Mono Lake

Mono Lake

It has been a little bit since I posted a new photo. This one has been waiting on the wings for a while. I'm excited to finally get it up here.  



Light on Dark, Dark on Light

Everyone should watch this!  These are truly the foundation secrets to taking your photography from instinctual to masterfully intentional.

Here are several "nuggets of photographic truth" that I'm thinking about a ton when it comes to my photography. These truly are the missing ingredients that I have been discovering in my photographs but just couldn't put my finger on why they worked and why they didn't. 

Things I'm looking for:

  1. Remember that your eyes will always go to the greatest point of contrast in an image (darkest dark lightest light and where they meet) . This will communicate your subject.  The relationship between Light on Dark and Dark on Light is powerful in image making.
  2. The relationship between horizontals, verticals, and diagonals in your images. 
  3. Lights, Grays, Darks. How those create depth through your images. 

Why does a dark sky and a dark building not work well together? Because your missing out on that visual contrast (lightest light and darkest dark, and where they meet) and the viewer is struggling to find the subject. 

There are many more. Best to watch the video and discover them for yourself. 


5 Common Night Photography Mistakes

1.  Not using a tripod.

Tripods are essential for keeping your images sharp and your image quality high.  If you try and hand-hold your shots in low light using high ISO's you might be able to take the shot but your image quality will go down.  Even during the day with plenty of light and fast shutter-speeds nothing beats a tripod for sharp focus and low ISO image quality. I know carrying a tripod everywhere can be a pain, but your photography will be so much better if you do.  Plus tripods cause you to slow down, forcing you to really take the time to compose your images. Here are some more tips:

  1. Buy the lightest tripod you can afford.  I love carbon fiber tripods for Really Right Stuff. They are light weight, built like a tank, reliable, strong, and a one time investment. 
  2. Buy a ball head or geared head. Ball heads are easy, quick to use, and light weight. 
  3. Buy a camera bag that can carry a tripod. When traveling, carrying a tripod around all day can be tiring and having a place to store it while not in use can really make your day so much better.
  4. Consider a smaller travel tripod for longer trips. You will sacrifice some stability but it will be easier to carry for longer periods. 

With a tripod you will also be able to take advantage of long exposure techniques.  For example, being able to expose closer to the 30 second exposure limit.  Like my next tip.


Griffith Observatory - Los Angeles CA - using a tripod, high up a hill in Griffith park. 

2.  Not exposing for long enough.

One of the very first things I discovered while learning night photography was the benefits of long exposures. I discovered that the closer I was to the "30 second exposure limit" the better my photos would turn out.  Being close to this 30 second limit benefits you in several ways:

  1. Ability to capture light trails from cars.
  2. People can walk through your frame without being captured.
  3. Better image quality because of lower ISO values.
  4. Clouds blurring from movement.
  5. Happy, unexpected, artistic accidents. 

Try it yourself. When your out shooting at night (needs to be dark), put your camera on a tripod and set your camera in manual exposure mode.  Next set your shutter speed as close to the 30 second limit as you can.  Now adjust your fstop to balance your exposure back to 0, or 1 stop over exposed (see bonus tip at the bottom). With these settings I think you will be surprised at how good some of your photos turn out.

Example of exposing close to the 30sec limit. Notice the light trails from the bus on the right and the car trails from the freeway. 

3.  Forgetting about white balance.

One of the very first mistakes I made when I was learning night photography was forgetting about my white balance while I was out shooting.  I would set my white balance to "AUTO" and just trust that my camera knew what it was doing. To be fair, it did a pretty good job but over time I learned that setting my white balance manually gave me much better and more consistent results.  Here are some white balance tips:

  1. Start off using "Daylight" white balance. Use this setting, from the beginning of sunset through the start of "Blue Hour". 
  2. Once "Blue Hour" begins, watch the street lights/sky in your scene change color.  Once your images start to become really "Yellow/Orange" switch to "Tungsten" white balance.  This will reset your lights to white and your sky back to more of a blue color as the light levels/sky fades to black . 
  3. Get your white balance correct in the field to insure your have enough color information in your raw files. Extreme white balance changes can produce weird results when adjusting raw files.  Better to get it right in the field.

If your shooting in RAW you can always adjust your white balance in your RAW converter afterwards. However there are limitations to this. If your image was captured using a very "yellow/orange" white balance and you try and adjust it too a very "blue/green" white balance you will notice that the colors can reach a breaking point and might look weird.  Because of this it is always better to get it right in the field and only do smaller adjustments in your raw converter afterwards rather then doing large adjustments. 

Sydney Opera house - Using Tungsten white balance. 

4.  Not manually focusing in live view.

When I was first starting out, I would use my auto focus a lot. I would set up my shot on a tripod, hold down my shutter half way and pray that it would focus correctly.  When I would get home I would be so disappointed to find out that half of my shots were unusable because my focus was soft or not in the right place.  Once I started focusing manually I noticed a HUGE jump in quality and consistency with my photography.  Here are some tips to help get your started:

  1. Start by turning the auto focus on your lens to manual. Most lenses have a button on the lens that does this.
  2. Set your fstop to a high aperture so you have maximum DOF. I like to start with f16
  3. Turn on live view and use your magnifying tools to zoom in to an object that is 1/3 of the way into your scene.  Side note: I have also achieved good results by focusing on the most distant subject (usually a group of buildings or cityscape). By doing this it usually sets your lens to "infinity".
  4. Once zoomed in, focus your lens until your building/window/rock/etc is in perfect focus
  5. Zoom back out and shoot away. 

This method takes a little bit to get used to but once you switch you won't go back.

Bonus Tip: If you are shooting bracketed images, manual focus is a MUST. By having your focus locked, you prevent your camera from focusing during each exposure possibly causing inconsistent focus for each of your brackets. If you try and blend these exposures together it will not turn our well.  Trust me, use manual focus!

Tower Bridge - London using manual focus. I focused on the set of windows on the right of the bridge.

5.  Not staying in one place long enough. 

Once you start shooting an amazing location it can be really temping to move around a lot and try and capture as many compositions as possible. I highly recommend that once you find your perfect composition, that you try and stay in that one location as long as you can.  The reason for this is so you can watch the light change over the course of the "sunset to night transition." Without staying in one spot it will be harder to be aware of that perfect moment when the lighting is just right for your subject!

When I first started doing night photography I often left a location too quickly missing the most amazing lighting in the process.  In an instant I would look up and the lighting would be PERFECT but I would be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  If I had just stayed where I was I could have captured the "money shot" with the best light. I can't tell you how many nights I was kicking myself all the way home for missing it.  Don't let that happen to you and follow these tips.   

  1. Try and stay with your best composition for a long as you can.
  2. Once you have nailed the lighting for your "money shot" then consider moving to other locations.
  3. Try and stay in a location/area for an extra 30 minutes after the best lighting of the day is gone.  Some of my favorite photos have come from just staying in a spot those few minutes longer.  You never know what surprises might happen.

Final Bonus Tip: Expose 1 stop over using exposure compensation. 

While shooting at night, unless you are bracketing exposures, always try and expose your images 1 stop over exposed. Because it is so dark, your camera meter will often under expose your images by mistake. By exposing 1 stop over you ensure that your images will be closer to what your eye sees and have enough light captured in your raw files.  Try it for yourself! You will notice a big difference. 

Syndey Opera House - shot using a 10 stop ND filter to blur the water and sky. 

Introducing Patrick

You might have noticed that I have been a little MIA lately. I haven't posted any new pictures or blogged about any recent trips to far away countries. No, I have been sticking close to home the last few months, and for good reason. My wife and I have been expecting our first child, a son, named Patrick.

I'm very happy to announce that Patrick has finally arrived and Jenn and I couldn't be more excited to be parents. Our little boy has brought so much more joy into our lives than we ever thought possible.

In the effort to savor every moment I made this video to capture this very special time in our lives.

Introducing Patrick.....

HD version can be found here:

500px Front Page

Amazing surprise this morning. I made it on the front page of 500px!!! What a huge honor! So blessed to be included around such amazing photographers! Plus I'm number one in my category, "City and Architecture". If you have a second go check out my photo, pretty cool to see it up there!


Into the Unknown

Into the Unknown This week (unless he is late), I am going into a new frontier.....Fatherhood!!!!

Like all who have gone before me, I'm about to jump out of the spaceship and free fall into the great unknown. Wish me luck!

Photo Info: Picture of the super sonic space suit used during the "red bull space jump" this year.

El Matador State Beach - California

I took this a couple weeks ago while I was out with a friend teaching him some of my photography techniques.

I have never been to El Matador and I was so surprise how busy the beach was. I must have counted 3 short films being filmed, several photo shoots going on, one of which involved a Triton and Mermaids, and tons of people just walking the beach. We decided on this high vantage point just to get away from it all and not be over run with people. Good thing I know how to paint people out in photoshop. lol

Julia Pfeiffer Overlook - California Coast - Before and After

I had some extra time this week to work on some more images from the California road trip that Jenn and I took last summer. It is always really fun to revisit old trips and relive the memories while doing some post processing.

Sometimes a little bit of distance from the trip allows me to come back to single image and better concentrate on what that one image needs rather then be overwhelmed and distracted by a huge folder of photos all needing post processing. It allows me to take my time and really concentrate.

How it was made: 29mm, f22, ISO 50, 2.5 Sec Canon 5D mkII, Canon 16-35mm f2.8L II, Singh ray LB Neutral Polarizer, using Coken Zpro Holder Single Exposure This particular image was processed using only luminance masking techniques, curves adjustments, and some Nik Color EFEX 4 mixed in. Check out my Photoshop layers to get an idea of all that went into it.

Using these adjustments I was able to specifically target certain areas of the image and achieve a better overall balance to the final image.

Before and After

Before After

Move the slider right and left to see the before and after.