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A Few Long Exposure Night/Star Shots with the OM-D

Discussion in 'Scenic, Architecture, and Travel' started by gtbarnes, Jul 21, 2012.

  1. gtbarnes

    gtbarnes Mu-43 Rookie

    May 31, 2012
    San Diego, California
    Gary Barnes
    Hey everyone! I went out to the desert a few nights ago with my E-M5, and thought I'd post a few photos.

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    Rokinon 7.5mm, multiple portrait shots stitched together with PTGui. Each shot was 30s, f3.5, ISO 1600.

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    Rokinon 7.5mm, 60s, f3.5, ISO 800 (single frame).

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    Panasonic 25mm, 30s, f1.4, ISO 1600.

    So far, I've been happy with the low-light performance of the E-M5. I was pretty spoiled by the low-light performance of the Pentax K-5, which I sold in February due to front/backfocusing issues that really caused havoc with paid work. Along the way, I also owned (and then sold) the Sony A65 and A580 (the latter shares the K-5's fantastic sensor, albeit at slightly worse performance). All in all, I'd say the E-M5's low-light performance is on par with the A580, with the Pentax K-5 still on top, and the A65 lagging far behind. But the E-M5's many upsides finally outweigh my regret at switching out of Pentax :smile:
    • Like Like x 39
  2. bitmatt

    bitmatt Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 7, 2012
    Amazing. Love the last one.
  3. nueces snapper

    nueces snapper Mu-43 All-Pro

    Beautiful! :2thumbs:
  4. sprinke

    sprinke Mu-43 All-Pro

    Apr 5, 2011
    Pasadena, CA
    Whoa! stunning
  5. bilzmale

    bilzmale Mu-43 All-Pro

    Just beautiful. Did you use the LCD to 'see' when the long exposure was correct?
  6. phrenic

    phrenic Mu-43 All-Pro

    Sep 13, 2010
    Awesome shots. My night shots tend to be a noisy mess.

    I (and many others I'm sure) would love to hear about some of your techniques.
  7. Tincam

    Tincam Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 25, 2012
    Thanks for sharing these. The last one is outstanding! I, too, would like to hear about your technique. Night shooting is great fun.
  8. DHart

    DHart Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 7, 2010
    Scottsdale, Arizona
    Bravo! The first one is my favorite. And, yes, please do share some starry sky tips with us, although the exposure settings tell most of it.
  9. gtbarnes

    gtbarnes Mu-43 Rookie

    May 31, 2012
    San Diego, California
    Gary Barnes
    I've used it a few times (and shot with it exclusively the 'outing' before this), but for the most part, I've been doing night photos for so long that I can usually estimate the proper settings off the top of my head. It's a pretty handy feature though!

    Sure thing! Here are a few pointers that immediately come to mind:

    - If you're going for that "dramatic starry night" look, shoot with as wide of a lens as possible. On my Pentax, I favored the Pentax 10-17mm lens. On my Sony, I used the Samyang 8mm, and would recommend it for any APS-C system (I might even favor it over the Pentax 10-17mm, as long as you're okay with losing AF). For m43, I've been using the Rokinon 7.5mm, though once I recover from this massive gear overhaul, I might eventually get the 7-14mm as well. Whatever lens you choose, you'll always be itching to get more of the sky in your photo. In which case, go for the panorama route.

    - If you're going for the "starry bokeh" look, go for the largest aperture you can find. The last shot above was with the Panny 25mm f1.4, but I've also done a few similar shots with the Oly 45mm f1.8 that turned out equally nice. Since you've got more light coming in, and sharp stars aren't a concern, you can lower the ISO and lengthen the exposure time. As long as nothing is overexposed, a brighter image will be MUCH easier to work with in post.

    - If you're going for Milky Way shots, even with a wide angle/fisheye lens, leaving the shutter open for more than 30-ish seconds usually results in too much star movement (seen in the second shot above, which was a 60 second exposure). This means that, if there's no moon out and there's very little light pollution, and your wide angle lens is in the f3.5-4 range, you'll have to crank the ISO to at least 1600. 3200 might be preferred, but then you'll have more noise to deal with in post.


    - If the Milky Way isn't in the shot (like above), then star trails can often be a good thing. The photo above was shot with a 110 second exposure at ISO 800 on my K-5. I also had the added benefit of an outdoor floodlight on a building behind me to light up some of the foreground, as well as a dim moon. But still--Play around with values, cater them to your circumstances.

    - When working with the photos in post, watch the shadows. On cameras with 14 bit RAWs like the Pentax K-5, you have much more data to work with, and can usually extract details from the star-lit shadows. But even with the increased DR of the E-M5, things tend to turn into a muddy mess quick. If there's no moon out, turn your attention towards making silhouettes. The sky will be the brightest thing in the frame, so treat everything else as you would any other backlit subject. Unless you want to light things in the foreground with a flashlight, which is always an option.

    - When editing photos in Lightroom (I'm on 4.1), don't immediately crank the Noise Reduction settings to the max. Bring the luminance slider to the ~40 mark, then start playing with the 'details' slider. Adjust these two sliders until you have a good balance of mushy vs detail. Then adjust the 'color' slider as needed. Also, I usually leave the "Sharpening" setting in the pane above it alone for night shots, as it tends to bring out the 'bad' characteristics of the noise.

    - More Lightroom tips: Don't go crazy with the global Clarity slider. Instead, use the Adjustment Brush to add a slight amount of clarity to features like the Milky Way. It tends to give a better overall final image. Also, the more you crank up the Exposure slider, the more noise you'll have to deal with. That being said, bringing up the Contrast slider ~20 or so can help offset some of this. And keep in mind that everything will look messy at 1:1. Zoom out, and edit your photo with your final web/print target in mind!


    - For moonlit landscapes (like above, shot with a K-5), the rules all change. Too long of an exposure will look like daylight (with stars in the sky), which isn't a bad thing. The upside is that you have a LOT more 'data' to play with in post. Depending on moon positioning/phase/etc, your exposure settings can vary drastically. Spend the first 10-ish minutes of your shoot figuring out good ballpark values to shoot with, and go from there.

    Aside from photo techniques, planning your shoot is also extremely important. The free program "Stellarium" is HUGELY helpful in figuring out star positions, and I usually check the sun/moon rise/set figures on weather sites well ahead of time. On the day-of, standard weather reports are helpful as well, since they can tell you whether or not you'll even have a clear sky to work with.

    If you plan your photo adventures right, you can get some pretty cool results. It's all basically a combination of planning for time/location ahead of shooting, figuring out the right exposure values while you're in the field, then editing your photos within the technical limitations of the RAW file in post.

    Hope this helps, and feel free to ask more questions if I missed something! :smile:
    • Like Like x 29
  10. EP1-GF1

    EP1-GF1 Mu-43 Veteran

    Apr 12, 2011
    Oh. Wow.

    Thank you.
  11. riverr02

    riverr02 Mu-43 Veteran

    May 2, 2011
    New York
    Amazing shots- and thanks for the tutorial. Next time I'm camping I'll try out your recommendations.
  12. incabloc

    incabloc Mu-43 Top Veteran

    May 21, 2012
    Thanks so much for sharing the pics and setting tips. Will try it out soon.
  13. DHart

    DHart Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Jan 7, 2010
    Scottsdale, Arizona
    Another thanks for the tips. Awesome!
  14. dhazeghi

    dhazeghi Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Aug 6, 2010
    San Jose, CA
    Glad to hear it! Thanks for sharing your shots. I've always been a bit disappointed with the Pens at long exposure, but you've inspired me to give it a try with the E-M5 at the next opportunity.

  15. F1L1P

    F1L1P Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 2, 2010
    @gtbarnes - have you any experience with image stacking?

    If you do, could you please tell me if it is better to use in-camera dark frame recording and let the camera do the NR or record one as JPEG/RAW and import it later in software for editing on PC?
  16. jyc860923

    jyc860923 Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 28, 2012
    Shenyang, China
    I just wish I was there too
  17. edmsnap

    edmsnap Mu-43 Veteran

    Dec 20, 2011
    Edmonton, Alberta
    Nothing short of inspirational photos :) 
  18. dannat

    dannat Mu-43 Regular

    May 2, 2010
    Melbourne Australia
    Terrific work
  19. scott0487

    scott0487 Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 10, 2012
    Steamboat Springs, CO
    Thanks so much for taking the time to write up a quick tutorial. It makes me want to rush out and give it a try. Thanks.
  20. aks6674

    aks6674 Mu-43 Veteran

    Jan 14, 2014
    These are just fantastic. I'm taking a trip to a very dark sky area soon, and this gives me hope that my m43 equipment will be good enough for the shots I want to get. Thank you SO MUCH for taking the time to post your methods.

    Sent from my Nexus 7 using Tapatalk
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