little light your foreground scene will be too dark. Be careful of using too much light from the back of your camera as this will create a too harsh scene with too much light, but rather try and light your scene from the sides, and other angles.  Use matches as well to create a warmer feeling to your photograph, and do not stand too close to your subject, rather stand further away. Do not use a too bright light as this will easily cause overexposure. Be careful not to shine light from both sides as this will create fuzzy shadows. Use a white and red light for effects.

Direction
Painting Time
Keep Moving:
45 degrees to left OR right side do NOT shine light head on.
Paint no more than 10 seconds in 30 seconds photo.
Keep your lights moving like a paintbrush over the scene
Test Test Test
Indirect lighting:
Distance
Always take test photo and evaluate exposure
Shine through hand, matches or from sides. Bounce light off other surfaces
Not too close, around 10 meters behind scene
Don’t Overexpose
Not on Lens
Speed
Don’t shine the light source too long on your scene.
Don’t shine the light on your lens as this will cause flares.
Paint light slowly over scene (no longer than 2 second illumination at a time).

1.1.2          Light Painting Sources

Flashlight
Matches
Hand
You can use a torch to highlight your foreground landscape when you start taking your photograph.
Strike matches every 5-10 seconds in a 30 second photo to create a warm looking photo
Shine a light through your hand to diffuse some of the harsh light onto your scene

How to photograph City Lights at Night

Overview

This article will focus on how to photograph city lights. This is a relatively easy topic and easy to do with some stunning results.
 

Composition

What do you need?

The first step in taking great photographs is to obtain the correct gear and software. The following indicates the required gear and software with a short description of each:
Equipment
Description
A DSLR Camera
You will need a DSLR camera with Manual capability.
Manual capability will allow you to set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Ensure that your camera can operate in low light, and that it has adequate noise filters and ability to handle high ISO values. I personally prefer using Canon cameras.
A Wide angle Lens
You will require as well a good lens with the ability to set it to manual focus. Manual focus is required because the camera will not have the ability to focus automatically, and you would use manual focus to focus your star to pinpoint sharpness. It would be good if your lens has the ability to have fast-aperture wide-angle lens (ideally in the f/1.4 – f/2.8 max aperture range). I like to shoot in the 18mm range, and any lower mm range would be brilliant, as you would like to shoot as much as possible of the stars.
A Sturdy Tripod
You would require a sturdy tripod due to you shooting long exposures. Ensure as well that your tripod which will not shake when there is some wind.
Ensure as well that your tri-pod’s head can rotate horizontal and vertical. This will enable you to take landscape or portrait photographs.
A remote camera trigger
You would use the remote camera trigger to trigger your shutter without you touching the camera (avoiding camera shake), and to control the exposure time (ranging from a couple of seconds to a couple of hours) You can use as well an Intervalometer.
Flashlight
Ensure that you take along a good flashlight and headlamp. You will require the headlamp to see where you are going and to see the back of the camera when setting up. The lamp will as well be used to perform focusing your camera at low-light conditions.
Extra Batteries
Always take extra batteries with you, as taking photos over a long time period will drain your owner, and it will be a pity if you have to stop shooting because you do not have enough power with you. (No – red bull will not give your camera extra power :-))
Extra Memory Cards
Always take along an extra memory card. Especially if you shoot in RAW mode. Raw mode always eats up a lot of storage space, so it is better to have extra memory cards in your repository.
Chair
To have something to sit-on during the process
Patience
You would require a lot of patience capturing the perfect City Lights shot

 

Composing your photo

Mount your camera as well on the tri-pod and take a test photograph or two to ensure that you got your desired composition correct. Ensure that you place your tri-pod as well on a solid surface – which will ensure that your photograph comes out very sharp. Another tip is to connect a 2 litre water bottle to the bottom of your tri-pod (there is usually a hook onto where you can connect the water bottle) this will assist your tri-pod to become more stable. Connect as well your cable release, as this will ensure that there is no camera movement when you activate your shutter. Camera movement will cause your photos to display blurry, no matter how well you focus on your landscape and stars.

Make sure that you include the horizon or just the City Lights in your photo – thus think about what you want to photograph, and frame it then correctly.

Composition is one of the most important parts of shooting any type of photograph, and thus plans your photograph, and this will make the difference between a good photo and an awesome photograph.

Setting-up

This section will provide you with the technique for setting up (usually in a hurry or very fast) to photograph the City Lights

The following steps show you how to get ready:
1.       Connect your camera to your Tri-Pod
2.       Remove your camera-strap (the wind may cause the camera strap to move and thus have an negative effect on your camera)
3.       Connect your cable release to your camera
4.       Set your camera to M- Manual mode
5.       Set your camera to continuous shooting

TIP: If you’ve forgotten your remote trigger or cable release then you can do one of three things:
1.       Put your finger on the shutter for one hour – ouch
2.       Take an elastic band and an eraser (rubber) and rig the eraser on top of the shutter button
3.       Take masking tape and a small round rock and rig it on top of the shutter button
These solutions are not elegant but it works.

Check as we how you mounted your camera onto the Tri-Pod. You may need to change batteries during your photography session, and if the tri-pod mount is situated in front of the battery door then you will have to move the camera’s direction, and trust be you will never get the exact same direction of your camera again.

NOTE: When you mount your camera onto the tri-pod mount, then leave space open for you to open the battery door. 

Focusing

The next step is one of the most important parts: how to focus onto the night time scene. It is important to take the time to focus your photographs to pinpoint clarity, and it is one of the few times where you cannot rely on your camera’s autofocus system. Your camera’s auto focus system will not be able to focus on the City Lights – due to the speed of the City Lights.

Follow the following steps to focus on the scene for City Lights:
1.    If you have a UV filter fitted to your lens then remove it,
2.    Set your lens to MF (there are two options AF (Auto Focus) and MF (Manual Focus)),
3.    If your lens has image stabilization, then switch it off (the reason for this is: in the evening your lenses will constantly try to stabilize due to the low light conditions, and may soften your sharpness of your image),
4.    If your lens has the infinity symbol on the focus ring, (∞) then set move the focus to there. But if your lens do not have this setting then do not stress, just continue to the next step,
5.    Switch your camera’s live view on,
6.    Put a light source (your flashlight) approximately 7 meters in front of the camera,
7.    Point your camera to the light source,
8.    Zoom your lens out to the minimum (widest field e.g. 18mm) ,
9.    Turn your focus ring until you can see the stars with pinpoint accuracy,
10. Do not touch your lens again,
11. Point your camera to the City Lights and re-frame
Once you’ve achieved the perfect focus, and then lock your focus on your lens (another flip button on your lens. This will ensure that you have perfect focus for the whole evening’s photos. 

Note: For more information please refer to the following article: http://www.skyclik.blogspot.co.za/2016/04/time-lapse-how-to-focus.html

Camera Settings

Overview

The following guide will make it easier for you to get to the right setting for your camera, but you must always take test shots with different settings until you are happy with the outcome of your photo.

The three primary settings you should use is the ISO, Aperture and shutter speed. ISO, Aperture and shutter speed combination will determine the amount of light that gets captured, and it is essential that you get the combination right.

Some settings considerations:

Live View: Switch off the Live View functionality, as this will reduce your battery power.

Noise Reduction: Turn ON your camera’s Long Exposure Reduction setting (consult your camera manual to do this).
Metering Mode: I always set my camera to spot metering for City Lights shots, due to the amount of light emanating from the City Lights. Make always sure that you take your light metering on the City Lights, and then re-frame the shot according to your own criteria.

Primary Settings to set

White Balance: I would suggest setting your camera’s white balance to Auto White Balance, as this will give you flexibility if you want to edit your photo later on.

Aperture: I would recommend using a wide aperture range to increase the depth of field – from f/5 to f/7.1. I would first suggest using an aperture of f/5 and working your way slowly to f/11.

Shutter Speed: Set the shutter speed to 10 seconds if you see the scene is too bright then decrease the amount of time.

ISO: Set your camera to a low ISO (100) – depending on your light. The low ISO will compensate for the white of the City Lights, and would allow as well for lower noise levels.

Exposure notes: If you like controlling your camera’s settings then set your camera to M (Manual), but if you are not so confident then set your camera to TV (Time priority) and play around with your shutter speed. If your camera is in TV mode then it would allow you to change the ISO as well, thus I would suggest reading the next sections as well. If your camera is in M (Manual) then this will provide you with greater flexibility to set the right conditions to your favour. 

Taking a Test Photo

It is always important to take a test shot first to see if your composition and settings are correct. Thus click away and take your first photograph. When you completed review the photo and see if you have the correct composition and exposure in your photograph. If you are not happy then play around with the aperture, and move the ISO a little bit up to 400 and play around with shutter speed until you have the desired effect.

In playback make sure that all the City Lights shots have pinpoint accuracy. If they are not very sharp then re-focus your lens until the ultimate sharpness can be obtained. If your photo is sharp then sit back and admire your first photograph. 

Taking the photographs

Star taking your photographs, and make sure that you constantly check the focusing and framing of your photograph.

Conclusion

That is it in a nutshell!
As always please feel free to comment on the article.

How to photograph the Sunrise

Overview

If you wake up early or are an early-riser then there are some photographs which you can take of the Sky. Early morning is a brilliant time to take photographs as your options are brilliant, and you can get some dramatic effects without too much effort. But as per any magnificent photograph you need to do a bit of planning, with regards to where you what to photograph the sunrise, and setting your camera up with the ideal settings to capture the magical moment.

Sunrises usually last approximately twenty minutes, so your window of opportunity is small, thus check your weather application on your phone to see when sunrise would be, and deduct twenty minutes from it. This would then be your ideal time to take the photographs, and thus plan your morning around it, and scout the ideal location beforehand.

Composition

What do you need?

The first step in taking great sunrise photographs is to obtain the correct gear and software. The following indicates the required gear and software with a short description of each:
Equipment
Description
A DSLR Camera
You will need a DSLR camera with Manual capability.
Manual capability will allow you to set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Ensure that your camera can operate in low light, and that it has adequate noise filters and ability to handle high ISO values. I personally prefer using Canon cameras.
A Wide angle Lens
You will require as well a good lens with the ability to set it to manual focus. Manual focus is required because the camera will not have the ability to focus automatically, and you would use manual focus to focus your star to pinpoint sharpness. It would be good if your lens has the ability to have fast-aperture wide-angle lens (ideally in the f/1.4 – f/2.8 max aperture range). I like to shoot in the 18mm range, and any lower mm range would be brilliant, as you would like to shoot as much as possible of the stars.
A Sturdy Tripod
You would require a sturdy tripod due to you shooting long exposures. Ensure as well that your tripod which will not shake when there is some wind.
Ensure as well that your tri-pod’s head can rotate horizontal and vertical. This will enable you to take landscape or portrait photographs.
Chair
To have something to sit-on during the process
Patience
You would require a lot of patience capturing the perfect sunrise shot

 

Planning for your photograph

Planning in my opinion is one of the most important parts of taking low-light photographs, and thus planning your photograph of the sunrise forms an integral part of your photograph. Make sure that you have adequate foreground subjects to create some perspective in your photograph. 

Setting-up

This section will provide you with the technique for setting up (usually in a hurry or very fast) to photograph the Sunrise
The following steps show you how to get ready:
1.       Connect your camera to your Tri-Pod
2.       Remove your camera-strap (the wind may cause the camera strap to move and thus have an negative effect on your camera)
3.       Set your camera to M- Manual mode
4.       Set your camera to single shot shooting 

Focusing

You can set your lens to AF (Auto Focus as there is enough light coming in to your camera to focus on the sunrise.

Camera Settings

Overview

The following guide will make it easier for you to get to the right setting for your camera, but you must always take test shots with different settings until you are happy with the outcome of your photo.

I would recommend using a wide focal length, as this will increase your visibility of the landscape or seascape in your photographs.

To get dramatic red-colours in your photograph, aim your camera to the sky, click your shoot button half way so that the camera focus on the sky. Move your camera downwards towards the sunrise, and then press your shutter button fully down and take the photograph. Important note: Don’t stare into the sun as this will cause blindness, and even more so via your viewfinder as this have a magnifying effect. After you have taken your photograph then view it in the playback, and evaluate it. Things to look for in your evaluation is: 1. is your white balance correct (via your histogram), 2. Is your horizon level, 3. Is there enough detail in your photograph?

I usually use a wide focal length at sunrise to ensure that I can get as much as possible (e.g. 18mm) of the sunrise in my frame, but this is a personal preference as there would be scenarios where you would use a more focused shot where you want to have the sun a lot larger, because at 18mm the sun would be extremely small.

Some settings considerations:

Live View: Switch off the Live View functionality, as this will reduce your battery power.

Noise Reduction: Turn On your camera’s Long Exposure Reduction setting (consult your camera manual to do this).

Metering Mode: Set your camera’s metering mode to centre weighted average, as this will increase the amount of reds in your camera, thus first try to focus on a ‘red’ region. Then move your camera to the sunrise and take the photograph.

Manual or AV: If you like controlling your camera’s settings then set your camera to M (Manual), but if you are not so confident then set your camera to AV (Aperture priority) and play around with your f-stop. If your camera is in AV mode then it would allow you to change the ISO as well, thus I would suggest reading the next sections as well. If your camera is in M (Manual) then this will provide you with greater flexibility to set the right conditions to your favour.

There is no one “right” setting to take sunrise photo, as your light conditions changes constantly. And the following sections will provide you with a guide how to get the ideal settings. 

Primary Settings to set

White Balance: White balance is always a sensitive are, and if you are shooting in RAW and going to edit your photographs later on then I would skip this section.

I would suggest setting your camera’s white balance to tungsten (3200K) as this will give your photograph a warmer feeling, which brings the red’s in your photograph more to the front. But my wife likes to set the white balance to cloudy (even if there are no clouds) and this generates more dramatic colours in your photograph. I will leave this decision over to you, to determine your own preference.

Aperture: I would recommend using a wide aperture range to increase the depth of field – from f/7.1 to f/16. I would first suggest using an aperture of f/16 and working your way slowly down to f/7.1. This will allow you to evaluate the depth of field to take into account any of your foreground objects in relation to your background (sunrise) and how it affects your focus of the different objects.

Shutter Speed: It is essential that you use a tri-pod for shooting sunrises, as this will assist your camera in shooting photos in low light, and with would allow you to take photos at the correct ISO and shutter speed. I usually use a shutter speed of 1/30 to compensate for the f/16 aperture and high ISO levels.

ISO: Set your camera to a low ISO – depending on your light. The higher the ISO the more noise levels there will be in your photo. Thus I would not recommend that you set your ISO higher than 400, but keep it in the range of between 100 and 200. If there is some clouds in the sky where your scene gets darker, then only I would suggest to set your ISO between 400 and 800

Exposure notes: If you like controlling your camera’s settings then set your camera to M (Manual), but if you are not so confident then set your camera to TV (Time priority) and play around with your shutter speed. If your camera is in TV mode then it would allow you to change the ISO as well, thus I would suggest reading the next sections as well. If your camera is in M (Manual) then this will provide you with greater flexibility to set the right conditions to your favour.

Some additional types of photos

Some additional ideas for taking sunrise photographs are:
·         Silhouette Photo
·         Photos of Trees
·         Rising Sun
·         Misty Landscape 

Silhouette Photo

Take a silhouette photo of animals:
Setting
Value
Exposure Time
1/200
Aperture
f/5.6
ISO
500
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

Setting
Value
Exposure Time
1/200
Aperture
f/8
ISO
100
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

Photos of Trees

Take a photo of trees as your primary focus:
Setting
Value
Exposure Time
1/640
Aperture
f/6.3
ISO
250
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

Setting
Value
Exposure Time
1/320
Aperture
f/5.6
ISO
100
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

Misty Landscape

Take a photograph of the early morning mist:
Setting
Value
Exposure Time
1/640
Aperture
f/10
ISO
100
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D

 

Setting
Value
Exposure Time
1/640
Aperture
f/10
ISO
100
Exposure Bias
0-step
Lenses
18mm
Camera
Canon
Model
760D