Friday, December 17, 2010

Night Photography - Part 1 - The gloaming

I really like the term "the gloaming". A friend recently introduced me to it when she saw some of the shots I will cover here. Some photographers call it the magic hour. The time between sunset and dark. There is always a moment when the light falling on your subject and the sky light are equal. This works especially well with artificially lit things like buildings or for flash photographs of people. The photos here were of buildings.

I start at about the time of sunset. In the winter I am setting up a little after 4:30 for 4:50 sunset time. I compose my shot on a tripod and then capture every two or three minutes for up to an hour until the sky is getting no darker. I set a fairly small shutter. f/8 or f/11. Then I make sure the focus is right and set it on manual. The autofocus tends to lose its mind if it gets too dark. I find it best to set the camera to aperture priority starting out and look at the histogram to make sure the shutter speed is capturing all the light and not clipping the shadows or highlights. Occasionally if you have a bright light nearby, you will get a completely clipped light. That is ok. Just make sure you won't get a flair on the lens from a light too close.

I also bracket the shots two stops. Exposing extra light and extra dark in case I want to use HDR on an image. It also is a safety in case I need to switch to the higher exposure later.

At just after sunset 5:01 PM, the shot looked like this.
5:01 PM, f/8, 1/2 sec, ISO 100

Notice how the sky is a little blown out. I expose for the building here. You want the exposure to remain relatively consistent in all the shots. So the shutter speed keeps getting longer as the light fades. In the next shot, 12 minutes later, the sky does not look that much different. We keep having to increase the shutter time to keep the building properly exposed. At this point all the lights are on, but they have not caught up to the ambient yet.
5:14 pm, f/8, 4 seconds, ISO 100

Another 12 minutes later at 5:26, the shutter time is out to 15 seconds. The building is still nicely exposed and the sky is starting to darken.
5:26 pm, f/8, 15 seconds, ISO 100

Now things happen really fast. Since most of the light on the building is artificial, you don't need to increase the shutter time any more to keep it properly exposed. I open up another stop to 30 seconds and get lucky when a plane flies over, leaving a pattern in the sky as it is almost dark. This is the shot I have been waiting for. 5:37 pm, f/8, 30 seconds, ISO 100

I keep shooting until it is almost completely dark. Here is the last shot at 6:46. The same exposure as the winner above. Notice how the building edges barely separate from the sky and now the the artificial lights dominate the shot.
5:46 pm, f/8, 30 seconds, ISO 100

I have put together a video with 8 of these transitions. You can view it by clicking here.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Self Portraits

I have never really done a whole lot of self-portrait work. I had an assignment where I needed 8 shots. I did not want to do 8 variations on the same shots, so I came up with several ideas. I tried to show different parts of my personality and some of the different roles I play in life. It made me realize how many more I could do. The other big upside about being the model, is that you don't have to worry about the model's time or them wearing out before you do.

The biggest challenge is probably getting the image framed and the focus correct. For focus, I would auto focus on something that I knew was the same distance from the camera as my eyes, then lock it into manual. For framing it was a bit of shoot and chimp (looking at the screen on the camera). It gave me a good appreciation for those doing this on a film camera.

The image above was the first I shot. Pretty conservative, I juiced it up by replacing the blue sky with a cloudy one from another shot and then running a high pass filter and reducing the opaqueness in photoshop. The second shot was on the same day. I decided instead of getting on top of the picnic table, I would get under it. Something unexpected. (Baby steps of daring.) I added the color green to the concrete table and complimentary magenta to the background to create a little tension.

I have always admired the work of Chuck Close, so I decided to do a closeup head shot. (Below) I used a very narrow depth of field, using my 85mm 1.8 lens. I focused on my eyes and wanted as much of the rest out of focus as possible. Light was provided by an alien bees ring flash, the light is so small in my eyes because of the distance from the camera. I ran this through the high pass filter in photoshop to make my imperfections stand out, not too difficult.

The shot below was at the same session as the Chuck Close. I put my glasses back on and put a red filter on the flash, an Alien Bees Ring Flash. Notice how the red filter gets rid of the imperfections. The downward gaze makes this more contemplative.

As I was setting up for a shot I would call the consumer, I was playing around with long exposure and multiple poses. This one was all done in camera. A 4 second exposure. I held for half the shot looking at the camera with my legs crossed. Then, for the second half, I looked out the window and put both feet on the floor. This used a AB800 flash with a softbox, mostly for fill. The key light was camera right from the window.

Below is the one I call The Consumer. It is my favorite. I almost did not submit it. Probably because I was a little embarrassed how much money I have spent on stuff over the years. That pain is probably why it is the most effective shot. For lighting, I used a AB800 with softbox on the camera right. Another AB800 is bounced off the white ceiling to fill the shadows and light the shelf behind. I darkened the lamp in photoshop. (You can see this image bigger by clicking on it, if you really need to see the prices.) The shot after it is the same shot, without the words and with a blue filter on the fill light off the ceiling. It has a totally different feel.
The last two are studio shots with a little more concept. The guitar has always been something I liked but never really mastered. At least I knew enough to make an acceptable chord with my left hand. I had a AB800 with softbox for the main light, camera right. An AB800 above and behind with a red filter. A white poster board behind subject and to camera left to put a little rimlight on my right sleeve.
Last, I did a studio shot with identical lighting to above, except a blue filter on the back light. I call it Cut with The Past. It is meant to symbolize how I am changing my life by switching careers at age 50. I sat on the floor to take the shot of the severed head, using a green filter. I am not totally happy with the result, but it is my first try at doing something like this.