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Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light
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Working with image sensors in low light


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Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light

with Ben Long

Video: Working with image sensors in low light

So the story goes that one fall day, two engineers at Bell Labs, George Smith and Willard Boyle, spent about an hour sketching out an idea for a new type of semiconductor that could be used as computer memory, you know, as one does on a nice fall day. Anyway, they thought that the semiconductor could also be used to create a video camera that didn't require vacuum tubes. In that hour, the two men created the plan for the charged coupled device, or CCD chip.
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  1. 2m 27s
    1. Welcome
      2m 27s
  2. 6m 20s
    1. What can you shoot in low light?
      2m 17s
    2. What you need for this course
      4m 3s
  3. 28m 54s
    1. Working with exposure parameters in low light
      1m 13s
    2. Working with image sensors in low light
      4m 35s
    3. Working with shutter speed in low light
      3m 3s
    4. Considering motion blur
      1m 14s
    5. Working with ISO in low light
      2m 29s
    6. Assessing your camera's high ISO capability
      4m 52s
    7. Working with in-camera noise reduction
      2m 4s
    8. Working with aperture in low light
      2m 10s
    9. Understanding dynamic range
      2m 2s
    10. Working with color temperature and white balance
      1m 11s
    11. Exposing to the right
      4m 1s
  4. 34m 39s
    1. Introduction
      1m 36s
    2. Talking with Steve Simon about low-light photography
      13m 46s
    3. Shooting by candlelight
      1m 55s
    4. Choosing a mode
      4m 34s
    5. Exploring the role of lens stabilization
      3m 1s
    6. White balance considerations
      3m 27s
    7. Flash considerations
      1m 18s
    8. Problem solving
      1m 35s
    9. Understanding aesthetics and composition
      3m 27s
  5. 30m 4s
    1. Introduction
      2m 20s
    2. Preparing for the shoot
      5m 25s
    3. Act I: adjusting to the light
      3m 48s
    4. Intermission: reviewing the strategy
      1m 53s
    5. Act II: moving to the back of the house
      2m 35s
    6. After the show: lessons learned
      1m 18s
    7. Reviewing the performance images
      12m 45s
  6. 19m 18s
    1. Shooting in the shade
      2m 55s
    2. Street shooting
      2m 52s
    3. Shooting flash portraits at night
      4m 5s
    4. Controlling flash color temperature
      2m 50s
    5. Adjusting exposure to preserve the mood
      2m 34s
    6. Dynamic range considerations
      4m 2s
  7. 41m 0s
    1. Shooting lingering sunsets
      1m 42s
    2. Exploring focusing strategies
      5m 17s
    3. Composing and focusing at night
      10m 42s
    4. Shooting the stars
      9m 27s
    5. Practicing low-light landscape shooting
      9m 55s
    6. Focusing on the horizon in low light
      3m 57s
  8. 13m 4s
    1. Light painting: behind the camera
      7m 34s
    2. Light painting: in front of the camera
      2m 13s
    3. Manipulating long shutter speeds
      3m 17s
  9. 1h 4m
    1. Correcting white balance
      8m 49s
    2. Correcting white balance with a gray card
      3m 50s
    3. Correcting white balance of JPEG images
      2m 0s
    4. Blending exposures with different white balances
      7m 13s
    5. Brightening shadows
      9m 8s
    6. Reducing noise
      7m 44s
    7. Sharpening
      9m 14s
    8. Correcting depth-of-field issues
      9m 32s
    9. Correcting night skies
      6m 39s
  10. 53s
    1. Goodbye
      53s

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Foundations of Photography: Night and Low Light
4h 0m Intermediate Mar 29, 2012

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Understanding how low light affects exposure, shutter speed, color temperature, and more
  • Preparing for a low-light shoot
  • Shooting in dimly lit rooms
  • Using the flash indoors
  • Shooting in the shade
  • Taking flash portraits at night
  • Controlling flash color temperature
  • Focusing in low light
  • Light painting
  • Manipulating long shutter speeds
  • Correcting white balance
  • Brightening shadows
  • Sharpening and noise reduction
Subjects:
Photography Photography Foundations Night + Low Light Lighting
Author:
Ben Long

Working with image sensors in low light

So the story goes that one fall day, two engineers at Bell Labs, George Smith and Willard Boyle, spent about an hour sketching out an idea for a new type of semiconductor that could be used as computer memory, you know, as one does on a nice fall day. Anyway, they thought that the semiconductor could also be used to create a video camera that didn't require vacuum tubes. In that hour, the two men created the plan for the charged coupled device, or CCD chip.

Now, we tend to think of digital cameras as a fairly new technology, but that fall day that I am talking about was in October of 1969. Within a year, Bell Labs had created a video camera using Smith and Boyle's new semiconductor. Their idea was to create a very simple device that could be used in a video telephone, but they soon had created a camera that was good enough for broadcast TV work. It wasn't until the late 1990s though that the quality from these image sensors had gotten good enough for still photography work. A still photo requires far more pixels than a standard-definition video image.

Smith and Boyle's design exploited something called the photoelectric effect, which is a property that some metals have. If you put an electrical charge on these types of metals, they will release some of that charge when they're exposed to light. As more light hits the metal, more charge gets released. After the light exposure, you can measure the charge that's left on the metal and know how much light struck the surface during the exposure. This is what the sensor in your camera does. There is a little piece of metal for every pixel in the resulting image.

Each piece of metal is called a photo site and after you take your shot, the camera measures the voltage at each photo site to determine the overall light levels. Now these are very, very weak voltages that we are talking about, so before the image data from the chip can be interpreted and processed, it needs to be amplified. Once it's boosted up to a reasonable level, the data can be processed into a final color image. Now when you increase the ISO on your camera, all you're doing is turning up that level of amplification. And just as turning up the volume knob or amplification on your stereo lets you hear quieter sounds in the music that you are listening to, turning up the ISO or amplification on your image sensor lets you see the lower light levels.

Now because the sensor becomes effectively more responsive, it doesn't require as long to gather a given amount of light. This means that as a light levels drop, if you raise the ISO on your camera, you don't have to suffer slower shutter speeds. This can be critical for freezing motion or preventing handheld shake. Now there is a price to pay for this. As you turn up the volume on your stereo, you can hear more static and hiss in the music that you are listening to, because as you increase amplification, you are not just increasing the recorded music, you are also increasing all sorts of electrical noise that's caused by the circuitry in the hardware and cosmic rays flying by and other electrical fields in the area.

Same thing is true on your camera. As you increase ISO, you amplify the signal coming from the sensor, but you also amplify any noise that has found its way into the electronics. This noise appears in your image's speckly patterns. There are three kinds of noise that can appear in an image. There is luminance noise. This is simply changes and brightness from pixel to pixel, and this noise appears roughly akin to film grain. It can actually be attractive because it can lend texture and atmosphere to an image. There is chromatic noise, or chrominance noise.

This is a change in color from place to place in your image. Chromatic noise can appear as colored specks or even big colored splotches. It's a pretty ugly kind of noise and it looks more like a digital artifact than luminance noise does. Both of these types of noise will get worse as you increase ISO. Now there is a third type of noise that can develop as your shutter speeds get longer. With a longer shutter speed, the pixels on the sensor can get stuck on, and end up appearing as bright specks in your final image. This is referred to as stuck-pixel noise or long-exposure noise. As we'll see later, your camera might have built- in features for dealing with this.

Noise is difficult to remove from a final image and when you do employ a noise- reduction process, you usually suffer a sharpness penalty. So as a low-light shooter--that is, as somebody who shoots at high ISOs with long shutter speeds--noise will be a major concern for you, and we'll be looking in detail at how to factor noise concerns into your process when you're working in low light.

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