Nights, Camera, Action! 5 Videos from Gabe and B&H to Help You Photograph the Dark

We all thought it was really cool that a recent episode of Game of Thrones was shot for 50 straight nights. While not as epic as that, I recently spent the last six months creating a “Night Photography Series” of videos with the amazing crew at B&H Photo.

The videos were shot in the cold and snow of Maine, the urban ruins of Sloss Furnaces National Historic Landmark in Alabama, as well as throughout New York City. We thought we’d organize them all in one place so you can easily learn with us. They cover a lot of topics, from camera settings to gear to light painting and more.

While the series was created for people new to the night, we think everyone can find a few helpful reminders and tips in each installment. The videos are fairly short, from 6 minutes to 20 minutes. Good lengths to get inspired to #SeizeTheNight!

(Special shouts out to Kelly Mena for proposing this project, and to Robert Sansivero who did a fantastic job filming and editing.)

Best Camera Settings for Night Photography

In this very snowy video, I discuss the night logic behind making certain choices about ISO, shutter speed, aperture and white balance. It all leads down the path to mastering manual mode so you can take control of your night visions.

How to Photograph Star Trails

When most of us think about night photography, we think about the stars. In this video I give tips on making those jaw-dropping star trail shots, both in-camera and by stacking them together in post.

How to Light Paint

Once you’ve focused on the stars, we step it up and gain a better understanding of adding light to a night composition. I look at the gear you need to capture, the light painting tools to create, and how to balance the ambient light with the additional light you bring into the scene. Get inspired and more comfortable with your light painting!

Create AMAZING Photos with Light Writing

I turn out the lights, don my favorite black fedora, and take a look at a bunch of fun tools that make writing with light fun and easy. I share my top tips, I do a live demo, and I break down some of my favorite images to show how you can bring a very unique vision to the night.

Best Cameras for Night Photography

In the last video, I compare the current batch of full-frame mirrorless cameras, looking specifically at which features best suit the night photographer. There is also an extended, 1-hour version wherein I compare similar images shot with different cameras in the same conditions, allowing us to really gain a better understanding of what these bodies are capable of producing.

And … Cut!

Let us know if you find these videos helpful and what subjects you’d like us learn more about next. You can type out your thoughts in the Comments section below or on our Facebook page.

Finally, fun fact: I wear a different hat in each video!

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at www.ruinism.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

Drifting Away to Summer Nights: 3 Events in 3 States

One of the reasons we love doing what we do is because we enjoy spreading the word about dark skies and night photography.

We get to do this a bunch of times per year on workshops in an intense, concentrated format with a small group of attendees, many of whom quickly become friends. But we also get to do this on a larger scale when we participate in conferences and events. Spending time as speakers and photo-walk leaders gives us a chance to meet thousands of new night photography aficionados of all levels.

In that spirit, we’re excited to announce a few upcoming major events that we’ll be participating in:

For more information about these events—including how we’ll be helping out, as well as other useful info—keep on reading below! (And to always be kept abreast of places we’ll be speaking, be sure to sign up for our quarterly Events email announcement.)

OPTIC Imaging Conference

New York City, June 2-5, 2019

The f stops here. Hands down, one of our very favorite conferences. And we’ve been there from the beginning (this is their fifth anniversary!), with different combinations of us participating as speakers, leading photo walks, offering portfolio reviews, and so on.

The OPTIC Imaging Conference is run by B&H Photo and Lindblad Expeditions, both of which are the best at what they do in their niches. Together they put on one of the premier outdoor-photography events on the calendar. OPTIC features scores of top-notch speakers (including National Geographic photographers), a sunset cruise down the Hudson River, parties, photos walks, shooting stations and more.

Our role? We have a few:

  • Tim will deliver a talk titled “The Grand Landscape: Creating Impact with Perspective, Proportion and Position” on Sunday at 10 a.m.

  • The “Nikon Night Adventure.” Sponsored by one of our biggest partners, Chris, Gabe and Tim will lead a night-photo walk at Brooklyn Bridge Park on Sunday night. Participants will be chauffeured from B&H to Brooklyn on complimentary double-decker tour buses.

  • Chris and Tim will be working in the Portfolio Review room during parts of Sunday and Monday.

  • Chris and Gabe will participate in livestreamed image reviews on Wednesday morning.

We’ll also have a table in the trade show area. Tim and I will be available to chat when we’re not engaged in the aforementioned activities. Also behind the table will be Sandra Ramos, the National Park Patch Lady, as well as Sherry Pincus, the backcountry instructor for our Shi Shi Beach workshop. If you’re at OPTIC, be sure to stop by and say hi!

For more information, visit the OPTIC Imaging Conference website.

Further Opportunities

If you can arrive for OPTIC a few days early, you can snag what’s perhaps the best celestial photo opportunity in New York City: Manhattanhenge. Twice per year, the setting sun lines up perfectly with the grid of Manhattan’s streets, and this year one of those two suns will set on May 29, just four days before the conference begins. To learn more, read Neil deGrasse Tyson’s article, brought to you by the American Museum of Natural History.

Grand Canyon Star Party

Arizona, June 22-29

Last year when we started prepping our 2019 workshop at Grand Canyon National Park, Gabe met with a couple of rangers to discuss permits and the like. Gabe’s a friendly guy. So fast-forward 24 hours when the second meeting ended with the rangers inviting us to run a night photography program at the 2019 Grand Canyon Star Party. Whoa. “Excited” doesn’t begin to describe how we felt about the opportunity.

This is one of the biggest night sky festivals in one of the grandest national parks. The party will be held at both the North and South rims, and will feature slide shows, presentations, constellation tours, telescopes, and so on and so on.

Photo courtesy NPS/Michael Quinn.

Photo courtesy NPS/Michael Quinn.

Our program will entail:

  • On June 23, Chris and Gabe will present a talk titled “The Daydreamer’s Guide to Night in the National Parks,” which will document the many night-sky photo opportunities in the park system, as well as how photography can be used for helping to protect darkness.

  • On June 23 and 24, Chris and Gabe will lead one-night photography workshops on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Also on June 23-24, Gabe and I will have a table at the Visitor Center where we can meet and greet current and aspiring night photographers. We’re looking forward to making lots of new friends!

For more information, visit the Grand Canyon Star Party website.

Further Opportunities

Three other national parks in the western U.S. are hosting night sky festivals around the same time: Petrified Forest (New Mexico, June 21), Bryce Canyon (Utah, June 26-29) and Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Colorado, also June 26-29). You could make a whole road trip out of these events. Ya know, drive during the day, and enjoy millions of stars at night. (Stay tuned for more about these events, and others, in an upcoming blog post.)

Smoky Mountain Foto Fest

North Carolina, September 11-14

Based in Asheville, North Carolina, the Smoky Mountain Foto Fest features a packed schedule of lectures, field seminars, photo shoots, technique demos, portfolio reviews and more.

Our programs will include running a table in the trade show where we can meet-and-greet with fellow night enthusiasts, as well as helping with night-photo shoots and portfolio reviews.

In addition, we will be delivering five presentations:

  • “10 Night Photography Challenges and How to Solve Them” (Chris and Lance)

  • “When One Image Isn't Enough: Shooting Multiple Frames for Night Photography” (Chris and Lance)

  • “Photographing National Parks” (Chris)

  • “The Evolution of Night Photography” (Lance)

  • “Light Painting Demo with Live Tethered Shoot” (Chris and Lance)

For more information, visit the Smoky Mountain Foto Fest website.

Further Opportunities

September is, quite simply, a spectacular time of year to spend in the southern Appalachian Mountains. If you come to Asheville for the conference, you’ll be right near two of our workshop locations from the past couple of years: Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It will be a little early for fall foliage, but the weather should be fantastic, with warm days and cool nights. And for some of the best grits ever, check out Cafe 64 on Haywood Street.

Note: To stay abreast of all our commitments at conferences, trade shows and other events, visit our Speaking Engagements page—or, better yet, sign up for our quarterly Events email.

Chris Nicholson is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night, and author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at www.PhotographingNationalParks.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

Processing Star Point Images with the Help of Starry Landscape Stacker

We all love shooting under the stars, but oftentimes we are pushing our cameras and lenses to the extreme. In last month’s article we talked about “Shooting for the Sharpest Stars” and how that forces us into even higher ISOs and shorter exposures. Most cameras have difficulty at 6400-plus ISOs, and the shorter exposures make it tricky to get any detail in the foreground.

Enter the Mac-only software Starry Landscape Stacker (SLS), which blends multiple high ISO star point shots to reduce noise while keeping your stars sharp! (For PC users, your solution is Sequator, which operates and yields similar results to SLS. We will take a closer look at Sequator on our blog a little later this year.)

What is Starry Landscape Stacker?

SLS is a very intuitive piece of software that gives you smoother final images by recognizing and aligning the “tracked stars,” and then stacking the files while applying noise reduction to the other areas of the sky. This is probably the best piece of software to squeeze the most image quality out of multiple files instead of just working with one.

In this post, we’re going to look at the basics of how to use SLS. At the end, you can watch a video of me working through the details of processing an image this way.

Shooting Considerations for SLS

The key for both SLS and Sequator is that we shoot multiple images in the field—at least 10, but 20 is even better. The more information the program has, the better it will work.

So, once you settle on your star point composition, check focus and attain a good exposure, don’t just take one or two shots and move on. Instead, set your intervalometer to take 20 shots with a 1-second interval between. And you can certainly take more than 20 shots. If I have settled on a really nice composition, I might shoot it for an hour or so to get different alignments of the Milky Way as it moves across the sky.

We also have to consider the foreground. In the Figure 1 below, the exposure is good for the sky, but there’s hardly any information in the foreground.

Figure 1. Nikon D5 with an Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. 25 seconds, f/2.5, ISO 6400.

How can we fix it? Three solutions:

1. Take a twilight shot.

If you arrive to your location prior to nightfall, take a few shots as the light varies throughout the twilights. You can use those later to blend into your star shot. Of course this approach works for only one setup per night (unless you have two or more cameras), but it can create a unique look. (In previous blog posts you can see examples of when Matt and Tim have done this.)

2. Light paint your foreground.

This works really well if we have something dominant in the foreground that is easily reachable with our light painting tools. However, if we have a big swathe of landscape, that will be difficult to paint.

3. Take a longer foreground-only exposure.

Lower your ISO, turn on your long-exposure noise reduction, and take a shot that is three to six stops higher than your sky shot. By using the a lower ISO we can get a cleaner foreground. But don’t expose so that it looks like a daytime foreground—my rule of thumb is to shoot a foreground exposure that gets the histogram off the left side and more in the middle (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Nikon D5 with an Irix 15mm f/2.4 lens. 13 minutes, f/2.5, ISO 1600.

My thought process on for this image: It was very dark, with no moon in the sky in Capitol Reef National Park, which is a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park. I figured an exposure of 4 minutes at ISO 6400 (three stops brighter than the sky shot) would start to reveal foreground. However, I also didn’t want the 6400 noise in the darker foreground, so I lowered my ISO two stops to 1600, which is incredibly clean on the Nikon D5. Adding five stops to my original image gave me an exposure of 13 minutes (should have been 16 minutes, but oh well), f/2.5, ISO 1600.

Don’t look at how bright the sky and the trailing stars are—the piece we want from this image is the foreground detail of the road cutting through the landscape.

Preparing Your Files for SLS

There are a few key things to do to your sky files in either Lightroom or Camera Raw to best prepare them for SLS. The idea here is to remove any chromatic aberrations and have a nice flat file that will help SLS align and combine the dimmer stars.

1. Lower the contrast of the image. I generally set my contrast to -100 and increase the exposure to +.30 (Figure 3). It won’t look good on the screen but that’s OK—just be careful you are not blowing out any stars.

Figure 3.

2. Turn off any sharpening and noise reduction. Bring the sliders all the way to zero (Figure 4). SLS will handle the noise reduction for now and we will do the sharpening after SLS stacks the image.

Figure 4.

3. Correct for lens aberrations. Under the Lens Correction section of Lightroom, check Remove Chromatic Aberration (Figure 5) and manually adjust any vignetting to even out the exposure of the image (Figure 6). I choose to manually adjust the vignetting instead of turning on “Enable Profile Correction” (EPC) because I’ve noticed weird artifacts/moire patterns in the stacked images when doing so early in this process. EPC adjusts for distortion and vignetting, so it’s best practice to apply the Lightroom adjustment (if you want) to the finished image after stacking in SLS. Again, our goal here is only to prepare a nice flat file that SLS can use to easily recognize the stars, sky and landscape for blending. Minimum pre-processing equals maximum results.

Figure 5.

Figure 6.

That’s it! You don’t have to remove airplane trails or satellites. SLS will help you remove them from or add them into the final image.

Once you have worked on the first image of your “batch” you can then quickly sync the adjustments to other files. Choose your best 10 to 20 consecutive images that have the best positioning of the Milky Way or stars, and export them as full-resolution 16-bit TIFF files that include all metadata (because SLS uses your exposure information when stacking). (Figure 7.)

Figure 7.

Processing in SLS

I’ll go into more in depth in the video below, but here are some overall processing tips:

1. Open the files in SLS. It will stack them together and there will be a bunch of red dots that identify the stars.

Figure 8.

2. Follow the “Workflow” instructions at the top left.

3. Adjust Dots in the Sky. Remove any red dots on the ground, along the horizon, in cloudy areas, or in any spots where there weren’t actually stars. You can even add dots into the sky if there are major areas in the sky that don’t have them.

4. Click Find Sky. That will create the blue mask of the sky; it doesn’t need to be perfect but should include all the areas where there are stars. If you have a horizon that has lots of trees cutting into the sky, choose “Mask with Islands of Sky” and that will let SLS know to create masks for the stars between the branches. You might need to clean this up, but SLS does an excellent job to get you started.

5. Align With. This will remove the blue mask. At the bottom of the workflow section it says Current Image. Click on Next and Previous to choose which Milky Way/star-point alignment you’d like SLS align to.

6. Align and Composite. This stacks all the images. You have to select a composition algorithm to choose:

  • Min Horizon Noise is the default and works in most cases. It brightens the Milky Way stars a bit more than the surrounding stars and minimizes the noise along the horizon.

  • If you do notice any star trailing or duplication along the edge of the mask, use the Min Horizon Star Dupe. There is also a “mean” version of the Horizon Noise and Star Dupe—this uses the older “median” algorithm that was seen in previous versions of SLS.

7. Click Save. SLS saves the stacked file to your folder of TIFFs. SLS gives you the option to save a copy of the mask; I generally don’t need it as the masked file works fine. You’ll need to import this new file into LR and then do any image massaging there.

Tip: You can save multiple algorithms of the stack. The Max algorithm reveals any airplanes, satellites or meteors. Save a clean Min Horizon Noise for minimal noise, but then save any meteors that came through and you can blend them together in Photoshop!

Walking Through an SSL Edit

That’s it! You now have the cleanest night skies out there! Check out the video below, where I go into detail and walk through the whole process. I also take the SLS night sky image and blend it with the foreground from the longer exposure in Photoshop.

Milky Way season is here and the temperatures are rising, bringing more noise into our shots. Use Starry Landscape Stacker to create even cleaner jaw dropping night images!

Gabriel Biderman is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He is a Brooklyn-based fine art and travel photographer, and author of Night Photography: From Snapshots to Great Shots (Peachpit, 2014). During the daytime hours you'll often find Gabe at one of many photo events around the world working for B&H Photo’s road marketing team. See his portfolio and workshop lineup at www.ruinism.com.

How I Got the Shot: Light Painting and Star Trails at Devils Tower

Stars at Devils Tower. Nikon D750 with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8 lens. Ten stacked frames, each shot at 150 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 1600 (1,500 seconds total).

The Conditions

Shooting under moonless conditions can create consistent challenges for astro-landscape photography. The primary challenge is lighting your main subject. When it’s the Devils Tower in Wyoming, you’ve gotta get it right.

Gabe and I were leading a group of eager learners on a workshop a few years ago when I made the above image.

I was not standing at my camera—I was up at the base of the Tower, illuminating it.

So how did we do this?

The Shoot

Well, lemme first show you how it looks without being lit, which you can see in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Nikon D750 with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8 lens. 150 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 1600.

It lacked the detail that screams, “Is that the mountain from that famous movie?!?” Right? Yeah.

But one frame did stand out: when some climbers who had to descend after dark illuminated the deep crevices that are the hallmark of this natural stone edifice (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Nikon D750 with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8 lens. 30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400.

Aside from that, we wanted more detail in the Tower. So I set my intervalometer to take many, many (infinite, in fact) exposures. (You can read more on how to do that in our post “Mastering the Intervalometer for Night Photography and Long Exposures.”

I knew I intended to make an epic star trail from this. So I aimed for longer exposure lengths of 150 seconds and let the sequence begin. I knew this was still short enough to manage the long exposure noise that the camera would generate in the mid-August Wyoming heat.

I grabbed a two-way radio and drove up to the parking lot. I hit the loop trail and started doing my own lighting. From so far away from the camera, how did I know I was executing the light painting sufficiently? That’s where the radio came in—I kept pinging Gabe to see if my flashlight was providing proper detail and coverage. Trusting Gabe to be the lighting director from the camera position was crucial.

Gabe advised me to cover about one-quarter of the arc around the base of the Tower. We tried a few variations and settled on a final strategy (Figure 3).

Before and after light painting from the base of the tower.

I shot many different variations (Figure 4) through the evening, sometimes re-framing, sometimes adjusting the exposure length. Even when you’re confident about your approach in the field, it’s always good to push the boundaries of your decisions and to give yourself more options to look at when back at the computer.

Figure 4. The different strategies I shot that night gave me lots of options to choose from in post.

The Post-Production

The final set of frames I chose to work with is this:

Figure 5.

Each image required a gradient for the sky, and a proper Range Mask set to 28/100 Luminance and 19 Smoothness. I also used the mask brush to remove the gradient from Devils Tower itself and from the trees below.

Once the mask was done, I made the adjustments, which were intended to emphasize (but not over-process) the sky. Sometimes that’s a fine line, and one we always want to be conscious of. You can see the mask I created in Figure 6, and the adjustments in Figure 7.

Figure 6.

Figure 7.

Then I needed to stack the frames in Photoshop. In several previous How I Got the Shot blog posts we’ve discussed stacking frames to create star trails and to combine different light-painted compositional elements into one image. This time I used the same technique to achieve both those goals in one photograph—i.e., to get the stars to trail and the light-painted sections of the Tower to composite.

The process is:

  1. Select all the pertinent frames in Lightroom by shift-clicking the first and last.

  2. From the menu, choose Photo > Edit In > Open as Layers in Photoshop.

  3. Once the image opens select all the layers by clicking on the top layer, pressing the shift key and then clicking on the bottom layer.

  4. In the Blending Mode dropdown above the layers (the box that defaults to saying Normal), choose Lighten.

  5. Save and close, which will bring the stacked image back into Lightroom where you can make final edits.

I was really pleased with the stacked result:

Nikon D750 with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8 lens. Ten stacked frames, each shot at 150 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 1600 (1,500 seconds total).

The photograph has more mystery with the tree line falling into silhouette and the Tower having detail. This emphasizes where the viewer should look.

A Little Cleanup

Due to some people’s red headlamps and flashlights, the trees and ground closest to us picked up the color. It’s quite hard to edit away, so I brushed in some local adjustments subtracting highlights and whites. After stacking, that still wasn’t enough, so I ended up using layer masks to eliminate the distracting details.

(Hmmmm. Come to think of it, it may have been the brake lights of my rental car when I returned to the group. D’oh! And possibly a “mea culpa” moment. Whoops. Bad Matt.)

When I re-edited the stack this time, I noticed something new. I wanted to crop it to a vertical. It felt … more powerful. More focused.

The final, final result:

Nikon D750 with a Zeiss 15mm Distagon f/2.8 lens. Ten stacked frames, each shot at 150 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 1600 (1,500 seconds total).

Wrapping Up

I gotta say, I am excited to return to the Devil’s Tower with Chris later this year. It’s going to be amazing. What will he and I dream up together? And what will the workshop participants dream up? I bet it’ll be out of this world. (Yeah, I went there.)

How do you achieve better astro-landscape photography by collaborating with friends and peers? Tell us more in the comments, and show us photos!

Note: Want to join Matt and Chris to make epic night photography images at Devils Tower National Monument? We have two spots left for the workshop, so sign up now!

Matt Hill is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. See more about his photography, art, workshops and writing at MattHillArt.com. Follow Matt on Twitter Instagram Facebook.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

The Color of Night: The Proliferation of LEDs and its Effects on How We Photograph

If you’ve been paying attention, you may have noticed that it’s gotten much cooler at night in recent years––about 3000 degrees cooler!

The nighttime world has transitioned from one that was overwhelmingly lit by yellow-orange sodium vapor lamps to one lit primarily by daylight-balanced LEDs. It’s happened quickly and it’s had a huge impact on night photography, especially in urban areas. Even night photography in national parks is impacted, as the distant glow on the horizon shifts from orange to white.

While there’s no doubt that LED lighting is more energy-efficient, and generally easier on the eyes, it is making for much more mundane and ordinary-looking night photographs.

Figure 1. Trona Pinnacles, California. November 2014. Canon 5D Mark II with a Nikon PC Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 lens. 30 seconds, f/8, ISO 6400. White balance: tungsten. Foreground lighting with a Four Sevens Quark 123 LED flashlight. Sky glow from mostly sodium vapor lights in the nearby small city of Ridgecrest.

Back in the 1990s I was living in San Francisco, and much of my night photography was done in and around industrial sites in the Bay Area. My friend Tom Paiva and I explored the abandoned piers along the Third Street corridor in the south of San Francisco, and the Southern Pacific rail yards across the Bay Bridge in Oakland. We were drawn to the strange machinery and architecture of these sites, but most of all it was the odd mixture of high and low pressure sodium vapor, mercury vapor and metal halide lights that we found so irresistible. We sought scenes lit with multiple light sources that created surreal colors when combined with long exposures on our film (Figure 2). These were exactly the kind of situations that I tried hard to avoid or to correct for in my commercial architectural work.

And there’s the rub––mixed lighting can be both a curse and a blessing depending on the situation at hand. To the artist, it makes for worlds of possibilities, and to the commercial photographer concerned with color accuracy, nothing but headaches.

Figure 2. Petaluma, circa 1994. Shot on Fuji NPL color negative film (tungsten), exposure unrecorded. A combination of sodium and mercury vapor lights illuminates separate parts of this image making for areas with radically different color balances—not to mention that crazy purple sky. Note the light on either side of the pole in the foreground.

Photographing mixed-lighting scenes with digital cameras and adjusting the white balance in post-processing allows for great flexibility in how an image is presented, and in turn the feelings or moods it elicits. We have it easy today being able to fine-tune (or even dramatically shift) the white balance after an image is made, and local adjustments make it even easier to “correct” for different colored light sources in the same frame.

Not too long ago that would have been an unimaginable luxury. Back in the days of 4x5 transparency film, I shot assignments where I would have to make multiple exposures on the same sheet of film for each light source. Testing was required to find the right filtration to put in front of the lens for fluorescent, incandescent, sodium, halide and other light sources, and if daylight was involved, windows would often have to be blacked out and then exposed for separately with all of the other light sources turned off. All of this had to be done while making sure the camera didn’t move between exposures. The gas discharge lamps often took 5 to 10 minutes to warm up after being turned off, so testing and exposing Polaroids and film might have taken 2 or 3 hours for a single image. In some instances, I could filter the lights directly and make a single exposure, but putting filter sleeves on a sea of fluorescent tubes in a large office space wasn’t much fun either. This is what it was like in the days before digital photography and even Photoshop.

But, back to our future …

In the images below of an old textile mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the overall scene is lit with high pressure sodium vapor lights, and there’s a metal halide light out of sight behind the building on the right side of the frame. The interior is lit with either incandescent or possibly more sodium vapor lights.

In each version, I’ve set the white balance differently by using Lightroom’s eyedropper tool to click on an area lit by one of the light sources. As is usually the case, my preferred white balance is somewhere between the neutral points used in the first two examples. After using the eyedropper tool to check various white balances (Figures 3a and 3b), I pick the one that is closest to what I want and then use the temperature and tint sliders to further refine the color (Figure 3c). In this kind of situation, the “right” white balance is the one that looks best, not a perfectly neutral setting.

Figure 3a: Pawtucket Textile Mill. December 2015. Nikon D750 with a Nikon PC Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 lens. 10 seconds, f/8, ISO 400. White balance neutralizing the metal halide light: 3100 K, +15 Magenta.

Figure 3b: The same image with the white balance neutralizing the sodium vapor light: 2050 K, +4 Magenta.

Figure 3c: The same image with the white balance set to personal taste: 2450 K, +7 Magenta.

Figure 4: An LED streetlight casting multiple shadows in Los Angeles, December 2013.

LEDs in the Modern World

In my recent travels, I’ve noticed that in both large cities and small towns around the country, most places have almost fully transitioned to LED lighting within the last 2 or 3 years. Lighting technology has evolved quickly, and early adapters—such as the city of Los Angeles (Figure 4), which converted to LED in 2012 and 2013—now find themselves with outdated fixtures that use multiple diodes and cast weird repeating shadows. Newer lights are brighter, and don’t require multiple diodes for adequate brightness. Even my tiny hometown of Hinesburg, Vermont, has completely transitioned to LED streetlights, casting the town in a naturalistic—but boring—neutral glow.

I had the great fortune to lead National Parks at Night’s Easter Island and Morocco photo tours this winter, and observed that relatively poor and extremely remote Easter Island (Figure 6) has converted to LED lighting, but Morocco, which generally has better infrastructure, is still lit mostly by sodium vapor. Granted, there’s only one town on Easter Island, while Morocco (Figure 5) is a country that is slightly larger than California with several major cities! I guess it’s not a fair comparison, but it was interesting to see. I haven’t been to Cuba since 2015, but I’m guessing that when Gabe returns next week, he’ll report that Havana still glows orange at night!

Figure 5. Essaouira, Morocco. March 2019. Nikon D750 with a Nikon PC Nikkor 28mm f/3.5 lens. 13 seconds, f/11, ISO 100. White balance was set to auto, which used 4350 K, +36 Magenta. I adjusted it to 3950 K, +37 Magenta by clicking the eyedropper tool just above the archway in the foreground. The orange light is high pressure sodium vapor, the green is from mercury vapor, and the archway was lit by either metal halide or LED. The window in the tower is most likely an LED bulb.

Have you noticed the Color of Night in your town lately? Has it changed, and if so, was it for better or worse? Let us know in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

Figure 6: Tahai, Rapa Nui. February 2019. Nikon D750 with a Sigma 24mm f/1.4 lens. 20 seconds, f/2.2, ISO 3200. White balance was set to auto, recorded as 3550 K, +2 Magenta, and adjusted to 3300 K, +6 Magenta. Six vertical images, merged to panorama in Adobe Lightroom. The Moai at Tahai are just at the edge of Hanga Roa, the only town on Rapa Nui, or Easter Island. They are the only Moai that are (indirectly) lit by artificial light, and one of them told me that they were not pleased at being lit up all night every night. Most of the light in this scene is from LED street lighting, but there is one sodium light casting a yellow tinge on the right side of the image. The rock platform in the foreground on the left was lit with a Luxli Viola set at 3200 K.

Lance Keimig is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night. He has been photographing at night for 30 years, and is the author of Night Photography and Light Painting: Finding Your Way in the Dark (Focal Press, 2015). Learn more about his images and workshops at www.thenightskye.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT