Non herp photo advice+tips

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Antonsrkn
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Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by Antonsrkn » February 5th, 2013, 10:53 pm

Hey all this is my first time posting in a while, I just spent a month in Ecuador and have a ton of images that I'm sorting through. One night I got distracted from herping and started trying to get some cool landscape shots in the middle of the night. This proved to be a fun little learning experience for me as I had never really tried anything like that before. I was a bit handicapped by the fact that I don't have a tripod, so I mostly balanced the camera on fence posts, holding the camera isn't an option with 30 sec exposures haha. I got some shots I am reasonably happy with, but I will admit they are "beginner" shots and that there is alot that can doubtless be improved about them. I started wondering what I could have or should have done differently and it occurred to me that this would be a great place to ask. So go ahead and tear my photos apart, whats wrong with them? What should I have done if I knew what I was doing? What should I do next time? Also if you should happen to have anything nice to say about them, I probably wouldn't mind hearing that either :)

Here are a few I liked.
Image
(shutter speed, Aperture, ISO)
30s f/4.2 ISO 400

Image
30s f/5.7 ISO 400

Image
30s f/5.1 ISO 400

And just to reiterate, I'm looking for critique/tips/feedback on my nightime landscapes and any general advice on landscape photography at night is also more than welcome!

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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by bgorum » February 6th, 2013, 7:17 am

I think it's great that you are experimenting. As far as critique goes I personally don't like all of the blackness in the foreground. Negative space is one of those things that can be difficult to use well. I think I would probably crop all the shots a little from the bottom. Another option would be to invest in a good tripod and try HDR or blending of two different exposures using layers in photoshop in order to get some detail in the shadow areas. Of course this is all just my opinion and the really important thing is to keep experimenting and figuring out what you like in these kinds of pictures and how to reliably reproduce that.

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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by bgorum » February 6th, 2013, 7:20 am

Just went back and looked at the shots again and you do have some detail in the foreground. I'm using my ipad now and didn't see that the first time through. I think some lightly cooked HDR would have worked well on these.

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Antonsrkn
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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by Antonsrkn » February 7th, 2013, 9:19 am

Awesome thanks for the input! HDR is something I have been meaning to try my hand at for some time now but I don't know the first thing about it so its a little intimidating, I'll stop making excuses and just go for it. If there is anything I should know about HDR photography before starting, please share. I'm sure there are 100s of tutorials online about HDR so I'll start reading up, I'm pretty much starting at ground level with this so I have alot of reading to do!

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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by Soopaman » February 7th, 2013, 5:17 pm

Antonsrkn wrote:Awesome thanks for the input! HDR is something I have been meaning to try my hand at for some time now but I don't know the first thing about it so its a little intimidating, I'll stop making excuses and just go for it. If there is anything I should know about HDR photography before starting, please share. I'm sure there are 100s of tutorials online about HDR so I'll start reading up, I'm pretty much starting at ground level with this so I have alot of reading to do!
I've done it for a few herp photos. The free programs available weren't very good, or weren't very intuitive. Luminance HDR has good reviews, but everything I ran through it looked way overcooked, though I believe this was mainly due to my lack of knowledge on how to use it properly.

I ended up getting Photomatix HDR. The trial version puts a watermark on the photos, but you can see if you're able to get the effects you like. HDR has some bad press, but if done properly you end up with some really fantastic photographs.

I think it's really effective in night photographs. These shots are "okay" but could be bright up a few notches with long exposure noise reduction, lowering the ISO, and experimenting with HDR a bit.

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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by bgorum » February 7th, 2013, 7:21 pm

I use HDR a lot for landscapes and sometimes for herps. If you search my post any of my pictures that have a filename ending in "tonemapped" or "fused" are HDR. I also use Photomatix software. The trick in my opinion is to only use the technique to increase dynamic range. I don't really care for the artificial looking effects that some people use HDR to achieve. Of course a lot of other people think those effects are really cool, c'est la vie!

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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by fvachss » February 7th, 2013, 8:04 pm

Nightscape photography can be lots of fun. If you have a decent moon to work with then the lighting looks a lot like sunlight only needing maybe 12 stops more exposure (i.e. foreground/background illumination can look daylight-ish).

In some of the OP's shots it appears he's working without a moon. In that case it can take a LOOONG exposure to get a reasonable amount of apparent foreground illumination, but a cheap trick that sometimes works is just to briefly sweep your headlamp across the terrain during the exposure. If you're at typical night exposures (f/2.8 or less, ISO 1600+, 10s or longer exposure) you'd be surprised how much terrain you can light up with a headlamp, but be careful not to overdo it and wash out the near field.

One other quick trick: In nightscapes you'll often want sharp starfields and you'll also likely be shooting near wide open with very shallow depth of field. In dark conditions AF is often unreliable, but finding a bright star or the moon and using live view with 10x mag allows for accurate manual focus on infinity. I once wasted a perfect night shooting opportunity by missing focus on the stars (this was before live view) so I'm really careful about it now.

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Antonsrkn
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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by Antonsrkn » February 8th, 2013, 12:14 pm

Thanks for taking the time to respond everyone!
The free programs available weren't very good, or weren't very intuitive
Fortunately, I don't have to look around for programs, I have photoshop available to me. I don't know how to use it for HDR but I'll stick with it and learn the ropes.
I don't really care for the artificial looking effects that some people use HDR to achieve.
Generally, I agree but I have to admit I have seen a few artificial looking images that were pretty breathtaking. I'll try all kinds of things to see what I like but yeah I think I'll try to make them look as natural as possible.
In some of the OP's shots it appears he's working without a moon. In that case it can take a LOOONG exposure to get a reasonable amount of apparent foreground illumination, but a cheap trick that sometimes works is just to briefly sweep your headlamp across the terrain during the exposure. If you're at typical night exposures (f/2.8 or less, ISO 1600+, 10s or longer exposure) you'd be surprised how much terrain you can light up with a headlamp, but be careful not to overdo it and wash out the near field.
Youre right there was no moon that night. I tried to use the headlamp trick to illuminate nearby areas, I also tried working with flash to freeze the motion of something nearby (a cow). It was all fun and good learning but those shots didn't turn out as well for various reasons. But its definitely something I need to keep working on. The ISO i kept at 400 because I was worried about all the noise and stuck pixels that pop up with a higher ISO, whats the best way for increasing the ISO and keeping the stuck pixels and noise to a minimum?

You bring up another point I had some trouble with, on a different occasion I tried to get some night landscapes with the moon included. My problem was that I could either pick to have details in the landscape but the moon was completely burnt out and alot of the clouds nearby were as well, due to the moon being so much brighter than everything else. Or I could have the moon look reasonable but the entire landscape be very dark. This is where HDR and combining multiple images would come in handy, but is there any way I can counteract this effect initially while taking the photo? I couldn't think of anything while I was playing around with it, but i'm far from an expert.

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Kevin Price
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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by Kevin Price » February 8th, 2013, 2:13 pm

Antonsrkn,
Good for you! I really like shooting night shots with different types of lighting and exposures, but I always use a tripod. You should look into getting one. I have a few for different types of shooting; one is heavy and very stable, another is good for hiking and attaches onto my backpack and for traveling. I don’t know what type of camera you were using at the time of your photos, but I like your shots. They would be better if exposed for a little longer. The foreground would pop out a little more, but otherwise no problem.

I liked your comments about using a headlight and flash. HDR would work but you would have to make several exposures at much different values, and then combine them in a program later on. I do shoot with HDR in mind at times and use NIK Software’s HDR Efex Pro, but I’ve never done a completely dark night HDR shot. I’ve used something else called ‘painting with light’ and it’s a lot of fun. I have a camera that allows me to leave the shutter open as long as I like, and when mounted on a tripod, you can have an exposure of as long as you wish, an hour if so desired. I’ve fully illuminated an entire park at night using just a flash (a bright flashlight will also work) by having my camera mounted on a tripod, shutter left open in B mode (Bulb) and walking while flashing the ‘test’ button on my flash (or turning the flashlight on and off). You may have to do this a hundred times or more to illuminate the scene you’re shooting especially if it's large. The camera never picks up your movements, only the flash of light. You are basically invisible to the camera.

Here’s two examples I did several years ago (for some reason I can’t find anything I’ve done more recently). I had my camera on a tripod with the shutter left open and I walked around the entire pool area flashing the strobe at everything I wanted illuminated. The palm trees in the foreground took many flashes to ‘paint’ light all along the entire trunk and fronds. This I did as well with the roof structure over the water. All of the light seen was from my portable flash. In a couple of spots you can see the flash; along the far left post you can see a white spot, as well as spots in the water.

Image

This shot took several minutes to complete and probably over two hundred flashes at least. The sky filled in due to the long exposure on my camera; in fact I could not tell that there were clouds in the sky when I started, it was just black. When painting with light you need to make sure that the flash, or flashlight, is never directed back toward the camera (unlike my shot above). The rest is easy.

In this shot my son is moving a flashlight in his hands while walking back and forth in front of the camera and turning the light on and off. At the time we had no idea what the light would look like, but after the shot I really liked the strange effects. You can't even see my son in the image.

Image

I started doing this with film and having to use a black piece of cardboard to hold over the lens in between flashes in large areas, as well as having someone else either hold the cardboard or walk with the flash. Digital makes this so much more fun. Also, I always shoot at my lowest ISO setting and for me it’s 100 ISO. I set the aperture to a fairly small setting; such as f8 or f11, (on really dark moonless nights I'll open it up more) to show a fairly large depth of field. The only light is what you use and you can take as long as you want. If you start blending painting with light with, say ambient moonlight, then you may have to do a little trial and error to get what you want. Digital’s free so tear it up.

Next time you have available at night go to a park or even your backyard, set up your camera on something steady if you don’t have a tripod, set your camera to have the shutter open at its longest setting if it doesn’t have “B” mode, and start flashing a flash or flashlight all along the ground to illuminate the ground, the sky will fill in by itself. Use different color lights for different effects as well as leaving the light on continuously. You’ll soon see what works and what doesn’t, but it’s fun and rewarding.

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Antonsrkn
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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by Antonsrkn » February 10th, 2013, 9:40 am

Awesome! Kevin, thats a really creative approach to getting images...I like it! I will definitely try some of those techniques, i don't know if my camera is able to keep its shutter open indefinitely like that but its time to go fish out the manual and take a look, i hope so. Thanks for taking the time to put that together, it was really helpful!

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Re: Non herp photo advice+tips

Post by vincemartino » February 10th, 2013, 12:54 pm

Antonsrkn wrote:Awesome! Kevin, thats a really creative approach to getting images...I like it! I will definitely try some of those techniques, i don't know if my camera is able to keep its shutter open indefinitely like that but its time to go fish out the manual and take a look, i hope so. Thanks for taking the time to put that together, it was really helpful!
Hopefully your camera is compatible with an infrared remote or wired trigger. You can set the shutter speed to bulb and then use this. Not having some sort of remote shutter release button will almost always result in a blurred photo no matter how nimble you think you may be haha.

Here is a nightime(well more like dusk) long exposure I took the other day using my infrared remote:
Image
dreary killgore by BermudaErn, on Flickr

20 sec | f/22 | 18mm | iso 200

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