I thought it may be interesting to share this sequence of photos taken last night at Scone airport. They show the evolution of a night photo from the initial setting up to the final image.
I would have liked to have gone airside, unfortunately I did not have permission to be on that part of the airfield after dark, so I had to be content with shooting from the car park outside the tower.
The camera was mounted on a tripod and the cable release attached. The camera has an internal spirit level so I used that to true the shot up.
If you click on any of the pictures you will see the picture at 1600 pixels wide.
First shot, a pure guess at 30 seconds f/4 ISO 100
I used f/4 as I did not need much depth of field at night and it cut the exposure time down to a minimum
Second shot, changed the ISO from 100 to 400, a two stop increase, at 100 ISO this would be equivalent to increasing the exposure time from 30 seconds to two minutes.
The third, this time another stop, increasing from ISO 400 to ISO 800. At ISO 100 this would be equivalent to increasing the shutter speed from two to four minutes.
Now what about the yucky yellow light being cast all over the place?
Some would be happy at that but not me, I hate the billious yellow light from sodium lights, so the next step is to do an in-camera white balance. I used the Lastolite Ezybalance target, which has one side at 18% grey and the other at white. I used the white side, using the same exposure settings as the third exposure above.
The first attempt was over exposed, you can see that the tones go from billious yellow at the bottom to white at the top. It was one big mass of blinkies warning me that it is over exposed, so I to cut the exposure time down to 10 seconds at f/4, ISO 800 and tried again.
This will do. I then went into the menus on my camera and told it to use this image to determine the white balance. This varies from camera to camera, so check your cameras instruction manual to see how it done.
Now I shoot in RAW, so I could have done a colour correction in Lightroom but you get a much better white balance when it’s done in-camera than in Lightroom.
Just as a comparison, this is the second white balance target, corrected in Lightroom using the white balance dropper.
You can see the difference that it made to the grass in the background. It’s close but I much prefer to do it in-camera.
The other handy thing about the Ezybalance target was it was large enough to hand hold in front of the camera to catch the light from the light, which was to my right. The Colour Checker Passport is too small to do this and needs to be propped up somewhere, which is not always possible.
The next shot was at 20 seconds at f/5, ISO 800. The scene is a lot darker than the white balance target so it needs a touch more light.
Wow, what a difference. There was some blinkies / highlight warning indicators showing the the top of the tail rotor was over exposed AND I had realised that I had forgotten to switch off the lens stabilisation, so…
For the final image, I decreased the aperture one stop from f/4 to f/5.6, 20 seconds at ISO 800
It is slightly under exposed but I knew the highlights were not over exposed and the rest I could pull in with Lightroom
This is the finished image after it was cropped and adjusted in lightroom. The Highlights were adjusted upwards to brighten the grass. The Blacks were adjusted up to brighten the sky and a little clarity added to increase the overall mid-tone contrast. A little bit of sharpening, the masking was set high for edge sharpening and to reduce noise, the Luminance and Colour noise reductions were set to low values as my camera does not produce much noise at ISO 800 but just to be sure.
The final steps were lens correction aberration correction and a colour profile added from my last night-shoot at Scone.
The picture was edited in Photoshop and the blue colour cast on the Seneca was corrected using the desaturate sponge at a low opacity and the red reflection cloned out from the fuselage as it was annoying me. I gave the image a single pass with Nik Define to reduce the noise, again just to be sure, resized it and sharpened using my preferred method of a High pass Filter layer, on an inverted layer mask, sharpening only the helicopter, all done as a Smart Object, for maximum flexability.
The image was flattened and saved before uploading to my “portfolio” site at Shackphoto.