Archive for the ‘blue hour’ Tag

Wordless Wednesday: Crescent Moon & Columbia River   9 comments

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Friday Foto Talk: Blue Hour   12 comments

Blue Hour on the California Coast. Clouds from an approaching winter storm lend a moody look.

Blue Hour on the California Coast. Clouds from an approaching winter storm lend a moody look.

Blue hour is often mentioned by photographers as offering great picture opportunities.  I definitely agree.  In case you don’t know, blue hour is that transitional time between sunset and darkness when the sky and land take on a blue color.  They also occur in the morning before sunrise.  The peak of blue hour is about 45 minutes after sunset (or before sunrise).  But it really is a transitional time which offers opportunities from the time of fading orange sunset glow to inky-black skies.  Here’s why I believe blue hour is worth staying out late or getting up early for:

      • Blue hour is..well…it’s blue!  Blue is a beautiful color.  It’s my favorite, and I’m not alone.  Everybody likes this color.  It easily imparts mood as well.
      • Blue hour can help to impart mood, but not only because of the blue color.  Low light forces longer exposures, which can lend an abstract quality to an image.  If clouds are present, they impart a moody counterpoint to any expanses of deep blue in sky or water.
The crescent moon at blue hour in the desert of the Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

The crescent moon at blue hour in the desert of the Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

      • Blue hour allows you to achieve long exposures without filters.  Filters are another piece of glass between you and the image, which in some cases can introduce artifacts or otherwise lower quality.  If you want to blur water or imply motion, shoot ghost-like figures, create leading lines by streaking clouds, or achieve any other long-exposure effect, blue hour naturally gives you the low light you require.  If it is early blue hour, you might need a polarizer to slow things down enough.  But you won’t normally need heavy neutral density filters & you aren’t forced into using small apertures.
Blue hour in Portland, Oregon.

Blue hour in Portland, Oregon.

      • Blue hour is also the time when you’ll find the moon very low in the sky and making a great photo subject.  An almost full moon and a thin crescent moon both show up low in the sky at blue hour.
      • Blue hour offers a great time to photograph cities and urban areas.  The lights of a city, the light trails of car tail-lights, any artificial lighting is set off nicely against the deep blue of the sky.
Pre-sunrise blue hour in Death Valley, California.

Pre-sunrise blue hour in Death Valley, California.

Blue hour is a pretty easy time to photograph, since exposures are fairly consistent and even, with little contrast to worry about.  But there are definitely some things to keep in mind:

      • First and most important, a tripod is absolutely necessary.  Yes you can shoot a portrait using flash at blue hour and get away without a tripod.  But for landscapes, cityscapes, motion blur, any of these require a good solid tripod.  You will want to use the timer delay or a shutter release cable so you don’t have to touch the camera when it’s taking the picture.  Also, use mirror lockup if your camera has this feature.  It eliminates any possible movement from the mirror moving during the capture.
Blue hour is a great time for a visit to a fair, and a great time to experiment with long exposures.

Blue hour is a great time for a visit to a fair, and a great time to experiment with long exposures.

      • When shooting in the direction of where the sun just went down (or will come up), the sky will be a brighter blue.  You’ll need to handle contrast between the bright sky and your foreground, so I strongly recommend using a graduated neutral density filter.  The contrast is most pronounced early in blue hour, whereas later toward dark you’ll have a more even (and dark) scene.
Mount Hood towers over Lost Lake after sunset.

Mount Hood towers over Lost Lake after sunset.

      • What’s pretty cool about blue hour is that just about the end of blue hour is when you will generally reach the 30-second time limit of most DSLRs, at least at fairly small apertures.  You can switch to bulb mode and have the shutter open for longer than 30 seconds of course, but I have found the magic of blue hour is largely over by this time.  It is replaced by the magic of nighttime and the stars, but that’s a subject for another post.
      • When you are anywhere near water, use it to your advantage.  Not only will it expand the area of beautiful blue, the long exposures will give it a nice silky smooth look.
The Virgin River flowing through Zion Canyon, Utah, makes a great blue-hour subject.

The Virgin River flowing through Zion Canyon, Utah, makes a great blue-hour subject.

      • Be conscious of your long exposures.  When shooting any moving subject (people, boats, etc.) there will be blurring.  This can be a nice effect but it often results in a distraction.  The same is true of the moon, which moves surprisingly fast.  It depends on your focal length, but any shutter speed longer than a few seconds will result in blurring of the moon’s outline and features.  If you zoom in, use shutter speeds shorter than a second.
The full moon rises over Crown Point and the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

The full moon rises over Crown Point and the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon.

      • Also with the moon, early blue hour (just after the orange of sunset fades) is best for avoiding contrast.  As blue hour progresses and the sky darkens, the moon will appear much brighter and there will be no chance of getting any detail in it while exposing correctly for the rest of the scene.  Basically, you’ll have the choice of either blowing the moon out (too bright), or exposing correctly for the moon and underexposing the rest of the scene.  There are ways around this.  Check out my post on the subject.
Although there is still some orange in the sky, this scene along the lower Columbia River, Oregon I count as very early blue hour.

Although there is still some orange in the sky, this scene along the lower Columbia River, Oregon I count as very early blue hour.

      • You can jump the gun a bit and get the best of both worlds.  I’m talking about combining some of the color of sunset with the blue hour by shooting right at the short transition between sunset and blue hour.  You can do the same at sunrise by shooting just before the golden color of the rising sun invades the whole sky (see image below).
A very calm dawn at Hutchinson Lake in eastern Washington's Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

A very calm dawn at Hutchinson Lake in eastern Washington’s Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

      • Raise your ISO to keep exposures long enough to get the desired effect.  This will likely be necessary only in late blue hour when you are using small apertures for maximum depth of field.  Depending on your camera, you might not be able to raise ISO much without introducing too much noise.  But it’s much better to raise your ISO a stop and get a well-exposed photo than to decrease exposure compensation and have very deep shadows.  Later on the computer, you will see that brightening those deep shadows (to see some of the detail in them) will result in more noise than if you would have raised ISO a bit and gotten a bright enough exposure in the first place.  Don’t go crazy raising your ISO.  The rule of thumb to keep ISO as low as possible still applies.
A clear and cold blue hour skiing near Mt. Hood, Oregon.

A clear and cold blue hour skiing near Mt. Hood, Oregon.

      • Finally, shooting at blue hour demands that you either get out well before the sun rises or stay out well past sunset.  You’ll need to commit to it, through either an early rise or the patience to stick things out past sunset.  No packing up after the sun is down, patience is key.
      • Given the above point, it’s important to be prepared.  Have a good flashlight in your camera bag, and make sure the batteries are charged.  Be very aware of your surroundings.
Blue hour is when many cruise ships depart, but this one in Ensenada, Mexico is staying put.

Blue hour is when many cruise ships depart, but this one in Ensenada, Mexico is staying put.

      • In cities, the gathering darkness of blue hour can be an unsafe time to be in some areas.  In the wilds, at least in some places, being out as dusk turns into darkness can be risky.  You don’t want to present yourself as an easy meal to a hungry predator.  Fortunately, simple precautions can make a big difference.   Don’t position yourself close to any sort of cover; surround yourself with open space instead.  Carry a can of mace, people mace in cities and bear mace in the wild.  Never run from a predator (human or animal really) unless you are sure you can get to the safety of your car, a crowd of people, etc.
Blue hour from within Zion Canyon in Utah.

Blue hour from within Zion Canyon in Utah.

Blue hour can provide a soft edge to hard industrial subjects, such as this gas drilling rig.

Blue hour can provide a soft edge to hard industrial subjects, such as this gas drilling rig.

Photography at blue hour can be a rewarding way to capture moody yet beautiful scenes.  The light is low, allowing for long exposures and smooth, deep colors. But more important is the fact you are at the edge of night, lending a mystical quality to your images.  If you’re interested in any of these images, just click on them to go to my galleries page.  Once you have the full-size version in front of you, click “Purchase Options” to see prices for prints, downloads and more.  They are copyrighted and not available for free download without my permission, sorry.  If you have any questions, just contact me.  Thanks for reading!

Mount Adams, Washington is reflected in Tahklakh Lake at blue hour.

Mount Adams, Washington is reflected in Tahklakh Lake at blue hour.

Friday Foto Talk: Getting Familiar with your Camera   13 comments

A fading day illuminates colorful skies and the basalt cliffs at Crown Point in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A fading day illuminates colorful skies and the basalt cliffs at Crown Point in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

This subject is one of those in photography that everybody just assumes is true but many don’t put it into practice with enough rigor.  Getting familiar with your camera and lenses, along with your tripod and other accessories, is key to capturing your best shots.  This is tops on my mind right now since I just bought a new camera.

If you are a novice, or even beyond novice, photographer, I have to say right here that there is only one author that I’ve read who really dives into this subject with some detail.  That is longtime photography teacher Brian Peterson.  His Understanding Photography Field Guide should be required reading.  He does not go deeply into the idea of getting familiar with your camera, since beyond saying you should do it, there’s not much to mention that is not brand dependent.  But he does detail great ways to get familiar with your lenses.  So go read that book and I won’t go into lenses much here.

A quiet dusk evening along the Columbia River.

A quiet dusk evening along the Columbia River.

Nobody would argue that learning how to use a new piece of electronics is important, whether computer or phone or camera.  But I’m going to argue here that most people tend to do the minimum amount of learning when it comes to their camera.  They read the manual (maybe) and then begin using the camera.  They don’t go back to the manual, trying to figure out the best way to set it up.  But this is the best way to make sure you are doing things in the most efficient way.  It’s important to do this early on so you don’t get locked in too much to a less-efficient way of doing things.

Once you go through this somewhat clunky period of feeling out your camera with help from the manual, then you should just shoot shoot shoot.  This is the only way to get to the point where everything is second nature, where you never have to look at your camera to do anything.  Your eyes belong on the scene before you, not on your camera (except for reviewing the image on the LCD when necessary).

 By the way, regarding the plethora of books that come out on each new model of camera: I don’t see them as very useful.  They are basically extended user’s manuals, which you get for free with the camera.  Much of what you’ll learn is what that photographer does with that camera.  So long as you don’t let that influence you too much, there isn’t much harm in reading one.  I prefer reading the user’s manual and developing my own system.

Dusk descends on the Columbia River in Oregon.

Dusk descends on the Columbia River in Oregon.

When you get to the second-nature stage of using your camera, lenses and tripod, you can do things very quickly.  This allows you to take advantage of quick-changing light.  You can switch subjects quickly.  You can get that wide-angle shot PLUS the zoomed in composition.  When photographing people, you can capture quickly changing expressions and body postures, allowing much more natural looking pictures.

Don’t get me wrong.  You’ll still miss plenty of shots.  You will get set up and trip the shutter a few seconds after the golden light fades, you’ll be ready to photograph an animal just as it passes behind some brush, etc, etc.  I’m actually talking about minimizing the missed shots, not adding opportunities.  For that you’ll need to simply get out in front of interesting subjects and shoot more often.

My previous camera (one that is in the shop right now) is a Canon 5D Mark II.  I just bought a new 5D Mark III, and so there is a lot of overlap.  All the shots here were captured with my new camera.  I’m very familiar with my Mark II, so how different could the Mark III be?  Unfortunately it’s not a completely seamless transition.  That’s because it’s difficult to get used to those things that have changed.

One example on my new camera is the different button used to magnify images on the LCD screen.  This is a feature I use all the time, in composing and focusing images using LiveView, and in reviewing images on the LCD for good focus.  The magnify button on the 5D III is in a different place than it is on the 5D II.  Doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but when your fingers are very used to going to a certain place, it requires retraining to make the change.

New camera models will often have wholly redesigned features.  Autofocus is one example on the Canon 5D III.  Inherited from the 7D and 1D model series, there is a brand new autofocus system to learn.  Compared to the 5D II, it is quite complex, with many different possible settings.  Something new to learn for sure.  Expanded capabilities will just remain unused if you don’t learn how to use them.

Thus far I have only shot a few pictures with my new camera, so I’m sorry for not having a lot of images in this post.  I will post more new pictures as I take them.  In fact, I’m going out right after finishing this post!  Now I’d like you to really examine how familiar you are with your camera gear.  Could using it be more intuitive for you?  If so, get out there and shoot!  Perhaps go back and read that manual one more time.   And by the way have fun!  Thanks for reading!

One of the many old pile dikes sticking out into the broad lower Columbia River right at the edge of magic and blue hours.

One of the many old pile dikes sticking out into the broad lower Columbia River right at the edge of magic and blue hours.

Teasing the Viewer – Landscape Photography   4 comments

Mount Rainier peaks out above Mowich Lake as the dusk deepens.

Mount Rainier peaks out above Mowich Lake as the dusk deepens.

 

I rarely post on photo how-to, since I find it a little boring.  Much better to go out in the field and interact one-on-one with people and their cameras.  But this little tip I’ve discovered is as far as I know not discussed by your typical workshop leader.

In fashion and boudoir photography, although this is not my thing, I am certain that most photographers and models know how effective it is to leave something to the imagination.  If you show everything, that might be the last picture the viewer sees.  It is much better to tease, to leave the viewer wanting more.

I have found that this often works well with landscape and nature photography as well.  A tiger nicely screened by beautifully out-of-focus vegetation, an action shot where it is not at all certain if the predator will capture the prey, and similar photos leave the viewer wondering what happens next, or wanting to see more of the animal.

Even in landscapes, leaving a mountain or other spectacular feature partially hidden can work to create a sort of tension in the photograph.  As long as you don’t totally frustrate the viewer, where not enough of your subject is shown, it is perfectly fine to compose your subject so it is partially hidden.

That’s the case with this photograph.  I admit to feeling a bit of frustration at only seeing part of Mount Rainier from Mowich Lake when I arrived last fall to camp.  I planned to hike up to a higher lake (Eunice) where the full glory of Rainier is on display and reflected in a lovely alpine lake.  But I had arrived too late to Mowich, and so had to be content trying to find good compositions with a partly-obscured peak.  The above shot was one of my last, a long exposure during blue hour after the sun had set.

The next afternoon I did hike up to Eunice Lake and got the shots below.  I included two from Eunice Lake; the second, during blue hour, is for easier comparison with the above shot.  Perhaps with some cloud cover in the sky these would be better pictures than the one from Mowich above.  But as it is, I prefer the first shot to the second and third.  And it is partly because the mountain is not in full view that I think it works.  Which do you prefer?

Mount Rainier in Washington rises above Eunice Lake.

Mount Rainier in Washington rises above Eunice Lake.

Whichever shot is your favorite, it is true that you’ll strengthen your collection if in some of your pictures you leave the subject partly hidden, or the story partly untold.  I believe this holds in all types of photography, not just those where the teasing aspect of this technique is more obvious.

Blue hour at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

Blue hour at Mount Rainier National Park, Washington.

 

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