Challenge

Light Up The Corners - 2019

A challenge for photographers: “Light Up The Corners” event

The “Light Up The Corners” event brings a lot of fun activities to the Forum in Peachtree Corners, including two runs: The “Twilight Trot” for younger runners and the four-mile “Glow Run” for the more ambitious runners.

It also brings a lot of challenges for us photo enthusiasts. In this short article I will describe some of the challenges and provide tips on how to turn them into memorable photos.

The activities start well before sunset. The “Twilight Trot” is in the “golden hour”. Taking pictures at those times is straightforward and mastered by most of us.

The four-mile “Glow Run” starts about sunset and the runners return just at the end of twilight. That presents a lot of problems. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Fading light

In the half hour or so after sunset the light fades rapidly. My approach is to set the camera to “Auto-ISO” and let it adjust the sensitivity while the aperture and shutter speed is under manual or aperture-preferred control.

Since light will be low the aperture should be close to wide open, however there is a problem with depth of field. More on that shortly. The shutter speed should be as slow as possible. That too has issues that I will get to.

There is another problem. In this setting, and especially as the daylight has faded there may be bright lights in view that can affect the cameras metering. I usually go to full manual control as it gets darker.

Light Up The Corners – 2019

Depth of field

As the aperture is opened up the depth of field decreases. I usually work at f/4, the widest my 24-120mm zoom lens provides. At 24mm the hyperfocal distance is about 16 feet. That means everything will be acceptably sharp for 8 feet to infinity. That works for me. At a setting of 50mm the sharpness extends only from about 12 feet to about 20 feet when focused on 16 feet. That begins to get touchy. I don’t zoom in on the action.

Cameras with smaller sensors, and their shorter focal length lenses, will provide better depth of field. When you are using a smartphone you pretty much need not worry.

Motion blur

Runners will go past at a good clip and 7 miles/hour is not a bad number to work with. That means the runner, seen from the side, will move about an inch in 1/125 second. That will result in very noticeable blur unless you pan with the runner. From the front is is not as bad.

ISO setting

Set the camera on Auto-ISO and let it go as high as the camera wants. Keep an eye on bright lights in the field that might cause the camera to under expose. Use either the Exposure Compensation control or go manual ISO if that works better for you. Chimping to see how you are doing is perfectly acceptable.

Use a noise reduction app such as Topaz DeNoise AI to get clean images even from the highest ISO settings.

Focusing

We are used to letting the camera do the focusing. That is fine as long as there is enough light. At some point as it gets darker the camera focusing will become too slow or wont work at all. By the time the fast runners come back to the finish line it is dark enough that I can’t depend on my camera. I go to manual focusing and set the distance to around 15 to 20 feet, noting on the pavement where that is. I even tape my lens focusing ring with gaffer tape so it won’t move. I then let the action come to me and take photos when the runners are at my set distance.

I get a lot of fun out of photographing this challenging event. It takes a lot more care than shooting in daylight, but that makes it that much more rewarding when I come up with a few good photos.

Summing Up

For low light photography I suggest:

  • Stick to wide angle lens settings – 24 mm to 50 mm on full frame cameras and their equivalents for good depth of field.
  • Open the lens fairly wide. My setting is typically f/4.
  • Shoot at 1/125 sec, maybe 1/60 sec if the action is not too fast.
  • Let the ISO go as high as the camera wants – modern noise reduction apps can take care of the noise.
  • Switch to manual focus when it gets too dark. Set for a specific distance and let the action come to you.
  • Have fun!

Jones Bridge Park

A ringed kingfisher from the author’s Costa Rica trip about 4 years ago. A bit bigger than the belted kingfishers we see in Peachtree Corners.
A ringed kingfisher from the author’s Costa Rica trip about 4 years ago. A bit bigger than the belted kingfishers we see in Peachtree Corners.
Photo by David Dunagan

Photographing at Jones Bridge Park

A photo story by David Dunagan

On a couple of days last month, I saw a pair of belted kingfishers over at Jones Bridge Park (JBP). One of them had found a useful perch sticking up out of the water: a small branch of a tree that had fallen into the river. From there, the kingfisher waited patiently for fish to swim by a little too close for their own good. I decided to see if I could offer the birds an even better perch—and better photo opportunities for us humans. I found a fallen limb in the woods—it had lots of ragged branches that I hoped would attract the kingfishers. I waded out to the fallen tree and wedged the limb in place to provide a taller perch in hopes that these handsome, darting birds might prefer that.

The next day, Alfonso Caycedo and I headed over to JBP to try our luck photographing at least one kingfisher. Unfortunately, my home-made perch had been washed away by the high water overnight and the place was overrun with kiddies playing at the river’s edge. Neither Alfonso nor I would say anything, of course, but privately we were muttering some riverside equivalent of “hey, you kids, get off my lawn!”

Alfonso on the look-out for photo opportunities, such as geese, great blue herons, and ducks
Photo by David Dunagan

The morning might have been a total loss except for a couple of unexpected adventures. First, I spotted an odd-looking duck over toward the Fulton County bank. It was a diving duck, not like our common mallards, which are dabbling ducks. Alfonso stayed at our shooting spot while I waded across to see about the visitor. In some spots, the river bottom is mostly sand and gravel (great for traction), but in others you find sharp rocks, slippery rocks, soft mud, and mushy grassy areas. Those variations and surprises are part of the adventure. I kept moving my chair closer and closer to the little guy, but I guess I got too greedy—it disappeared before I could capture a photo. Maybe it took a dive and swam over to the bank where it could hide among some tree limbs that droop into the water.

Carolina wren singing a cheerful song
Photo by Alfonso Caycedo

Then, when Alfonso and I walked back upstream, we relaxed at one of the picnic tables and were serenaded by a charming Carolina wren on an overhead branch. As you know if you’ve been within about 30 feet of a wren when it’s singing, it’s got a shockingly loud voice! And its phrasing is beautiful. We heard of couple of songs from its Greatest Hits collection: the rhythmic  “Chirpidy,  chirpidy, chirpidy…” and the melodic “Tea-kettle, tea-kettle, tea-kettle.” It seemed to be having a fine time singin’ up a storm.

Even with no kingfisher to be found, it was an enjoyable outing to JBP.  Geese and ducks were scarce, the herons had taken the day off, the ospreys were on strike, and not even the shadow of a kingfisher could be found.  How, then, could it be an enjoyable trip? Well, good friends on a river bank with cameras in hand don’t need much more to be content.

Happy Spring!

The author wading back to the bank, having been out-smarted by his elusive little target
Photo by Alfonso Caycedo
The author creeping closer to the mystery duck
Photo by Alfonso Caycedo

Posting a photo

Using the WordPress editor for posting is quick and easy, although it takes a bit of getting used to. First thing you do is go to wordpress.com and sign in.

Once you are signed in you will be taken to “My Home” – your place on WordPress. Near the upper right there is a rectangle with a plus sign. It mat say “Write” in it. That is the link for starting a new post. Click it.

Banish Noise

Use high ISO with impunity!

The topic of high ISO noise came up at the “refresh reception” of the PCPC Gallery on October 17, 2020. The discussion was about my entry “Dancing at the Festival“. Later that evening I updated to the latest version of Topaz Labs DeNoise AI . That is an amazing tool and it has helped me with my low light and high ISO photos for quite some time. That made me decide to share a demonstration of what can be done.

That photo, Dancing at the Festival, was taken at the evening concert of the first day of the Peachtree Corners Festival in 2016. The time was around 8:20 pm, just a quarter hour before official sunset, but the trees surrounding the festival stage area had already brought an end to sunshine.

The music was playing and the audience got into the spirit. A number of people were dancing in front of the stage. When they saw me they began to mug for the camera. A lady with the two girls began dancing, which provided my photo. Two shy girls came up and also started posing for the camera. I must have just started to adjust my camera settings for another subject, because the resulting photos were very underexposed.

I was using my Nikon D800 with a Nikkor 24-120mm f/4G lens, my favorite for this kind of shooting. I like to use aperture-preferred mode and used a setting of f/8. That gave me enough depth of field at the long end (about half a foot at six or seven feet from a subject). At the other end of the zoom range, 24 mm, the hyperfocal distance is 8 feet, that means everything from 4 feet to infinity is sharp – no worry about focusing.

I like to set the slowest shutter speed to 1/125 second, and allow auto-ISO so the camera selects the ISO sensitivity. Back in those days I would limit the highest ISO to 6400 as the noise at that setting was all I felt I could tolerate. For reasons I don’t recall the shutter speed for the photo of the two girls was 1/400 sec, hence the bad underexposure in the fading daylight.

Last night I used the latest version of DeNoise. First I converted the image from the RAW file to JPG. I use ON1 Photo RAW 2020 for that as it has a very nice HDR effect tool that brings the shadows up nicely, applies detail contrast and makes the resulting image more natural looking that a straight conversion. Of course, I also has to use the exposure slider to lighten the image. Bringing up the shadows also makes noise on those areas very prominent.

The result was a pleasant photo, but unusable do to excessive noise. Here it is:

As you see it here it might not look too bad. But if you inspect it carefully you’d agree, nope, not usable.

This is where Topaz Labs DeNoise AI comes in. Here is what that app shows:

This is using the “Low Light” mode and the default settings. As you can see in the app, the original on the left, and the corrected image on the right, this tool removes the noise beautifully.

Here are crops from the original and the denoised version:

Notice the eye lashes, the detail in the hair. And, of course, the skin. Fun fact: The noisy original is 43.6 MB, the cleaned up version is 28.3 MB. The difference is noise, 15.3 megabytes of it!

Here is a cropped version of the cleaned up image:

Look at those beautiful little girls, look at the embroidery, look at the eyes. Now this photo does them justice.

Ludwig


Postscript

Here is how the photo shows in Nikon ViewNX-i. The red rectangle shows where I focused. Notice that I missed badly. Nowhere near the eyes. Too much in a hurry. My eyesight at night is pretty bad, being an octogenarian has its downsides. That is why I need the depth of field. The focus distance was 7.77 ft with the DOF ranging from 7.23 – 8.39 ft,

Close-Up Photography

Macro Photography Resources

If you were able to join us for the Club meeting we held last week via Zoom (April 9, 2020), you’ll remember that a few of the club leaders shared what is in their gear bag for macro photography.  We hope it was interesting and sparked some new ideas for you.  Our goal was to get your creative juices flowing for the “Small Bits & Details” macro-themed photo submission due on May 9th, 2020.  Given the short time-frame allowed for the Zoom meeting, we weren’t able to provide any specifics on macro photography, so we promised to provide you with some additional resources.  So here they are!

You’ll see three short presentations here if you need help getting started on macro photography.  And even if you’ve been doing macro for a while, you still might find it interesting to browse through these.  You are free to download them, if you wish. 

For creative ideas on WHAT to shoot, all you have to do is an internet search on “creative macro photography”, and you’ll get oodles of ideas.  Here’s one such site:  https://expertphotography.com/17-macro-photography-ideas/

Best of luck in your macro adventure.  Sometimes it’s really fun to look closely and see things you never noticed before!  Rather than the “big picture”, it’s the “little picture”, up close and personal. 

Tracey R. Rice
President, Peachtree Corners Photography Club

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