How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Silky water effects, streaked clouds, motion-smoothed with an ethereal look; long exposure photography seems to be in vogue as photographers discover the looks that can be created. There are multiple ways to achieve this. The most basic is to buy a standard neutral-density photography filter which cuts the light, allowing you to use long shutter speeds without overexposing your shot. You can achieve exposures minutes long, especially when using 10-stop ND filters like the Lee Big Stopper or even the 15-stop Super Stopper.

I recently did an article on an alternative way to make long exposure photos, “Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos.” I encourage you to read the piece and learn how a piece of welding glass can be a budget substitute for more expensive photographic ND filters.

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This is the same location I used for some of the other shots in this article but taken when the river was much higher and faster. The biggest difference is that I used DIY welding glass ND filter to achieve this shot. See my other article for this technique.

This article teaches you a third method of making long-exposure images with no filter at all. Unlike the welding glass trick which pretty much requires your final image to be monochrome so as not to have to fight the heavy color cast, this works great in full color, with no filter at all, and no color cast present. It’s a great method to simulate long exposure.

The technique uses a stack of multiple images of the same scene then processed with a Photoshop process called Image Averaging. It’s really quite simple and has some advantages over traditional methods with ND filters.

Advantages over the traditional ND filter method

When doing traditional long exposure photography with an ND filter you will be making long exposures.  (Duh!)  There are a few challenges with this:

  • If during the long exposure you bump the camera or things move in the shot you don’t want to be blurred, you will need to re-do the shot.
  • Long exposures can often be several minutes in length. Double the time if you also enable in-camera noise reduction. If it takes 2-minutes to expose and another 2-minutes for the noise reduction to work, you will only be making a shot every 4-minutes. This can really slow down your work, and if the light changes during that time, you could miss it.
  • With very dark ND filters, you won’t be able to see anything through the lens once the filter is in place. You will have to compose your shot, pre-focus, then mount the ND filter and make the image.
  • Determining exposure will take some calculation. You’ll check exposure without the filter then use a calculation tool to determine the new shutter speed the ND filter requires. Often this will need some tweaking after you see your shot and…yup, another re-do will be needed.
  • If back in editing you see the shots and wish you’d gone for longer or shorter shutter speeds to change the look, too bad. You’d have to go back and reshoot – if that is even possible.
Image: In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second wa...

In fairly bright sunlight, even with the ISO at 50 and aperture at f/22, 1/5th of a second was as slow a shutter speed attainable while maintaining proper exposure. This was with no filter.

 The advantages of the Image Averaging method

The advantages of using the image stacking method are essentially the opposite of those things just stated above:

  • You’ll be making multiple images rather than one long one. If one of the images in the group has a problem, you may be able to eliminate it and use the rest to still successfully create the effect.
  • You can see what you’re doing! Not shooting with a dark filter means you’ll still be able to see, compose, use auto-focus, auto-exposure, and even image stabilization if you shoot handheld.
  • No calculation! Without the addition of a dark filter, you eliminate this step.
  • Adjust the length of your “simulated slow shutter” later in post-production. Want more or less blur? You can change your mind later.
  • Are conditions too bright for a standard long exposure shot? Maybe you only own a 6-stop ND filter, and daytime conditions are too bright to let you get the length of exposure you’d like. You can combine both methods to simulate a longer exposure than possible with the ND filter alone.
  • Are people in the shot you’d like to remove? Because they are likely to move during the multiple shots, when the averaging process takes place, they will vanish!
simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

Make people disappear! Notice on the inset the people walking in the river, but on the completed shot, 15 images, each 1/5th of a second = 4 seconds simulated. They are gone.

Making the shots

Setting up and shooting the images you need for your image-averaged creation is much the same as any photography. Here are the factors and steps to keep in mind:

Composition still counts!

Because you introduce a long exposure blurred effect does not mean that you will have automatically created a good photo. Still consider how to carefully compose your image. Take into consideration that moving objects in the shot will blur and look simplified with less detail. Good long exposure shots often emphasize the contrast between static, non-moving objects (buildings, rocks, trees, etc.), and moving objects like clouds and water. Include both in your shot.

Shoot on a tripod

I mentioned you could do this handheld and, well…maybe you could. However, even with this technique, you will still want to shoot at the slowest shutter speed possible. That way, you won’t have to make too many shots for combining. Once you get much slower than 1/30th of a second (and faster than that if if you’ve just had coffee), handholding your camera is probably going to ruin your shots.

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

All Images ISO 50, f/22 . Top left – No filter – 20 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 4 seconds. Top right – No filter – 35 images each 1/5 second = simulated total = 7 seconds. Bottom – 6-Stop ND filter – 15 images each 20 seconds = simulated total = 5 minutes.

How many shots?

This technique simulates long exposure by combining multiple shots.  The simple formula is:

(# Shots) x (Shutter Speed of each shot) = Total simulated shutter speed effect (in seconds)

Let’s plug some numbers into that and see the result.  Set your camera for the lowest ISO possible.  I can get my Canon 6D down to ISO 50.  Some cameras will have ISO 100 as the lowest.  Use whatever you can.  Set your aperture to the smallest aperture possible.  Meter with those settings and see how long you can make each individual shot and have it properly exposed.  Say we were able to do this in the shade: 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50.  To get a simulated shutter speed of one minute (60 seconds), we’d need to make 240 shots.

240 shots x 1/4 second (.25) = 60 seconds

That’s a little unwieldy, and stacking 240 shots in Photoshop may cause your computer to choke. So what to do? Perhaps you don’t have an ND filter in your bag, but you do have a circular polarizer. It will help reduce the light. You mount it and now find you’ve lost 2-stops. So your exposure can be 1 second, f/22, ISO 50. Plug that into the formula, and you get:

60 shots  x 1 second = 60 seconds

If you’re shooting in lower light conditions, you may be able to get a slower shutter speed to start with. That will mean you can take fewer shots.

To make your job easier (and the computers as well), always try to get the slowest shutter speed you can for your shots. That will mean you can create the simulated long exposure with fewer shots.

Say you did have a 6-stop ND filter in your kit. You mount that, and now your settings are 16 seconds, f/22, ISO 50. Now, to get that simulated 1-minute exposure, you’d just need about four shots. Why not make 10 while you’re at it and you can simulate a 2.6 minute (160 seconds) exposure?

Had you done this traditionally, and had a 10-stop ND filter, you could take the unfiltered exposure down from 1/4 second, f/22, ISO 50 to 256 seconds (4.2 minutes), f/22, ISO 50. So, to get the same effect with a 6-stop ND filter as you could with a 10-stop by using image averaging, take 16 shots.

16 shots x 16 seconds each = 256 seconds (4.2 minutes)

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

35 images each 1/6 second combine to simulate a 6-second exposure. Shooting into the sun, it would probably be impossible to make a 6-second exposure without a filter.

Forget the math, make the shots!

If all that math made your head hurt (it did mine), here’s the simple way to get what you need so Photoshop can do its magic:

  • Use a tripod.  You don’t want to do all this and get shaky shots.  That will waste all your work.
  • Do what’s necessary to shoot with the slowest shutter speed you can get with the equipment you have.  In the camera, that will usually mean setting the lowest ISO and smallest aperture.
  • If you have a polarizer or ND filter, use those to get the shutter speed even slower if you can.
  • Make lots of shots for each stacked image you will create.  Depending on how slow you were able to get your shutter speed, a few dozen isn’t too many.  You don’t have to use them all when you get into editing, but having more will allow a longer simulated effect.

Putting it all together

This recipe assumes you will be using Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop in combination. You don’t have to use Lightroom. You can get your individual images into a stack in Photoshop another way if you need to (though using LR is much easier). Using Photoshop, however, is mandatory. Also, to use the Smart Objects function described, you will need a version of Photoshop that is Version 14.2 or higher. Older versions of Photoshop won’t have this.

There are ways to do this with older versions in a more manual process. If you have an older version, you will need to do a little online research to learn that technique. I used the latest version of Photoshop at this writing (Photoshop CC 20.0.4).

Let’s look at this step-by-step process visually…

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

1. From Lightroom, select the sequence of images you will use.  Edit the first one in the sequence to your liking.  Then select all of them and use the Sync function so all have the same settings as the first.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

2. With all selected, send the images from Lightroom to Photoshop by going to Photo->Edit In->Open as Layers in Photoshop. (Photoshop will open, and the images will appear as layers in a stack). If you have a lot of images to be opened and stacked, this can take a while. Let it work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

3. With all the layers selected, in the menu select Layer->Smart Object->Convert to Smart Object. This can take a while to do its work. Be patient.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

4. With the Smart Object layer selected, from the menu select Layer->Smart Objects->Stack Mode->Mean. This can also take a bit to work.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

Wait for it…wait for it…and…

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

Presto!  You will have a simulated long-exposure image made from your stack of shorter exposures.  20 images each at 3.2 seconds, f/22, ISO 50.  No filter used.  Simulated long exposure of 64 seconds.

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

The water in this section of the river was pretty calm anyway, but look at the before and after areas pointed out by the arrow where the original shots were 3.2 seconds vs the combined 20 shots x 3.2 seconds = a simulated 64 seconds.

How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging

5. To finish up, go to Layer->Flatten Image.  Then File->Save As and save the finished image where you like.  If you want to give the completed image some additional tweaking, you can do that with Photoshop or Lightroom as you would with any other image.

Remember…

That’s the magic!  Here are a few things to remember for best results:

  • Consider your composition.  Look for a scene where you will have a combination of static objects that won’t move during the sequence and those that will.  An image with both will be more compelling.
  • Use a tripod.  You can do this handheld if you must, but know that any camera movement will be translated as a blur in the final result.
  • Do what you can to get as long a shutter speed with each image in the sequence as possible.  Drop your ISO to the lowest setting, use a small aperture, and use polarizing filters or whatever ND filters you have.  Longer exposures for each shot mean fewer images are needed to create a simulated long exposure.
  • Overshoot.  You don’t need to use all the images in a sequence if you decide you don’t want as much blur. However, if you don’t shoot enough, you might later wish you had them.
  • As you work through the steps, some things can take a long time.  Be patient and let your computer work.  If the process crashes, it could be you don’t have enough computer resources and will have to settle for a smaller stack.
simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

5 images, each 6 seconds = a simulated exposure of 30 seconds. No filter used.

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

10 images, each 1/4 second combine to give a 2.5-second simulated exposure. This can be a great technique to use for getting silky water effects when you don’t have an ND filter and only need a longer exposure of a few seconds.

Final thoughts

Is this a better method than using an actual ND filter? Like so many photographic things, the answer is probably…it depends. Maybe you don’t have a filter or have one with you. Perhaps you don’t need a really long exposure, but just one a little longer than you can get with a low ISO/small aperture combination such as when seeking blur on a waterfall. Maybe you need to vanish people and don’t want to make a single multi-minute shot for various reasons. Alternatively, perhaps you have an ND filter but need an even longer exposure than it can give you.

There are lots of reasons to add this How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging Technique to your bag of tricks. Give it a try, and I’m sure you’ll have fun. Share your images with us in the comments!

 

simulate-long-exposure-stacked-image-averaging

The post How to Simulate Long Exposure using Stacked Image Averaging appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

If you’ve been to a great aerial fireworks display, I’m sure you’ve heard the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd, captivated by the colorful spectacle. Here in the United States, the Independence Day holiday is when many of us try our hand at fireworks photography.  I’m sure if you live in other places in the world, you also have holidays celebrated with fireworks.  So how can you capture those moments in a photo and elicit those same “oohs” and “ahhs” from your viewers and achieve better fireworks photos?

Include a landmark, city skyline, or something in your fireworks photo to add interest, place, and story. This is a show over the Boise, Idaho Depot.

Great fireworks photos aren’t difficult, but you will not get them in Auto mode.  You will need to put a little thought into this and learn to take charge of your camera controls.  Try these simple tips, however, and I’ll bet you’ll come back with images that elicit “oohs,” “ahhs,” some likes, and maybe even “wows” from your viewers.

Here are the things we’ll cover for better fireworks photos:

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Camera settings
  4. Shutter speed choices
  5. Using Bulb mode
  6. Shooting technique
  7. Boom Zoom Bloom FX
  8. The “Black Hat trick”

After you’ve read this article, and made your fireworks photos, be sure to read Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

1. Location

You can make good fireworks photos with just an image of the colorful bursts in the sky. But great fireworks photos need something more – an interesting setting or foreground.

Think of displays you have seen taken with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Harbour, the Chicago city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.  What makes those shots over the top?  A couple of things;  iconic city skylines and landmarks, and most often, water.

Not only are there interesting things in the shot besides the fireworks themselves, but often with water in the shot, there’s the benefit of colorful reflections.

If you are lucky, the spot where you plan to photograph your fireworks display will also have interesting foreground features and perhaps a body of water.  If so, scout the area ahead of time so you can find a location to best capture those things.

You can pretty much count on a crowd at a fireworks show. Get there early to stake out your spot. Then consider including the location in some of your shots.

You can count on a crowd when you go to a fireworks show.  Plan on getting to your spot early so you can “stake your turf.” Perhaps put out a blanket to ensure an unobstructed view of the show.  Then, if you have no other foreground elements, consider the possibility of making the crowd your foreground, their heads silhouetted against the sky and fireworks.

Another possibility might be to find a less obvious location, not right where the fireworks will be launched.  Perhaps there is a landmark, a tree-line, a high vantage point, or some other spot that will create an interesting foreground that while still including the fireworks, will give context, place, and “story” to your photos.  Doing some scouting long before the night of the show is a good idea.

The first few fireworks of the show will be in clearer sky conditions. As the show continues, smoke may be more of an issue and the sky won’t be as dark with the fireworks lighting the smoke.

2. Equipment

What will you need to make good fireworks photos? Let’s break down the basic equipment needs:

Camera

You can make fireworks photos with a cellphone camera if that’s all you have. However, the techniques will be different and the results likely not as impressive.

We won’t get into that here, so let’s assume you have a better DSLR or mirrorless camera with the option for manual control. Be sure to have a good-sized storage card, as well as a spare battery or two, as you’ll usually take lots of shots at a fireworks show.

Tripod

Fireworks photography will require a steady camera as you’ll be shooting in low light and taking longer exposures. Consider a tripod pretty much mandatory for this kind of work.  An L-bracket on your camera or at least a tripod that will easily allow going from landscape to portrait mode easily is a good thing too. Often you will shoot in both aspects.

Lens Selection

Lens choice largely depends on how close you will be to the fireworks launch location.  If you are really close, you may need a wide-angle to keep the larger bursts in the frame. If, however, you are a long distance from the show or want to compress the apparent distance between your foreground object and the sky bursts, a telephoto might be in order.

I typically use my go-to lens; a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS as it covers a good range. You don’t need a particularly fast lens as you will be working with mid to small apertures and longer shutter speeds. Still, a sharp lens is always a good thing.

Cable Release/Remote trigger

The technique for photographing fireworks will be discussed in a minute, but trust that having a way to remotely trigger your camera will be a real help. One reason is you are presumably going to a fireworks show to enjoy the show.  Having your eye to the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter button the entire time will lessen  the enjoyment of “being there.” It will also introduce camera shake, something you don’t want.

A very basic remote release can be had for under $10.00 US. This is a great item to always have in your bag for many purposes.

The tree line at the bottom of the frame adds some additional interest.

3. Camera settings

If you’ve always worked in Program or one of the Auto modes with your camera, or even if you use Aperture (Av/A) or Shutter (Tv/S) mode, this will be the time to be brave and go to full Manual mode.

Here’s how you want to set up your camera for fireworks photography:

Raw Mode

Real photographers shoot in Raw mode. There are many articles why. If you never have done so before, here’s your chance to try it. You can work in Raw + Jpg if that makes you feel more secure. However, I’m betting you won’t use the .jpg versions.

Full Manual

As described. Be brave. You can do this.

White Balance

As you’re using Raw mode, (you are, yes?), white balance can be tweaked later so it doesn’t matter much what you set for shooting. I tend to leave my white balance in Faithful mode almost all the time.

Sometimes it’s fun to zoom in tighter and get the flurry of action.

Low ISO

Working in low light with dark or black backgrounds and long exposures will tend to introduce noise in your shots. Fortunately, the fireworks are bright, so higher ISO settings won’t be needed.  Instead, use the minimum (ISO 100 on many cameras), and you’ll be fine.

Noise Reduction Off

Many modern cameras have a noise reduction feature, which after the first exposure, takes a second “black frame” exposure, detecting the noise and then subtracting that from the initial exposure. It can work well, but…

The second exposure takes as long as the first, and if you’re making multi-second exposures (for example, that 6-second exposure now takes 12 seconds to finish), your camera will be busy working, and you’ll be missing subsequent fireworks.

Turn it off.  You’ll be using a low ISO with minimal noise anyway, and the delay in being able to make more shots isn’t worth it.

Aperture

There are two things to consider here:

  1. How much depth-of-field do you need?
  2. What is the “sweet-spot” of your lens?

First, because the fireworks will be a good distance from your camera, you will be focusing on something further away and likely have a pretty good depth of field. Working at wider focal lengths helps too. Plan on being at your location well before the show starts and have an idea where you’ll need to focus and how much depth of field you need.

Secondly, most lenses are at their sharpest between f/8 and f/16.  Learn where your lens performs best, the so-called “sweet spot,” and use that aperture if you can.

Most of the photos in this article were taken at the same show. Also, most were very close in their exposure settings such as this one at ISO 100, 10-seconds at f/8.

4. Making shutter speed choices

Your choice of shutter speed will be important in capturing good fireworks photos. You know when you hear the boom of the launched fireworks from its mortar that it trails up into the sky, explodes, and a beautiful shower of colorful sparks radiates out and trails down.

Often multiple fireworks are launched close together, each doing the same thing. What you’re after is to capture the entire event which can sometimes take several seconds.

You could pick a fixed shutter speed of, say, four seconds, but would that be too short? Too long? Of course, it depends on the individual firework duration or sequence you want to capture, and that will vary during the show.

So how do you choose?

The answer is, you don’t have to because there’s a better way.

better fireworks photos

Using bulb mode you will be able to hold the shutter open and capture multiple fireworks bursts, closing it when you like.  Note this shot is in portrait orientation.

5. Use Bulb mode

If you’ve seen pictures of early photographers with their view cameras, you might have noticed them holding a rubber “bulb” which when they squeezed, forced air through a rubber tube and tripped the shutter. As long as the photographer kept the bulb squeezed, the shutter stayed open, ending when they released it.

These were the first shutter remotes, and it was that rubber bulb that gave the mode its name.

Today we have wired, and sometimes wireless triggers that can do the same thing. Putting the camera in Bulb mode allows a variable shutter speed. As long as we press and hold the button, the shutter stays open.  Let it go, and the shutter closes, ending the exposure.

This is just the ticket for fireworks photography, a variable shutter speed.

So, let’s review our basic camera settings:

  • Camera on tripod
  • Raw Capture
  • Manual Mode
  • Noise Reduction Off
  • Auto Focus Off – Focus on the anticipated fireworks spot and lock focus there
  • Lens Vibration Reduction (VR/IS) Off
  • ISO 100
  • Approx. f/8 – f/16  (Use aperture and ISO to adjust if images are too bright or dark).
  • Bulb mode
  • No flash – I forgot to mention this one.  Rarely, (unless perhaps to light a foreground object), will you ever need to use flash when making fireworks photos.  Also, consider whether others are nearby watching the show.  Using flash is guaranteed to make you less-than-popular with other fireworks spectators.  Unless you are alone and have a good reason to use flash, (in which case I will assume you know what you’re doing), just don’t use it.

Set up like this, you’re good to go. Remember, once the show starts, you will be busy. If you are fooling with camera settings, you’ll be missing shots. You will want to try some variations, but you don’t want to have to struggle and miss the show.

Be ready, think it through beforehand, and when the show starts, start clicking.

6. Shooting Technique

You’ve set your camera up on a tripod, figured out where to point it, made sure to pre-focus on a distant spot and locked the focus by putting it in Manual Focus (MF) mode.

If you leave your camera’s Autofocus on it’s almost guaranteed to give you images that are a bust rather than a boom. Against the dark sky and the moving fireworks the focus will hunt, fail, and… it’ll just be bad. Don’t do it.

Often the best images can be made right when the show starts as later, smoke from the previous fireworks becomes thicker, and the fireworks more obscured. So, when you hear that boom of the first firework going up, click and hold the button on the remote. You’ll be in bulb mode so hold it open while the firework goes up, explodes, and radiates out.  Then release the trigger.

Now, quickly check your shot. Is it in focus and framed properly? Is it exposed correctly? If it’s too dark, increase the ISO a click or perhaps open the aperture a stop. Too light? Do the opposite.

Try not to spend too much time doing this as, of course, the show will continue without you.

If you’re in the ballpark, the ability to edit in raw gives you the tweaking room you need. The two unrecoverable mistakes you might make would be to have things out of focus or have the highlights so blown out as to be unrecoverable. Editing won’t save you if you do those things, so be sure the focus is good and if you’re not sure with exposure, underexpose a bit. Some fireworks will be much brighter than others – especially a multi-burst or the finale. So quickly check your histogram and be sure you’ve not clipped the right (highlights) side.

Make any tweaks you need and then keep clicking. Vary the zoom if you need to, but if anything, frame a little “loose.” You can always crop in tighter later. However, if that really big and spectacular burst is so big it goes out of the frame, you’ll have missed it. Try both some portrait and landscape orientation shots. Perhaps reframe to get different things in the shot, especially if you are including foreground elements.

If things are going well, it’s going to be a fairly long show.

And if you’re feeling frisky, you might be ready for some more advanced techniques.

Note how the bright pink burst appears here, thicker streaks at the base of each trail growing thinner at the tip. This uses what I describe as the “Boom Zoom Bloom” technique described.

7. “Boom Zoom Bloom” FX

You may have seen those photos where the bursting fireworks look more like a flower, fat blurry trails with sharp points.  How is that done?

Here’s the technique, which you can vary for different results.

Know this takes practice, and luck plays a big part. So decide if you have already got enough necessary shots before you try it and whether the show will last long enough for some experimentation.

If you’re game, here’s how you do it:

  • You will need your hands free for this, and you’ll want to look through the viewfinder or perhaps use Live View, so using the remote release probably isn’t going to work. Instead, set your shutter speed for about 8-10 seconds, leaving all the other camera settings where they were.
  • With your hand on the focus ring, remember your hand position there. Then turn the ring so things are out of focus.
  • Just as the firework explodes, click the shutter and smoothly turn the focus right back to the focus point you memorized.  You have the time of the preset shutter speed to accomplish this.  If you finish early, that’s okay.
better fireworks photos

Two other images using the defocus-to-focus technique. Also note how some of the bursts, captured after the focus was performed but before the shutter closed, don’t show the same look combining two looks in one photo.

Now, try different things with subsequent shots. Go from focused to unfocused, zoom in or out during the exposure, or maybe take the camera off the tripod and move it during the exposure to make light trails. Play and see what you like.

Just remember, the duration of the show is limited, so try some experiments but also be sure you have some solid “keepers.”

8. The Black Hat Trick

I have to confess, I’ve not personally tried this but the concept is sound and could be fun. (I’ve always wanted to do a “hat trick.”)

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  • Have a hat, a black one or preferably of something dark enough to be opaque. You will also need to be working in an area that is quite dark.
  • Put the hat over the front of the lens.
  • Have the camera in Bulb Mode and just before the firework launches, click open the shutter locking it open with the remote.
  • Quickly, but gently so as not to bump the camera, remove the hat while the firework explodes.
  • Leave the shutter open and carefully replace the hat. Repeat, removing and replacing the hat for multiple fireworks bursts. (You may need to have a smaller aperture or lower ISO to do this as you will be building up exposure brightness with each additional firework added).
  • Unlock the remote and close the shutter when you’ve done all you want.

What you’re doing is making a multiple-exposure image in-camera. This should work. Of course, there’s also a way to do it in post-processing.  For that, and some other tips on how best to process you fireworks photo, come back for Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

There may be a frenzy of fireworks at the show finale. Keep the shutter open and capture it all if you can without overexposing.

Light the fuse

I hope you’ve decided that good fireworks photography is easy and go and have fun with it.  It’s one more way to enhance your camera skills and make some exciting images.

If there’s anything that’s a problem it’s that good aerial fireworks displays are seasonal in most places and if you really catch the bug, you may find there are not enough opportunities to practice.

So, find out when and where the shows will be near you, mark your calendar, do some scouting for the best locations, “light the fuse” and have fun!

Post your best shots as images in the comments – we’d love to see them.

 

8 tips for better fireworks photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

If you’ve been to a great aerial fireworks display, I’m sure you’ve heard the “oohs” and “ahhs” of the crowd, captivated by the colorful spectacle. Here in the United States, the Independence Day holiday is when many of us try our hand at fireworks photography.  I’m sure if you live in other places in the world, you also have holidays celebrated with fireworks.  So how can you capture those moments in a photo and elicit those same “oohs” and “ahhs” from your viewers and achieve better fireworks photos?

Include a landmark, city skyline, or something in your fireworks photo to add interest, place, and story. This is a show over the Boise, Idaho Depot.

Great fireworks photos aren’t difficult, but you will not get them in Auto mode.  You will need to put a little thought into this and learn to take charge of your camera controls.  Try these simple tips, however, and I’ll bet you’ll come back with images that elicit “oohs,” “ahhs,” some likes, and maybe even “wows” from your viewers.

Here are the things we’ll cover for better fireworks photos:

  1. Location
  2. Equipment
  3. Camera settings
  4. Shutter speed choices
  5. Using Bulb mode
  6. Shooting technique
  7. Boom Zoom Bloom FX
  8. The “Black Hat trick”

After you’ve read this article, and made your fireworks photos, be sure to read Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

1. Location

You can make good fireworks photos with just an image of the colorful bursts in the sky. But great fireworks photos need something more – an interesting setting or foreground.

Think of displays you have seen taken with fireworks over the Statue of Liberty, the Sydney Harbour, the Chicago city skyline, the Golden Gate Bridge, or Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong.  What makes those shots over the top?  A couple of things;  iconic city skylines and landmarks, and most often, water.

Not only are there interesting things in the shot besides the fireworks themselves, but often with water in the shot, there’s the benefit of colorful reflections.

If you are lucky, the spot where you plan to photograph your fireworks display will also have interesting foreground features and perhaps a body of water.  If so, scout the area ahead of time so you can find a location to best capture those things.

You can pretty much count on a crowd at a fireworks show. Get there early to stake out your spot. Then consider including the location in some of your shots.

You can count on a crowd when you go to a fireworks show.  Plan on getting to your spot early so you can “stake your turf.” Perhaps put out a blanket to ensure an unobstructed view of the show.  Then, if you have no other foreground elements, consider the possibility of making the crowd your foreground, their heads silhouetted against the sky and fireworks.

Another possibility might be to find a less obvious location, not right where the fireworks will be launched.  Perhaps there is a landmark, a tree-line, a high vantage point, or some other spot that will create an interesting foreground that while still including the fireworks, will give context, place, and “story” to your photos.  Doing some scouting long before the night of the show is a good idea.

The first few fireworks of the show will be in clearer sky conditions. As the show continues, smoke may be more of an issue and the sky won’t be as dark with the fireworks lighting the smoke.

2. Equipment

What will you need to make good fireworks photos? Let’s break down the basic equipment needs:

Camera

You can make fireworks photos with a cellphone camera if that’s all you have. However, the techniques will be different and the results likely not as impressive.

We won’t get into that here, so let’s assume you have a better DSLR or mirrorless camera with the option for manual control. Be sure to have a good-sized storage card, as well as a spare battery or two, as you’ll usually take lots of shots at a fireworks show.

Tripod

Fireworks photography will require a steady camera as you’ll be shooting in low light and taking longer exposures. Consider a tripod pretty much mandatory for this kind of work.  An L-bracket on your camera or at least a tripod that will easily allow going from landscape to portrait mode easily is a good thing too. Often you will shoot in both aspects.

Lens Selection

Lens choice largely depends on how close you will be to the fireworks launch location.  If you are really close, you may need a wide-angle to keep the larger bursts in the frame. If, however, you are a long distance from the show or want to compress the apparent distance between your foreground object and the sky bursts, a telephoto might be in order.

I typically use my go-to lens; a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS as it covers a good range. You don’t need a particularly fast lens as you will be working with mid to small apertures and longer shutter speeds. Still, a sharp lens is always a good thing.

Cable Release/Remote trigger

The technique for photographing fireworks will be discussed in a minute, but trust that having a way to remotely trigger your camera will be a real help. One reason is you are presumably going to a fireworks show to enjoy the show.  Having your eye to the viewfinder and your finger on the shutter button the entire time will lessen  the enjoyment of “being there.” It will also introduce camera shake, something you don’t want.

A very basic remote release can be had for under $10.00 US. This is a great item to always have in your bag for many purposes.

The tree line at the bottom of the frame adds some additional interest.

3. Camera settings

If you’ve always worked in Program or one of the Auto modes with your camera, or even if you use Aperture (Av/A) or Shutter (Tv/S) mode, this will be the time to be brave and go to full Manual mode.

Here’s how you want to set up your camera for fireworks photography:

Raw Mode

Real photographers shoot in Raw mode. There are many articles why. If you never have done so before, here’s your chance to try it. You can work in Raw + Jpg if that makes you feel more secure. However, I’m betting you won’t use the .jpg versions.

Full Manual

As described. Be brave. You can do this.

White Balance

As you’re using Raw mode, (you are, yes?), white balance can be tweaked later so it doesn’t matter much what you set for shooting. I tend to leave my white balance in Faithful mode almost all the time.

Sometimes it’s fun to zoom in tighter and get the flurry of action.

Low ISO

Working in low light with dark or black backgrounds and long exposures will tend to introduce noise in your shots. Fortunately, the fireworks are bright, so higher ISO settings won’t be needed.  Instead, use the minimum (ISO 100 on many cameras), and you’ll be fine.

Noise Reduction Off

Many modern cameras have a noise reduction feature, which after the first exposure, takes a second “black frame” exposure, detecting the noise and then subtracting that from the initial exposure. It can work well, but…

The second exposure takes as long as the first, and if you’re making multi-second exposures (for example, that 6-second exposure now takes 12 seconds to finish), your camera will be busy working, and you’ll be missing subsequent fireworks.

Turn it off.  You’ll be using a low ISO with minimal noise anyway, and the delay in being able to make more shots isn’t worth it.

Aperture

There are two things to consider here:

  1. How much depth-of-field do you need?
  2. What is the “sweet-spot” of your lens?

First, because the fireworks will be a good distance from your camera, you will be focusing on something further away and likely have a pretty good depth of field. Working at wider focal lengths helps too. Plan on being at your location well before the show starts and have an idea where you’ll need to focus and how much depth of field you need.

Secondly, most lenses are at their sharpest between f/8 and f/16.  Learn where your lens performs best, the so-called “sweet spot,” and use that aperture if you can.

Most of the photos in this article were taken at the same show. Also, most were very close in their exposure settings such as this one at ISO 100, 10-seconds at f/8.

4. Making shutter speed choices

Your choice of shutter speed will be important in capturing good fireworks photos. You know when you hear the boom of the launched fireworks from its mortar that it trails up into the sky, explodes, and a beautiful shower of colorful sparks radiates out and trails down.

Often multiple fireworks are launched close together, each doing the same thing. What you’re after is to capture the entire event which can sometimes take several seconds.

You could pick a fixed shutter speed of, say, four seconds, but would that be too short? Too long? Of course, it depends on the individual firework duration or sequence you want to capture, and that will vary during the show.

So how do you choose?

The answer is, you don’t have to because there’s a better way.

better fireworks photos

Using bulb mode you will be able to hold the shutter open and capture multiple fireworks bursts, closing it when you like.  Note this shot is in portrait orientation.

5. Use Bulb mode

If you’ve seen pictures of early photographers with their view cameras, you might have noticed them holding a rubber “bulb” which when they squeezed, forced air through a rubber tube and tripped the shutter. As long as the photographer kept the bulb squeezed, the shutter stayed open, ending when they released it.

These were the first shutter remotes, and it was that rubber bulb that gave the mode its name.

Today we have wired, and sometimes wireless triggers that can do the same thing. Putting the camera in Bulb mode allows a variable shutter speed. As long as we press and hold the button, the shutter stays open.  Let it go, and the shutter closes, ending the exposure.

This is just the ticket for fireworks photography, a variable shutter speed.

So, let’s review our basic camera settings:

  • Camera on tripod
  • Raw Capture
  • Manual Mode
  • Noise Reduction Off
  • Auto Focus Off – Focus on the anticipated fireworks spot and lock focus there
  • Lens Vibration Reduction (VR/IS) Off
  • ISO 100
  • Approx. f/8 – f/16  (Use aperture and ISO to adjust if images are too bright or dark).
  • Bulb mode
  • No flash – I forgot to mention this one.  Rarely, (unless perhaps to light a foreground object), will you ever need to use flash when making fireworks photos.  Also, consider whether others are nearby watching the show.  Using flash is guaranteed to make you less-than-popular with other fireworks spectators.  Unless you are alone and have a good reason to use flash, (in which case I will assume you know what you’re doing), just don’t use it.

Set up like this, you’re good to go. Remember, once the show starts, you will be busy. If you are fooling with camera settings, you’ll be missing shots. You will want to try some variations, but you don’t want to have to struggle and miss the show.

Be ready, think it through beforehand, and when the show starts, start clicking.

6. Shooting Technique

You’ve set your camera up on a tripod, figured out where to point it, made sure to pre-focus on a distant spot and locked the focus by putting it in Manual Focus (MF) mode.

If you leave your camera’s Autofocus on it’s almost guaranteed to give you images that are a bust rather than a boom. Against the dark sky and the moving fireworks the focus will hunt, fail, and… it’ll just be bad. Don’t do it.

Often the best images can be made right when the show starts as later, smoke from the previous fireworks becomes thicker, and the fireworks more obscured. So, when you hear that boom of the first firework going up, click and hold the button on the remote. You’ll be in bulb mode so hold it open while the firework goes up, explodes, and radiates out.  Then release the trigger.

Now, quickly check your shot. Is it in focus and framed properly? Is it exposed correctly? If it’s too dark, increase the ISO a click or perhaps open the aperture a stop. Too light? Do the opposite.

Try not to spend too much time doing this as, of course, the show will continue without you.

If you’re in the ballpark, the ability to edit in raw gives you the tweaking room you need. The two unrecoverable mistakes you might make would be to have things out of focus or have the highlights so blown out as to be unrecoverable. Editing won’t save you if you do those things, so be sure the focus is good and if you’re not sure with exposure, underexpose a bit. Some fireworks will be much brighter than others – especially a multi-burst or the finale. So quickly check your histogram and be sure you’ve not clipped the right (highlights) side.

Make any tweaks you need and then keep clicking. Vary the zoom if you need to, but if anything, frame a little “loose.” You can always crop in tighter later. However, if that really big and spectacular burst is so big it goes out of the frame, you’ll have missed it. Try both some portrait and landscape orientation shots. Perhaps reframe to get different things in the shot, especially if you are including foreground elements.

If things are going well, it’s going to be a fairly long show.

And if you’re feeling frisky, you might be ready for some more advanced techniques.

Note how the bright pink burst appears here, thicker streaks at the base of each trail growing thinner at the tip. This uses what I describe as the “Boom Zoom Bloom” technique described.

7. “Boom Zoom Bloom” FX

You may have seen those photos where the bursting fireworks look more like a flower, fat blurry trails with sharp points.  How is that done?

Here’s the technique, which you can vary for different results.

Know this takes practice, and luck plays a big part. So decide if you have already got enough necessary shots before you try it and whether the show will last long enough for some experimentation.

If you’re game, here’s how you do it:

  • You will need your hands free for this, and you’ll want to look through the viewfinder or perhaps use Live View, so using the remote release probably isn’t going to work. Instead, set your shutter speed for about 8-10 seconds, leaving all the other camera settings where they were.
  • With your hand on the focus ring, remember your hand position there. Then turn the ring so things are out of focus.
  • Just as the firework explodes, click the shutter and smoothly turn the focus right back to the focus point you memorized.  You have the time of the preset shutter speed to accomplish this.  If you finish early, that’s okay.
better fireworks photos

Two other images using the defocus-to-focus technique. Also note how some of the bursts, captured after the focus was performed but before the shutter closed, don’t show the same look combining two looks in one photo.

Now, try different things with subsequent shots. Go from focused to unfocused, zoom in or out during the exposure, or maybe take the camera off the tripod and move it during the exposure to make light trails. Play and see what you like.

Just remember, the duration of the show is limited, so try some experiments but also be sure you have some solid “keepers.”

8. The Black Hat Trick

I have to confess, I’ve not personally tried this but the concept is sound and could be fun. (I’ve always wanted to do a “hat trick.”)

Here’s how it’s supposed to work:

  • Have a hat, a black one or preferably of something dark enough to be opaque. You will also need to be working in an area that is quite dark.
  • Put the hat over the front of the lens.
  • Have the camera in Bulb Mode and just before the firework launches, click open the shutter locking it open with the remote.
  • Quickly, but gently so as not to bump the camera, remove the hat while the firework explodes.
  • Leave the shutter open and carefully replace the hat. Repeat, removing and replacing the hat for multiple fireworks bursts. (You may need to have a smaller aperture or lower ISO to do this as you will be building up exposure brightness with each additional firework added).
  • Unlock the remote and close the shutter when you’ve done all you want.

What you’re doing is making a multiple-exposure image in-camera. This should work. Of course, there’s also a way to do it in post-processing.  For that, and some other tips on how best to process you fireworks photo, come back for Part Two – Creatively Editing your Fireworks Photos.

There may be a frenzy of fireworks at the show finale. Keep the shutter open and capture it all if you can without overexposing.

Light the fuse

I hope you’ve decided that good fireworks photography is easy and go and have fun with it.  It’s one more way to enhance your camera skills and make some exciting images.

If there’s anything that’s a problem it’s that good aerial fireworks displays are seasonal in most places and if you really catch the bug, you may find there are not enough opportunities to practice.

So, find out when and where the shows will be near you, mark your calendar, do some scouting for the best locations, “light the fuse” and have fun!

Post your best shots as images in the comments – we’d love to see them.

 

8 tips for better fireworks photos

The post 8 Tips for Better Fireworks Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos

The post Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

You could buy an expensive ND filter to make a long exposure image like this. Or, you could do it “on the cheap” with the trick you’ll learn in this article. 162 seconds f/8, ISO 100

You’ve seen those landscape photos where the water has been rendered silky smooth, ocean waves look more like fog, or the clouds have streaked motion effects?  How are they done?  They are long exposure photos. The shutter speed often measured in full seconds rather than fractions of a second.  Some even measured in minutes of exposure.  In low light, you can sometimes slow your shutter speed by decreasing the aperture size and setting the ISO as low as it can go.

Of course, if you’re working in bright light, you may find that even with the smallest aperture and lowest ISO you still can’t get the shutter speed slow enough to produce the effect you want while still maintaining proper exposure.  What can you do then?  It’s time for a Neutral Density Filter.

So what are they, how do they work, and how can you achieve a similar effect without immediately laying down about $100 U.S dollars for one?  Read on my friend.

This one was done with a variable ND filter. With a 30-second exposure, whatever moves will blur. Note the water and clouds.

What is ND and why use it?

On a bright sunny day, you may reach for a pair of sunglasses to reduce the amount of light coming into our eyes.  A Neutral Density (ND) Filter is much the same for your camera.  The “density” part of that term refers to how dense or dark the filter might be.  The “neutral” portion of the term refers to the coloration the filter might add to the image.

If we’re making color images, we’d like a filter that would help reduce the amount of light while remaining neutral in color and not putting a color cast on our images.  So we want a neutral filter that can cut the light in situations where the ambient light is too bright to get a slow shutter speed beyond that obtainable with a combination of the lowest ISO and smallest aperture.

A 6-stop ND filter was used here. 30 seconds, f/20 ISO 100

Types of ND filters

The DIY approach to long exposure photography to be discussed here uses a method never initially designed for photography but will allow you to give this technique a try “on the cheap.”  Rather than spend around $100, it’ll cost you a tenth of that.  Before I reveal the “secret,”  let’s first talk about the commercial photographic ND filters you might buy.

Camera filters typically fall into two types:

Screw mount – Those that screw into the filter threads on the front of your lens

Square filters – Those that are mounted to the lens with a filter holder.

Both are available in varying degrees of density.  How dark the filter is, is typically described in how many “stops” of light it reduces compared to an exposure without the filter.

For example, if you made a proper exposure at ISO 100, f/5.6, 125 seconds, and then after the filter was mounted, you needed to slow the shutter speed to 1/2 second to get the same exposure, (assuming you left the ISO at 100 and f-stop at 5.6), that filter would be a 6-stop ND filter.  (1/125 – > 1/60 -> 1/30 – 1/15 -> 1/8 -> 1/4 -> 1/2 second ).  The density of the filter would have reduced the amount of light by 6-stops.

You can purchase both screw mount and square filters in various “strengths” or number of stops they reduce the light.

For example, this 77mm screw-mount 6-stop ND filter made by B&W runs about US$71, while this popular 10-stop square mount ND filter, the Lee “Big Stopper” is at this writing US$129.00.

A variable ND might work, but take it too far…

…and you’ll get weird artifacts.

Variable ND Filters – Another type of ND filter uses two polarized filters mounted together so they can be rotated in a way that produces variable density.  One might think this is a better solution than a fixed ND filter, allowing the photographer the means of adjusting the desired stops of reduction.

That would be ideal, and it works – to a point.

The problem with variable ND filters is sometimes they can produce nasty “artifacts” that spoil the image, especially on wide-angle lenses at higher density settings with less expensive variable ND filters.

More expensive variable ND filters will be better, but of course, cost even more.

The “One Weird Trick” ND filter

You’ve seen that “one weird trick” phrase used on the web before, right?  Usually, it’s for a gimmick that is less than a quality product.  I confess, what I’m going to suggest here is a bit of a gimmick and no, won’t deliver the results of the pricier dedicated photography ND filters.  You have to perform a few workarounds to get it to produce decent results and mounting it to your camera will be a little… “funky,” shall we say?  The upside is, it will probably cost about 1/10th of what a true photographic ND filter.

So, it could be a nice introduction to long exposure photography, while allowing you to explore this technique on a budget to see if it’s for you.

So here’s the big reveal…

What you are going to use is a piece of welder’s helmet glass.

You’ve seen welders wearing helmets while they work and perhaps noted a glass “window” they look through to observe their work?  The intensity of arc welding is so great that without a way to darken the welding spark the welder would be blinded.  So, a piece of very dark glass, a “density filter,” is what they have in their helmets.  The common denominator is the welder wants to darken the welding arc and you, as a photographer, want to darken the light coming into your lens.

These aren’t spacemen. They are welders and that piece of glass you see in their helmets is what you need for this “weird trick.”

What and where to get it

What you are looking for is a piece of welding glass used in a helmet.  Pieces can be purchased alone, (as replacements for the helmets) and in various sizes and “grades.”  You might have a local welding supply shop where you can get these or purchase them online.  Here is a link to an example. The glass measures 4.5″ x 5.25′ (114.3 mm x 133.35 mm) which is large enough to cover most camera lenses.  It comes in grades 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 14 with the higher numbers being darker/denser.

This chart may help you in determining the conversion from “grade” to the amount of f-stop reduction:

To keep it simple, most often you will use a 6-stop or a 10-stop ND filter.  One popular brand of ND filters is Lee. Their “Little Stopper” is a 6-stop filter, and their “Big Stopper” is a 10-stop filter.  So consulting the chart, if you wanted a 6-stop welding glass filter, get a Grade 6, and for a 10-stop reduction, get a Grade 8.

The left half of this shot shows how the uncorrected image looks due to the heavy green color of the welder’s glass. The right has been white-balanced using the custom white balance method discussed.

Density Yes, Neutral… not even close

This is probably the biggest drawback to using a piece of welding glass as an ND filter.  You can get very dark pieces of welding glass, so density isn’t a problem.  The problem is that most welding filters have a very pronounced green, or in some cases, gold color cast.

Dedicated photography ND filters may have a little coloration, but try to come as close to neutral as possible.  You will pay more for more neutral filters as you’d prefer to get darkening without coloration.  So what to do when using a welding glass filter?

Three options to dealing with the color cast

There are three things you can do to help reduce the distinct coloration a welding glass filter causes:

  • Shoot in Raw, (which you do anyway, right?) and adjust your white balance when editing to compensate.
  • Set an in-camera Custom White Balance
  • Plan to make your images monochrome where color casts won’t be a problem.

Let’s discuss these options.

The first is simple enough.  Yes, when you review your images after shooting on the camera LCD they will look very green.  (I’ve only used the green welder’s glass, not the gold).  Just know you will be adding lots of magenta, (the opposite of green), to your white balance when you edit.  Even then, good color may be a struggle.

Rather than fight the color cast, maybe monochrome is the ticket when using the welder’s glass ND trick.

The second option, setting a custom white balance, is a good idea.  To do so, mount your welding glass filter, (more on that in a minute) and make an exposure of the sun or bright sky.  Then, using the custom white balance function of your camera, (consult your manual on how to do this), store that image and white balance on it, creating a custom white balance you can use to shoot with when using your welding glass filter.

The advantage of this is image playback on your LCD will be closer to a normal color.

Additional tweaking will likely be needed in post-processing, but this may help you a bit when shooting.

The third option, (and to me maybe the best) is not to fight the color cast and plan to make your welding glass filter shots monochrome.  Long exposure images have an “ethereal” look often enhanced in a monochrome image.  So, rather than fight trying to restore good color from that alien green image, embrace monochrome.

If you decide you love long exposure photography, you will then likely buy a photographic ND filter which will make much better color shots.

Calculating your exposure

Before mounting your welding glass on your lens, you will want to compose your shot as usual.  You will also want to obtain good focus.  Do this first, because you won’t be able to see much of anything with the welding glass mounted.

Once focus has been obtained, switch the focus to manual.  Consider putting a piece of tape on the focus ring so it won’t move later.

Now make a shot with good exposure without the filter.  You will be changing your shutter speed once the filter is mounted, so choose an aperture and ISO.  What setting you choose will depend on the depth of field you require and also how long you’d like your exposure to be.  The slower the shutter speed you set here (while still getting a proper exposure), the longer your exposure can be with the filter.

Your subject will largely dictate your desired exposure length and the look you are trying to achieve. A silky waterfall might only require a 2-second exposure while smoothing ocean waves could take 30 seconds and streaking clouds in the sky a couple of minutes.  There is no formula here – trial and error will help you learn what works right.

The monochrome version of this shot above was done with the welders’ glass and an exposure time of 1.6 sec. This shot was taken later when the last rays of sun lit the turbines and also used 1.6 seconds. Too short a shutter speed and the blades were frozen. Too long and they disappeared. 1.6 seconds was the “sweet spot.”

Using an app to calculate shutter speed with the filter

Your meter will likely be useless once you mount the welding glass ND filter so you will need to calculate shutter speed yourself using the previous exposure information as a starting point.  There are numerous smartphone apps available to help you.  I like the one made by Lee Filters (Android / iOS ). Made for use with their Little (6-stop)/Big (10-stop)/Super (15-Stop) filters, you will need to tweak a bit when using it with your welding glass. However, it will get you in the ballpark, and you can adjust from there.

Let’s use an example:  You’ve made a shot without the filter and with the ISO set at 100 and the aperture at f/22 you can get the shutter speed down to 1/15th of a second and make a proper exposure.  You bought both a Grade 6 (6.67-stops) and Grade 8 (10-stops) pieces of welding glass.  What will your new shutter speed need to be with each filter installed?  Using the Lee app, we can see the 6-stop reduction would put us at between 4 and 8 seconds and the 10-stop reduction at 1 minute.

Again, plan on using these adjusted settings as starting points.  Try them and adjust your shutter speed (or possibly other settings) as needed.  Definitely plan on taking multiple shots as you get things dialed in.  Long exposure photography is not something you do in a hurry.

It’s funky, but it works. Reverse the lens hood and use rubber bands to attach the welder’s glass filter.

Attaching the welding glass filter

You’ve set up the camera, composed, focused, locked everything in, calculated your new shutter speed and are ready to mount the welding glass ND filter.  I think I used the word “funky” earlier in the article to describe how you will attach your DIY ND filter to your lens.  The photo here, showing how reversing the lens hood on your lens and then using rubber bands pretty much depicts the technique.

Something to improve it a bit – put some black gaffer tape on the edges of your piece of welders glass.  This will give the rubber bands a surface with more friction to grab onto.  (It also helps you in hanging onto the glass).  I’m not sure if the edges of the glass would transmit light onto the image, but the tape will also prevent that should it occur.  If your lens doesn’t have a hood to reverse, try larger bands which will allow you to stretch them back around the camera body.

Try not to disturb the focus ring as you mount the filter.  You will not be able to check focus again once the filter is in place.

Set your focus BEFORE mounting the filter and turn the switch to Manual focus (MF)

Making the shot

With the welder’s glass filter mounted, you will pretty much be “flying blind.”  You will not be able to see anything through the viewfinder, and maybe, if your filter isn’t too dark, you might be able to see just a little bit using live view if your camera supports that.  You better have composed and focused before mounting the filter as you can’t see to do it now.  Your meter will also not work with such low light.

While you could use the 2-second timer to trip the shot, I’d suggest a remote release.  You will also definitely need one if you’ll be making exposures over 30-seconds (on most cameras) in which case you will be putting your camera in Bulb-Mode.

A release that allows you to lock the shutter open during the exposure will help a lot here.  The Lee exposure calculator app also has a countdown timer.  Activate it when you open the shutter and it will countdown and beep at the end of the calculated exposure time telling you when to close the shutter.

If your shutter speed will exceed 30-seconds, you will probably need to use bulb mode. A remote release is a good idea in such cases.

You may also want to consider using the noise reduction feature of your camera.  Noise can be a problem with long exposures.  The noise reduction feature will make a second black frame image the same length as your first shot and then subtract any random noise or hot pixels from your image using the black frame as a reference.

Keep in mind, however, that the black frame exposure will be as long as the original shot so if you are, for example, making a 2-minute exposure, your camera will be busy for four minutes.  I told you, you don’t do long-exposure photography in a hurry.

No filter. A straight shot – 1/25 sec. f/8 ISO 100

Back in post-production

You edit your long exposure images much as you do with any regular shot with the big exception of that crazy color cast.  There are lots of web resources that tell you how to help correct for that cast so I won’t spend time on that here.  Just know that with this welding glass technique you will never get the color as good as you would without the filter.  I still believe that monochrome is the way to go here.

Using the welder’s glass ND. Custom white balanced in the camera, color corrected again in Lightroom and Photoshop. 162 seconds, f/8 ISO 100. The monochrome version is at the top of this article.

Frustrations and limitations

I’ve since bought a real ND filter, the 6-stop B+W I mentioned, so my welding glass hasn’t seen much use until I got it out to make this article.  In making the wind turbine shots, I found what I think, (after some comparison testing), is a Grade 10 glass, very dark but still not dark enough to make even a short 1.6 second shot, (the shutter speed I determined was best to get the hint of motion I wanted on the turbine blades.)  Longer exposures simply caused the blades to disappear entirely.

A side note here: long exposures can be a great way to make a crowd disappear when photographing a busy cityscape.  The people move and so disappear during a long exposure while the static buildings and such stay put and show up in the photo.

Trying to darken the shot further, I put a polarizer on the lens, (dropping the exposure 2-stops), and then stacked the welder’s glass ND over that.  It wasn’t a good combination.  Too much, as the British say, “faffing about,” and I likely knocked my focus off slightly.  Also, shooting through both the polarizer and the welding glass put too much “cheap glass” between the camera and the image, so the sharpness suffered.

A straight shot with no filter. 125/sec. f/22 ISO 100

A second trip to the Boise River provided an opportunity to see how a long exposure would depict the fast-moving spring runoff.  I was able to use much longer exposures here, a few just over two minutes.  I also made a 30-second exposure with the sun in the shot, something that wouldn’t have been possible with no filter even with the minimum ISO of 50 and the smallest aperture of f/22.  Shooting long exposures in bright light is a big reason for using an ND filter.

A shot directly into the sun, and a shutter speed of 20 seconds, probably isn’t possible without a strong ND filter. I calculate the Grade 10 welder’s glass used here to give about 13-stops of light reduction. 20 seconds f/14 ISO 100

When to buy a real ND filter

You may find the welder’s glass technique a fun way to dip your photographic toe in the waters of long exposure photography.  If you find you enjoy it and like the kinds of images you can make, save up and buy a good ND filter.  However, if the technique is interesting, but not really your bag, then you will have discovered that having only spent a few dollars on your welder’s glass DIY version.

Either way, you will learn much more about creatively using your camera controls to make exciting photos and that’s what it’s all about.  Learn and enjoy!

 

The post Try this DIY Neutral Density Filter for Long Exposure Photos appeared first on Digital Photography School. It was authored by Rick Ohnsman.

The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod

You need a tripod for long exposures

Picture the scene – Bangkok airport and I’m settling into seat 16H on my short Thai Airways flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia. The lovely hostess hands me a hot, scented towel as I shout ”Bollocks” while slapping myself firmly on the forehead.

She gives me a justified look of disdain while I apologize for my outburst and then start begging her to contact Lost & Found as soon as possible. You see, I’d stupidly left my gorgeous carbon fibre, ball head tripod, in one of those plastic trays into which all airports now force you to empty your worldly goods before being forced through the X-Ray machine.

I’d somehow managed to wander through Bangkok airport, grab a snack, check my email and then board the plane without even realizing I’d lost one of my most essential pieces of equipment. I blame it on the terror filled drive through downtown Bangkok the night before while trying to find our hotel, it was a late night.

I realize I will never see that beloved tripod again.

Night Photography requires a sturdy tripod

So I touch down in Siem Reap, Cambodia and the first thing I do is go shopping for a tripod. Siem Reap has seen some major development over the years but it’s still a galactic black hole when it comes to tripod shopping.

The best I could find was a $45 Yunteng tripod with a plastic video panning tripod head that has one of those long handles that poke you in the eye every time you try to look through the viewfinder.

It was like going back in time to the very first tripod I’d ever bought. The next four days of shooting were an exercise in rage management as it took me five times longer to set up my shots. If it hadn’t been for my ever present tuk-tuk driver and his calming influence, I would have bent that tripod over my knee and tossed it under the wheels of a bus for good measure.

No wonder so many beginner photographers quit at the tripod using stage.

A good tripod makes ALL the difference

When buying a tripod, if you go for an El Cheapo one, two things will happen:

  1. You’ll spend so much time messing around getting your camera in position that by the time you’re ready to take the shot, you’ve already lost the will to live.
  2. You’ll realize that the $45 you spent could have gone towards a proper tripod that you now know you’ll have to buy anyway.

I realize that for total beginners, spending around $400 on a tripod seems like a major financial commitment but I’ve seen so many of my workshop students struggle in frustration with shoddy tripods that it breaks my heart. When I lend them one of mine, it’s like a ray of sunshine for them. At that point they realize their cheap tripod is now junk.

Long exposure - Why You Need a Good Tripod

Speed is important

You might think that if you’re using a tripod to hold your camera in place, that means you’ve got plenty of time to frame your shot. Sometimes that’s true but more often than not, the scene changes quickly, especially when you’re dealing with nature. Weather and wildlife won’t wait for you to get your tripod set up.

Things to consider when buying a tripod and tripod head

1 – How fast do the legs telescope?

I can’t stand those rubber twist leg locks that you have to loosen and then tighten. I much prefer quick release grips that flick open and quickly drop those tripod legs. Securing the extended legs requires a quick push of the thumb and you’re done. If your tripod has four telescopic extenders with threaded grips you’ll still be setting up your shot while I’m at the next shooting location.

Tripod Comparison

2 – How fast does the ball head adjust?

Once your tripod is in place and secure, it’s time to position your camera. For me, the best ball heads are those that only require one lever to loosen and tighten. That means that with just two turns of the lever I can position my camera in exactly the right position.

It’s also important to get a ball head that allows you to quickly switch between landscape and portrait aspect. A lot of cheapo tripods have those flippable mounts that you have to loosen first then tighten once in place. These are usually abysmal as you struggle to get just the right position and then the flimsy flippable part wobbles from the impact of just your breathing.

 

3 – Easy quick release

The thing that infuriated me the most with my temporary $45 Yunteng tripod was the quick release clip which mounts the camera on to the tripod head. I longed for my well oiled Manfrotto head with its trusty quick release clip.

Mounting the camera on the tripod head should be quick and easy. When shopping for a tripod, get the store clerk to demonstrate and then try it out yourself multiple times until you feel if it’s right for you. Some of the smoothest looking quick release plates I’ve seen are made by Really Right Stuff.

Really Right Stuff Quick Release Plates

4 – How heavy should my tripod be?

This is a personal choice based on your exact needs, and how much you can carry. There’s always a trade-off between portability and sturdiness. Heavier tripods will laugh in the face of a strong wind, while super lightweight carbon fibre tripods will vibrate. You can always attach a rock filled bag to the central stem of your tripod to give it more stability in high winds.

5 – How big should my tripod be?

Again, this depends on your travel plans. Since my recent loss at Bangkok airport, I’m now considering buying a smaller tripod that will actually fit into my camera bag. A smaller tripod won’t be anywhere near as sturdy, but for the Siem Reap shoot it’s not as if I had to face high winds and extreme weather, so smaller would have been okay.

Very tall photographers will most likely have to shop for tripods that cater to their height. Sure, you can always extend your tripod’s central column, but that’s always a last resort as you’ll find it induces major wobble from just your hand contact with the camera.

6 – How much should I spend?

Here’s another important thing to consider. If like me, you’re a bit of a Gormclops, don’t buy the best that you can afford. I abuse my tripods by shooting in the ocean, rivers, deserts and mountains. If I’m lucky, I’ll get two years out of a tripod (assuming I don’t leave it in the airport) so it just doesn’t make sense for me to spend big money when I can get a very capable tripod for under $400, that already comes with a good ball head.

7 – Do I need a bubble level?Camera Bubble Level

Although not essential, it’s nice to have an accurate bubble level on the tripod stand itself, and one on the tripod head. If you’re lucky enough to have a digital level inside your camera (like my Sony A7R) you probably won’t use a bubble level much. If you have neither, you can always attach a bubble level to your cameras hot shoe attachment as pictured here (see photo right).

Why do I even need a tripod?

If you want tack sharp images (see my article on how to get super sharp landscape images) with the best possible image quality, accept that a tripod will become a part of your anatomy. For long exposures, a tripod is essential. If you shoot weddings, portraits, action and events, a tripod may just get in your way.

Which brands should I buy?

I’m not going to recommend one brand over another. I advise that you try out as many tripods and heads as you can. It’s fine to read reviews but you need to get hands on to decide which tripod and head combination works best for your needs. A specialist camera store should have a much wider choice of consumer and pro level tripods to choose from.

Enough Yunteng Bashing

Cheap Yunteng TripodTo be fair to Yunteng, I got the sturdiest tripod I believe it’s possible to find for a measly $45. It didn’t fall apart, was light, and in all honesty the tripod head was made for video, not stills. I got exactly what I paid for. I’ll keep it in my studio as a demonstration tool for showing people the difference between a $45 tripod and a $400 tripod.

What features do you look for in a tripod? Do you have any horror stories or recommendations for our readers?

The post The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Tripod by Gavin Hardcastle appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Photograph Fairground Rides

Learn how to photograph the fairground at night

When it comes to taking pictures of the fairground or amusement park, you’ll be amazed at just how easy it is to get super colourful, vibrant, and bright images of those awesome rides. Twilight is the best time to shoot, when all those mega-joules of artificial lights burst into action to give you amazing effects that aren’t possible during the day time.

Here’s what you’ll need:

When is the best time to shoot?

The optimum time is about 30 minutes after the sun has set. If you’re lucky, there will be a beautiful colourful afterglow in the clouds, but it will still be dark enough for all the artificial light to be the brightest parts of your image. When it gets fully dark you can still get stunning shots, but the sky may just be a dark blanket if there is cloud cover.

How to Photograph Fairground Rides

Harness the power of higher ISO

By increasing your ISO settings to around 400,  you’re increasing the light sensitivity of your camera. You can try higher settings (larger ISO numbers) but your goal here is to achieve an exposure time of around one to two seconds so that you capture some motion blur in the people and in the rides. Using a higher ISO than 400 will speed up your exposure time and you don’t necessarily want that, unless you want to totally freeze all of the motion in your shot. There’s some trial and error involved, depending on the available light of your scene, so my number of 400 is approximate.

When the rides are static, you won’t capture any motion blur but as soon as they start to move (and they usually move fast), you’ll find that the one to two second exposure time is ideal for capturing a lot of movement.

Shoot in time-lapse mode

By taking pictures every four seconds, you’ll end up with a huge variation of different motion blur as the rides progress through their cycle. It’s almost like shooting video, but by shooting time-lapse, you’ll ensure that every frame is a full resolution image – video can’t compete with that. This technique ensures that you capture lots of images at different stages of the ride. Here’s a one minute time-lapse movie I made while shooting stills at the fair using this technique.

If your camera has a built-in intervalometer or time-lapse app, you’re in luck. Set your interval at four seconds, and your camera will take a picture every four seconds. If you’ve set your exposure time to two seconds that gives you a two second gap after your shot has finished before the next shot will be triggered. Make your time-lapse last for about a five minute duration, and you should be able to capture images of the rides while they are static and while they are moving – it depends on how busy the rides are and how long the ride cycle lasts.

You can then overlay those blurred images with the static images in Photoshop to create the ultimate composite of sharp static scenes, and motion blurred scenes.

Don’t worry if your camera doesn’t have a time-lapse function, you’ll just need to take as many pictures as you think will capture your desired motion blur and static states. Alternatively you could buy an intervalometer which will connect to your camera and trigger the shutter for time lapse shooting.

Top Tip: Be sure to switch off your built-in noise reduction as this will slow down your write times to the memory card, and will mess up your intervals.

Photographing Amusement Parks

Choose the right white balance

It’s important to set the right white balance on your camera for this type of shooting. Don’t trust the auto setting because there are so many different light sources that your camera won’t know which setting to choose. For all of the shots I took with the Sony A7R, I used the Fluorescent Warm setting.

Experiment to get the most pleasing looking white balance for your scene, try to avoid everything looking super orange. Look at the scene with your eyes, then look at your shot to try and get the most accurate colour temperature.

It’s full of stars!

Night time photography tutorial

In shots like the one above, you can see a very pleasing looking blue star on the lamp post. All lenses produce their own characteristic stars, some are better than others. One thing you can do to get the best star out of your lens is to select a very narrow aperture like f/16 or f/22. This will also have the added benefit of forcing your shutter speed to be slower which gets you closer to the two second exposure time I mentioned earlier.

Get up close

Remember that wide angle lens I mentioned at the start? That lens will allow you to fill your frame with all the fun of the fair. Wide angle lenses create a pleasing looking distortion that adds drama and intensity to your shot. A 14-16mm shot on a full frame camera can cram in a LOT of action. By getting close to your subject and positioning yourself at a point that creates a nice looking distortion effect, you’ll really make your images POP!

Wide Angle lens used for Night Photography

Post-production

Noise reduction

What happens to your image quality when you use higher ISO settings? Noise, that’s what. We don’t like noise do we? No, so lets get rid of it using the brilliant noise reduction of Adobe Camera Raw. Your specific settings will depend on your camera’s sensor, as not all sensors are made equal. Here are the settings that I found gave me the best results for my pictures. Experiment with these sliders to get rid of as much noise as you can while still retaining image detail.

Noise Reduction Settings

Fix the shadows

You’ll probably want to brighten up your shadows and blacks a little but don’t overdo it. We actually need those dark areas in our image to contrast with the bright lights, that’s what gives our image its PUNCH!

Fix the highlights

If the brightest parts of your image look a little blown out, pull them down a little with the whites and highlights sliders. Again, don’t overdo it or you’ll run the risk of ending up with a totally fake looking image.

Clarity

Increase the clarity a little to introduce some contrast to the mid tones.

Vibrance

Increase the vibrance a little to make the colours pop and give a subtle blue hue to the sky area.

Use graduated filters in Adobe Camera RAW

The graduated filter simulator is a really powerful tool, but did you know it’s not just for making a part of your sky darker? You can use multiple graduated filters to selectively brighten or darken large parts of your image. If you want to brighten just your foreground, simply add a graduated filter and increase its exposure value like in the image below. You can further tweak just that selected area with the other powerful ACR tools like shadows, clarity, contrast etc.

Using Grad Filters in Adobe Camera Raw

Combine your images to make the ultimate composite

Once you’ve finished tweaking your images in Adobe Camera Raw, it’s time to open them in Photoshop to make a composite image that captures the motion blur and the static state of your fairground ride. It’s worth pointing out that this is just a creative choice, if you’re happy with just a single image, that’s cool too.

Step 1 – Choose and open your Images

From your images, choose one that shows your ride in its static state. This could either be while it’s not moving or perhaps you took a super fast, high ISO shot while the ride was moving and managed to freeze the motion nicely. Either way, pick an image that you like, and open that in Photoshop.

Step 2 – Copy and paste your images

Next you’ll choose an image, or images, that perfectly capture the motion blur of the ride; maybe it’s a roller-coaster ride and you want to catch the long streaking lights of the carriage. Open this in Photoshop so that you’ve now got two tabs, each with their own image.

With the motion blur image open, hit ctrl+a (or Cmd+A for Mac) on your keyboard to select the entire image. You should see the marching ants around the image. Next hit ctrl+c (Cmd+c) to copy that image on to your clipboard.

Now click on the other tab to switch to your first image which shows the static or frozen motion shot, and hit ctrl+v (Cmd+v) to paste your clipboard image on to a new layer above the default (Background) layer. Photoshop will call your new pasted layer “Layer 1″.

Step 3 – Blend your images

Assuming that you used the exact same ACR develop settings for both images, just go ahead and change the blend mode of the motion blurred image (Layer 1) that you just pasted on to the new layer to “Lighten”. The blend mode lives in your Layers panel and defaults to Normal, so change Normal to Lighten.

Now you should see both images combined to give you a lovely composite of both moments in time. If the effect is too pronounced, try turning down the opacity of the second layer to around 50%. For fun you could also try the Overlay blend mode or Screen, for a more intense effect. Remember to play with the layer opacity to get the look you want.

Step 4 – Erase the parts you don’t like

It’s likely that when you’ve blended both layers together by choosing the Lighten blend mode, you’ll want to erase certain parts of Layer 1 if the image gets too complicated. You can do that easily by choosing the Eraser tool and selecting a soft brush size, appropriate to the area you’d like to erase. Simply click on Layer 1 where you’d like to erase and bam – it’s gone (or use a layer mask for non-destructive editing).

Combine Layers in Photoshop

That’s it! You’ve now learned how to shoot and process your amazing images of those mind blowing fairground rides. Go out and have some fun with this, just don’t overdo it on the cotton candy and doughnuts like I did, ugh.

If you have another other tips for photographing fairground rides, please share in the comments.

The post How to Photograph Fairground Rides by Gavin Hardcastle appeared first on Digital Photography School.