Night Shooting in Seattle

I keep a list of photo ideas on my phone.  Since my daughter was born and I’ve been not-unemployed, I find time for none of them.  Recently a friend asked about taking some pictures at night, and I remembered my list.  At the top for the longest time has been going down to the Jose Rizal Bridge to shoot the traffic coming into downtown.

Traffic into Seattle at night, from the Jose Rizal Bridge


Winter nights are great, because it’s always dark, and a cloudy backdrop is fine.  Rain actually makes the reflections better, but you’ve got to want to stand in the rain to take the pictures – probably not the best idea, but right after a storm would be great.  This was good enough for me.

Seattle Stadium Night Traffic


You’ve also got a great shot of the 90 ramps headed toward Bellevue from up here, and I just love watching the lights blur – the headlights in white and the taillights in red.  Letting the camera see things I can’t see.

Bus at Night from Jose Rizal Bridge

The biggest issues shooting from here, other than a few sketchy folks walking by when you’ve got a bunch of camera equipment out is the bridge itself – cars and buses share it, and you can absolutely feel the vibrations when buses go buy or even when big trucks go underneath it.  If you’re looking for a sharp long exposure, a good tripod is a must, but when the ground shakes, there is only so much you can do.  Along with Kerry Park, the Sculpture Garden, and a few more, this is one of the places I always knew I wanted to take some pictures from.  Glad I had the chance.

Make Your Own Planet

It’s been a while since I posted any nifty little Photoshop trickery, but there has been something I’ve wanted to try out for a while – I just needed the right picture.  Your ingredients here are a panorama with level edgeswhere both the fore and background are pretty plain.  After getting this night shot at Greenlake a little while back, I thought I might have the raw materials:

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It’s really not too hard!  Hit the jump for the whole walkthrough!

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Night Panorama – The Revenge of the Stuck Pixel

Night photography can be pretty cool.  During the day, generally speaking, the human eye sees more variations of color and shadow than your camera, hence the reason for HDR and all that.  At night, the camera has the ability to accumulate light and color over time, which your eye can’t do, so in a way it sees more.  I don’t do enough night photography, but I got out the other night for this.

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I was pretty pleased, reviewing on the camera.  Pleased enough that I forgot about the downsides.  Doing things in the dark is just difficult.  I generally like shooting things a bit farther away, because it’s really hard to tell what is and isn’t in focus.  If you have more distance between your camera and the beginning of your subject, it’s easier to get enough depth of field to get them all sharper.  I did bring along a flashlight to check focus up close, but… it becomes a pain.  I also stepped in a lot of goose shit.  That’s just how it is.  This being Greenlake, I wasn’t even worried about getting mugged for my backpack full of camera lenses.  All was good, right?

Well… yes until I got home and saw a line of blue across all my shots:

All.  The.  Way.  Across.

You don’t see it in the panorama above because they have all been laboriously removed in Photoshop.  After I found the problem, I immediately shot a few more pictures with other lenses, batteries, whatever – I wasn’t happy about this.  They’re all the same, including with the lens cap on.  Any aperture, ISO speed, whatever.  I did some research.

If you want to get technical, this is called a stuck pixel or maybe a whole row of them.  It is slightly different from a hot pixel, which would be white all the time.  All that matters is it is going to ruin my pictures.  The internet is rife with folk remedies about taking off your lens, setting your camera to manual cleaning mode (where the mirror flips up) for a few minutes and then turning it off and reattaching your lens.  Maybe it works for some people, but it didn’t do anything for me.

Since hot or stuck pixels (at least a couple of them) are nothing new, there are some other options out there.  Some cameras have options to use a dark frame (basically a picture taken with the lens cap on which should contain light only on the problem pixels) to cancel out the noise in the good frames.  The theory is that since the bad pixels are always in the same place, you can map them and work around them.  I’ve yet to find any software that works correctly with my camera and since I’m a few weeks past the grace period on Canon’s warranty, I’m still unsure what happens next.  I see a lot of healing brush in my future!

My Favorite Mistakes

Anyone who has taken enough pictures knows two things.  Some of the shots you assume will be great turn out pretty blah.  On the flip side, some of the shots you didn’t expect much from, or maybe didn’t even take on purpose, will end up being your favorites.  Take lots of pictures, worry about it later.  So it is with this one.

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Taken in a Safeway parking lot.  Taken at night, without any real attempt to stabilize the camera, hand holding my S90, at only ISO400.  I could have set the camera on the wall.  I could have cranked up the ISO (although I didn’t want it any noisier than this).  That isn’t the point.  It took it, I bought some groceries, and looking at it later, I liked it.  Shooting up into the trees means that the cars and other distractions are gone.  The floodlights from the lot wash out all the detail (and me playing with the contrast burns some more) leaving just shapes and sky.  I didn’t intend it to be exactly this shot – I didn’t really intend it to be anything.  I’m just happy with what it is.

Second Attempt At TimeLapse

I thought my first attempt at Time Lapse came out fairly well.  All I did at the time was set it up and hit go.  Yeah… there were a few more steps, but that was the forethought.  Pretty jazzed about those results, I tried a few more things, without luck.  One note: if you expect a spider to do anything, even after you poke a few strategically-placed holes in his web, maybe reconsider.  Anyway, I liked the little taste of long-exposure nighttime action in the first time lapse, so I set it up at sunset this time.  What do you think?

I also did a little more processing on this one.  Instead of leaving it at defaults, I did some contrast correction and resized the photos down a bit since they get resized so much in the end anyway.

One last word about taking stills for a time lapse at night.  During the day my battery was lasting for hundreds of shots with no problem.  In this sequence, I only got just over 200 before it died since the night shots had shutter speeds of 30+ seconds.  If I was going to do it again, I’d crank open the aperture a bit more to make the shots a bit shorter and get more life out of the battery.

UPDATE: For another more recent time-lapse attempt, see me building my fence.

Seattle Comes Alive At Night

As you know, I went out to find the P.I. Globe before it ground to a halt.  Doing so means a little hike, but it wasn’t all for naught.  I got the picture I wanted and I also got a little something else:

The Eagle (sculpture) and Space Needle at night

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At first it seemed like everything was still.  I can’t say quiet, as you might notice the blur of a freight train through the bottom of the frame.  With a wide field of view, this also happens to cross the approach path for Seatac Airport.  I love the morse-code of dots and dashes the planes make through my frame and set the exposure up to 13 seconds to record it.  The foreground sculpture is called Eagle and was created by Alexander Calder in 1971.  It is the most recognizable piece of the Olympic Sculpture Park (or “the sculpture garden”, as most people would call it) and I was really happy to capture this shot of it with the most recognizable Seattle landmark in the background.

Open Flame on Koh Tao

Beach Lanterns on Koh Tao

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Walking down Sairee Beach on Koh Tao, I stumbled across a wedding. These lanterns were bordering the fringe. Whenever I travel outside of the US one of my favorite parts is always the ability to have fun in a way that might put you on the wrong side of some lawsuit at home. These were one thing, but the flying incendiary balloons were much… better? worse? I didn’t ask if they only launch these things when the wind will take them offshore.