The Night is Bright
The scene down our driveway looks almost otherworldly in this nighttime view from some recent night photography experiments. A photo like this takes some patience, but it is worth it.
Believe it or not, this photo was taken after 10:00 PM one night. Yes, seriously. No, it was not blindingly bright outside that night. And the sun had set around 8:00 PM, if you were wondering. This is not one of those places like Alaska where it stays light until almost midnight in the summer months.
Rather, this photo was accomplished using a long exposure. How long? Twenty seconds! As you might imagine, that is a whole lot longer than I can hold the camera steady. Fortunately, my tripod did not wobble any during the 20 seconds that the shutter was open.
So if it was so late, where is all that light coming from? Much of the light that you can see on the driveway and on the trees was coming from our neighbor’s barn, which is just out of the frame to the left. You can see a really bright tree at the far left of the photo, and that gives you some idea of where that barn is. I have previously guessed that the barn is almost a half-mile from us, which should give you some idea of how bright the light is. I am not complaining about the light or anything like that, because it definitely does not keep us awake at night. Just giving you an idea of where it is.
And what about that other light that is lighting up the sky? If you ever hear of anyone talking about “light pollution” coming from cities, this is an example of that. All of that light in the sky is coming from Memphis, about 30 miles away. In some ways we are far enough to be away from the city lights, but they can still be seen sometimes, even from our distance. Once again, not really a complaint, just pointing out what is there.
To me, it is amazing to see what a camera can pick up in a long exposure nighttime photo like this one. To learn more about the camera settings that I used, see the “About the Photo” section a little further down in this post.
Confession time: I have not always been a person with a lot of patience. I have tried to keep it hidden as much as possible so that it does not affect others. But deep down inside my bucket of patience is usually a little on the low side.
That lack of patience applies in lots of areas. Sometimes, fast food restaurants are not fast enough. If there is a line at a gas station, I will hold out and go somewhere else unless my tank is almost empty. Self-checkout at the grocery store is great, because there are often shorter lines, but not always. But at Sam’s Club, you can scan items and pay all on your phone, so that you don’t even have to go through the checkout line. Score!
That lack of patience has sometimes affected my photography, too. If you look back at a lot of the nighttime photos that I have posted here, you will see that many of the “About the Photo” sections talk about how the photo was just a quick shot, handheld instead of using a tripod. Part of that is due to the inconvenience of carrying around a tripod. But a larger part of that is not wanting to take the time to get it all set up. In some ways, that comes from not making those that I am with have to wait on me. However, the larger part of it all is the time that it takes to set everything up, take a couple of long exposures (again, trial and error), and then pack everything back up. Especially if we are on vacation somewhere, I feel like that time could be better spent doing other things.
One of the nice things about the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has forced lots of us to slow down. All of the extra time at home gives us a chance to fill that time up with something, and you (or at least I) don’t feel as much pressure to be in a hurry.
As I mentioned when we saw Comet NEOWISE, I actually took the time to get out my telescope and get it focused on the comet so that we could see it a little better. Why haven’t I gotten out the telescope before? Because it takes patience to get it aimed and focused just right.
Similarly, I have gotten out my camera tripod on several nights. Yes, it takes some time to get it set up and change all of the camera settings, too. But even with just a little bit of practice, I have gotten faster at that than I have been in the past. And just by having a little patience, I have gotten some really interesting results. A 20 second exposure might seem like an eternity when you are used to just quickly clicking the shutter button and going on, but it can be worth the extra time investment in the long run.
Hopefully, that patience is spilling out into other areas as well. If and when things get back to what we consider “normal” times, I need to remember to slow down and not always be in a hurry to get things done. Taking some time and being patient can have good results.
Inside all of us, we have buckets that should be filled up with good things. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control are some good buckets to fill, just to name a few. Keep your good buckets filled up to overflowing, so that those good things can’t help spilling out into every area in your life!
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. - Galatians 5:22-23
About the Photo
As promised up above, here are the settings that I used for this photo, just in case you are wanting to try something similar. Of course, your results might vary depending on how much light there is where you are, so some trial and error might be in order. That is what works for me. But it is good to have somewhere to start.
First off, unlike the previous recent night photos that I have shared, this one did not make use of the 50mm lens (meaning it isn’t in the 50with50 series, obviously). I wanted to take a short break from that lens and see what I could do with the “standard” lens that I got with the camera, so this one uses the 28-70mm zoom lens, but at the 28mm setting. That gave a wider angle view than the 50mm lens, and I was actually wanting that wider view for the photos I was taking that night.
Aperture: I had the aperture open just about as wide as it would go, at f/4. That is a rather big change from f/1.8 that I can get with the 50mm lens, which explains the longer exposure and higher ISO setting.
ISO: Again, because of the larger aperture number, which means a smaller aperture opening that lets in less light, I had to increase the ISO setting to ISO 1250. But that worked well and did not introduce too much extra noise.
Exposure: As I mentioned above, I used a 20 second exposure for this photo. That was actually due to another astronomy photo that I was taking that I will share a little later. I will cover the reason for that 20 second time in that post. For this photo, 20 seconds was partly a guess (that whole trial and error thing again) and partly because the camera was already set for that. It worked well, so that cut down on the trial and error phase since the first time was a trial and success!
Other notes: I obviously used a tripod, which is a must for something like this. And I had the camera set to manual focus, because the autofocus system is not of much use in the dark. I was able to focus on a light far away, and I knew that would work for this photo. Also, I had set the self-timer to 2 seconds. That way, whatever vibration there might have been from my pressing the shutter button had 2 seconds to die down before the shutter actually opened. If that does not work, try the 10 second timer, just to give more time. And it helps if there is not much wind, which there was not on this night.
Any other questions? Feel free to ask! I like to share what I know, because that is how I have learned from others.
Photo: A single Raw exposure, processed in Aurora HDR. Read more about photography tips, photo software, camera gear, and more at Steve’s Photography Tips.
Camera: Sony Alpha A7 II
Lens: Sony FE 28-70mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS lens
Date: August 17, 2020
Location: Home, Williston, Tennessee