In Search of Dark Skies by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

It's been a long time since I've had the opportunity to get out into an area without light pollution. When I look up into the night sky, I question if my memory of the Milky Way was only my childish imagination run completely wild.  There are only a few consolations and planets visible where I am now.  If it wasn't for the moon, I would forget to look up sometimes.  I first became interested in astronomy when my dad took me outside of town to see Halley's Comet.  I was only a toddler and it is probably one of my earliest memories.

Perseid Meteor Shower

After seeing the Perseid Meteor Shower in 2004 during a New Moon and witnessing hundreds of meteorides, it has become an annual quest for dark skies.  This year had only a very small window between the sunset and moon rising for the meteor shower.  When the window is so short, it is often advised to look before dawn on dates when the moon is near full.  


I decided to head out towards the Lick Observatory near San Jose to get a good view. Taking photos of the sunset with my infrared camera proved to be beneficial.  I especially like the photo at the top of the post that shows the city lights of Silicon Valley with the illuminated sky.


HWY130 & Star Trails

I unfortunately did not pick the best location for taking astrophotography.  Although Highway 130 leading up the observatory may seem remote at first glance, there is actually a surprising number of people that were traveling on it last night.  There are plenty of wide spots along the highway to get great vista shots.  The light traffic poses a problem though long exposures and the possibility for lens flare.

In the photo to the right you can the tail lights of a car that drove by during my 10 minute exposure.  Even though the photo has its flaws (lens flare, noise, and light streaks) I do like that I was able to capture one meteoride blazing as it fell towards Earth.  Make a wish.


Automotive Photography by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

Automotive photography is great, and I really do wish I had the opportunity to do more of it.  I'm not exactly into cars, I just like slick designs.  Even though some cars may already look pretty, they don't just automatically photograph that way.  That nice shiny paint presents challenges to photographers.  That perfectly polished surface reflects everything in its environment like a mirror.

The Beauty Shot

When shooting outdoors, the best location is one with a clean and flat horizon.  If you have a lot of trees or buildings in the area, it is going to reflect into the car and intersect the body lines of the car.  You want a horizon that flows with the lines of the body.  When doing this you help emphasize the design of the car.  If you have a great backdrop for a beauty shot but it  has an unfortunate foreground all is not lost!  A large sheet or two of 4'x8' white foam core can provide a nice reflection into the side of the vehicle instead.

Also remember that the wheels are the jewels of the car.  Make sure that they are turned slightly towards the camera to show them off.  Don't have the driver crank the wheel all the way over though.  You want to be able to see the entire face of the rim without it being hidden by the wheel well.

The direction the sunlight and time of day will have a huge effect on the look of the car.  I would recommend planning ahead by doing some test shots at sunset and walking around the car to see how the light looks coming from behind, the sides, and the front.  If you have not done this before with a critical eye, you should.  I think the test is essential for understanding automotive photography and being able to achieve the desired look.  If you are going for a calm appeal, you probably want the direction of the light to be coming from the front side of the car.  This will create a flatter look.  When the light comes from behind, it will wrap around the body lines and make it look hot!

Action Shot

There is no need for the cars to be speeding by to make it look fast.  Simply increase the length of your exposure.  Since you will likely be panning, you can close down your aperture all the way while still getting a blurry background.  You want to pan instead of just doing a high-speed stop action shot so the background will blur more, show movement, and push the car to stand out against the background.  You can also use ND filters to increase the shutter speed even more if desired.  You can even shift the car into neutral and have people push it from behind if you want to get a closeup or maybe a hood ornament or something.  If you plan on shooting car to car, keep in mind that you need a permit for this.

General Tips

  • Do not use Armor All on the tires, they will photograph green instead of that deep black that your eyes see.  It is better to use Windex to touch up.
  • Make sure to turn the headlights on when appropriate to add extra interest
  • If you can, remember to take the plates off of the car when shooting.  They look ugly and distracting.  Taking 5 minutes to remove them will save you a lot of time in post.  If you are going to be doing shots on a public road (and it is a small production for a private owner, not commercial) I believe you can stick the plate on the dashboard or back window out of frame of your camera while still legally (in some states) being identifiable.
  • Tell the driver not to look at the camera.  Your viewer wants to look at the car, they aren't looking to make a connection with the driver.  Eye contact is not only unnecessary but unwanted in this case.  The photos also look really awkward that the person isn't looking at the road ahead.

Have fun and good luck!

Practical uses for Double Exposure by Brenda (Hartshorn) Licitra

When people think of photo manipulation these days, their mind probably goes straight to the idea that it was created in Photoshop.  However, photographers have been using tricks to manipulate their photos ranging from exposure techniques, processing methods, and printing methods.  I was lucky to have attended college for photography right on the cusp that digital photography was only starting to taking over.  I was able to get the experience that I needed from digital while still learning film techniques since digital had not become the standard.  Having a background in film has made pay close attention to everything that I'm doing to create the desired images the first time around.

Notable Old School Methods

More is... More Better

Double exposure is probably among the most well know method as it has been used to trick people into believing images of ghosts and UFOs.

Double exposure is not just for fun, there are actually practical uses for the technique.  possibly best used in architecture photography.  When considering that color photography cannot make use of the Zone system by exposing for the detail in the shadows and developing for texture in the highlights (color hue and contrast would shift horribly with this method) photographers can take multiple exposures over a period of time by first taking a photo of the sky, wait for the sun to set then take a photo of the lights inside the building, then turn the lights off and take an exposure for the exterior of the building.

The featured photo this week is of the LA skyline from  Koreatown. To do this, it is best to set up in a place that you don't have to worry about the tripod moving at all.  We were using Toyo 4x5 studio cameras in our giant Manfrotto tripods.  Slight rumbling of the tripod with sheet film would have been devastating.  If the film moved at all, the exposure of the sky would no longer match the edge of the buildings.  I do not recommend attempting to do this from a parking structure as those are designed to give and move a bit when the weight of a car rolls by.  

Do what I say, not what I do. This photo was actually shot from a parking structure with much resistance.. but resistance is futile.  

Low Risk Rationalization:

  • Structure was pretty empty and did not appear to get regular use

  • View was good

  • This was not for a client

  • There was time to reshoot for the assignment if needed

Technical Info

Desired exposure to get everything in focus from the tree in the foreground to the skyscrapers in the distance was a small aperture. To be honest, I can't remember the exact exposure, but it was somewhere between f/22 and f/64.  I’m inclined to say that I probably shot this at f/22, to reduce the length of time that the shutter would have to be open for the second exposure of the buildings.  Once you get past exposure times of a second long, you run into a fun thing called reciprocity.  Basically, when the shutter is open longer, the film becomes less responsive to the light.  So you have to increase the length of the exposure even more.


  • Manual Camera of Choice: As long as you have a bulb setting and can take an exposure without having to advance the film, the camera should work
  • Light Meter:  Needs to have accurate reflective readings.  Doing incident readings only will not work for this process.  I'm a big fan of my Sekonic L-558, which is about 10 years old now but still working great.
  • Shutter release: You don't want to be clumsy and bump you camera.
  • Heavy Tripod: Stay!
  • Sandbag(s): I said, STAY!
  • 3-way Bubble Level: Don't want that horizon slanted.  Might as well take a couple minutes to double check that things are good for that 3 hour photo you're about to take.
  • Watch/Timer: Because counting "One Mississippi..." isn't always good enough.
  • Partner in Crime: You have expensive equipment just sitting there waiting for someone to take it off your hands.  Safety in numbers.  You're less likely to be messed with if you have someone else with you.
  • Extreme Patience: You will be waiting around for HOURS.

Basic Procedure:

  1. Once you have set everything up (with camera facing west) you will need to wait til the choice* peak of sunset that appeals to you.  Did you notice the asterisk there next to choice?  Good, you also need to make sure that the buildings are going to be complete silhouette.  That means no exposure from the buildings can burn into the film, you only want the sky to expose.  You have your trusty reflective meter so you can meter the buildings and sky value differences.  Desirable difference would be probably be around 5 stops to get nice color in the sky.  Remember that your light meter is metering for 18% grey.  So you're going to want to underexpose the sky from the reading that you're getting from the meter.  If you're not shooting large format, you will need to use a low ISO, smallest possible aperture to increase the length of the exposure as much as possible. You may want to consider getting some neutral density filters to be able to achieve this.  
    Important!  I keep saying bulb for a reason.  Once you take the 1st exposure, you cannot change the settings on your camera without risking the second exposure from being slightly shifted.
  2. Then wait til the sun goes down and there isn't color left in the sky.  Once you think you're done waiting, do a meter reading on the concrete of the building and street lights.  Then wait some more because it's nowhere near where you need to be.  What you're looking for is a sky that meter reads as black (3+ stops under), street lights that are no more than 3 stops over normal, and the concrete in the concrete jungle to meter at normal (in-between the street lights and the night sky.)
    Ratio example of what the meter would read:
    • Sky is f/22 at 16 seconds?
      Compensate for 18% grey to black, exposure is really 4 seconds.
    • Lights is f/22 at 1 second?
      Compensate for 18% grey to white, exposure is really 4 seconds.
    • Concrete: f/22 at 4 seconds.
      No exposure compensation needed if it is standard sidewalk grey.
  3. Once you have compensated the exposures, do they match?  Amazing.  
    Note: If the stops are more than 5, that's still ok.  Key factor in finding the length of the exposure will be to make sure that the ratio between your street lights and the concrete isn't more than 3 stops.  It's ok to let the street lights blow out a little bit.
  4. Make sure to also meter those sky scrapers and make sure that they are within a stop of your meter reading for the concrete.
  5. So, you found balance?  Did you factor for reciprocity failure?  You with the large format, bellows compensation?  Great, take that final exposure and go home!  The local security is probably getting pretty annoyed by this time that they are still babysitting you.