Archive for the ‘Night’ Category

The Strip

Earlier this summer my family flew out for an impromptu rendezvous in Vegas. Shows were seen, pools were swum, and buffets were endured. I had always been partial to Bellagio’s trough but in another Vegas trip in late October the brand new “Bacchanal” at Caesar’s won me over. 500 dishes outputting an reported $100,000 worth of food every day. It’s so ludicrous they have a crêpe chef to help you build silly deserts on which to pile a limitless supply of gelato.

But over the summer the highlight of the trip was none other than Celine Dion’s outrageous production at Caesar’s Colosseum. With the repertoire split about half originals and half covers (including a spectacular rendition of “Goldfinger”) I really enjoyed getting to hear plenty of her early songs in French. We left with gift bags full of CD’s, playing cards, and throw blankets… but the real un-necessity was the atlas-sized coffee table book! It was an early show and, stopping by our room afterwards, I set up to nab the last fountains show before the sky went completely dark.

Probably not alone in this, but I can’t look at the fountains and not think of Ocean’s 11… Las Vegas, NV

The Critical Moment: Half Dome at Dusk

Getting a unique shot of a subject like Half Dome in Yosemite is no easy task. Millions of tourists, many carrying good cameras and armed with a good grasp of photography, visit this location every year. The plethora of photographs taken from all angles at all times of day really does make this a challenge, but Andrew, Giacomo and I set out to do it anyway. In doing some night photography on the previous nights, we noticed that there was a window of about 10-15 minutes where the light “lingered” in the sky; the sun had officially set, but there was still a decent amount of light left, enough to provide depth in the foreground and a gradient of color above. Timing, however, was critical, as it wasn’t always obvious exactly when to start shooting, and we only had one shot as we knew we’d need close to a 30 minute exposure to achieve the star trails we wanted. The second we pressed the shutter, we were committed to that time window for that night. Too early and we’d have too much light in the sky and be unable to see the stars; too late and we’d have a normal star trail image which would lack any detail in the foreground. We knew we were going to be at Mirror Lake the next night, and the view of Half Dome from that spot is perhaps the most awe-inspiring and iconic, so we wanted to have the perfect shot lined up, which would require learning precisely when this window of light would occur. That final shot came out well, but it was thanks to our observation the night before that we were able to get that critical window of light. This shot, from Glacier Point, is another single shot HDR, and as such required a good bit of Photoshop to get it the way I wanted it. Other byproducts of these ultra-long exposures include sensor-level noise, as you can see in the lower left corner of the shot, as well as a distinct loss of detail in moving objects, which can be seen in the “clumpiness” or softness of the tree. Despite all of this, the final shot is just how I like it: surreal but not insane. It makes people stop and say “wait a minute…” and you get to explain to them why it’s not just a photograph. At that point they either write you off as a talentless hack or beg you to teach them how to use Photomatix…

The band of yellow light just above the horizon is what we were going for by waiting for that moment just a few minutes after the sun set directly behind us.

I know I make this point very often (indeed, as often as I can!) but here, yet again, is an example of why I value HDR as much as I do. Take a peek at the original shot… at best it is “eh, kinda cool.” Definitely not blog post material. But with a lot of tweaking, all that data in the 30MB+ RAW file can be turned into, well, my new desktop background anyway 🙂

 

Those streaks in the sky that are clearly not stars are airplanes... unbelievably annoying to remove! Next time I do this I will set up AA guns next to my tripod...

The Conservatory at the Bellagio: Las Vegas

In a sudden burst of concentrated irresponsibility, my roommate and I decided to go have Easter dinner at The Buffet at the Bellagio. Now, there are several arguments to be had about why this was an unorthodox decision, but easily the most questionable was the fact that we were literally eating lunch at Bubba Gump’s at Universal CityWalk when the idea went from conversational joke to finalized plan in less than 10 seconds. On a whim we quickly looked into staying the night (since driving 4 hours in the ultimate food coma is simply not a good idea) and thanks to the Hotel Tonight app, we locked in a room at Caesar’s Palace for a paltry $69 less than 8 hours before check-in.

The Buffet itself did not disappoint: bottomless Kobe beef, lamb shank, sushi, king crab legs, manicotti, and beef Wellington were among my favorite items on the menu. We decided to eat until the moment when it actually becomes uncomfortable, put in an extra 20 minutes, and then headed around the corner to the Conservatory to decompress.

The Conservatory is a seasonal showcase but I have no idea what those tiny shoes are about. Stuff gets reused of course, I think the umbrellas on the ceiling actually hung above the Via Bellagio shops last year: Las Vegas, NV

Half Dome Under the Stars

This has to be one of my favorite shots that I’ve taken over the past few years. It was one of those times when “everything came together” as they say, and as Andrew mentioned it was in a large way a group effort between the three of us. Knowing we wanted to get a night shot of the iconic Half Dome with star trails behind it, we scoped out the location early on in the day, while there was still plenty of light. We spent hours taking test shots to get the framing we wanted, and as night fell we had all 3 of our cameras constantly taking images, comparing exposure times, apertures, every variable really, trying to do our best educated guesswork as to what the final settings should be. We knew we had about a 15-minute window to get the “perfect shot;” there is a very small period of time right as the first stars begin to show before the sun truly sets, leaving you some light in the sky that we knew would reflect off the mountain and give some detail to the foreground as well as give the sky a much bluer hue. As luck would have it, the setting sun cast a reddish orange hue directly on the face of Half Dome, which translated really well in the long exposure that I ended up finally taking. That exposure was 868 seconds long, at an aperture of F/4, ISO 200, and 16mm. Of course, it was just a single shot, and I had to process it out in Photoshop to create the light and the dark images needed to make the final HDR image. If I could go back and do it again, I’d bump the ISO to 400 and go for about 1000 seconds, but overall this came out pretty well! It took a huge amount of time to get right, as I had to remove a ton of pixel-level noise manually, especially in the foreground trees (if you zoom in on the full-rez image you can still see there’s a lot of it!) but needless to say, this one’s been my desktop background since I got back from Yosemite! Now we need a new banner image….

In addition to noise, I also had to Photoshop out about 5 different airplanes that cut across the entire image... Yosemite may be far from LA by car, but the planes never stop flying over!

Disneyland Teacups at Night

My road trip earlier this summer ended in Disneyland, home of the iconic Alice in Wonderland Teacups. It’s a pretty cool attraction regardless, but at night, it’s quite a dazzling sight. Because the motion between and during exposures would have been just too much, this is a single-shot HDR of the ride in action at nighttime. I’ve never actually ridden the Teacups, but I have a feeling they’d make me sick: bring on all the crazy roller coasters you want, but as soon as a ride devolves down to concentrated spinning, I’m out.

Stay tuned for Tucker to post the full image of the current site banner from Yosemite. It may be the most planned shot on here and is certainly the most collaborative.

Just working on this image makes me want to go back... I've got the annual pass so I really have no excuse: Anaheim, CA

Fire on Mount Stewart

Although I was mostly unsatisfied with many of the HDRs I tried to take in Australia, there is one glaring exception. First, I should explain. Part of the reason I was unhappy with many of my pictures from Australia was the fire control practices there. The Australians prevent massive, out-of-control wildfires by continually doing small controlled burns that partition the unburned land into small harmless fuel deposits. This results in a constant haze and smoke in the air, which made me dislike all the pictures I took (kind of like in another city I know). On to the exception: the very last night I stayed in James Cook University, where I was studying, my friends and I decided to stay up all night and go for a hike. That very night, the controlled burns were raging in our very back door, on the slopes of Mount Stewart which overlooks the university campus. When I realized this, I knew this was a rare opportunity so naturally I busted out my tripod and camera. Here’s what I saw.

The red lights on the left side of the picture are the lights of the radio towers on the top of Mount Stewart shining throughout the blazing inferno that raged below. Alright, the fires were not as out of control as I make them sound. But spectacular nonetheless, especially when the long exposure makes them look like such towering walls of flame.

More HDR Panorama – Honolulu At Night

I’ve been pretty busy lately doing video/photo shoots as well as continuing work for the High Museum, and when you combine that with the epically long time it took to edit this, you end up with the reason that I haven’t posted in a while. It’s worth it though! This pan is one of the largest photography-related projects I’ve undertaken, and that’s the main reason I put off editing it when I got back from Hawaii. The original photographs were taken around 10pm from the balcony of a cousin’s house in Honolulu. As you can see, the balcony had an absolutely unmatched view of the entire city of Honolulu, and the only reason I didn’t extend this further left was that it would have caught the house and deck in the frame and I wanted the focus to be on the city, houses, mountain, and clouds. Always clouds! The setup wasn’t hard, the only annoying thing was that the long exposure shot of each bracket was hitting the 30 second ceiling, so the overall process took about half an hour to get all of the brackets I wanted. I’ll go ahead and post the final shot for those of you who just want to see pretty pictures and don’t care about the text (I myself am guilty of this!)

The final product, after a week in Photomatix and Photoshop. It came out OK for what it is; I can't wait to do even more experimentation with HDR panoramas!

 

I really, really wish I’d been there about 2 hours earlier for this. HDR and night photography do not mix well (there are exceptions, but they are rare) and generally result in less than awesome images. This is because at night, there is no sun (…….) to create scenes with ultra-high contrast. Usually when you’re shooting at night, the lighting is pretty even (non-existant) and bracketing doesn’t add anything. Still, I bracketed away for this and thought to myself “meh, I may not end up even processing these because they’ll just be orange.” Sure enough, when I processed them, they were all that awful sickly orange color of the sodium lights that are on every single street around the world at night. The first few times you do long-exposure night photography in a city the lights are cool, but very, very quickly they become ugly and unwanted. Still, you sometimes have to make do. That would have been another benefit of being there earlier; the streetlights would have been off, allowing for a real difference in contrast between the sunset (bright) and the houses and mountains in shadow. Oh well. To give you an idea of what I had to work with, here’s an example of a single RAW file (unprocessed) and the HDR version of the same shot (processed only in Photomatix):

This is the neutral (0ev) exposure from the first bracketed set in the panorama.

This is the same shot, with the 3 bracketed RAWS processed into an HDR image in Photomatix.

So, admittedly, the HDR does help here as it gives me much greater tone in the houses and trees, and adds a bit to the sky and clouds but not much. The overwhelming problem here was the ORANGE… something had to be done. I processed the rest of the shots in Photomatix and began piecing it together in Photoshop. The orange problem became even more apparent at this stage:

 

Orange! Yuck!

It was flat, not dynamic and contrasty and “wow-inducing” like HDR should be. I hate sodium streetlights. It can’t be said enough. It’s one of the best things about night photography in places like Maine, because you can get just the tones that are there naturally. Anyway… At this stage, it would seem as if the hard work is over, in that I’ve pieced the 5 shots together and blended them so it looks like a continuous shot. That is usually the hardest part of doing the whole pan process, but it was not the case here. I then embarked on a crusade of de-oranging the shot, a process that took me all week mostly because I’d work on it some, get fed up, and come back the next day. I used a combination of selective color, color balance, and layer masks to slowly remove the orange from the places I didn’t want it, which was 95% of the panorama. A few days later, I had something like this:

 

Less orange, but less color in general... still not dynamic... getting there, but not done.

With the orange having been banished (or at least somewhat tamed), I was able to claim the first major victory. It still wasn’t right though, because in the process of de-oranging the image the clouds became white which they normally are, except when there’s a sunset, and that was half of the point of this picture to begin with. I made the decision to attempt to recreate the sunset that night by whatever means necessary, and that ended up meaning using much more Photoshop than I usually employ. I usually post-process my HDRs in Photoshop in order to add a bit of selective contrast and saturation, but for this I ended up having to do a ton of coloring, shading, and just generally breathing some life back into the shot. You can see the final result above but I’m finally pleased with it. Man was it a process though! The final shot is just how I like it: a bit over the top, a bit over-saturated, and bit over-contrasty, and a lot “wow!”

I’ve been using the pan as a dual-monitor desktop wallpaper which is pretty fun as it’s the first one that I’ve ever made. I’m adding it to the Desktops section now. Enjoy!

Tribute to A-Town

Well I’m almost set to head down to New Zealand for a semester abroad! Amidst the packing and preparations I’ve realized that between school in California and only a handful of brief visits home, I haven’t really done much in terms of shooting in Atlanta. So, this week I went out and did my best to put together some material that would stand as THE Atlanta shot or shots when I think of work from home. The result is a 2-for-1 post!

The first image is a bit cliche with the long-exposure highway blur but the more I thought about it the more I realized “I’ve never actually done one of those before…” This image is also available in the Desktops section of our site if you feel so inclined.

The fast moving red blurs on the right side of the southbound lanes quickly becoming individually discernible cars tell a pretty truthful story about Atlanta traffic on the Downtown Connector: Atlanta, GA

And the second is from about 50 stories up in an office building at sunrise. I’m looking North here, so the light from the East was just beginning to hit the right sides of these buildings. Eventually I think I want to try this building again, there may be a better place on the floor to try this from. Actually, by the time I get a chance to try this again, the sun will be rising in a slightly different place — which might turn out to be better anyways!

To address the large building dominating the left side of the frame, I actually wanted this to come off as being taken from a building, not as some helicopter aerial view. Besides, the large interesting buildings only really extend to the North from here so there isn't much to see on the other side of the foreground building anyways: Atlanta, GA

Disney World: New Years Fireworks

Where to begin with this one… Never have I ever received more weird looks than I did while arranging this shot. Although the families next to me had been waiting in their prime viewing locations since as early as 3pm, I didn’t feel too ridiculous spending 6 hours standing in my spot. I think I saw three parades go by and the standard 9pm fireworks while I was twiddling my thumbs up on the Main Street train station back balcony… At any rate, this final image is the result of a 5-shot bracket taken about 15 minutes before the actual fireworks started. Then, trying my very best to not let the throngs gathered up on the balcony to jostle the camera, I took stills of the fireworks going off (alas, I absolutely need to dish out the 99 cents for a cable release) and composited it as best I could into the HDR. This may very well be my favorite picture I have ever worked on, but that owes mostly to the memory of the scene this picture takes me back to. It is also my first entry into our desktops section, so on the off chance you’re feeling like a new background is in order, head on over to the desktops section and figure out what size fits your monitor best. If not, then that’s cool, too.

I feel like there are so many good places to be when midnight strikes on New Year's Eve. Right here is definitely pretty far up that list: Orlando, FL

Dalí Till Dawn at the High Museum

Last weekend, I was asked to “provide coverage of the Dalí Till Dawn event” at the High Museum in Atlanta, where I am currently working. This turned out to be a larger task than one person could handle, as they wanted both still AND video coverage of the whole night, which went from their normal closing hour of 5pm until 5am. Luckily I didn’t have to stay till 5am, but I did enlist Andrew’s help to do video and we were there until 2am. Giacomo came as well and he hung out with us towards the end. All in all it was a good time, and the only downside is the 600+ photos and hours+ of video I have is very difficult to edit down to a 3 minute video… it is coming along, but slowly. We were even able to take the time to grab a few night-HDRs of the museum, as well as a time-lapse HDR of the festivities inside which will probably make its way up on the blog soon. I really liked the way this photo turned out, as it shows the density and length of the line, but one thing it does not convey is how cold it was. These people were waiting in line for hours and hours in below-freezing temperatures, all to see the galleries within! Things like this make me feel validated in my love of art, because the Dalí show really was one that was worth waiting in that line to see. Anyway, here is this shot of the museum entrance around midnight.

This shot was taken with Andrew's 24-105mm, which is very likely to be my next lens purchase... that range on the full-frame 5D is so perfect.

Main Street during the holidays…

The Magic Kingdom is packed around New Years, at capacity, in fact. It is so full that even if you have the Park Hopper ticket to be able to roam about any of the parks for a day they will warn you up front that if you leave the Magic Kingdom at any point, you might not be allowed back in due to capacity. Of course, as 2010’s time came closer and closer to an end, this outright mob clustered up on Main Street and the central hub in front of the castle to get ready for the fireworks. The sun sets early these days and though this bracket was only taken at about 3:30pm, this congestion was already starting to build. Actually, I got to my spot to shoot the final New Years fireworks show at around 6:30 or so, fully expecting to stand and guard the location for the next 6 hours. I was shocked to find that there were eight people around me who had gotten their spots up to 3 hours before me. When 2011 finally rolled around it was well worth the wait though and I can’t wait to post some of the amazing things I saw from my nook at the Main Street train station… until then, though, enjoy Main Street at dusk.

In taking this bracket, my tripod was in a position where I could not extend its third leg. Needless to say, I'm very pleased with this two-legged-lean-against-a-post shot: Orlando, FL

Hogwarts Exterior

As I investigate the issue I’m currently having with Photomatix 4 I am left with little option but to whip out the old 3.1 in order to continue processing. The New Years trip to Orlando brought with it a TON of fun stuff to shoot and manipulate and

it’s going to be showing up gradually on the site. Naturally, DisneyWorld was a must but the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios’ Islands of Adventure was also on our to-do list. It is an incredible recreation of exactly what it claims: it’s a veritable WORLD of wizard- and magic-related items from the books and has such attention to detail that you’d swear you were actually inside the book. The area comprises about a dozen shops named after their literary counterparts including Ollivander’s Wands and the Three Broomsticks, but the real piece of art is the castle. The ride it houses is a nausea-inducing motion simulator that takes you through most of the Harry Potter canon as you ride aboard an enchanted piece of levitating furniture. Amazing accomplishment, a requirement if you call yourself a true Harry Potter aficionado.

The sign advertises a 10-minute wait, made possible by the lack of crowds on New Year's Day thanks to the three bowl games being played in the neighboring areas of Florida: Orlando, FL

Christmas Eve Fun

There’s a house on our street that does a decent job of lighting up around this time of year and my mom had mentioned several times that we ought to go snag some pictures of it while the lights are on at night. So we went a few hours ago, deciding what better way to spend the early end of a Christmas Eve than taking pictures of holiday lights! I’m still working on a few of the ones we got but it pains me to say that in my vanity I asked to borrow her Rebel XTi and used it to shoot what ended up being my favorite images from the night… of my own camera under some of the lights. Say what you will, we had a fun time trespassing on private property and agitating the neighbors dogs just for kicks. Spending more than 5 seconds looking at this image will reveal something unusual on TAG: Nikon equipment. Gasp. Before I drove home from LA about a week ago, I had a good opportunity to pick up some old Nikon primes for video work on the 7D but I was lazy and waited a long time to order my F to EF mount adapter. That’s a 14mm f/2.8 on there, representing the widest end of our combined lenses… can’t wait to slap it on Tucker’s 5D when he gets back from HI…

Merry Christmas everyone! We're supposed to get a little snow tomorrow so here's hoping we get an excuse to add a "Snow" category on the side... Atlanta, GA

Thanksgiving at CityWalk

Certainly a unique Thanksgiving experience, I slept in later than I thought humanly possible and pretty much took a shower and went to dinner. We enjoyed a fine Thanksgiving evening at Universal CityWalk, Samba was running an all you can eat for $30 and it was excellent. I’ve never done Brazilian steakhouse before but I will definitely go again. In order, their finest offerings were the Brazilian steak, bacon-wrapped chicken, turkey, peppered steak, and tri-tip. The six other offerings were also outstanding. Movie tickets were only $6 so we decided to see whatever looked most interesting and chose the new Russell Crowe, “The Next Three Days.” Just before heading in though, I tried very carefully to handhold a few brackets of the evening lights and signs decorating the place. It’s fairly painful to deliberately notch it up to ISO 800 to shoot a bracket, but I think the results are certainly worth posting.

The fountains in front of the abandoned Abercrombie and Fitch were cooperative in helping to make the woefully underlit and frankly uninteresting walkways just a little but more appealing: Los Angeles CA

On Set: LACMA

A whirlwind weekend for sure with two back to back days of hectic, last minute night shoots. Sony officially announced their new F3 camera on Monday morning and had tasked a small group at school with putting together a test/promo piece over the wee

kend to show it off. It’s really an amazing piece of work, opting to do 1080p very well instead of trying to play the resolution game and reach 2k or 4k levels. The sensor size is almost the size of a physical frame of 35mm film and the body is intended to be used with legitimate PL mount cinema lenses, essentially Sony’s attempt at making an affordable offering for indie productions looking for 35mm caliber images who don’t actually want to shoot on film. Very pretty picture for sure. Regardless, our story for the promo involved two young people frolicking amongst the Urban Lights exhibit at the LA County Museum of Art. In between setups, our two actors were kind enough to return to their spots so I could try and come away with my own bit of imagery for the evening. I have said on previous occasion that I love getting to take HDRs when the subject matter has been intentionally lit… it’s not often but the results are amazingly satisfying. More images from LACMA to come later in the week but I couldn’t wait to start working on this one as soon as I got back home earlier tonight…

All those in favor, say aye... Los Angeles CA