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Making Progress w/ Night Landscapes - lessons learned & challenges

Discussion in 'Scenic, Architecture, and Travel' started by tradesmith45, Apr 19, 2016.

  1. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    As some of you know, I love night landscapes & have done lots of long exposure noise testing. Spent March in Calif both vacationing & tending aged relative. Was able to do shooting 4 nights in 3 locations. Had brought along my newly modified full spectrum E-M5, MZ 12mm & Kowa 8.5mm plus a new E-M5 mkII & MZ 8mm f1.8.

    Over the next week or so, I'll be posting some results & further comparisons. My goal on this trip was to decide if m43 is capable of yielding night landscapes that satisfy my IQ standards when printed as large as 16x20. Posting here forces me to organize my thoughts & give me the chance to ask your input. Have yet to get prints made but will soon. Until then, I'll report what I can see on a 2012 27" iMac. And maybe you'll get some pointers out of my efforts.

    I'll start with this image composed of 11 captures from the MkII & 8mm FE. The star field is a stack of 10 images ISO1600 f2 25 sec. stacked in Starry Landscape Stacker. The landscape is 4 min. with in camera NR turned on also ISO1600 & f2. I then applied every trick I've learned so far to merge these in PS. As you can see the new Oly FE yields impressive images even wide open.
    26531557495_f416ac4880_o. Em21600.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr

    The EM5 mkII can yield really good star field images especially w/ a little stacking. But as I've reported before, the sky is the easy part for one of these - except perhaps for WB w/ light pollution.

    I was pretty disappointed in the substantial amount of noise in the long exposure of the land. My previous testing seemed to show ISO1600 would be satisfactory for the MkII but I now feel ISO 800 might be the limit if the subject is dark rocks. But that would mean 4/8 min. for the exposure. As you will see later, light subjects & shorter exposures @ ISO1600 look maybe OK from the mkII.

    To deal w/ noise in the landscape, I 1st applied NR in LR & then in PS used a mask to blur the noise in the water while leaving the rocks/land un-blurred. I used HPS to sharpen the rocks/land only.

    WB was a major challenge in this image. There's a light house to the left & a small town to the right. I beat the sky up pretty much maybe too much using a PS action I bought to remove light pollution. I'm finding I often end up w/ muddy brown sky by the time I'm done reducing LP. Any suggestions you have about this would be greatly appreciated.

    Stacking causes the stars to go in size a bit due to lens flare (& the FE has some). I've got another PS action that is supposed to reduce star sizes to compensate but I haven't tried it yet.

    Lastly, this location is a great example of why its better to be able to use shorter exposures. I'm on the edge of a 50' cliff, in the dark, light wind blowing and had to extend the tripod to see the ocean well. This will challenge anyones balance & sensitivity to vertigo as you stand up to change settings. Even with focused attention, it was stressful & I didn't want to be there long.
     
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  2. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    291
    Mar 18, 2015
    Thank you for this write up. I have been looking at Starry Landscape Stacker as there seem to be few reasonably priced alternatives and DSS is not really available on Mac. I didn't manage to get the wine port to work.

    What I found an absolute revelation for colour problems when processing my underwater photos were the HSL sliders in lightroom. I guess you can also paint them in as camera raw smart layers in Photoshop, but I only have Elements 9. You can basically just focus on the colour that shouldn't be there and change hue/saturation and luminance. As you only posted your finished result which I would be quite happy with, I don't know if this actually helps but you could try it out.
     
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  3. AG_Alex2097

    AG_Alex2097 Mu-43 Regular

    157
    Dec 18, 2015
    Alex S.
    If you don't already, you can reduce noise a little by flicking out the articulating display on the e-m5 mark ii, it helps heat dissipation that otherwise builds up behind the screen ;)

    As for your white balance, if you're using photoshop, add an adjustment layer of color balance, add a mask to it so it only affects the problematic areas (paint with a large soft brush on the mask), then to adjust the WB, with midtones selected, adjust the cyan/red slider to the left and the yellow/blue slider an equal amount to the right
     
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  4. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Really liking the 8mm... It's one of the only lenses I have on my lust list.

    Re WB - I use brush and grad masks for WB adjustment inside the camera raw dialogue to deal with it. You can actually use camera raw for non-raw photos.

    As for the landscape - why don't you stack the landscape too? You can even reuse the frames from the star shots, just don't use star alignment. I find stacking say 10 shots at 30s each to be much better than going for a single long exposure, especially on the E-M1!
     
  5. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    I knew I could count on all of you for great help, thanks so much!

    Will certainly give ACR & its brushes a go.

    wjiang, what do you use for stacking the landscape, PS & auto align? Long time ago before I was doing nigh landscapes, I trialed the image stacker Photo Acute. Wasn't too impressed but it has some helpful features - the ability to mask out moving objects.
     
  6. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    More about the MZ FE 8mm f1.8, focusing, vignetting & stopping down.

    Learned some useful things about this lens I wanted to pass on. First is focusing. This is the hardest lens I've used to focus at night simply because of the combo of huge FOV (i.e. really small stars) & a really long manual focus through. As a result, you can crank the focus ring lots & not see any change in a magnified star in the EVF. W/ the higher rez EVF on the EM5 mkII, when your really out of focus, stars become donut shaped w/ holes in the center. But you won't see this on the lower noise but lower rez EVF on the mkI EM5.

    And as lab tests show, the lens also has both field curvature & a bit of flare/loss of contrast wide open. So if you focus using the center of the FOV, there is greater risk the edges will be soft.

    So I settled on the following methods. Focus on a star about half way between the center & edge. Try to use hand position memory when you find the 2 positions where stars are clearly out of focus & then move focus ring to a position between these 2 extremes. I usually have to repeat this a couple times to be confident. Then shot a test & examine w/ mag.

    As mentioned, the FE looses contrast a bit when wide open & vignetting gets worse. These mainly affect post processing. Here 2 frames showing both the Kowa (very good contrast wide open but strong vignetting) & the FE that show the slight loss of contrast in the FE.
    26465779301_55c3d7d65a_o. KowaVSMZFE.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr

    The FE will need more contrast adjustment.

    But vignetting in both these lenses is a PP challenge. To my knowledge, there are no lens calibration profiles for either lens. I started out using the LR or DXO manual vignette correction tools but immediately noticed these yielded a color balance change in the whole image. You can see this by comparing w/ the image when stopped down to f2.5
    25926581834_227666409c_o. F1.8 vs 2.5.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr

    Of course brightening the image corners also brings up noise levels especially for the Kowa which has 2 ev falloff. And especially color noise in the EM5 mk2. But there's also a color shift maybe due to increased color noise in the corners for both lenses if you simply use the vignette sliders. So I'm now using a radial filter that covers the whole frame since it allows adjustment of both exposure, feathering & color balance.

    Haven't processed enough FE night images yet to be sure of this. But it appears that the higher wide open lens flare changes how much vignette correction is needed depending on how much bright light is in the image. So a simple one size preset or lens calibration may not work for all images.

    Will post images later to show you this but i found no sharpness advantage in star fields from stopping the FE down 2/3rds or 1 stop. Contrast & vignetting do improve but not sharpness, at least in a noticeable way. As you can see in the above, what ever IQ improvement is gained from stopping down is pretty much lost to increased noise for the longer/higher ISO exposures needed.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2016
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  7. AG_Alex2097

    AG_Alex2097 Mu-43 Regular

    157
    Dec 18, 2015
    Alex S.
    I don't understand why that first articles states that stacking the foreground doesn't work with the methods they used (Median stack), stacking does wonders to noise, on both foreground and sky
    As for your question on how to stack landscape, you don't have to align these, your camera should be on a tripod and therefor should always have the same landscape, meaning they are already aligned, just throw them in a median stack, when done you just merge the stacked sky with the stacked landscape using a mask and voilĂ ! :)
     
  8. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    I use DSS to stack the sky, and for simplicity also use it to stack the landscape (with auto align disabled). That way the two stacks come out looking identical as far as tonality and colour is concerned, making blending them together trivial. As was mentioned I'm on a tripod so no alignment is required.
     
  9. travelbug

    travelbug Mu-43 Regular

    136
    Oct 20, 2014
    wouldnt you be better off just blending layers? duplicate your pic. apply your noise reduction actions on the top layer then blend in the bottom layer with a gradient mask.
    alternatively you could shoot the landscape separately and try to match exposures in post (if needed) for a sharper landscape portion.
     
  10. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Foreground Stacking

    Hi Alex & wjiang,

    Have now tried several stacks using the 25 sec. captures I used for the star field. While this and several other stacks I tried have much lower noise, there's almost no detail in the shadow areas. The 4 min. exposure has more noise but tons more detail. I suspect if you 2 are having success with this, I suspect you are using longer exposures than 25 sec, f2, ISO 1600.
    25946334074_233a12241a_o. Short_Stack_VS_Long_EXPwDXO.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr

    I tried several combinations but basically got the same result - the shadow detail in the rocks is gone. Also tried the modified EM5 & got better results.

    I'm thinking foreground stacking can work but only w/ adequate exposure. Hoping to do some night landscapes in a week so will try to get the captures needed to test this idea further.

    EDIT: just did a 15 capture stack of images (ISO 3200, 15 sec. f2.8, EM5) from my Tombstone aurora trip where the mountains were lit by a bit of moonlight - WOW! what an improvement. Conclusion, you really need adequate exposure for landscape stacking to be a benefit.

    More on stacking tomorrow. Would love to see what you 2 are doing for star stacks.
     
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2016
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  11. Hypilein

    Hypilein Mu-43 Veteran

    291
    Mar 18, 2015
    Maybe you could blend both results you posted until you get the right balance of noise and detail. That way you could be a bit more heavy handed on even surfaces like the water while retaining the detail in the shadows.
     
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  12. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Very interesting comparison on the long exposure versus stacking! I think in most of my attempts the foreground has generally been reasonably well lit, whether lit by moonlight, light pollution or indeed active lighting (it must be if I'm doing f/3.5, 30s, ISO1600 with the 7.5FE). I have definitely noticed the lack of detail in the deep shadows though - I guess as you've found there is just too little to work with when it's severely underexposed.

    In summary, I think we can conclude that stacking is reasonably effective at reducing noise IFF the areas of interest are already adequately exposed in each single shot. This may require shooting separate frames with different exposures for stacking the sky and foreground shadows if the dynamic range is too high between the two.

    Now I've always just exposed for the sky because in the Southern hemisphere we have a massive and bright galactic core that dominates the frame. In future I might try for more landscape detail too. Unfortunately with a newborn that may be some time away...
     
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  13. AG_Alex2097

    AG_Alex2097 Mu-43 Regular

    157
    Dec 18, 2015
    Alex S.
    Same here, my foreground was lit pretty well due to light polution, it does indeed make sense that a stack won't work if your foreground is underexposed, so as Wjiang said, you'll have to shoot a seperate stack exposed for the foreground
    Interesting discovery, i'll have to keep that in mind now :)

    Ps I am incredibly jealous of your access to dark sites :p
     
  14. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Hey wjiang, big congrats on the child!!
     
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  15. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Stacking & Stopping the MZ 8mm Down

    Next topic. First up are tests I did to see how much stacking & stopping the FE down helps for the star field. Short answer DXO Prime is awesome, stacking 3 for the star field is good & better than Prime, 5 is a bit better but unless the cam is really noisy or your forced to use higher ISO because of a slow lens, there's no need to stack more than 5. Stopping the f1.8 by 2/3rds or even a full stop does little to improve sharpness. It will reduce vignetting a lot & flare a bit. As you can see I applied a very small amount of NR in LR before stacking for these. From doing a few stacks now, Luminance NR=10 to 15 seems to produce good stacks.

    But overall, you'll be hard pressed to really see any difference in the crops I've posted in this. Any good NR reduction strategy will do a pretty good job on the stars @ ISO 1600.
    26505894066_b544f92701_o. NRandAperture.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr

    As mentioned about did a test stack of some captures from the Tombstone mountains to see how much it might help the landscape. Again applied a bit of Luminance & Color NR in LR before stacking. This one is of 15 images of varying exposures & aurora brightness. The amount of light I had for this stack worked terrific. The single capture was done during a particularly blazing aurora substorm so the mountains were painted by green light. The stack is composed of images during dimmer aurora.
    26566875645_dda2479c2d_o. One vs Stacking wLight.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2016
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  16. wjiang

    wjiang Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    I think stacking is a case of diminishing returns. I notice great gains going from a single frame to 2, 4, up to maybe even 8 in the stack, but the effect reduces such that I stop bothering after that. Going further also makes the overall exposure way too long to be practical, especially when I have in camera DFS enabled to get around the E-M1 LEN problem.
     
  17. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Can the E-M5 mark II Do Night Landscapes & ISO 3200?

    Yes, if the landscape is not really dark.

    Hiked up from camp to do some testing of both cams & 3 lenses. The desert rock/soil here is medium tan, much lighter than say red rocks of the Grand Canyon.

    These captures at ISO 3200 with in camera Noise Reduction turned on aren't too bad. The image from the Kowa is worse because its a 5 min. exposure while the FE got 2.5 min. so less LEN. Both landscapes had NR applied in LR only. If I'd used DXO the results would have been a bit better. The skys are stacks of 9 images. both these lenses are terrific!
    26531548825_19edf18083_o. KowamkIIComposit.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr

    26439214112_a4ffba96fa_o. _3130257Composit.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr
     
  18. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Actually, you're experiencing the statistics of Sig-to-noise. Basically, to get a major improvement in S/N, you have the square the number of captures. So 3 is better than 1 but you'll need 9 to significantly improve on 3 & 81 to really beat 9. That's why astronomers will do 100s even 1000s for really dim objects.

     
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  19. tradesmith45

    tradesmith45 Mu-43 All-Pro

    Dec 13, 2012
    Oregon
    Full Spectrum Modified E-M5

    Really loved doing B&W IR back in my film days. Stellar objects & aurora all have far red & IR emissions. Since m43 needs every photo it can get to do its best w/ night landscapes, I had a full spectrum conversion done on my E-M5. Unfortunately, it got some damage during shipping that caused the sensor to get misaligned & I didn't detect that until my 3rd night of shooting. So the next few night posts w/ that camera will ALL have out of focus areas in some part of the image.

    Looking forward to getting the camera back w/ an aligned sensor because it provides about 1/2+ EV more light on the sensor compared to the same exposure w/ the unmodified markII. And the H alpha star emissions show up stronger. And oh boy do I love shooting daytime IR:2thumbs:

    Three down sides I've seen so far. Night landscape WB especially w/ light pollution is harder to adjust in post. I'm going to try to create a camera profile using Adobe software & a color calibration chart.

    Full spectrum cam demands really good lens CA correction. The Kowa is the best I've got in this regard - its amazing.

    Water vapor in night sky shows up more strongly because it reflects IR. Here's a demonstration.
    26487164162_3f77cd7520_o. Mod E-M5 vs E-M5mk2.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr

    The sensitivity to water vapor may mean that seaside star fields will not be as detailed w/ the full spectrum camera as an unmodified camera.

    In the desert, the converted cam worked well w/ the Kowa. Here's a pano w/ stacking for the sky & long exposures for the land. This has the very best MW I've ever made. Note the misaligned sensor made the whole right side of the image soft.
    25928655873_2d67f929d0_o. FontsPointEM5Kowa TvM Pano.jpg by tradesmith45, on Flickr
     
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