Night Time in Wisconsin

Night Time in Wisconsin

Minneapolis Photographer Mitch Rossow presents daily photos of Minneapolis. Cityscapes, People & Perspectives: Mitch explains composition and techniques.

This is the Northern Aire resort that I stayed at a week ago (snowshoeing on the frozen lake). Unlike the warm glow of the city, the sky out there was really dark. Which reminds me, Rob asked me a question about night photography: ‘Do you use exposure compensation?’ Actually I put the camera in manual mode and then use the meter to get a genera idea, then adjust it manually based on what I see and then examine the first shot and go from there. That’s more a factor of habit from older digital cameras that weren’t as good as this one. I should try the exposure comp and see how it does at night. Thanks for the idea Rob, I hadn’t realized that I was ignoring the meter until this moment.

Thanks to everyone for linking to mitchster.com!

I just discovered that Google is now ranking this site #12 for the search “Minneapolis Photography”. Do you other photo bloggers do much promotion outside of the daily photo blog community? I’m curious if anyone has ideas or links for driving traffic for photo blogs. I might write an article about it soon.

Christmas Lights

Christmas Lights

Remember the big tree from Monday? Here it is out of focus. :) Yesterday I talked about the aperture being the variable that allowed for the most creativity? Here’s what I was talking about. The little branch is close and in focus. The lights in the background are out of focus and what the sensor is capturing is the “circle of confusion.” The shape created by this is called bokeh.

In short: big focal length (250mm), big aperture (f4.5), big difference in range to subject (5ft & 50ft).

Christmas Lights & Night Photography

Christmas Lights & Night Photography

As we head into the final stretch of the Holidays, I plan on presenting several night pictures of Christmas lights. In my comments, many of my readers are asking about how to take night photos, so here is some tips and techniques for you on how to do this.

Night Photography

Taking pictures at night is about managing very little light. The big three variables that deal with the quantity of light are ISO, aperture and shutter speed.

ISO (pronounced eye-so, it’s not an acronym) determines the sensor sensitivity. A higher ISO allows for low light conditions, but at a high price. High ISO images have increased noise, which appears as grainy patterns on the image. Since most outdoor night shots have big black skies, the noise can be really obvious, so stay down to low ISOs, like 100.

Aperture is your creative variable. The bigger the aperture, the narrower the depth of field. The number of the aperture is the denominator in a fraction, so the smaller the number the bigger the aperture it represents. With a big aperture of 2.8 or 3.5 you can focus on something close and have the background out of focus like this, or this. With a small aperture, you can keep lots of things in focus. Today’s picture above was taken at a smaller aperture (f 11) to keep lots of subjects in focus. With tighter aperture, there is less light coming in, but it’s all in focus. Play around with this, you can get neat effects at wide apertures, but f 8 and higher help keep all the lights in focus.

So now that I have told you to set the first two variables at the most light-demanding settings, we come to shutter speed. It’s going to take a long exposure to make this work, and I mean a second or more. Some of my pics that you have seen are ten seconds (holidazzle pics) or even 20 seconds. These long exposures can also give you fun effects like car light lines, but be careful, trees moving in the wind will blur. How do I work with a long exposure?

Get a good tripod. Those light weight cheap tripods are easy to carry, but my favorite is big heavy Manfrotto. Not only is it heavy and stable, it makes for a good weapon, so I feel better skulking around at night in the big city. Your camera has to remain perfectly still for the whole time the shutter is open — big tripod, good footing. Then you have to be careful while pushing the shutter. I place my hand on top of the camera and gently push the trigger then leave my hand on the camera, play around, find whatever way you can do it without shaking the camera works for you. How about a cable release? Yes, that’s a good idea, but every camera I bought needs a different one and they can cost $50 or more. I had one a month ago, but I was using it when it was 25 degrees out (not cold here) and it broke! Since then I’ve found with a gentile technique and a good tripod, I don’t need it.

The amount of ambient light can vary a lot in the winter, if it’s humid, the light can scatter in the sky and light everything like a cloudy day. This will give you a lot more light than you realize. For the first few times, take a lot of pictures and shoot brackets (several pictures in a row with different settings i.e. different shutter speeds). It takes a while to get a feel for it, but you learn a lot. If your camera has a histogram, use it to see how the exposure is going. Judging the exposure by looking at the LCD is difficult at night, the LCD is so relatively bright at night that you might think it’s a good shot only to come home and find it way under exposed.

White balance is very tricky at night. It depends on what lights are around. This one ended up at around 2800K. So if you can, shoot in RAW and determine the white balance later. I can talk about RAW at a later time, this post is getting way to long.

There’s a pretty good explanation of night photography, I didn’t realize how much I was doing until I wrote this. It becomes intuitive after a while. The problem is that when it’s 3 degrees out, it’s hard to relax and think out a shot and then wait 10 seconds for an exposure. My hands were seriously hurting by the time I stopped shooting these pictures.

Oh yeah, one more thing, this was shot with the Tamron 11-18mm Ultra-Wide.

Caribou Coffee's 15th Anniversary — The Bou Bash

Caribou Coffee’s 15th Anniversary — The Bou Bash

Caribou Coffee is 15 years old today! I crawled out before dawn and ventured out into the zero-degree weather and made my way over to the very first Caribou at 44th & France Avenue for my morning fix. Carmen (on the left) is a barista at my regular Caribou where I write most of the time. She told me yesterday about the event and I had to check it out. They were giving away free Timberwolves tickets to the first 100 customers. There will be events there all day; the mayor will be there, balloons for the kids, and from 2:00 – 4:00 you can get 15% off all drinks, just mention that it’s their anniversary.

I got there in time to take a picture of the whole gang with the banner before the morning rush.

Majestic Pines

Majestic Pines

Ahh, wide angle trees. This is the True North, what I remember about driving to Grandma & Grandpa’s house as a kid — miles and miles of pine trees. It the sun is low enough, the flickering light of the shadows can really make you dizzy.

Composition notes: I was playing with the intersecting edges of the the sky/clouds and trees/sky. I set the top edge of the trees at an angle across the frame and the clouds cross it. These angles create interest and move the eye around. When you are working with large compositions, look at the corners and where edges point. By having intersecting lines and strong lines that move across the frame, you can create a more interesting image.

Question for y’all: I’m thinking of offering desktop backgrounds of some of my photos, any interest? If so, which are your favorite pictures?

No get out there and take some great pictures!

Grain Elevator

Grain Elevator

One of Minneapolis’ nicknames is Mill City. Home of Genral Mills and Pillsbury, this is where all the grain from the Upper Mississippi River Valley and points West comes to. Where does all this grain end up? Right here in the elevators. These things are everywhere! Sticking up into the sun like great ships, they catch the light and provide for some interesting shapes. They are simple forms, but also really big.

Yes, I worked this image in post. I added the vignette to focus the eye on the main tower, upped the contrast to get it to look skuffed up and increased the blue of the sky. And a few other things.

I’ve been getting comments about the incredible colors in my photos and I thought I should confess that I’m doing this in post. Reality doesn’t always live up to how I see it.