Into the Night

San Francisco Skyline
I shot this from Alcatraz Island on a mini tripod on a very windy night. Though not the razor sharp image I was hoping for, I was happy to be able to get it as sharp as I did
[Copyright Andy Richards 2011]

For many of us, night signals the end of our primary activities, work, school, and even “play.” We generally come home, prepare and eat dinner, wind down, and go to sleep.

When night comes, we often think it is time to pack up our gear, and go home

Photographers often take the same approach. Much attention (rightfully) is focused on the “golden” hours in the early morning and again in the early evening. Events are often either during the day, or in well-lit settings. And, after all, the word photography roughly means: “painting with light.” So when darkness comes, we often think it is time to pack up our gear, and go home.

Grand Canal; Venice, Italy
I shot this handheld, leaning on a bridge, at 1/30 second. Images like this really demand a tripod for maximum sharpness. Unfortunately, I did not have a tripod, but I did my best without by bracing on the bridge
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013]

But we really shouldn’t. Because if we do, we are missing out on a significant venue for photography. It really pays to take your camera out and explore the night. My “Into The Night” Gallery on my photo website contains my “low light” imagery.

Tokyo Tower
This was taken from inside our completely darkened room at the Park Hotel. It is difficult to do night images through glass windows, but we could not find an outdoor vantage point to get this perspective
[Copyright Andy Richards 2015]

The subject matter will most likely be different. Except in unique and limited circumstances, traditional landscape and nature photography will not work well at night. It is difficult enough to photograph wildlife in the low light conditions when they are active. It would be mostly impossible to do much with them after dark. Most “grand landscape” scenes and the elements used to frame a good photograph” will go dark to black and detail – less.

Capitol; Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial from across the reflecting pool
This was my first ever foray into nightime shooting, This image was made with Kodachrome 25 slide film long before digital was available to most of us
[Copyright Andy Richards 1980]

A notable exception to my “landscape” exclusion is shooting the night skies. That is an area I have not yet made the time and effort to pursue. I have two very talented friends who have spent a lot of time shooting the night sky – mainly the milky way. I encourage you to visit the of Al Utzig’s “After Dark” Portfolio, and Margy Meath’s “Night Sky” Gallery, to see their excellent night sky photography.

Iwo Jima War Memorial; Rossyln, Washington, D.C.
Strong graphic elements and artificial lighting expose the details and textures in this image
[Copyright Andy Richards 2011]

My own night shooting has mostly been in and around cities, or areas with substantial architectural details. There need to be some strong graphic elements in most cases.

Bay Bridge; San Francisco, CA
[Copyright Andy Richards 2014]

Artificial light also makes up an important part of night shooting. There are opportunities, and there are challenges. One opportunity is to show movement creatively. Moving vehicles, for example, show streaks of light (usually the red-colored tail lights give the best result). There are often many different colored lights, which present great opportunities for photographs. The shot of Tokyo Tower, with its colorful night time lighting is a great example, I think.

Port of Barcelona
Sometimes high vantage points help with night images. This was taken from the top deck of our cruise ship
[Copyright Andy Richards 2020]

Nightime lighting can also create great reflection opportunities. The Port of Barcelona and the Bay Bridge images are good examples of reflected light and in the case of the port, color.

Cruise Ships
The noise in this image, made with an early version Canon Powershot, was so bad, that I did the only thing I could think of: I made it “worse,” by applying one of Photoshops many so-called, “artistic” filters
[Copyright Andy Richards 2012]

There are “challenges.” The most obvious is the lack of light; lilght being the very thing that creates a photographic image, either by reflecting off a photosensor, or if you are “old school,” off of an unexposed silvery halide film emulsion. Back in 1980 when I shot the monuments my ISO rating was 25! If you wanted something “faster” (meaning less light needed to make the exposure), you were basically relegated to B&W. And 400 was blazing fast back then (sometimes you could push it to 800, but with a sacrifice in quality). When digital came along, it offered faster ISO speeds (and the ability to vary the ISO from shot to shot). But it took many years from the time the first digital cameras hit the market until we had any real gain in that area. The primary problem with higher ISO sensors was something called “noise.” Borrowed from the radio/electronics industry, the term “noise” refers to random electronic signals generated in the camera’s electronics. There are numerous culprits, including sensor size and density and heat. But day after day, the technical design and manufacturing just gets better.

Port of Naples
This shot was made at 6400 ISO and though there was some noise in the water in the foreground and the black hull of the boat, most of it was made more palatable with NIK’s Dfine noise reduction software.
[Copyright Andy Richards 2013]

Current sensors give us the ability to go more than 200 times higher ISO than my Kodachrome 25. The Grand Canal image, for example, was made at 6400 ISO. This allowed for an f6.3 aperture at 1/30 of a second. There is evidence of noise in that image, but it is certainly not unpleasant. and at slower ISO, or larger sensors visible noise has been severely reduced, if not eliminated. The Tokyo Tower shot was a 4 second exposure with no noticeable noise.

Hotel Monteleone, New Orleans, LA
This image, made with my smaller sensor Sony RX100, at ISO 3200 and 1/80 sec, is uniformly noisy, but not unpleasant
[Copyright Andy Richards 2018]

Of course, the other way to deal with lack of light would be to affix your camera to something stationary – most often a sturdy tripod – and make longer exposures. Remember, the Grand Canal image was made handheld (I didn’t have a tripod with me, but I made the best use of the camera I had with me – the important point being I had the camera with me). Obviously the ability to shoot high ISO speeds is giving us more flexibility and versatility than in years past.

Frontier Street; Las Vegas, NV
City streets, colors and neon make great night time shooting subjects
[Copyright Andy Richards 2016]

And, longer exposures bring with them another set of challenges. Historically, there has been a direct corellation between length of exposure and noise. Although similar to grain in film, it is really a technically very different phenomena and a new concept to work with for photographers. Noise can show up looking like grain. It can also show up as “color” noise which gives the image a kind of blotchy, red/green/blue look. In the past we have had to work with it by watching both ISO and exposure length, and often depending on post-processing “denoise” software. There is still occasion to use such software, but it is much less often necessary. And did I say the sensor technology has gotten better? Again, current sensors all very high ISO performance, and create less heat, rendering relatively noise-free low light images. There is still not much doubt, though, that my full frame sensor gives “cleaner” results than my Sony RX100.

Split Rock Lighthouse; Two Harbors, MN
Fireworks always make great night image shooting. Often shot from or over water venues, there are almost always reflection opportunities. I was fortunate to be at this lighthouse on one of the few nights it is lit during the year – and the fireworks were just an added bonus
[Copyright Andy Richards 2010]

Even before noise was an issue, there were circumstances that made longer exposures problematic. The biggest ones? Wind and subject movement. Neither, of course, is solely a night issue. But it makes things you may not have thought about now an issue. In 2016, I was in Rhode Island and took some night shots of a lighted bridge with boats in the foreground. It was windy and I just couldn’t get an image I liked, of the lights strung along the structural cables. The wind made it impossible to shoot at a shutter speed that would capture them as sharp.

Newport Bridge; Brenton Cove; Newport, RI
This photograph was made after sunseet at the remaining light was nearly gone. The ability of modern cameras/sensors to capture light is astounding. To our eyes, that wonderful pink glow in the sky was barely visible. And there was enough wind that it was difficult to get the lights on the bridge sharp
[Copyright Andy Richards 2016]

Another challenge to this kind of shooting environment is, ironically, the light. As I noted in one of the post-processing blogs recently, color – to photographers and viewers – is largely a matter of perception. Having said that, it is also the case that there are limits to our variation in perception. For most of us, there will come a time where color just won’t seem “true” anymore. One of the most difficult areas to control has historically been when shooting with artificial light. We are geared to sunny daylight in our judgement of color. These days, LED lighting technology has made it possible to mimic daylight. Just a short few years ago, that wasn’t the case. Regular incandescant light tended to give color a yellow (“warm”) cast. Those ubiquitous flourescent tubes (think offices, kitchens, garages and basements) gave off an ugly greenish cast. Outdoor (mercury vapor) lighting was yellow or orange. Of course, many of these light sources still abound – especially outdoors at night. And they definitely make colors – interesting. 🙂 The Saginaw Waterworks image has such a mix of light sources and colors that it was virtually impossible to recreate what my own eyes “saw” (our eyes and brain work together to “color correct” in these situation when you are on site. But viewing a photograph shows us what was really captured and/or presented. Sometimes, I think these color inconsistencies make for good photography. Nobody would say the “night sky” in the waterworks picture looks “natural.” And the “reds” and “greens” aren’t exactly red or green. But it certainly makes for a colorful holiday image.

Saginaw Water Treatment Facility; Saginaw, MI
There may be no better subject for colors and lights than holiday images. I always try to get out at night during the Christmas Season. The shear number of lights, as well as the already ample year-round building lighting almost makes the sky look like daylight here. But is was assuredly after dark
[Copyright Andy Richards 2009]

Before the digital “age,” films were “color-balanced” to a certain standard. Most were “daylight” balanced. Some specialty films (Kodak had a “tungsten” slide film, for example) were purposely balanced to produce “truer” color under artificial light. Digital gives us the ability to adjust the color balance for each image. To me that is a spectacular advantage to digital processing. For those who only shoot jpegs, color balance needs to be set on the camera, and adjusted for the condition. Most cameras refer to this a the “white balance” setting. In most cases, if you shoot raw, you can color balance in post-processing, which is what I personally prefer. Unless I am shooting jpegs for some reason, I don’t worry about the white balance setting.

Pete’s Lake; Hiawatha NF; Michigan U.P.
We arrived year well before dawn in darkness lit only by the moonlight; to shoot the sunset. But this was the most memorable image of the morning for me
[Copyright Andy Richards]

One other things probably deserves mention here. I am writing about “night shooting.” Perhaps a definition of night is needed? I don’t know. For me, night is any time after sundown and before sunrise. I have done an awful lot of shooting during the beginning and end of the day period known as twilight. What I have learned is that sometimes the “show” really isn’t the sunrise or sunset at all. Sometimes the real image is before things start up and after the sun has passed well below the horizon. The Newport Bridge, Bay Bridge, Goat Island Light and Pete’s Lake images are examples. The Pete’s Lake image also demonstrates one of those exceptions to my “traditional landscape” shooting comment earlier.

Goat Island Light; Newport, R.I.
I used digital processing to “bring the light up” on the adirondack chairs here. You could imagine that it is actually the moon lighting them, but there was an artifical source of light doing that
[Copyright Andy Richards 2016]

Liverpool; Not JUST the Birthplace of “The Beatles”

Liverpool Port
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Interestingly, our cruise was labeled a “British Isles” Cruise. Yet it was a 12 day cruise in which we really technically only spent 3 days in the UK. We also spent another 4 days in The Republic of Ireland. While it might be appropriate to call the Island of Ireland “The British Isles,” I think the majority of them would disagree.

The Vooo Lounge
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Be that as it may, with our pre-cruise days in and around Dublin, we certainly spent over half of our time in Europe in Ireland and Britain. The day following our Northern Ireland adventure, we sailed across the Irish Sea, to Liverpool, England. Perception often varies from reality, and my (admittedly ignorant) opinion of Liverpool was no exception. For my Michigander friends, I was thinking Flint (sorry to you Flintstones 🙂 ); to a perhaps broader audience, Newark (no, not Ohio 🙂 ). But I was wrong (as perhaps a visit to either Newark or Flint with one “in the know” might also prove).

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The primary focus of our day at shore was, not surprisingly, a several hour-long “Beatles” tour. But we were to also learn that Liverpool was an important seaport (particularly historically), and a rather thriving city, with some very impressive architecture, and an active pub and distillery culture.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Granted “borough” status by King John in 1207, it did not obtain its British City Charter 1880. Liverpool replaced nearby Chester, which was on the River Dee and further inland, as the major port for world trade with Britain, around 1207 ant thereafter was Britain’s primary northern port. During the Industrial Revolution, it served as a port and became a first-world manufacturing city. Liverpool also served as the point of departure for British and Irish Emmigrants – mostly to the U.S. In earlier times, Liverpool Port played a significant role in the Atlantic Slave Trade. While probably not among its prouder historical accomplishments, the result was a very diverse city, including not only influence from Ireland and Wales, but the largest black population, and oldest Chinese population in Europe. Trade with the West Indies eventually exceeded trade with Ireland and other parts of Europe, and in 171, the first commercial “wet” dock was built in Liverpool.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

The ensuing growth and the industrial revolution soon made Liverpool one of the wealthiest communities in Europe, its wealth surpassing that of London a number of times during the early 19th century.  In the 180s the city was often referred to as “the New York of Europe,” and was a sought-after destination well into the early 20th century, attracting immigrants from across Europe. During the Second World War, Liverpool became a critical strategic point. The city was heavily bombed by the Germans, suffering a blitz second only to London’s. The “Battle of the Atlantic,” which proved to be a turning point in the war, was planned, fought and won from Liverpool. Most of the U.S. Troops brought into the European theatre were brought through Liverpool Port.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Sadly, in the 1970s, largely due to significant changes in the shipping of cargo world-wide, Liverpool began a decline, and for a period had one of the largest unemployment rates in the world. Resilient, however, in the late 20th century, the Liverpool economy began to improve and has been on the upward curve ever since. As you drive through the city, it impresses you as a very middle to upper middle class city in places. With a population nearing 1/2 million, it is hard to believe that its population was only around 500 in the 1700s.

Ma Edgerton’s Pub
Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Our visit was focused heavily on The Beatles history. That deserves its own blog, which will come next time. After our tour, we spent some time in the very cool main Railroad Station, a couple of downtown pubs, including the Liverpool Gin Distillery, and The Alchemist (a unique UK chain originating in London, where food and mixology meet), before boarding our ship again in to return to the Island of Ireland.

Liverpool, England
Copyright Andy Richards 2019

Here We Go Again (It’s Fall!)

Second Edition!

Here we go again.  It’s fall foliage photography season.  Are you ready?

Reflections; Cascade River, Minnesota

Over the nearly 10 years since I started blogging here, I must have blogged about fall color and foliage a dozen times.  Maybe More. Not surprisingly, it remains a favorite subject for me.  For some who are fortunate enough to have great foliage photo-ops in their backyard, what I will say here may not apply. But for perhaps the vast majority of us, these opportunities often come only after travel to a more aesthetically accommodating venue.

Somesville Town Hall and Bridge
Somesville, Maine
Copyright Andy Richards 2009

I have traveled to New England (prominently: Vermont), the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Maine, Minnesota, West Virginia, Virginia and New Mexico, in various years, to photograph fall color. Vermont has long been a love of mine, and I have made numerous trips there; enough to prompt me to take my first foray into “publishing” with the first edition of “Photographing Vermont’s Fall Foliage” in 2012.

As the previous blog notes, I am very happy to announce the 2nd Edition of this book, with updates and substantial additional locations (the first edition is no longer available, as the sellers required that it be removed from circulation in order to sell subsequent editions). The New Edition is currently available on Amazon, Apple, in the iBookstore, and Kobo.

Maple Leaf
Stowe, Vermont
Copyright Andy Richards 2005

Many of the persons I communicate with at this time of the year are primarily leaf peepers with cameras. For those folks, go and enjoy! For serious photographers, I want to make a few observations, based on my own travel experience.

Miner’s Castle; Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Preparation is Key

Mental preparation is the most important piece of this. Just because it is fall foliage season, doesn’t mean the rules for good photography change :-). It is important to be thoroughly familiar with the gear you will be using, as the “window” for a great image is often very short, and you may only have one chance to visit the location. In 2010, prior to my planned week-long trip to Vermont, I hit a milestone of sorts, in my own photography.  I had always planned my locations and tried to find as much “intel” about a location as I could.  But this time, I focused less on those details, and instead gave some contemplative thought to what I wanted to present visually, emotionally, and artistically.  I think this contributed to one of my most successful trips.

Hiawatha NF Color Sections
Michigan U.P.
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

What you can take on a trip is also always a consideration. When I shoot near home, or somewhere I can drive to, the photographic gear I will take is generally only limited by what I own (and can afford).  When flying, you really have to consider weight, and bulk. Most of us do not feel comfortable checking a bag with photo gear in it for a number of reasons. So what can you carry on, along with your other needs?  One of the miracles of modern technology is the ability to make great images with a lighter, simpler gearset.  For “casual” travel (I define that as any travel I do that is not specifically and solely dedicated to photography), I now carry a very small, packable carbon fiber tripod and the RXSony 100 iv (a point & shoot sized camera, with some professional credentials).  Even when I go on a dedicated photo shoot, the camera, lenses and tripod are much small and lighter than in the past.

Glade Creek Gristmill
Babcock State Park, WV
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards

A better question might be “what lens will you use?”

Photographic gear is a subject that is often over-thought, in my opinion.  Cameras, lenses, filters, and accessories are — for sure — tools that are necessary to the making of an image.  And there is no doubt that higher quality tools can render a technically better result.  If that is what you seek.  I have already read, several times recently, the question:  “what is the best lens for foliage photography?”  I don’t think there is a “correct” answer to that question.  A better question might be “what lens will you use?”

Tahquamenon Falls
Michigan Upper Peninsula
Copyright 2004 Andy Richards

However, that there are other considerations that will have a more direct bearing on the successful image.  Understanding light, and composition will have much more effect on imagery, in my view, than any other factor.  This assumes, of course, that you already have a solid grounding on exposure principles, how to focus the camera, and considerations of aperture and depth of field.  This relates directly back to the first point:  preparation.  If you do not come to your subject in the best light, it will be difficult to make a really great image.  More often than not, this means early and late (or–think:  during breakfast and supper :-)).  Much of my more recent travel has centered around other activities, such as family time, tours, etc.  While I do make images, it is often apparent that they were not take in the “best” light, and I frequently lament that it would be nice to be at a location either very early or in the late afternoon/early evening.  If your trip is photography-focused, you will need to be mentally prepared to be on site at times that may be inconvenient to others you travel with.  When I have made my fall foliage trips, the majority of them have either been alone, or with other, equally serious, photographers.

Santa Fe Ski Basin
Santa Fe, NM
Copyright 2008 Andy Richards

Don’t forget the “other” gear you may need.  Most fall foliage locations have the potential for very warm weather, rain, and even freezing temperatures (especially at sunrise).  Hat, gloves, sunscreen, and adaptable clothing is important.

Fall Color Reflection
Copyright 2012 Andy Richards

Most important of all, though is to have fun and enjoy the process as much as the result!  Best to all of out out there and good shooting!

Burton Hill Road
Barton, Vermont
Copyright 2010 Andy Richards

4th of July; What’s the Big Deal Anyway?

Split Rock Fireworks Finale
Split Rock Fireworks Finale

Hot dogs, beer, barbeque, fireworks, and the biggest party of the year. Why? What is the big deal?  These things seem to have become symbolic of “everything American.”  On this day, I cannot help but reflect and ask:  symbols of what?

The original fireworks were not pretty, exhilarating, or festive

Fireworks celebrations are everywhere. What is the significance of fireworks? The original fireworks were not pretty, exhilarating, or festive. They were not integrated with music. Indeed quite the opposite. Canons and muskets and humans who were once fellow countrymen and brothers killing each other over “principle.”  A sobering thought as we contemplate the weekend fireworks display.  And so, it seems to me, that “princple” must have been something pretty darn important to go to war over.

“When in the course of human events …..We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Today is a celebration of the actions of some courageous men with strong convictions, who acted, on behalf of all “Americans” (as we were to be become), to secure “Liberty.” It is a celebration and acknowledgement of the everyday men who, following their Declaration of Independence, fought and died for freedoms which – in modern days – it is difficult not to take for granted. Since then, many men and women have died in numerous wars, beginning with the U.S. Revolutionary war, most of them dying to protect the freedoms once “secured.”

we live in a nation and society where we are free to openly disagree

Recently, there have been some historical developments in our laws and society. No matter which side one takes on some of these issues, what we can all agree upon is that we live in a nation and society where we are free to disagree – openly, with each other, our government and our laws. We have a process in place for resolving our disagreements. It rarely results in a “clear win” for either side. Perhaps that is the strength of the process? But it is designed to be civil. And there is – it seems to me – an element of balance and tolerance. As I assert my rights, I hope that I can always keep in mind how they may impact and limit the rights of others. As I reflect on the meaning of this holiday, it is my hope that no matter how divided our views; no matter how fervent our opinions; that we continue our disagreements civilly and that we respect the right of others to have differing views.

I hope everyone has a happy, safe, and yes – even thoughtful – 4th!

Copyright 2011  Andy Richards
Copyright 2011 Andy Richards