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Join photographer and teacher Ben Long as he describes the tools, creative options, and special considerations involved in shooting with a DSLR camera at night or in low-light conditions, such as sunset or candlelight. The course addresses exposure decisions such as choice of aperture and shutter speed and how they impact depth of field and the camera's ability to freeze motion.
Ben also shows how to obtain accurate color balance in tungsten and fluorescent lighting situations, and how to postprocess the images in Photoshop to remove noise caused by higher ISO settings. He also demonstrates accessories that can greatly expand your low-light photography options.
Earlier in this course, we looked at slow sync photography, what your camera may call night portrait photography. That's where we have a flash firing in conjunction with a long exposure so that we get flash-illuminated foreground and a well-exposed background. As you saw earlier, the problem with that can be you get your normal reddish orange low-light thing going on in the background and kind of a bluish-white light going on in the foreground, and they just don't mix very well. We showed you how you can gel your flash to compensate for that problem, but there are going to be times when you may not have happened to be carrying gels with you or you're just too lazy or you don't have time or whatnot.
So there is a way that we can fix is in post-production. I'm here in Camera Raw and I've got this file open. I'm going to brighten this up because it's looking a little dark to me. Now you may think, well, all I have to do is adjust the white balance and everything will be okay. Well, of course, if I adjust the white balance aiming to correct his skin tone, I'm going to end up--I can warm him up, but I've warmed to the background up even more. I would like to be able to edit these white balances independently. Now you may have already thought through this and gone, oh okay, maybe what I would do is write out two different files from the same RAW file and composite them and change the white balances.
And that's exactly what we're going to do, except we're going to do it in a really cool way, using a Photoshop feature called Smart Objects. So I'm going to adjust this correctly just for overall exposure. I'm not really worried about white balance yet; I'll fix that later. And now what I want to do is open this in Photoshop. If I hold down the Shift key in Camera Raw, watch what happens to this Open button down here. It changes from Open Image to Open Object. If you can't remember that, don't worry. The tooltip for this button, if I just hover the mouse over it, will tell me Open as a normal image. Option+Click to open without updating image metadata.
Shift+Click the open as a Smart Object. So I'm going to do that, and that's going to pull the image into Photoshop, but in a very particular way. It's going to create a unique kind of layer called a Smart Object. This is basically a link back to the original RAW file. There's no actual processed data here in my image. You can see it's a Smart Object because it's got this little badge in the lower right-hand corner. So what I had suggested before is that we have two copies of the RAW file layered, that we build a mask for, so that we can composite them to combine these two different images.
That's what we're going to do here, but we want two different copies of this Smart Object. So with this selected, I'm going to go up here to the Layer menu and down to Smart Objects and say New Smart Object via Copy, and that's just going to create a duplicate of that Smart Object. Note that you cannot do that same thing by simply dragging this Smart Object down to here, the way you normally duplicate a layer. If you do that, you get two identical copies of the Smart Object and they stay linked together so that any change made to one happens to the other.
We don't want that; we want two discrete objects. Now here's what's really cool about a Smart Object. If I double-click on this Smart Object, it takes me back into Camera Raw. Now I can adjust all of my RAW parameters. So I'm going to set the white balance correct for the foreground of the image. So I'm going to just warm Jacob up here. Now that's sending my background kind of nuts. I'm not going to worry too much about that. I am just going to put him right there.
I've got some nice gray here on his coat. Let me see what happens if I white-balance dropper on that. Yeah, I think I'd like it warmer than that. So I'm going to punch that up to there, and when I'm done, I say OK. Now it reprocesses that RAW file to show me a different view of that Smart Object, one with my new white balance. Now I'm going to hide that layer and go down here and double-click on this Smart Object, and that is going to take me back into Raw and let me have at my normal raw settings again.
So I'm going to cool the background down. And this is a little tricky to figure out because it's hard not to look at him and see how wrong he is going. But I can always come back and correct this later once I have my mask in place. So with that done, I'm going to say OK. So now I have two different copies of the same RAW file, each with different white balance settings. But those white balance settings are live. I can change them whenever I want and everything in my image re-renders. So I'm going to turn my top layer back on. Now my upper layer is completely obscuring my lower layer, so I can't see any of that nice corrected background.
But I can easily reveal that nicely corrected background by going up to Layer and saying Layer Mask. I'm going to say Reveal All. That's going to reveal all of this upper layer, so I'm now seeing still only the upper layer. In this case, the mask is telling me which parts of this image are currently visible. Because it's white, because I can see everything through that mask, I'm seeing all of the image. So I'm going to grab my brush and some black paint and now where I paint with the brush, you can see the white balance is changing.
Now the white balance of course is not actually changing. What's happened is I'm stopping up that part of the mask and it's revealing the image below that has correct white balance, or in this case, the Smart Object below that has correct white balance. I'm going to rough this in. I'm not going to do this as carefully as you might normally, just so that we can get through this. I need to obviously paint a little more carefully around him. Note though that these kinds of masks are pretty forgiving. I can actually rough it in a little bit around his hair. I don't have to paint perfectly around each and every strand of hair.
It looks like I did spill over a little bit there, so I'm going to correct that by switching back to white paint and painting in some of that color there. So I'll need to work that transition some. Now we're looking better. We're looking, we've got an image with a background white balance that looks correct, and he doesn't look so weirdly white. With my mask in place though, I can now refine my white balances, and I want to cool this background down a little more, so that means double- clicking on this lower Smart Object. Note that I need to double-click on the icon. If I double-click over here, I just end up editing the layer.
And as long as I'm the editing the layer, why don't I name it? I'll call this Background and we'll call this Jacob. I'm going to double-click here. It takes me back into Camera Raw. There's nothing special about this; this is exactly as if I'd just opened the image. Anything I do here is exactly like it would be normally in Camera Raw. It's just that it maintains everything else that I've done inside my Photoshop document. It's re-rendering the RAW file and now when it's done, my background just cooled down a little bit more.
I could, if I wanted, go in and refine my foreground white balance. It can be a lot of tweaking and I may need to print the image to know exactly what the correct white balance settings are, but this is a way that I can have discrete control over foreground and background white balance. Obviously, with Smart Objects, I can edit any other RAW parameter, so this would also be a way of adjusting exposure differently in foreground and background. If there is something else that I can only do in Raw, like maybe highlight recovery, and I need discrete control of that in one part of the image, masking stacked Smart Objects is a great way to get that separate discrete control of different RAW parameters.
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