Our return flight home included a layover in London. Our flight in arrived before sunrise and brought us up from the south over to the east end and then back across Docklands, south of Westminster and in to Heathrow. I fortunately had a window seat although I was a bit far from the window itself so there was a certain amount of shooting while reaching across. Trying to pan appropriately for the movement of the aircraft was a touch tricky but I managed to exploit the low light capabilities of the camera to get some okay shots.
We flew across Biggin Hill and I was able to shoot almost straight down on the runway and ramp areas. Then we came up towards Woolwich and I could see the ferries and London City Airport. From there it was not far to the Thames Barrier and then the O2 arena. The high rises of Docklands were next. On to Tower Bridge with the Shard and London Bridge Station. Next stop was The Palace of Westminster with the London Eye and Waterloo alongside. Last was Buckingham Palace and Knightsbridge. Some fun sights to see. In daylight, I can navigate this area easily but, when it is dark, you have to work from key references.
Delta picked up a few ex-LATAM Airbus A350-900s as part of that airlines restructuring during the downturn in the airline business caused by the pandemic. They went initially in to storage and then have been progressively moved to Singapore for updating to the Delta configuration. Seattle has been the location for them to come through on their way to Asia. I have missed a few but one was due to come through when I could see it. Sadly, it departed a little late from Victorville and was showing due in after dark.
Since it was an unusual movement, I figured it was still worth the effort. I would use the 500mm since it has a wider aperture and test the low light capabilities of the camera to the full. It still meant some very low shutter speeds but I let the tech compensate for my low skill levels. I was pleasantly surprised by how well some of them came out given the lack of light. Since this shoot, I did also reprocess with PureRAW3 and this improved the quality of the shot further.
One of the things that photographers that have only used digital cameras can’t appreciate is ability to shoot in low light conditions. When I was shooting film, you were already struggling with image quality with ISO 400 film. Early digital cameras got very noisy as the ISO got ramped up but, these days, the capabilities of shooting in very low light are truly amazing for those of us that are old enough to remember what it was like. ISO1000 black and white film was adventurous!
Now I feel quite comfortable trying all sorts of silly things. I had gone down to SEA one evening to try and get a departure that was possibly going out just before sunset. Sadly, it didn’t play ball and the sun was gone by the time it headed out. However, I was there and the camera can do silly ISO numbers so why not. It still needs to drop the shutter speed down quite low but, with a fast burst rate, the chances of getting a reasonable shot are not bad.
I figured I would play around with shooting departure shots as the last of the light was fading away. It was more about trying something different rather than aiming for the perfect shot. I did have some interesting planes to play with but also plenty of Alaska 737s. The light was pretty dim and ISO51200 is quite something to work with but the image quality is really very impressive considering what conditions you are shooting in.
For a while, I had been thinking about trying to do some night photography of airliners. I had seen some good shots people had got but SeaTac does not have a lot of ambient light to illuminate aircraft flying overhead. It would be better if there was a large public space under the approach that would provide so brightness to work with. I was down at SeaTac to pick up a colleague and knew I would be there as the sun went down so I decided to have a go at some shots.
I used the 70-200 f/2.8 to get as much light as possible. The sun was going down so I was going through quite the transition of lighting conditions. Some were just twilight while other were when things were getting quite dark. The autofocus was also struggling since the center point was being used and the underside of the jet lacked much contrast in the dark. I still got a few usable images. The lack of light means they aren’t too great but it was fun to try something different. Now to find a better location!
I posted about some night photography I tried on jets approaching SeaTac. After finishing that up I was heading to the terminal to pick up my colleague and I decided to go for a shot of touchdown in the dark. This was not going to be an easy one to get since it is really pretty dark at the north end of the airport so little ambient light. I was relying on the lights of the jet and pushing the ISO to a really high level. It is true that the noise gets really tough in those conditions but when looking at the image at a normal size, it really is not a big deal. Besides, it is a shot we would never have done in pre-digital days.
Every once in a while, I really test the high ISO capability of the cameras I have. The R3 got an early test when I was at Red Flag, I went out on two evenings to shoot some night departures and experimented with the ability of the camera to perform in those conditions. The high ISO capability of cameras has not moved on too much to be honest. The max ISO I used on my 1DXII was 51,200 and the R3 is still the same. It does appear to be a bit cleaner but they have possibly hit a bit of a limit. What I had not tried out before was an electronic viewfinder in such conditions.
The first night, I went out into the dunes to be ready for the B-1 departures. As it turned out, they didn’t launch that night. I did get some fighters coming out my way for a while before I concluded that this was a bust and I was heading back to the hotel. I tried shooting a few of the jets but I discovered the limitations of the camera pretty rapidly. When there is no light, the electronic viewfinder really struggles. The frame rate of the viewfinder drops like a stone and tracking a subject becomes pretty problematic. The frames per second drop too so the chances of a result are slim. With an optical viewfinder, this is not an issue but the chances of a good shot are also slim.
I returned to the hotel feeling pretty dispirited by this result. I wondered whether this was a real problem for adopting the R3. The following night, I went out again with the B-1s again being my main target. This time I had some tankers heading out before the B-1s launched. It was a very different evening. Sure, the lack of light still makes the chances of getting a good shot pretty low but the camera seemed to have no problem tracking the subjects and keeping the viewfinder frame rate up to a perfectly acceptable level. If I had only gone from the previous night, I would have concluded that it was unusable.
The embedded images in the RAW files looked pretty good but the Lightroom edits required a lot more work. DPP might be the answer or DxO PrimeRAW could do a good job. However, that is not the issue. Will the camera allow me to shoot at night with very dark subjects. Apparently, the answer is yes. It can handle it. However, it can’t track an almost black subject with a couple of navigation lights like an optical viewfinder can. That is a limitation that I may have to live with.
During the evenings at Cannon Beach, we could see lots of lights out on the water. Fishing boats were out at work and their lights were very bright. I am not sure whether they only fish at night or not. During the day, it would be hard to spot them without the lights giving you a clue since they were generally quite far out. However, one boat was closer in than the others. It was right behind on of the sea stacks near Haystack Rock. With a lot of mist in the air, the light from the boat was diffused and provided a backlight to the rock. It wasn’t lone before the boat came out from behind the rock and the effect was lost.
There was a prediction that the Aurora Borealis would be visible well south in the US and, with clear skies in the area, I figured I would definitely go and see if I could get some shots. I thought my best location would be Mukilteo since I could be on the waterfront with an unobstructed view to the north. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to have that thought. There were tons of vehicles lined up trying to find a space in the parking lot at Mukilteo.
I didn’t even bother to mess with this and turned around. I figured I would try the park at the other end of the waterfront and found a parking spot as soon as I arrived. No need to park on the street outside the park. There were still a lot of people there waiting including a few cameras pointed skywards. Unfortunately, we didn’t have anything to shoot. The predicted aurora never got as well developed as far south as us. I got a few shots including some where I tried to work out whether it was just ambient light on clouds in the distance or some sort of illumination from above but it was a bust.
One great feature of traveling to more remote areas away from the cities is the clear skies you can get at night. The ability to see plenty of stars when the sun has gone is great. With summer approaching, the sun takes quite a while to go down so I had to wait until quite late to get a shot that I wanted. I could have waited even later but I wasn’t that committed to the shot. I wasn’t using a fast lens so, even with higher ISO, I was still using a 30 second exposure. Even at 16mm, this still shows up some motion in the stars. Ideally, I would have taken a fast wide lens but I didn’t bother renting one for the trip so this will have to do.
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.