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Night photos of headlamps on El Cap 10/11 and 10/13


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John Clark · · San Francisco · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 417

Figured if you were on the wall at these times you might think these are cool mementos.​Link to full rez​​​

Jeff R · · New York · Joined Jul 2014 · Points: 0

Thank you!

Hamish Malin · · Fredericksburg, VA · Joined May 2017 · Points: 15

John - I wasn’t there, but those are really nice photos!  I noticed that some of them have little colored spots on them if you zoom it - red, green, and blue pixels.  I’ve been doing a bunch of long exposure night photos as well w/ a Nikon D90 and have started to notice the same thing, and feel like it’s gotten worse with my camera over time.  Is that just digital noise as an effect of the long exposure, or due to something else?  Not trying to be critical here - I’ve just been trying to chase this down and wondered if you’d noticed the same thing.  I’ve played a bunch with the noise reduction and ISO settings but can’t seem to get rid of those damn spots!

Regardless, great shots!!
-Hamish 

Bill M · · Berkeley, CA · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 10

Nice shots John!

John Clark · · San Francisco · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 417
Hamish Malin wrote: John - I wasn’t there, but those are really nice photos!  I noticed that some of them have little colored spots on them if you zoom it - red, green, and blue pixels.  I’ve been doing a bunch of long exposure night photos as well w/ a Nikon D90 and have started to notice the same thing, and feel like it’s gotten worse with my camera over time.  Is that just digital noise as an effect of the long exposure, or due to something else?  Not trying to be critical here - I’ve just been trying to chase this down and wondered if you’d noticed the same thing.  I’ve played a bunch with the noise reduction and ISO settings but can’t seem to get rid of those damn spots!

Regardless, great shots!!
-Hamish 

Yeah, I think it is just noise on my D3300. I don't usually have these things dialed, but I'm glad (in a sad way) to hear that even nicer cameras have this issue. My setup is the stock lens and a chunk of wood to prop the camera up. One of these days I'l have to test a camera with a better sensor and not take my dslr through squeeze chimneys.

chris tregge · · Beersconsin · Joined May 2007 · Points: 9,612

Did you paint those trees with a flashlight?  

John Clark · · San Francisco · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 417
Chris treggE wrote: Did you paint those trees with a flashlight?  

Nope, just cars driving by. This was in the hour or so after sunset when everyone has headlamps on, but not everyone has bivied down yet.

Tim Lutz · · Colo-Rado Springs · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 5

headlamps are aid

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 1,698
John Clark wrote:

Yeah, I think it is just noise on my D3300. I don't usually have these things dialed, but I'm glad (in a sad way) to hear that even nicer cameras have this issue. My setup is the stock lens and a chunk of wood to prop the camera up. One of these days I'l have to test a camera with a better sensor and not take my dslr through squeeze chimneys.

Nice images, thanks for sharing!

All sensors have this to some degree as you turn up the ISO speed and lengthen the exposure. Generally, the bigger the pixels on your sensor, the better you'll do with high-ISO imagery (so larger sensors tend to have better performance than smaller sensors of the same resolution). For long exposures, some cameras have a long-exposure noise reduction setting that will allow the sensor to average out this random noise. (I'm not sure how this performs in situations where you're taking star trails, though.)

Are you doing any post-processing on your images? Did you shoot in Raw? Lightroom has excellent tools for correcting both chrominance noise (the random red, green, and blue spots) as well as luminance noise (random variations in brightness). Typically, you drag the Chrominance slider until the random colors fade to the same color as the pixels around them (but still may be different brightness), and then you drag the luminance slider until the brightness variations fade to an acceptable level. Note that you are sacrificing some resolution/information as you apply noise reduction, so it's very much a "to-taste" kind of thing. In addition, you'll want to make sure that you don't crank things up to the point that get rid of all those beautiful stars!

John Clark · · San Francisco · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 417
Andrew Krajnik wrote:

Nice images, thanks for sharing!

All sensors have this to some degree as you turn up the ISO speed and lengthen the exposure. Generally, the bigger the pixels on your sensor, the better you'll do with high-ISO imagery (so larger sensors tend to have better performance than smaller sensors of the same resolution). For long exposures, some cameras have a long-exposure noise reduction setting that will allow the sensor to average out this random noise. (I'm not sure how this performs in situations where you're taking star trails, though.)

Are you doing any post-processing on your images? Did you shoot in Raw? Lightroom has excellent tools for correcting both chrominance noise (the random red, green, and blue spots) as well as luminance noise (random variations in brightness). Typically, you drag the Chrominance slider until the random colors fade to the same color as the pixels around them (but still may be different brightness), and then you drag the luminance slider until the brightness variations fade to an acceptable level. Note that you are sacrificing some resolution/information as you apply noise reduction, so it's very much a "to-taste" kind of thing. In addition, you'll want to make sure that you don't crank things up to the point that get rid of all those beautiful stars!

That's helpful! I haven't done night work in a while, so I forgot about those features. And yes, I cranked them through Lightroom over my lunch break, but just broad strokes to do a little white balance correction and in a rush cause I had to get back to work. I always shoot in RAW, but export in JPG, because most of my photos are just to share with friends and spray on instagram, where resolution isn't a big concern. I will have to go back later today and try out the correction features to see if I can't polish these photos a bit more.


My settings were all in the 100-400 ISO range, f\3.5-4, and 5-15 min exposure times. Any tips on focus at night?
chris tregge · · Beersconsin · Joined May 2007 · Points: 9,612

I am no expert but try to manually focus on one particularly bright star then leave it.  Curious as well what others do.  Great thread.  

John Clark · · San Francisco · Joined Mar 2016 · Points: 417
Chris treggE wrote: I am no expert but try to manually focus on one particularly bright star then leave it.  Curious as well what others do.  Great thread.  

That's about what I do. I crank the ISO, switch to the view screen and zoom in on a headlamp, focus till the dot is as sharp as I can get it, then crank the iso down for the actual shot. This work for me about 50-75% of the time, but I feel like there should be a more consistent method.

Hamish Malin · · Fredericksburg, VA · Joined May 2017 · Points: 15
Andrew Krajnik wrote:

Nice images, thanks for sharing!

All sensors have this to some degree as you turn up the ISO speed and lengthen the exposure. Generally, the bigger the pixels on your sensor, the better you'll do with high-ISO imagery (so larger sensors tend to have better performance than smaller sensors of the same resolution). For long exposures, some cameras have a long-exposure noise reduction setting that will allow the sensor to average out this random noise. (I'm not sure how this performs in situations where you're taking star trails, though.)

Are you doing any post-processing on your images? Did you shoot in Raw? Lightroom has excellent tools for correcting both chrominance noise (the random red, green, and blue spots) as well as luminance noise (random variations in brightness). Typically, you drag the Chrominance slider until the random colors fade to the same color as the pixels around them (but still may be different brightness), and then you drag the luminance slider until the brightness variations fade to an acceptable level. Note that you are sacrificing some resolution/information as you apply noise reduction, so it's very much a "to-taste" kind of thing. In addition, you'll want to make sure that you don't crank things up to the point that get rid of all those beautiful stars!

Andrew - this is good stuff, thanks!  I didn’t even know it was called chrominance noise (been too busy to really research the problem, until asking in this thread).  I do have lightroom, and will give your tips a try.  FWIW, I’m pretty sure I’ve been fighting this on a D90 regardless of ISO.  Im also wondering if camera age has an effect as I feel like this has been getting worse for me.


I wish I could automate multiple long exposure shots on a D90, ie automatically take x shorter exposure length pictures, to then merge in post processing, which I suspect would result in lower overall noise.  I spent some time researching auxiliary control hardware, but never found a good candidate... might need to dust that search off again.
nathanael · · Riverside, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 518
Hamish Malin wrote: John - I wasn’t there, but those are really nice photos!  I noticed that some of them have little colored spots on them if you zoom it - red, green, and blue pixels.  I’ve been doing a bunch of long exposure night photos as well w/ a Nikon D90 and have started to notice the same thing, and feel like it’s gotten worse with my camera over time.  Is that just digital noise as an effect of the long exposure, or due to something else?  Not trying to be critical here - I’ve just been trying to chase this down and wondered if you’d noticed the same thing.  I’ve played a bunch with the noise reduction and ISO settings but can’t seem to get rid of those damn spots!

Regardless, great shots!!
-Hamish 

Look into dark frame subtraction. In short, take an extra photo (or several) with the same exposure settings but the lens cap on. This will reveal "hot" pixels reading those random colors, then you can use that as a baseline to correct your images using photoshop or other software (some free astro-photography specific software exists). Some cameras have a built-in dark frame subtraction, sometimes labeled as something related to noise reduction or long exposure noise reduction.


Edit to add: More generally when hunting down noise in long exposure, it is worth experimenting with different exposure settings (ISO and shutter speed). Each camera sensor will behave differently and some cameras will give good results with a low ISO, long shutter speed, while some may perform better at a higher ISO and shorter shutter speed. Furthermore you may see different results with a low ISO boosted in post-processing vs starting with a higher ISO. On my camera (Olympus EM10), my go to exposure settings for no moonlight conditions are ISO 1600 or 3200, 30-40 seconds.
nathanael · · Riverside, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 518
John Clark wrote:

That's about what I do. I crank the ISO, switch to the view screen and zoom in on a headlamp, focus till the dot is as sharp as I can get it, then crank the iso down for the actual shot. This work for me about 50-75% of the time, but I feel like there should be a more consistent method.

My preferred method is to focus on something on earth, like a reflective sign or even a tree. Anything >20 yards away is usually close enough to "infinity" focus on a wide angle lens that you will have nicely in focus stars. Plus you'll be sure that your foreground elements are also in focus. In photos like yours where the foreground (El Cap) is a major element, I find a sharp foreground more important than perfect sharpness in the stars, especially if you are going for star trails.

This method may break down if you're using a more telephoto lens or a faster aperture lens where the focus plane is narrower.

Nick Sweeney · · Spokane, WA · Joined Jun 2013 · Points: 672

Those are awesome photos, thanks for sharing!

Brian Boyd · · Kowloon, Hong Kong · Joined Oct 2005 · Points: 3,540

Hi John - thanks for the awesome photos.  I was lucky enough once to have an unplanned bivi near the top of middle cathedral.  It was a cold, cramped, hungry night, and someone rolled over me and broke my glasses.  It was so cool to see the lights on el cap pop up on at a time.  Your photos made me feel as if I was back on that ledge.  Thank you!

Hamish Malin · · Fredericksburg, VA · Joined May 2017 · Points: 15
nathanael wrote:

My preferred method is to focus on something on earth, like a reflective sign or even a tree. Anything >20 yards away is usually close enough to "infinity" focus on a wide angle lens that you will have nicely in focus stars. Plus you'll be sure that your foreground elements are also in focus. In photos like yours where the foreground (El Cap) is a major element, I find a sharp foreground more important than perfect sharpness in the stars, especially if you are going for star trails.

This method may break down if you're using a more telephoto lens or a faster aperture lens where the focus plane is narrower.

Yup, that’s what I do too - also not with a telephoto lens.  I tend to not keep my aperture fully open (I’m typically at f9 or higher), so there’s enough room for error that this works.

Andrew Krajnik · · Plainfield, IL · Joined Jul 2016 · Points: 1,698

Google "hyperfocal distance"... it's the focusing distance for any given focal length and aperture that results in the widest possible depth of field. Focus your lens on at the hyperfocal distance, and everything roughly half that distance out to infinity will be in focus. (If you're estimating the distance, cheat on the long end to make sure the stars are in focus.) Landscape photogs use this a lot.

There are apps you can download that'll calculate it for you in the field. Here's an online DOF calculator that also calculates the hyperfocal. For instance, a Canon 5D mk III with a 24mm lens at f/2.8 has a hyperfocal distance of 22.3 feet. Focus on something a bit about  23 feet away, and you'll be in focus from 12 feet out to infinity.

Hamish Malin · · Fredericksburg, VA · Joined May 2017 · Points: 15

Wow this thread is super useful!  Ironically, if it was on a photography forum it would probably be trolled to hell and back already.  :()

Hamish Malin · · Fredericksburg, VA · Joined May 2017 · Points: 15
Andrew Krajnik wrote: Google "hyperfocal distance"... it's the focusing distance for any given focal length and aperture that results in the widest possible depth of field. Focus your lens on at the hyperfocal distance, and everything roughly half that distance out to infinity will be in focus. (If you're estimating the distance, cheat on the long end to make sure the stars are in focus.) Landscape photogs use this a lot.

There are apps you can download that'll calculate it for you in the field. Here's an online DOF calculator that also calculates the hyperfocal. For instance, a Canon 5D mk III with a 24mm lens at f/2.8 has a hyperfocal distance of 22.3 feet. Focus on something a bit about  23 feet away, and you'll be in focus from 12 feet out to infinity.

Good stuff.  I always err on focusing short of infinity, knowing that this will increase my overall depth of field, but never considered optimizing it in a more technical fashion.  Cheers!

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