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Photography Question 
Ken Cole
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/7/2005
kcolephotos.com
 

Night Photography: Lights and Fog


 
 
I have very little experience with night photography. This past weekend I experimented with shooting a bridge at night in a particularly dense fog. I was disappointed that the street lights ended up as globes of light with halos around them instead of the artistic lanterns that they were. Is this because of the fog and is there a way to lessen the halos without compromising the overall exposure of the shot?


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2/6/2006 7:05:49 AM

 
Kerry L. Walker   The halo effect was caused by the overexposure of the lights, a necessity to get the rest of the bridge properly exposed. Primarily, it was caused by the fog, which reflected the light from the lanterns back onto the lanterns. Personally, I like the photo the way it is. It brings out the mood caused by the fog. Really like the photo.


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2/6/2006 9:43:37 AM

 
Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
  Hey Ken,
Kerry is right, and I like the photo also. Next time, take it when there is just a little bit of daylight left. That should even out the exposure and give you better detail.
sam


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2/6/2006 10:32:26 AM

 
Test Test
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/22/2004
  I have a similiar type of picture

http://pondyshots..com/2005/10/picture-from-my-balcony.html

What could I have done to improve the quality of this picture?


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2/6/2006 10:37:32 AM

 
Bob Fately   Ken, what Kerry and Samuel are describing relates to a reality of imaging systems - the so-called dynamic range. This measures the differential between the lowest and highest amount of light a single shot can have while not losing details in either the shadows or the highlights.

Film and CCDs have less dynamic range than the human eye/brain vision apparatus. This is why you can make out the details of the lanterns as well as see the details of the bridge stonework with your eyes, but the camera cannot capture both simultaneously. Sorry, it's just the limit of the medium.
Now, there is sort of a workaround, which can be done with a digital camera (it's just a lot harder with film since you have to have precise registration). You can try this:
Set the camera on a tripod for sturdy and stable support. The plan is to take two photos, then use an image editing program to sandwich them together and remove the "bad" parts of the top layer.
So, take one photo to expose properly for the shadow and dark details. Without moving the camera a whit, change the aperture (or shutter speed) to get the lights properly exposed - so you will be able to see them rather than the globes of luminance you got now.
On the computer, open one of these images, then the other - the second must, of course, be precisely registered over the first (which makes it tougher to do with film). Say the top "layer" is the one exposed for the shadows - so the lamps on this one are big balls of light. Using the appropriate erasing tool in the editing program, erase the top layer in the area around the lamps to reveal the properly exposed lamps on the layer below.
Hope that made sense. Not easy, but at least it gets you beyond the inherent limitation of the camera's ability to record vast differences in light simultaneously.


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2/6/2006 11:27:46 AM

 
Samuel Smith
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/21/2004
  put it in your gallery gauray and i'll take a look.
sam


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2/6/2006 11:31:12 AM

 
Ken Cole
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/7/2005
kcolephotos.com
  Thanks so much, Kerry, Sam and Bob. I really appreciate all your suggestions. Bob, I have heard and read elsewhere about the technique of combining two different exposure settings. I didn't think of it here and didn't have time for it, anyway, because it started pouring buckets right after taking this shot and had to pack up very quickly. However, it is a great suggestion for future situations. I definitely want to go back again (not necessarily in fog) because this is a westerly view and I think has some twilight/sunset possibilities with the lights on.
Thanks also for the comments about the shot in general. I appreciate it!


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2/6/2006 12:03:27 PM

 
Dick Metcalf   I you shot in raw, I believe it's poosible to create the two exposers referred to with one shot. Convert using an exposure for the highlights and convert again for shadows. Then go through the process previously mentioned.


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2/7/2006 1:21:38 PM

 
Ken Cole
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/7/2005
kcolephotos.com
  Dick! Thanks for the comment. Unfortunately it wasn't in camera RAW this time. I have shot in RAW before and understand exactly what you are saying. It is a great suggestion. All the more reason to switch to RAW for all shots from now on... Thanks again!


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2/7/2006 1:39:14 PM

 
James C. Messervy
BetterPhoto Member Since: 1/16/2006
  You could try shooting in RAW and slightly underexposing. This will lessen the overexposure of the lights and the CCD should still capture the detail in the shadows, which you can then bring out when you process the RAW file. I like the image also, but would probably prefer slightly less halo effect with the lights.


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2/7/2006 1:39:42 PM

 
Bob Fately   Ken, the RAW idea is okay, but understand that there is an inherent limitation to how much dynamic range a CCD has. RAW gives you the ability to completely manipulate every iota of data the chip captures, but you could still have the problem if the difference between the lights and the shadows is more than about 8 stops.

Two exposures (in RAW or otherwise) allow you to make a wider spread between the extremes. Certainly the single RAW shot approach is worth trying - there's no way to tell just by looking at the scene since our eyes are not that sensitive to these luminance differentials.


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2/7/2006 5:23:13 PM

 
James R. Glidewell   Just a couple of comments. First, as far as taking two pictures and combining them in Photoshop. My experience is that this technique is much more difficult (but not impossible) with a picture like this than say a picture of a landscape with a sky. The reason is with a landscape there is a sharp division between the sky and mountains (or whatever is in the foreground). What makes this picture difficult is that the lights radiate outward affecting the exposure of the sky and bridge. So no matter where you mask the one image it is hard to make a smooth transition unless you are very careful with your feathering.

Second, this picture illustrates why I sometimes still prefer film over digital. When I looked at the picture it screamed "digital" at me because this is a typical response from a digital camera with the halo effect. Even though film has about the same dynamic range as digital, it reacts differently from digital. Digital is linear and is quicker to blow out highlights, whereas film responds more like an "S-curve" so it is more likely to save the highlights around the light (even though the light itself would still be blown out).

This is why even though I have a digital camera, I still carry my film camera because sometimes it will bail me out in a situation like this. I would be willing to bet that in this case film would have produced a softer and less harsh picture.


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2/8/2006 8:58:05 AM

 
Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
  James,
That halo effect is not limited to digital sensors. Some slide films produce similar abnormalities with a bright light source(...which is why I've all but abandoned shooting a rising or setting sun unless it's diffused by haze.)

Ken,
I like this photo,...halos or not.

The curve and detail of the bridge adds interest. I like the reflections off the sidewalk and the surreal amber glow that the available light recorded.
The only possible improvement I might suggest is to have had all of the spire on that column included in the frame.


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2/8/2006 9:35:11 AM

 
Ken Cole
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/7/2005
kcolephotos.com
  Can I ask if we can tell how much of the halo is caused by the blowout and how much is caused by the fog? It would seem that the fog reflection is increasing the halo but would there be halos without the fog if the lights were a blowout?


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2/8/2006 10:24:15 AM

 
Bob Cammarata
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/17/2003
 
 
  Early Morning Trot-lining
Early Morning Trot-lining
Shot at sunrise on Provia 100 slide film
© Bob Cammarata
Nikon FM2 Manual E...
 
 
Any halos of light caused by the fog alone would be more tapered and not as well defined.
I would think that with digital...(and with the slide films I referred to earlier), a halo of light would appear around any bright source as log as the rest of the scene was exposed properly.

In this attached example, my Provia 100 slide film recorded a bright yellow halo around the sun and a red band of light around that. (Neither of which were visible in the viewfinder.)


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2/8/2006 12:21:36 PM

 
James R. Glidewell   First, sorry I didn't mean to imply on my earlier post that I didn't like the photo. Actually, I like it a lot but I do think the halo is distracting. Not the glow of the bulb, but the halo itself.

But I thought about it and I think you could probably get rid of that in PS if you are careful. The first thing that comes to my mind is to try a Gaussian blur masking out every thing but the lights.

Actually, I think my first step would be to create a selection around the halo and clone in some of the surrounding soft light to get rid of the halo and then either feather it or, more likely, apply the Gaussian blur. It may take fairly high radius - maybe around 25. This might even enhance the foggy effect.


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2/13/2006 1:18:56 PM

 
Aaron  Reyes
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/8/2005
  here's a good way to do it!
http://www.luminous-landscape.com/tutorials/digital-blending.shtml

or use the HDR built in to PSCS2


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2/16/2006 6:43:56 AM

 
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