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Thread: Night Photography and People

  1. #1

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    Night Photography and People

    I went to the carnival with a friend of Friday and took my first serious night shots as well as some longer exposures. I'm not sure if I am understanding exposure correctly as I am a bit confused. Here are three different shots with people in them with my thoughts and questions:

    All shots were taken in manual mode with a tripod.

    This image doesn't have the crispness of the other two and is generally noisier. I believe that some of this has to do with the longer shutter speed but I am wondering if f16 was a bad decision? I expected the background building to be sharper with that exposure while still capturing the movement in the lights of the Ferris wheel?
    F16 .4sec ISO 100

    Night Photography and People

    I'm reasonably happy with this image quality (a bit iffy on composition though) as I like the crispness of the people who cooperated and stayed relatively still . This met the goal of capturing everything with minimal movement but I wonder if a different exposure would have worked better (this is the shortest shutter speed of the three)?
    F8 1/8sec ISO 100

    Night Photography and People

    This one is the crispest (although downsizing did add a fair bit of noise) with the nicest light despite having a longer shutter speed than the others? I'm confused
    F8 .8sec ISO 100

    Night Photography and People

    Overall, I would appreciate any and all feedback but would be especially appreciative for any focused on the subject of the exposure triangle and shooting at night. If I am not identifying the correct problem then please enlighten me...

    Thank you!

  2. #2
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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Sorry, I can't answer any of your questions.. However, I think your photos are lovely. I like the 2nd photo the best, I think because of the colour (it pops) and the composition.

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Shane,

    Nice images. Your camera was able to capture as much light as possible, you can see blurred edges where the carnival goers were moving. All of the stationary objects look pretty sharp. Was there another light source directly behind you?

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Hi Shane,

    First let me say these are not bad at all, any of them.

    However, and this may be a 'terminology thing', I am confused by some of your statements, as may some others, who then may give inappropriate advice - so I think it is helpful to explore the use of the correct terminology.

    To me "exposure" is the combination of all the three sides of the exposure triangle;
    Aperture (primarily to control Depth of Field - DoF)
    Shutter Speed (primarily to control motion portrayal)
    ISO (primarily just a means to get the values we want for the other two)
    This should result in an image that is 'just right' in terms of brightness, not things like how blurred movement is or how sharp distant things are.

    As shown here, the exposures all look pretty good to me, they're not too dim, or exhibiting unduly blown highlights, so I would not change the "exposures" - although we might usefully tweak some individual elements of it.

    Of #1, you say;
    This image doesn't have the crispness of the other two and is generally noisier. I believe that some of this has to do with the longer shutter speed but I am wondering if f16 was a bad decision? I expected the background building to be sharper with that exposure while still capturing the movement in the lights of the Ferris wheel?
    If you shot #1 at f/16 at 31mm on a DX camera (Nikon D40), I agree (without looking it up on a DoF calculator) - I would expect the second stall to be sharper - although it is called "Soft Pretzels"

    This makes me wonder if you made the best use of the available DoF at f/16 and begs the question; what did you focus on?

    If I had tried shooting this, I would focus on say the word "Popcorn" or "Candied" towards the back end of the first building. If you focused in the obvious place, the centre of the image as we see it now, that would be the closest part of the structure and would 'waste' a lot of your DoF on the empty space in front of the stall. If you need more detail on this, just ask; "why?".

    Of #2, you say:
    This met the goal of capturing everything with minimal movement but I wonder if a different exposure would have worked better (this is the shortest shutter speed of the three)?
    F8 1/8sec ISO 100
    I think you really mean a shorter shutter speed, achieved through use of a higher iso, giving the same exposure, but the effect you wanted; a sharper image because people would have moved less if the shutter speed had been faster than 1/8s.


    Of #3, you say;
    This one is the crispest (although downsizing did add a fair bit of noise) with the nicest light despite having a longer shutter speed than the others? I'm confused
    F8 .8sec ISO 100
    The bits that are liable to be moving are quite a bit further away in this one and that helps, plus it may have been chance; ferris wheels and roundabouts/carousels stop to let people on and off, is it possible this helped?

    You shot them all at iso100, so none of them should be particularly 'noisy' - unless you are adjusted brightness/exposure upwards during in PP, and/or cropped any significantly.

    Finally, downsizing (alone) can only reduce noise, not increase it, so if you think it is increasing noise, either what you are seeing isn't what I'd describe as noise, or there is something else going on when you "downsize" (perhaps some automatic sharpening?)

    Overall, I would appreciate any and all feedback but would be especially appreciative for any focused on the subject of the exposure triangle and shooting at night. If I am not identifying the correct problem then please enlighten me...
    Shane, you definitely have an instinct for an artistic shot and you know roughly what to do, you're perhaps a bit fuzzy on the technicalities at the moment, but we can help with that. I just hope I haven't been too pedantic and put you off, that's the last thing I want to do.

    Hope that helps,

  5. #5
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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Shane, all of what Dave has stated is correct and i have little to add other than it may well be possible that you have reached the limit of your lens performance. All lens's have an optimum aperture and it normally sits between F5 & F8 so your F16 shot where you are disappointed could be diffraction of your lens.

    I notice that you shot the image at 31mm and given that value your depth of field at F16 would run from 1.8m at the nearest to infinity at the furthest this means that anything more than 1.8m away from you should have acceptable focus, BUT this assumes that you are 5 m away from your focus point. Heres a link to an on line DOF calculator, have a play with it and look at how your DOF changes relative to the other values that you set http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

    try pushing up your ISO 3 stops to 800 and using this to reduce your aperture or increase your shutter speed. you have 3 very good images there and i would be happy with them if they were mine

    Hope that helps.

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Thanks to everyone for your kind comments. I am very appreciative of this community and its very helpful and supportive members .

    John, the light behind me came from what I guess you would call the carnival midway (where the games are located) but was not a direct source rather just a residual glow that was fairly bright.

    Martin, it may very well be the case that I have reached the limits of my lens performance as I was using the 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera. If I am not mistaken D40X has a pretty small sensor (10mp) and I am not sure I would be happy with the results at ISO800 (I have taken some shots at ISO 400 that seem pretty noisy to me). Thank you for the information on DoF and the link - I will be sure to take a look at those.

    Dave, your detailed response is very helpful (not at all pedantic) and I appreciate your terminology corrections. I do have some follow up questions though:

    #1
    This makes me wonder if you made the best use of the available DoF at f/16 and begs the question; what did you focus on?
    I did focus where I was aiming and I think that this means I need to learn how to use the auto focus/exposure lock button on my camera (at least I know it's there )? Back to the manual for me as I am used to locking everything in hand held by pressing the shutter halfway and then recomposing the shot. Am I on the right track here?

    #2 A shorter shutter speed is what I was looking for and I will try increasing the ISO to accomplish this in the future.

    #3
    You shot them all at iso100, so none of them should be particularly 'noisy' - unless you are adjusted brightness/exposure upwards during in PP, and/or cropped any significantly.
    I didn't adjust the exposure on any of the shots in ACR however I did add some clarity and vibrance, in the neighborhood of +50 and +20 respectively for each image. ACR imports images with a default brightness of +50 and contrast of +25 and in the first two images as was at or below those numbers when I finished the edit. All had a variation of a strong contrast S-curve apllied to them in ACR and minimal editing in Photoshop with the exception of some LCE and sharpening.

    However, on #3 I increased the contrast to +32 and on that image I also increased the shadows via the parametric curve in ARC by +32. Is the latter what is causing the increased noise/lack of crispness in the people?
    Last edited by ShaneS; 25th March 2013 at 02:05 AM.

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Quote Originally Posted by ShaneS View Post
    Thanks to everyone for your kind comments. I am very appreciative of this community and its very helpful and supportive members .

    John, the light behind me came from what I guess you would call the carnival midway (where the games are located) but was not a direct source rather just a residual glow that was fairly bright.
    Shane,

    I mentioned the other light source because as you can see some of the carnival goers and objects are well lit on the side where they face you, while others are more in shadow. Since you didn't use flash, the illumination had to come from either reflected light or a faint direct light source. I think this additional source of illumination is what kept your carnival goers from looking like silhouettes.
    Last edited by Dave Humphries; 29th March 2013 at 08:41 PM.

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Quote Originally Posted by ShaneS View Post
    (...)
    However, on #3 I increased the contrast to +32 and on that image I also increased the shadows via the parametric curve in ARC by +32. Is the latter what is causing the increased noise/lack of crispness in the people?
    And that can very well have caused extra noise to become visible. Noise is always present when you take the image, but in a well exposed image at low ISO settings it's below the visibility level (if only because the lowest 4 bits are collapsed into the same values when going from the sensor's 12-bit depth to the screen's 8-bit). But if you increase the shadow brightness by a significant factor you will end up with noise become visible; you amplify the signal, but also the noise. If on top of that you add a bit of aggressive sharpening, you will see the noise even better.

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Thanks Remco. After reading and thinking through the other comments I believe the culprit was the increased shadow brightness. I may go back and experiment on the image to see if dodging the area or a selective increase in exposure will be an improvement or just a different way of achieving the same end result . It will be a good PP exercise for me.

    I guess I needed more of that side lighting that John was referring to in his earlier comment!

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    With shots like this you really need to decide in advance what you want the outcome to be so that you can make the best compromises (and it WILL be a compromise).

    - You can shoot at base ISO and at a moderate aperture to get low noise and a good DoF, but you'll need a long shutterspeed - and that in turn will give motion blur when people are present.

    - You can stick with base ISO but use a wider aperture to let more light in (and thus have a higher shutterspeed), but your DoF will suffer (although may be acceptable if you focus correctly).

    - You can increase the ISO and enjoy a faster shutterspeed and a narrower aperture - but - shooting at high ISOs decreases the sensor's dynamic range thus reducing the normal exposure safety margins - which (in English) means you CANNOT afford to under-expose the shot at high ISOs.

    Generally - at high ISO settings - people DO under-expose considerably (usually by a couple of stops). Usually noise is only visible if people under-expose and then reveal the noise when they try to compensate for the under-exposure by increasing the levels in post-processing.

    In the example you gave, I'd have used a MUCH higher ISO - and whatever aperture I needed that resulted in a shutterspeed sufficient to kill any subject motion (in fact probably a burst of shots so that I could mix and match portions of the scene).

    With high-contrast scenes like this (with point light sources) the camera will typically under-expose (trying to protect the highlight) - the best thing you can do is to adjust the exposure so that midtones look about right.

    An HDR bracket would probably have worked well also.

    Does the "noise" in either of these shots really ruin the shot (both were shot at ISO3200 on a camera that's not renowned for great high ISO performance by todays standards) (click for bigger/.better view).

    Night Photography and People
    Night Photography and People
    Or this one at ISO 1600?

    Night Photography and People
    Last edited by Colin Southern; 26th March 2013 at 08:54 AM.

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Thank you for a detailed description of the compromises to be made in situations like this Colin. It makes a lot of sense and is something that I will apply in future attempts at night photography. One quick question though, my camera does not have automatic bracketing and to my thinking it would be very difficult to do manually with moving people and then try to combine the images later (due to the movement)...am I wrong in this line of thinking?

    To answer your question regarding the images that you presented I have to say that the noise is not an issue. In fact, I think it enhances the first but how did you get the plane so sharp?

  12. #12

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Quote Originally Posted by ShaneS View Post
    Thank you for a detailed description of the compromises to be made in situations like this Colin. It makes a lot of sense and is something that I will apply in future attempts at night photography. One quick question though, my camera does not have automatic bracketing and to my thinking it would be very difficult to do manually with moving people and then try to combine the images later (due to the movement)...am I wrong in this line of thinking?

    To answer your question regarding the images that you presented I have to say that the noise is not an issue. In fact, I think it enhances the first but how did you get the plane so sharp?
    Hi Shane,

    You're welcome.

    Sorry, when I said "bracket" of shots - in this situation - I was meaning "burst" of shots. ie multiple images at the same setting. Case in point ...

    You have a high-contrast scene (like yours) - you want to have a relatively narrow aperture for good DoF - and this gives you a relatively low shutter speed (say, 1 second) - and you have people moving through the scene (not many, but enough not to be able to get a "clean shot"). In this situation - assuming you have your camera tripod mounted - you can take a burst of shots (manually triggered and in manual exposure mode). Done right, the ONLY thing that'll change between frames is things that move (ie the people) - so if you have enough shots you can just stack a couple - erase the portion of an image with a pesky person in it (revealing the portion of the image behind it that doesn't have that person) - flatten the image - and then repeat as necessary with another frame in the sequence.

    Noise doesn't have to be an issue at all - it's only an issue when people pixel-peep at 100% - and that's just not the way people look at images in the real world. The "Light Work" image pushed the technology to the very limit ... my go-to EF70-200mm F2.8L IS USM II lens was being repaired (cough, 2nd time, cough) and the "weapon of choice" in my bag was an EF85mm F1.2: USM II - so I maxed out the ISO (3200 on that camera) - maxed out the aperture on the lens - and worked out that I needed about 1/20th shutterspeed. I knew that an aircraft landing at around 100mph - not very far away wasn't going to have it's motion frozen by 1/20th sec - so I loosened up the ball head on the tripod and panned the camera whilst shooting a burst of shots (that's why the runway lights have motion blur) - and the shot you see is the 3rd frame.

    Generally with high-contrast night shots you have 3 areas (1) highlights (in the form of incident light from pin light sources) (2) mid-tones (in the form of reflected light) and (3) shadow areas. Highlights normally blow anyway, so just forget about them unless you're doing an HDR composite (in which case they'll probably still blow). Midtones are what are important - and it's the shadow areas that will have by far the most noise - but - we can often clip those to black in processing without any consequences - so noise isn't as big a deal as you might first think.

    It's still a compromise though; if you don't have any motion concerns then stick to base ISO and expose for as long as you need to (manually bracketing if you're not sure; that way you can either pick the best frame or make an HDR composite) - if you DO have motion concerns then you have to work around them by shooting multiple exposures or use higher ISOs and deal with any noise - or take a hit on your DoF by opening up the aperture.

    Nobody said it would be easy - but experience is golden

    PS: If noise is a concern you can also take multiple high-ISO shots and stack them (eg quick "snatches" when the scene is clear). It'll give you an equivalent of a lower ISO shot (eg 32x 3200ISO shots stacked will give you roughly the equivalent of a single 100 ISO shot).

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Thank you for the clarification and further details Colin. I appreciate it! This has and continues to be quite the learning curve for me but I must say that this makes sense to me which is something that I could not have said even three months ago. Now, putting it into practice will be a whole different matter

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Quote Originally Posted by ShaneS View Post
    Thank you for the clarification and further details Colin. I appreciate it! This has and continues to be quite the learning curve for me but I must say that this makes sense to me which is something that I could not have said even three months ago. Now, putting it into practice will be a whole different matter
    Practice practice practice

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    William W's Avatar
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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Mentioned as another method for nuking people out of Night-scapes, generally. . .

    Quote Originally Posted by Colin Southern View Post
    . . . in this situation - I was meaning "burst" of shots. ie multiple images at the same setting. . .[goes on to explain multiple shots and PP combining techniques] . . .
    Another option, which makes the image in one shot - in camera, is to use an ND Filter.

    It’s not often though to use an ND Filter for a Night Time Landscape Scene.

    It works, not all the time.

    It is best with a free flow of people and depending upon the lighting.

    The people AT the stand could be a problem in your closer shot - but could work fine for your wider shot.

    BUT, of course you'd get the ferris wheel all blurred because of the very long exposure time with an ND Filter - and I understand that you didn't want that, for these particular set of images.


    WW
    Last edited by William W; 28th March 2013 at 07:00 AM. Reason: made clearer my intent

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Quote Originally Posted by William W View Post
    Another option, which makes the image in one shot - in camera, is to use an ND Filter.
    Just as a little aside here, this is my all-time favourite people shot with an ND filter .. (I didn't shoot it by the way).

    Night Photography and People

    Here's the story behind it, from the photographer's website:

    "The Angel Gabriel

    This is the Angel Gabriel. I met him on the Newport Beach pier as he was eating French Fries out of a trash can. He was homeless and hungry. I asked him if he would help me with a photograph and in return, I would buy him lunch.
    The pier was very crowded and I wanted to take a 30 second exposure so that everyone would disappear except Gabriel. We tried a few shots and then Gabriel wanted to mess up his hair and hold his bible. The image worked and the only people you can see besides Gabriel are those “ghosts” who lingered long enough for the camera.
    Gabriel and I then went into a restaurant to share a meal; he ordered steak with mushrooms and onions. When it came, he ate it with his hands. I discovered he was Romanian and so am I, so we talked about Romania. He was simple, kind and a pleasure to talk with.
    I asked Gabriel how I might contact him, in case I sold some of the photographs and wanted to share the money with him. He said I should give the money to someone who could really use it; that he had everything that he needed.
    Then the Angel Gabriel walked away, content and carrying his only two possessions: a Bible and a bed roll."



  17. #17

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    That is a cool shot (& story) Colin! I'm heading out after work tomorrow for some more night shooting practice in Waikiki. We'll see what I come up with but I don't have an ND filter, yet ...

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    This is a very helpful, thoughtful thread with a lot of info. I think the color and clarity of these images is excellent. You have done well not to have had blown out exposure areas with the brightest of the lights. I think it is okay in the images to haver the people be darkened, mostly without detail because I think they are secondary to the theme. I am assuming the stands, color,and carnival offerings are the main subject and not individual people. Yet, having people in the photos is important adding to a sense of activity.

    I cannot add anything to the technical side as you asked, but to the next step about your composition. Some of the pit falls to avoid is trying to add too much to the scene, trying to include all the action and giving up some otherwise great detail to focus on. Boy, I see some great potential just in that ferris wheel alone. Look at Colin's images: a single person, a single airplane, not much extras or unimportant clutter in the images. I understand that you were working on technique, but I do see three similar scenes. Can you choose one to be your favorite? Then carefully consider "why". What single subject within the image do you think might be interesting to get closer to and concentrate just on that one area or action. For example, just one of the stands and the action within. What would be really cool for use to see up close? Maybe just pick one or two colors to concentrate on. Read up on some effective composition ideas.

  19. #19

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    Re: Night Photography and People

    Frank, your comment gives me a good excuse to share a shot of the Ferris Wheel all alone from the same night:

    Night Photography and People

    In terms of your comment about the images presents, I see what you that they are similar in terms of composition and I have been giving some thought to the creation of photo essays lately. In fact, I included these and some other shots in a first attempt in a post on my site titled Nightime at the Carnival. You will also see and abstract representation of just the lights of the Ferris Wheel an another ride in a stand alone shot without people. I don't think that it is an award winning photo essay but started me down a path that I would like to pursue further.

    Thank you for taking the time to read through this thread and add your comment, it is appreciated.

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