July 15, 2010

Pancake Session: Night Shots

Today’s Pancake Session is coming at you from the Mr. in our Marantz! :)

From Justin:

One of the ongoing personal projects I have at all our weddings is to do an architectural night shot of the venue. This can be a really cool way to bring the atmosphere of the whole event in to compliment the story of the day. And it’s also a great thing to be able to give the locations to help build awesome relationships with them.

Here’s how we do it!

Step 1: Choose your time. This is huge for a getting a really dramatic night shot. Because if you wait too long, you’ll just have a really flat, black sky. On a night with a clear sky I usually try and grab this shot about 45 minutes after sunset. The sky will be good and dark but the horizon will still have a little bit of ambient glow to it. If it’s a cloudy night, I’ll usually wait a little later and let the clouds pick up ambient light from the ground, like a street lamp behind the building seen in the second shot below.

Step 2: Grab your tripod, camera, wide angle lens, flash (I’ll explain later) and find a good spot to camp out for a few minutes. For the tripod I would recommend something strong and sturdy, but also with a quick release plate in case you have to grab your camera and run inside for something important….like “Living on a Prayer.” The ideal tripod would be something like the Gitzo GT-1541T Traveler, but if you’re working on a budget you can use something more economical like my ‘ole trusty tripod, the Manfrotto 190XPROB Pro Aluminum Tripod For the wide angle lens, I prefer the Carl Zeiss 25mm 2.8 on a full frame body. Or if you’re looking to get a true architectural shot, you’ll probably want something that can correct the vertical parallels like the Nikon 24mm.3.5 PC lens

Step 3: Because you’re using a tripod, your shutter speed and ISO become much less important to the stability of the image. No need to worry about camera shake unless the wind is blowing really hard or you happen to live somewhere on the San Andreas fault line. :-) I set my camera to Manual. I usually drop my ISO as low the camera can go for the least possible amount of noise, and bring my shutter speed to 30 seconds (or longer if have a cable release that can lock the shutter open) Then I just adjust my f stop until I have a good exposure (which is going to depend on a case by case basis on how much ambient light is around, but to give you an idea it’s usually around f11). I’ll admit, that a lot of it is just guess and check, but the beauty of having it on the tripod is that you’ll have pretty consistant results each time. Just remember that the light is changing really quickly at that point, so you’ll want to move fast so you don’t lose your sky. Once you have your base exposure set, now it’s time to play.

Step 4: Break out your flash and set it to manual. The amount of power you use will depend on your f stop, the distance from the flash to the building, and the output power of your flash. But just to give you an idea, with my Nikon SB-900 it’s usually around 1/16th power. Now here’s the fun part! Open the shutter and now you’ve got 30 second to run around and flash the building! (Um, please keep your clothes on!) Using the test button you can now fire off your flash at the building and use that to “paint with light” and highlight part or all of the building. For the picture of Salt Water Farm Vineyard below, I chose to use the flash to light up the underside of the arch at the top of the building with about 8 pops of the flash.You want to be careful not to flash in the direction of the camera or at someone who happens to be standing there unless you want them to register in the image. Also, you’ll want to keep moving unless you actually want to see yourself in the picture. (For example, in the first image below I intentionally signed it with my own silhouette at the base of the building. Can you find me? :-) One more thing, you’re also going to want to cover up the display of the flash with black gaff tape so it doesn’t register in the image, or you’ll have a green line running through your image.

As you can imagine, this can get to be really fun when you get a few friends with flashes to help. For more painting with light architectural photography, check out where I got my start, with the RIT BIG shot project

Salt Water Farm Vineyard Exposure info: ISO 100 30 seconds @ f16

The Branford House Mansion Exposure info ISO 200 30 seconds @ f11

Sugarbush Resort Warren, VT Exposure info ISO 100 15 seconds @ f16

** If you have any follow up questions on night shots, long exposures or painting with light (or any other questions for that matter!) feel free to leave them in the comment box

  1. Katie

    I loved this!!!!! SO rad that you posted this info, I’m gonna have to have some fun with this!!!

  2. Linda

    Great post, thanks Justin! This is something I really want to get better at so all this is really helpful, thanks!

  3. Gwendolyn Tundermann

    Haha! "Flash the building!" Did you use the pops of flash on the second image? I love getting a shot of the venue at night (and that insane royal blue sky that comes after sunset). These tips will be extremely helpful in making the shot better!

  4. Sophia Harcourt

    Ooooh the Branford House must love you for that image with the stars and everything, its magical.

  5. Justin Marantz

    @Gwen Yes I did flash the Branford House as well. I was a little further back to help light up more of the building. One thing to remember is that the top of the building is almost twice as far as the bottom of the building from the flash. So I did 2 pops high for every 1 pop low!

  6. Spring

    you need a short disclaimer that says if you are running around popping a flash to light it up and its raining don’t trip and fall! hahaha But seriously, these are really awesome- Can’t wait to try a few this weekend!!!!!

  7. Spring

    you need a short disclaimer that says if you are running around popping a flash to light it up and its raining don’t trip and fall! hahaha But seriously, these are really awesome- Can’t wait to try a few this weekend!!!!!

  8. Justin Marantz

    @Spring I’m so sorry about that! How’s your ankle? Yes, everyone, please be careful when running around in the dark!

  9. Anna Kim Photography

    This is so helpful, thanks! I like the clouds in the last pics.

  10. Nicole

    LOVE the lighting contrast on the last shot @Sugarbush Resort. They should pay you and frame that shot!

    Would love to see additional pancake sessions on panning?? :o)

  11. Alison

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I don’t do weddings but have wanted to play with shots like this. So appreciated!

  12. Caitlin

    Thanks Justin – can’t wait to try this at a wedding this weekend! Love the first one! Its great!

  13. Fr. Matt Lincoln

    Great work! Cool technique! I love the shot of the Salt Water Farm. You got it right at that Blue moment. Just curious: Will the rest of Kerry and Andrew’s wedding go up soon?

  14. Karen (Mikols) Bonar

    Super cool!!!!!!

  15. Kristin

    Oh my goodness that shot of Saltwater is unbelievable… gives me butterflies! (the others are awesome too but I think I’m a little biased ;) Is that Justin underneath the balcony?? how cool is that!

  16. Reuben Poon

    WOW, this is amazingly inspiring! Or inspiringly amazing! Can’t wait to try this out! Do you think you could accomplish the "painting with light" with a few high power LED’s instead? And how close do you have to get to the buildings? For the Branford House Mansion it looks like you’re quite a ways back.

  17. Jil

    as a photography lover its so amazing to hear the magic behind the shots! it also inspires me to be less nervous experimenting with my camera :o) thanks Justin!!

  18. Justin Marantz

    @Reuben Thanks so much! You can definitely do some painting with light with the LEDs! It would depend how powerful they are, but you might have to get a little closer with them. The further back you are the more light you need. The key with any constant light source for painting is to keep it moving! Shake your hand for better blending and to avoid hot spots. I would also walk or run the entire face of the building so that the distance from your hand to the building stays the same. Does that make sense? Let me know how the LEDs work out! Happy Painting

  19. Brandy Frank

    Justin!! Thanks so much for this post. Brandon usually tries to catch a night shot of the venue with the tripod but that’s it. I can’t wait for him to see this post. Now I want to try to "paint with light" Fun stuff! And gorgeous pictures too!!

  20. Katelyn James

    justin you’re so cool:) Loved this! Thanks for sharing a piece of your awesome photo knowledge. Flash isn’t my thing but I love reading more about it and trying new stuff:)

  21. Denise Saucedo

    Wow, wow, wow. Absolutely breathtaking!!!! I need to try these steps and see what I can get out of it! Thanks for sharing as always! ;) I heart you!

  22. erin harvey

    Wow, this is such a fantastic idea to paint with light. Thanks so much for sharing!

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