Cameras ’till Midnight

Cameras till Midnight

It’s funny how things work out sometimes.  I was all set to go out and Photograph “an Old Bridge” and I did as a matter of fact and in to my second set up I saw a surprise flickering in the sky!  As for the bridge images I will start by explaining the process on those.

The Al Bahr Bridge, a historic bridge in La Jolla California in a very nice neighborhood.  Some of the homes get up to $15,000,000 I am not sure if they are really worth paying that much for but I am not rich and don’t suffer from those types of decisions.  I set up my gear earlier in the day, I decided to use my Tamrac bag it can hold more gear.  I normally would go for the less is more thing, but going to an un-scouted location I wasn’t sure what to expect.  In hindsight all I needed was…

  • Camera (of course)
  • 18-200mm lens
  • Remote
  • Tripod
  • Jacket
  • Timer
  • Memory card
  • Lens brush/cloth

I got to the location and the first thing that I thought was…”wow this is a very unimpressive bridge!”  It looked neat but not the normal scene that I spend the time shooting.  But true to my word I decided to grab my gear and set up at least one shot.  I ended up with 2 square images when it was all said and done.  Some people call them vertical pano’s but that is only because I used Photomerge to stitch them together.  I was only going to shoot one but decided to do two because I try and get different angles when I shoot.  I wasn’t feeling inspired by this location and that is very important to me.  I have to hear a location sing otherwise I will get nothing but Yuk.

The camera stayed consistent for both images and all 4 shots I tried to set the camera the way I normally would.  This wasn’t inspiring me to experiment. The camera settings were:

  • Mode:  Manual
  • ISO:  400
  • Shutter:  (120 seconds) 2 min
  • Aperture:   F 3.5
  • Recording mode: NEF (RAW)
  • Color space: Adobe RGB 1998
  • Long exposure Noise reduction: (ON)

This was the Data for the first shot after uploaded

This was the Data from the second shot after uploaded

I tried to use 2 different color temps to create 2 different feels.  For post production I used a healthy amount of vibrance and clarity.  The fill light slider was used just a tiny bit and I did a little detail boost for the bridge itself so it would pop out a bit more.  I didn’t want to make it overly complicated because it wouldn’t have done it justice.

Final images



Surprise Time!

I was trying to decide as I packed my gear back into the car if I would go home sad and slightly defeated.  I normally don’t go out and shoot just one location or one project.  But this location sucked the life out of me.  I wanted to go home because I didn’t want to waste more time considering that it’s 1:15 in the morning at that time.

I was driving very slowly out of the area (cops patrol high end areas at night) (I saw 2) just then I saw a flash over the hill.  I thought to myself, “Wow, someone is doing an outdoor portrait session because those are some powerful strobes!”  Flash! Flash!

Wait I am so dumb those aren’t studio lights there must be a storm out in the ocean right now.  I felt that rush again the blood was moving back into the creative part of my brain and I had only seconds to think of a nearby “proven” beach location.  The very first thing that I thought of was the famous and photographed a million times La Jolla Pier.  My hands and feet had a mind of their own and I was headed down La Jolla Shores Dr. at a let that legal pace.  I had to get there now, right now!  lightning is unpredictable and leaves as fast as it comes on.  This may be the reason in the 5 years of Night photography I haven’t captured a lightning shot.  That and because when there is lightning in San Diego there is tons of rain.  But there wasn’t any rain right now, I was thinking that there might be soon and the storm out there could quickly drift in here so I grabbed my waterproof emergency bag and shoved it into my pocket as I ran out of my car.

I was running at this point across the facilities of UCSD (the location of the Pier) no doubt the night security was laughing at my run.  I broke my knee in multiple places about 2 years ago and am still missing a bit of bone.  I slid down the very steep hill that is right next to the pier and made my way underneath.

At this point I was out of breath frantic and trying to set up all of my gear as fast as I could.  I was thinking just at that moment, and when I say moment I mean less than 2 seconds.  What settings do I use to get this location perfect?  “FLASH!”   Oh crap!  My tried and true” NUMBERS” came to mind, ISO 400 F3.5 at 30 seconds.  “Click!” That would give me 30 seconds to create a game plan. “Flash!” Oh thank God I hit that shutter when I did!

After careful deliberation I decided to put my ISO down at 100 and set the camera to bulb mode.  This accounts for negative two stops of light from 400 to 100. The aperture would need to go to f11 for maximum focus and to counterbalance the amount of time that I would be exposing for by approximately negative four stops of light.  So I found myself with a deficit of 6 stops of light. I decided on a time of 6 min, if I had left the camera at 400 ISO I would have gone to 4 min.  This would give me a slightly but not by much darker image with more flashes of lightning.  Keep in mind the lightning needs to be taken into account.  The more flashes of lighting the brighter the image is going to get. So I was banking on the lightning on giving me my last 2 stops.  If I went over the image could blow out and I might miss it if it just slightly too dark I could take advantage of the 1 to 2 stops of leeway in camera RAW.  It is not perfect but I had 30 seconds to decide and I had to commit!

  • f3.5 to f11  (-4 stops of light) (f3.5 is 1/3stop to  f4, f5.6, f8, f11)
  • 30 seconds to 4 min  (+4 stops of light) (30 to 60, 2min, 4min, 6min)
  • 400 ISO to 100 ISO (-2 stops of light)
  • GRAND TOTAL :  ( -2 stops of light)
  • Crossed fingers:   (lightning+2 stops)

“Click”…”BEEP”  The 30 second shot was done!  I would take the 2 second playback to view it and hit the remote!

6 min later… or 5.58 min later… “click,”… “beep” Done.  It came out perfect!

Fifteen minutes had gone by with 2 maybe 3 flashes and it was over.  The storm was gone, I was sad.  I held on for another 2 hours waiting and wondering.  Was it going to start again?  I would have to make do with what I got.  I decided to start shooting the pier without the flashes and stick to really nice night shots of the pier.  They were great and I loved them but nothing created that thrill like when the storm was blasting away.

One thought on “Cameras ’till Midnight

  1. What a great capture, Doug. I really enjoyed the writing, too. This really shows the effort that can go into night photography. But with the knowledge and experience you bring to the game, and the good wishes of Mother Nature, the results can be awesome! Thanks for the tutorial and for sharing.

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