I’ve been doing a lot of abstract painting lately,
extremely abstract. No brush, no paint, no canvas, I just think about it. — Steven Wright
There’s more to the night than just stars – or so I need to remind myself sometimes. Even when no stars are visible one can shoot conventional night landscapes and cityscapes. The main problem is that with most cities, the white balance at night with clouds is tough to deal with. But who says you have to take a conventional cityscape? From a relatively high perch overlooking Los Angeles, I saw lots and lots of city color.
Photo 1: Fast Times was accomplished by mounting my camera on a tripod, carefully focusing on the towers and then beginning a 5 second exposure at ISO 200, f/8.0. The exposure settings were determined by trial and error, but the goal was to have no “blowout” (over exposed) pixels, or at least very few. After starting the exposure I waited about 3 seconds and then rapidly but smoothly zoomed in allowing another second and a half of exposure at the end. Before I took the picture I had already zoomed in to 200 mm to make sure the ending would not zoom the top lights of the towers out of the frame. I then zoomed out to about 120 mm before starting the exposure. The previous night I shot a handheld zoom that cause a cool warping of the top of the towers – a Seussical look, but unfortunately I apparently deleted that exposure when deleting a number of trial shots.
Next I tried a handheld zoom. For Photo 2 I pointed the camera at the Pacific Design Center which is under construction. The red horizontal bands were on the structure but several bright lights were below it. I worried how they might come out. I set the exposure to 10 seconds, ISO 100, f/10.0. When the exposure started, I slowly zoomed in to the maximum. I completed the shot in post processing by increasing the shadows, increasing the contrast and slightly warming the color.
I then went “overboard” with exposures. Photo 3 is an 8 second exposure at f/6.3, ISO 100. For this exposure I hand held the tripod collar on the 70-200 lens with one finger dragging the zoom ring. I began the exposure and tried to keep the camera pointed in the same place while rotating the camera counterclockwise. Since one finger was dragging the zoom ring, it caused the lens to zoom out. When zoom out stopped, I continued rotating the camera counterclockwise until the exposure ended. The result was a heavy “abstract” painting which I completed by increasing the contrast, increasing the saturation, and increasing the shadows. I also warmed the color a little.
Large continuously changing light banners at the “Sunset” building caught my eye. They provided striking color that cycled through yellow, orange, red, blue, and purple at approximately 8 seconds per color. So I set my exposure to 8 seconds, f/6.3, ISO 100 and was zoomed to about 120 mm. I started the shot in portrait mode, and as in Photo 3, I turned the camera counterclockwise – this time a little less smoothly. I also slightly rotated the zoom ring causing the shot to zoom in to 200 mm.
What did “Blue Man” look like with out the twisting? Photo 5 captures the building in its pink period.
So what did I learn from my play? Celestial light coursing through the night sky is compelling but playing with artificial city light can produce pleasing results. So play more!
If you would rather create compelling star imagery with engaging foregrounds in majestic dark night skies… then join us on one of our StarCircleAcademy.com workshops.