I watched a video on YouTube about a way to process shots taken in low light with high ISOs to improve the noise performance. I wasn’t particularly interested in the approach until I was down on the shore as the sun was going down and I was using a long lens. I figured this might be a good time to try it out. The approach is to shoot a lot of shots. You can’t have anything moving in the shots for this to work but, if it is a static scene, the approach can be used.
Shoot as many shots as you can. Then import them in to Photoshop as layers. Use the align function to make sure that they are all perfectly aligned and then use the statistics function to do a mean calculation of the image. You can do this a couple of ways in Photoshop. You can make a smart object and then process it or you can process through Statistics. The averaging function takes a lot of the noise out of the shot. If you have lots of images, you can make it effectively disappear. I wasn’t prepared to make that many shots but I tried it with a reasonable number of images. The whole image isn’t really of interest. Instead, I include one of the images cropped in and the processed image similarly cropped to allow you to compare.
Occasionally I will get aircraft heading in to Boeing Field come right by the house. Late Friday afternoon, two Boeing test jets were coming my way. One was the first 777X and the other was that first 737 Max7. The usual route brings them just slightly north of the house so I was ready. However, the Max was heading just slightly south of the normal track and looked like it might go the other side of the house. At the last minute, I realized it would and ran through the the other side.
I got the window open but didn’t have time to remove the screen. I thought it would take out some light but figured the large aperture of a big lens would just blur out the screen mesh since it was so close. Through the viewfinder, things look pretty good. However, when I downloaded the shots, I realized the shots were totally awful. The screens had caused shadowing of the images. The center image was there but I could see shadow versions about and below. Then I got to one with a beacon flashing and that showed exactly how the pattern of light was scattered. Based on what I see, I assume this is a diffraction effect. It is a useless shot but it is very interesting which is why I am sharing it.
A holiday visit to Paine Field saw that something interesting was heading for departure. It was unlikely I would get across the field in time to catch it and I didn’t. However, since I was there, I thought I might as well hang around for a bit and shoot some departures. There were a few piston types heading out as well as a PC-12. Since none of them were too important to me, I decided to play with shutter speeds around 1/100th of a second. With the 500mm, this doesn’t result in a high keeper rate.
It does provide a lot of prop blur which was the point since, with no background, you aren’t getting any sense of speed. It was more a case of seeing what I could get and having some panning practice. When looking at the shots on the computer, some of them are clearly junk without much inspection. Others look okay until you get zoomed in. A few of them are sharp even zoomed right in and they are the ones that don’t get culled.
As the sun starts to set, the clouds that are a regular feature of the Pacific Northwest start to have a benefit. They can be lit in all sorts of interesting ways and it is slightly lazy but still worthwhile to get shots of them. The levels of contrast in the shot are fine with the naked eye but a bit of a stretch for a camera sensor. It can do a decent enough job but it is the sort of thing where bracketing for HDR might give you more to work with so I did give that a go.
I was taking some shots for work recently where the sky had some nice cloud detail and the foreground was in a lot of shade. Since the pictures were needed for a project, I was covering my bases and shot some brackets to allow me to do some processing in HDR later. Some people hate HDR but I have always been looking to use it to get a shot that reflects more the human eye’s ability to deal with extremes of contrast. With a wide range of light levels in a shot, HDR can give you a more usable image.
However, when I was processing the shots, I was struck by how I could use the middle exposure alone and, with some helpful adjustment of exposure, shadows and highlights, I was able to get much the same sort of result as the HDR image provided. The raw files seem to have enough latitude for processing that going to the bother of taking and processing the HDR image hardly seemed worth it. There are still situations where the range of exposure is so wide – outdoor sunlight and shady interiors – that it is still probably necessary to bracket and process later. However, for a lot of the situations I used to use HDR for, there seems little point. How many of you still shoot HDR?
Adobe periodically updates the processing algorithms that are used by Lightroom and Photoshop. Each update provides some improvements in how raw files are processed and it can be good to go back to older shots and to see how the newer process versions handle the images. I find this particularly useful for images shot in low light and with high ISO.
I have some standard process settings I use but have also experimented with modified settings for use with high ISOs and the higher noise levels that come with them. I got to some night launch shots from an old Red Flag exercise and had a play with the images. The E-3 launch was actually as the light was going down but it still had some illumination so it didn’t need much work.
The KC-135 and B-1B shots were a different story and were at high ISOs and with very little light. I was able to update the process version and apply some new settings I had worked out since the original processing and it resulted in some pretty reasonable outputs considering how little light there was to work with.
With the ferries coming and going to the terminal at Orcas, I was able to have plenty of chances to take photos. I did get standard shots of the boats in low light conditions. They are not easy to shoot since they are constantly moving. No long exposures at low ISOs are possible so it is high ISO and the associated noise. However, I did decide to experiment with some long exposures and blending of shots. The boats make a curving approach to the terminal. I thought this might make a nice long exposure. It worked okay but the curve is a bit disguised by being too low down to really appreciate it. However, it was fun to try.
Winter in the PNW does not mean reliable conditions for photographing planes. If the weather is bad, you might decide it isn’t worth going out. If it is raining and threatening to rain harder, there is a strong possibility you would skip a shot opportunity. However, 727s are getting pretty rare these days so that seems worthy of a trip out.
The weather was unpleasant when it made its approach but not as bad as it got a short while later. I went with my normal approach for shooting in really bad conditions by pushing the overexposure pretty high. I include a couple of edits. For the main image, I actually blended two different process versions in Photoshop to get the combination that most reflects how the shot looked through the view finder. The other edit is a straightforward Lightroom edit where the angle and the light suited it.
I recently bought some replacement valve cores for my bicycle tires. I notice that part of the core was bent so decided to replace it. It is a quick job to change the core over and, prior to throwing the old core away, I figure I would play with the macro lens. I first too a picture of the still assembled core trying to angle it to show how badly bent the part was. Then I figured I could take the core apart altogether. Another focus stack and I could show the parts separated. I love the detail you get of the metal surfaces when you shoot macro.
The wildfires that spread throughout the west in September resulted in some really bad air quality in our area. It was hard to see too far on some occasions and you definitely weren’t supposed to exercise if you could avoid it. At one point, I had thought a short bike ride might be okay but I didn’t do it and, when I went out to take some photos, I realized that even walking around the park was resulting in me feeling quite bad. Serious exertion would have been a bad idea.
I wanted to get some photos that demonstrated how bad the air quality was. However, I discovered that it was quite hard to compose a shot that showed how bad things are. You can take pictures that show distant objects as obscured by the smoke particles (although post processing techniques can reduce or increase the obscuration if you wish) but the difficulty with that is that a photo doesn’t give a good idea for the viewer of how far away things really are.
A wide lens makes even things that are close look distant and a telephoto lens brings distant things in close so you struggle to make the viewer perceive things the way you actually saw them at the time. I tried with these shots to have enough in the foreground to give some concept of how quickly the visibility fell off but I don’t think it really tells the story in the way that being there did. However, this is a record of what it was like and maybe I will come back to these pictures to remember.