A Whirl of Lights

By Mark

I haven’t had much opportunity to work on the photos I shot last month at the Fauquier County Fair. 

Roger posted his rodeo shots, but I went there intending to shoot the lights of the rides on the Midway.

I experimented a bit with the settings but eventually got close to the effect I was shooting for.  I followed that up with two versions of Photoshop magic and really got what I was looking for. 

For shooting this type of photo, you really need to be on a tripod as you want to be shooting in Shutter priority mode at pretty slow speeds.  If you are trying to hand hold you really can’t go below 1/40 of a second without introducing a lot of vibration.  Since you are trying to reduce that vibration as much as possible there are two other steps you should take.  1. Disable the Vibration Reduction feature on your lens—if it can’t find one it will introduce some into your picture.  2. Use a remote shutter release—the simple act of your finger pressing the shutter will cause shake.

I wasn’t certain what shutter speed I wanted so I tried a few and looked at the results. 1/8 of a second was definitely not what I was hoping for.   

1/20 was a little better, but still did not create the light trails I wanted.  

I found that between 1.3 and 2.0 seconds gave me the results I wanted to catch.  I did try all the way up to 8.0 seconds and found it introduced some unwanted ghosts in my image.  

The longer we stayed out there the darker and better the background sky got as well. 

When I got home and started to work with the images I saw that no single image really gave me a full 360 of lights, so I started to play a little.  I took two images that looked like they would work and moved them to Photoshop.  Photo>Edit In>Open as Layers in Photoshop.  Since they were shot from the same tripod position, I knew they were pretty well aligned, but went ahead and did Edit>Auto Align Layers, just to be sure.

I then applied a black layer mask to the top image—Fauquier Fair-486 which hid that layer completely.  I then used a very soft brush and painted on the mask with white, which revealed the parts of that layer I wanted to show.  I adjusted the flow down to ~33% which allowed me to build up the mask slowly.   Here is the final mask.    

Here are the results for my final image.

I liked that but really wanted to make a more complex piece and didn’t want to try masking it all manually.  I took 5 pictures and loaded those to layers as before and also ran the auto align feature.  Next I used a variation of the focus stacking technique Roger talked about a few weeks ago with macros.  Under Edit>Auto Blend>Stack Images It picked out the sharpest pieces of all of the images and created this.  

Pretty slick and very quick, and much more like the surreal image I had in mind to begin with.