We traveled to the Grand Canyon during summer monsoon season with the hope of seeing some dramatic lightning. If Mother Nature gave us her best, we aimed to capture it on camera. Mother Nature gave us a great show, and we got what we came for. The moment reminds me of Julius Caesar’s famous line, “veni, vidi, vici.”
Night photography that features the full moon is one of my favorite achievements. Add the lapping waves of the ocean and interesting landforms, and you can call that photo a personal favorite. All these elements came together for me at the end of a long day of photography on Maui.
That morning my alarm went off at 5 am, but we cancelled our 5:30 am departure for a sunrise shoot due to heavy rain all night continuing into the morning. Around 8 am, one of our workshop instructors knocked on my door. The other instructor had ventured out to scout road conditions and was stranded about an hour down the “Road to Hana” with a flat tire. Would I be willing to drive the route right away to pick him up? Of course!
Several hours later (around noon) with rain giving way to overcast sky, we hiked into a nearby state park, Wainapanapa, to do some photography. Later in the afternoon, we drove for an hour back the muddy, partially flooded, winding road to Hana — past the flat tire site — to the Haleakala State Park that features the “Seven Sacred Pools.” Then, we hiked a trail to a spectacular vantage point. Tired, yes. Sweaty, yes. Day is not over yet.
Just as the sun was setting, we arrived at our last location of the day: a little beach where you can see this volcanic mountain offshore “Alau Island” and enjoy some sun tinted clouds paint the sky before the scene disappeared into complete darkness. But this evening, there was something more. The full moon was rising opposite the sunset and near Alau island, while there was still some faint blue light in the sky.
I was ready with my equipment and techniques to capture a long exposure: my Really Right Stuff tripod and camera bracket on the Nikon D800 — necessary to make a long exposure. I knew I needed a long exposure in the very low light, and also that the long exposure would smooth the waves into a shimmering surface, accentuating the mood. I wanted the foreground to be dark, to show realistically the evening light. It was also important to me as a professional to hold back the bright light of the moon, to keep the highlights from blowing out. So, I hand held a graduated neutral density filter on the top edge of the frame.
I maintained the quality of the image by keeping the ISO at 100. I opened the lens up to f/ 2.8, and chose an exposure that allowed the foreground trees and rocks to go quite dark. With the help of the graduated filter, I held the dynamic range of the image well enough to capture this striking scene with one five-second exposure.
With this achievement, the week’s physical challenges all became worth it: the pre-dawn alarm clock, the heavy rain, the hot and humid hiking conditions, the muddy and sometimes precarious driving conditions. I was more than satisfied. I captured an image that exceeded my expectations.
Today is a perfect day to celebrate Pittsburgh and its spirited people, as the Steelers enter a playoff game where most fans have serious doubts about a positive outcome. The Steeler Nation is still behind the team — either in person or via television all over the world. Today’s game might well be the last game of the Steeler season, which is a big deal in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh has a pretty fabulous skyline, thanks to the geography of the Three Rivers, at least two successful Renaissance transformations and a currently vibrant local economy. And Pittsburghers never get enough of that skyline.
As a gift to the ever positive people of Pittsburgh, I bring you some summer night skyline images from the North Shore on a special evening when I expected the full moon to rise over the Golden Triangle. The moon rose on cue, of course, but clouds hid the moon from me for all but about 5 minutes that evening. Patience paid off. In this first image, you can see the Fort Duquesne Bridge on the left and the Fort Pitt Bridge on the right. Lots of history here (at Fort Pitt at the Point), dating back to George Washington and the Revolutionary War.
Here is a closer view of the fountain at Point State Park where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers form the Ohio River. The full moon features more prominently.
Lastly, let’s take a turn with creativity. A ten-second exposure captures enough light to make the sky appear blue, and I’ve dropped in a larger moon, taken that night from another exposure when I zoomed the lens in to 200mm. The moon wasn’t this big in relation to the buildings, but the moon was the reason I waited alone on the wharf for 90 minutes, so I personally like to see it big! I think it is AOK to play with the moon size, as long as the photographer is honest about it. Journalists can’t do this, but I am wearing my artist hat now. As an artist, I would also only play with elements captured that evening. I might be creative, but not crazy with my choices.
Which photo do you like best? These images can be produced in high resolution as large prints. Contact me via email at email@example.com
Photographing Christmas lights at dusk presents a technical challenge: having the lights just bright enough and the unlit part of the scene visible enough to look good. The practical challenge of photographing Christmas lights is taking the time out of your busy holiday schedule to carry off the shoot, right at dusk. This year, I had just the push I needed: a challenge from one of my photography clubs to submit a photo on the theme “through the window.”
Now, I pass on the challenge to you! (Hint: this is way easier than the ice bucket challenge!) All you have to do is make time at dusk and go outside with your camera. I’ll share a few tips that guided my shooting and processing of my house photo.
My family takes an understated approach to Christmas lights by putting simple candles in the windows of our Victorian house. For my photo, I attached my Nikon D800 to a Really Right Stuff Tripod. (Any tripod will do as long it is sturdy enough for your camera. The best camera for the job is one you can set manually.) I had an overcast evening, but snow would make the scene even nicer. With the D800, ISO 400 is pretty noise free, and I set the lens for f/16, hoping for a little star effect on the lights. I began on Aperture preferred mode for one frame, and then changed the mode to manual and bracketed the exposure higher and lower, so that I could choose later the best exposure for the house, the sky and the lights. The sun was setting in front of me on the left, which was not ideal, but didn’t cause a major issue.
When I imported the exposures into Lightroom, I chose the one-second exposure. It really wasn’t necessary to tone-map multiple exposures in Photomatix or Photoshop, because I only needed to bring the exposure of the house up a little, and the sky down a little. In Lightroom, I adjusted the shadows up, clarity up, white balance toward blue and lens correction vertically (to correct the look of the house leaning back).
Exported into Photoshop, the image was ready for some dodging and burning to lighten the white trim on the house and darken the edges of the frame. Since the image would benefit from a strong darkening of the sky, I used the multiply blend mode on a duplicate layer and a mask to isolate the sky.
One more sneaky trick you may enjoy: Three windows did not have candles in them, but I was able to clone stamp candles in them for a more complete look. Here is my final image.
If you need help making a memorable photo of your home with Christmas lights, feel free to contact me. There is no place like home in any season.
Note: Cathy Kelly is available to shoot your house, your front door and garden in the Sewickley and greater Pittsburgh PA area. She makes notecards and tiles with those images, as well as large prints. These images make wonderful gifts! For more information, contact Cathy at firstname.lastname@example.org