Thursday, April 3, 2014

NIght Photography Made Easy

Have you ever gotten the urge to grab your camera and go out and shoot in the middle of the night?  Photography at night is an adventure.  You stumble around, set up your tripod, guess at a starting exposure (not really), stumble around some more, probably freeze your butt off, take forty two shots of the moon, stumble around again and on and on.  You'd thing that Hollywood, making big time epics, would avoid all that stumbling at all costs.  Actually, they usually do.  Next time you're watching a movie where the hero (heroine) is out wandering around in the dark, take a closer look.  Chances are you'll see shadows cast by things like trees, street lights, buildings, anything that sticks up from the ground.  Wow, they must have been shooting that scene under a full moon. Not!  Movies have been using a trick for as long as movies have been made.  Still photographers used to use the same trick, but it either has been forgotten or today's "new" shooters have never learned it.  "Back in the day" photographers ran around with a stack of filters to fit various lenses and conditions.  If you had daylight film in the camera and you had to shoot an inside shot, you'd check on the lights and put on either a tungsten to daylight filter (an 85A) or a fluorescent to daylight filter (an FLD).  Same in reverse.  It you had tungsten light balanced film and had to run outside into the sunlight you'd slap on a daylight to whatever light you were coming from filter (an 80A for tungsten light).  To find out how this relates to today's image, hit the "Read More".

Today's image is a night shot taken at 12:55 PM.  That's right, almost one o'clock in the afternoon.  The "trick" the movie makers would use was to use a daylight to tungsten filter and under expose by about two stops.  That gives a blue color cast and blocks up the shadows.  Just like you'd get at 12:55 AM.  You can shoot at one in the morning.  Just leave the shutter open for a long enough time and you'll get the shot.  Today, the "trick" is easier if you shoot in RAW.  In most image editing applications, when you've shot a RAW image, you can assign the color balance while editing.  In the case of today's image, the color balance was set to Tungsten.  At first glance it doesn't look like much.  When the Exposure is reduced it gets to looking more like it was shot at night. 

With today's image I decided to put in a cheesy moon just to give the image a little more interest.  Plopping a big ol' moon in the middle of the empty portion of the sky would be too easy.  I places to moon over the trees.  Now I had a moon in a black sky covering most of the underlying image.  Easy to take care of.  Just (in Adobe Photoshop or Elements) change the Blend Mode to Lighter Color.  I can pretty much guarantee the black sky will be darker than the rest of the sky and the bright moon will be lighter than almore everything in the scene.  Only problem is you'd now have a perfectly "cut out" moon in front of the trees.  Not exactly a "natural" look. 

Here's the "trick" to "masking" the moon into the trees.  On the Layers Panel, double click on the tab (area beside the thumbnail) for the Layer with the moon on it.  (In my case, the moon was above the general scene Layer.)  That "should" bring up the Blending dialog box.  Down at the bottom is the "Blend If" sub box.  Play with the sliders.  You'll see the trees come through the moon.  To get more control, split the karat by holding down the ALT key while moving one half of the karat.  You'll be able to fine tune the image of the trees coming through the moon.

The finishing touches were done in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  A little glow was put on the side of the trees facing the "moonlight". 

So, there you have it.  Night shots take at one in the afternoon.