Thursday, February 5, 2009

Night Palms

A few nights ago there were some high, whispy clouds in the sky. There are these palm trees across the street from our house that I love and I'm always trying to get some interesting shots with them. The thin clouds seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Night time photographs have always inspired me. Early on I discovered the work of a local photographer in Santa Barbara who takes the most breath-taking long exposures at night.

I've been dying to reproduce one of these ever since. It doesn't have to be a great shot or even a good composition, just seeing those colors come out of a night time photo would be amazing!

Here's how my little photo shoot went. I took about 40 pictures over the course of an hour or so. The exposures were in the neighborhood of 10 seconds, so each one took a while. I used our 50mm f/1.8 lens; the large aperture really helped bring the exposure time down!

They were also all done on a tripod, so if I wanted a different angle I had to readjust the tripod mount.

Here's a photo of me on the end of the driveway to give you a visual. Pretty ridiculous photo of me if I may say so myself, but we have to make some sacrifices here to share the experience :).

I look a little geared-up here--I've got a tripod and I'm holding a remote switch for the camera. Don't be intimidated, though; the tripod was a gift and was probably no more than $20. It's flimsy and not too easy to adjust, but it's light and gets the job done. The remote switch (RS-80N3) was more of a splurge, it's about $50 on Amazon. You don't actually need it here, though...

A remote switch serves two purposes for long exposures:
1. Pressing the shutter release on the camera body will move the camera slightly.
2. To get longer than a 30 second exposure, you need to switch to "bulb" and hold down the shutter release for the length of the exposure.

To solve number 1 you can just switch your camera to timer mode, so it takes the picture a few seconds after you touch the camera body. For number 2, my exposures were only about 10 seconds, so the "bulb" exposure wasn't really necesary.

So back to the story. I was having a lot of fun and was really excited--the photos were looking so good on the back of the camera! When I came back inside, though, I found out I had been making a fatal flaw... Almost all of the photos were out of focus!

It was really dark out and I could hardly see the palm trees through the view finder, so no wonder! I got the focus close, but not close enough. Here's an example.

I did a little processing of both of these photos in the GIMP. The histograms were very bunched up towards the dark end; I guess the originals were probably underexposed. I moved the slider in to brighten them up. For the first photo, I also used Colors -> Auto -> White Balance. This made the blue a little richer.

As always, let me know if you have any thoughts or questions!


  1. Nice job- I just happened to come inside just barely from experimenting with a candle and my little brother. The pics should be on my blog soon. I checked out that link of that local photographer- hes got some amazing stuff!

  2. Right on man - keep getting out there to shoot! Night time experimentation is one of my favorite times to get out there. My suggestion to get that beautiful shot in focus: close down the aperture to like f8 or higher, then focus manually on the most contrasty part of the image, and leave that shutter open for a lot longer!