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GFB
Topic Author
Posts: 29
Joined: Mon Apr 01, 2013 1:38 am

Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Sun Mar 23, 2014 4:56 pm

I've had several requests come in regarding the night shots I've taken at IAH, and how one would go about making similar images. Rather than replying directly, I figure a post on the forum may stimulate a discussion that would be of greater use to the spotting community. In general, the fundamentals of the technique are the many of the basics for photography, and here's my take on them:

  • - I think the single most important factor in terms of equipment is to get a stable tripod. I've read that you can spend the money up front, or you can spend it later after wasting it on cheap tripods, and I agree. With a stable platform, you can get the sharpness you need. Without it, you won't decent results from a 1DX with a 200-400 mounted. For this, you'll need a remote shutter release of some sort so you will not shake the tripod. Mirror lockup also helps, and turn off image stabilization on the lens.

  • - For the camera, I've been able to get good images from the Canon 7D, 70D as well as the 5D Mark III. You can get the images faster with full frame without noise impacting the image, but many of the captures from IAH were made with the crop sensors and are spectacular.

  • - I shoot my ramp shots in aperture mode. I use aperture mode because each lens will give a different star pattern profile at various apertures on the beacons and landing lights, and I'll choose a favorable aperture to give the desired effect with the time I have.

  • - I set the ISO manually based on the amount of time I want the exposure to take. For the crops, you have to stay relatively low and must be prepared to take up to 20 - 30 seconds in some cases to get the image. For full frame, I can go significantly higher in the ISO with less noise allowing a reduced exposure. If given a choice, I'll take the lower ISO and longer exposure, but that's not always possible.

  • - You need to know your camera inside and out and be able to adjust as needed without removing your eyes from the viewfinder. If you are shooting in the dark, and the aircraft has just paused on the way to the gate giving you 20 seconds to get a shot, you can't afford to spend that time fumbling with the camera controls.


Just a general comment that may be of interest to many as I saw it discussed a few months back is that I've been able to get decent shots with the Tamron 150-600. This one is one taken with that lens that has been accepted to the database:

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Photo © GFB


The 737 and ERJ-145 simultaneous takeoff image that was accepted today was also taken with this lens.

I hope this does help, and I look forward to seeing what other input the community has regarding this technique.>
 
Psych
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Sun Mar 23, 2014 8:49 pm

Not much to add to the above, other than one other key element: make sure you take a RAW image.

I don't have a great deal of experience with these shots, but one key element I have struggled with is getting the correct colour temperature, so that colour looks right in the final edit.

Also be prepared to edit the photo very differently to what you might normally do. This photo below was all about getting the colours to look as they do to the eye - I can tell you, they looked nothing like this straight out if the camera!


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Photo © Paul Markman



Paul
 
vikkyvik
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Sun Mar 23, 2014 9:39 pm

Quoting GFB (Thread starter):
- I think the single most important factor in terms of equipment is to get a stable tripod. I've read that you can spend the money up front, or you can spend it later after wasting it on cheap tripods, and I agree. With a stable platform, you can get the sharpness you need. Without it, you won't decent results from a 1DX with a 200-400 mounted. For this, you'll need a remote shutter release of some sort so you will not shake the tripod. Mirror lockup also helps, and turn off image stabilization on the lens.

          

After struggling with a cheap, light tripod for a year or so, I finally went and bought a decent, heavy one. Suddenly, I'm able to take multi-second photos with my 300 F4L IS, which I'd never been able to do before.

Quoting GFB (Thread starter):
- I shoot my ramp shots in aperture mode. I use aperture mode because each lens will give a different star pattern profile at various apertures on the beacons and landing lights, and I'll choose a favorable aperture to give the desired effect with the time I have.

Whatever works of course, but I use full manual, just like for all my shooting. I don't trust the camera's light meter when it gets past sunset.

Quoting Psych (Reply 1):
Not much to add to the above, other than one other key element: make sure you take a RAW image.

I don't have a great deal of experience with these shots, but one key element I have struggled with is getting the correct colour temperature, so that colour looks right in the final edit.

           again.

In-camera white balance almost never achieves what I'm looking for in night shots, even if I set the color temperature.

This was taken at 300mm, at 2 seconds, F6.3, ISO160:


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Photo © Vik S



The bright ramp lights make lens flare an issue, but as long as I can keep it off the actual airplanes, I'm relatively happy.
 
mjgbtv
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Sun Mar 23, 2014 11:30 pm

Another consideration for your settings might be how you want moving objects to appear. For example, this was taken at ISO 100, f13 and 6 seconds:


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Photo © Marty Gleason



I believe that the blur around the wings is a ramper placing the cone. I have very little experience with night shots and was not really planning it this way, but I like the motion effect. I think that with a shorter exposure the person would have been more obvious and perhaps more distracting.
 
andrew50
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Mon Mar 24, 2014 12:11 am

Just throwing in my two cents in here, I would consider myself a very experienced night shooter. The heaviest tripod is not always the best. In my opinion what is most important is how sturdy the tripod is. Myself I shoot with a Manfrotto 055CXPRO3, which is carbon fiber and weighs 3.64 pounds. I have had excellent results with this tripod along with a Manfrotto ball head. Agree with some of the posts above, always shoot in raw, getting the color right is a huge challenge, mainly with sodium vapor lighting, definitely takes some practice to get that right! It would be nice if every airport had the nice white lighting as in Vik S' photo from LAX. I would say I shoot 95% of the time at ISO [email protected] 7.1 aperture, and my exposure will vary depending on lighting conditions. I will set some in camera settings for color temperature in very harsh sodium vapor lighting. Here is a 20 second exposure shot off the Manfrotto tripod.


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Photo © Andrew Compolo



[Edited 2014-03-23 17:20:01]
 
AdamTetzlaff787
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Tue Mar 25, 2014 1:56 am

Im a bit of a novice to all of this, so i was wondering, what if the A/C is moving, you all said you used low iso and high aperture, but super long exposure, if its moving, won't you just get motion blur and streaks of light?
 
mjgbtv
Posts: 1121
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Tue Mar 25, 2014 2:19 am

Quoting AdamTetzlaff787 (Reply 5):
Im a bit of a novice to all of this, so i was wondering, what if the A/C is moving, you all said you used low iso and high aperture, but super long exposure, if its moving, won't you just get motion blur and streaks of light?

Yes. I am fairly sure that all of the above images were of stationary aircraft. I have seen very few images here with motion-blurred aircraft. Usually if the aircraft is moving you see a panning shot.
 
vikkyvik
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Tue Mar 25, 2014 2:51 am

Quoting AdamTetzlaff787 (Reply 5):
Im a bit of a novice to all of this, so i was wondering, what if the A/C is moving, you all said you used low iso and high aperture, but super long exposure, if its moving, won't you just get motion blur and streaks of light?

Yes. For moving aircraft, you'll have to determine how slow a shutter speed you can use for panning, then set ISO accordingly. I always shoot wide open at F4 in such situations as well.
 
310815
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Tue Mar 25, 2014 9:00 am

Quoting mjgbtv (Reply 3):
Whatever works of course, but I use full manual, just like for all my shooting. I don't trust the camera's light meter when it gets past sunset.

Have to agree with Vik on this point. Light on the apron in Frankfurt is sometimes not the best, so I have to overexpose the shots a little, when using aperture priority mode (like I mostly do during daytime) the images tend to get too dark from certain positions. Well let's say too dark for my taste.

For example these had to be slightly overexposed (according to my camera) and therefore full manual was my choice:


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Photo © JK Photography


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Photo © JK Photography





There are some very good shots of moving aircraft during night time in the db, too, but it is really not easy and a full frame sensor certainly helps in those situations.

Julien

[Edited 2014-03-25 02:02:57]
 
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clickhappy
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Tue Mar 25, 2014 3:01 pm

You guys aren't exactly pushing any boundries with images taken in a few seconds. Try a few minutes, then about technique, sturdy equipment, etc etc


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Photo © Royal S King

 
310815
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Tue Mar 25, 2014 4:44 pm

Well, if you know the basics mentioned above and if you have a steady tripod, there is no big deal between a few seconds exposure and a longer one, except that you'll certainly need a grey filter for really long ones..

I did this one with 35 seconds without any fliter, it was the maximum without overexposing it too much.


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Photo © JK Photography



But if you want the real deal, Vik certainly knows how to do a long exposure (16Mins!!!)


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Photo © Vik S



By the way: the C47 shot is really awesome!

[Edited 2014-03-25 09:46:31]
 
andrew50
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Wed Mar 26, 2014 1:18 am

Quoting clickhappy (Reply 9):
You guys aren't exactly pushing any boundries with images taken in a few seconds. Try a few minutes, then about technique, sturdy equipment, etc etc


That certainly is a nice photo, and a very long exposure, but there isn't 2 or 4 GE's or Rolls-Royce engines fired up along with slats and flaps extending causing all kinds of vibration. Not real easy to get a nice sharp shot. So a 20 or 30 second exposure is challenging with all of that going on.
 
GFB
Topic Author
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Thu Mar 27, 2014 2:14 am

Attempting to get a shot of a moving aircraft is a much, much harder task, and my panning skills are no where near what it takes to get a good one.

I find that the shorter shots are actually more challenging than the longer ones as long as the aircraft does not move. The ones that last a few seconds are more prone to having short vibrations impact the photo and you can miss the beacon flash entirely. A longer shot will obviously get the beacon and will also help average out the little bumps. One of the challenges in shooting at IAH is that you are shooting from a parking garage, and a car moving two levels below you can move the entire tripod.
 
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jelpee
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Wed Apr 02, 2014 4:28 pm

Any concers with airport security or local PD's during night sessions?

Jehan
 
vikkyvik
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Wed Apr 02, 2014 4:40 pm

Quoting GFB (Reply 12):
I find that the shorter shots are actually more challenging than the longer ones as long as the aircraft does not move. The ones that last a few seconds are more prone to having short vibrations impact the photo and you can miss the beacon flash entirely. A longer shot will obviously get the beacon and will also help average out the little bumps. One of the challenges in shooting at IAH is that you are shooting from a parking garage, and a car moving two levels below you can move the entire tripod.

Interestingly, I find this to be the case as well. The worst shots are the ones that are around 1/4 to 2 seconds. Once I get longer than that, they come out better.

Quoting jelpee (Reply 13):
Any concers with airport security or local PD's during night sessions?

Not if you're spotting from a public place off airport property.  

Honestly, it probably depends on the airport. I've never had any issue at LAX.
 
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alevik
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Wed Apr 02, 2014 4:47 pm

Quoting jelpee (Reply 13):
Any concers with airport security or local PD's during night sessions?

Jehan

I have done night photography from the parking garages at LAX and PHX, with a tripod and whole set up. The police might drive by, say hello but that has been about the extent of it. Some times there have been a dozen of us at the location shooting.

Pete
 
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jelpee
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Wed Apr 02, 2014 4:52 pm

Quoting vikkyvik (Reply 14):
Not if you're spotting from a public place off airport property.

Honestly, it probably depends on the airport. I've never had any issue at LAX
Quoting alevik (Reply 15):
I have done night photography from the parking garages at LAX and PHX, with a tripod and whole set up. The police might drive by, say hello but that has been about the extent of it. Some times there have been a dozen of us at the location shooting.

Pete

Good to know. I guess it is always better to have some company around. KCVG is paranoid in the day time...I wouldn't even try a nigh session

Jehan  
 
Dehowie
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Thu Apr 03, 2014 5:17 am

Mmm i wouldn't exactly say a 2 minute exposure with no movement is exactly pushing the boundaries of technical or situational challenge Royal..
Try timing an exposure to get taxi and turn off lights on but prior to the aircraft moving.
Normally that occurs after taxi clearance and hopefully prior to park brake release.
You might get one in every 20 you try for...
http://www.vortexaviationphotography.com/Civil-Aviation-Photography/Tokyo-Haneda-Airport/i-bsXXJhF/5/L/bigjal-L.jpg

In this case 6 years worth of chasing one image of one plane all lit up but not moving in a multi second exposure.
http://www.vortexaviationphotography.com/Civil-Aviation-Photography/Haneda-2013/i-ddB4rKD/5/L/IMG_6072-L.jpg

Or you could try multi image stacking to get a 20 minute exposure which is a challenge in capture and editing.

http://www.vortexaviationphotography.com/Civil-Aviation-Photography/Haneda-2013/i-hCXxkcK/0/L/777anablur-L.jpg

With a half decent Manfrotto or Gitzo and a cable release a 2 minute exposure is about as difficult as rolling out of bed in the morning.

Rolling out of bed..
http://www.vortexaviationphotography.com/Photography-around-the-Globe/New-York-City/i-5FFTsPP/0/L/bridge2-L.jpg
 
ckw
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Mon Apr 07, 2014 2:32 pm

Quoting vikkyvik (Reply 14):
Interestingly, I find this to be the case as well. The worst shots are the ones that are around 1/4 to 2 seconds. Once I get longer than that, they come out better.

Yes "short-long" exposures are a problem, partly due to the mechanical actions within the camera which can cause shake (hence the reason to use mirror lock up), but also due to any residual vibrations from handling the camera etc.

Going longer - multi second exposure - makes no odds once you're using a tripod, and this will reduce the effect of any vibrations caused by firing the shutter.

Some other thoughts - I'm not a great fan of live view, but it is handy when shooting from a tripod with a remote release.

Stability of the tripod is key - hanging a weight (eg. your camera bag) from the center post will help stability.

Wind is a pain - esp. with longer lenses. This is one of the few times I would consider removing the lens hood which acts like a windsock.

Cheers,

Colin
 
vikkyvik
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Mon Apr 07, 2014 4:57 pm

Quoting ckw (Reply 19):
Wind is a pain - esp. with longer lenses. This is one of the few times I would consider removing the lens hood which acts like a windsock.

Yes, wind is my enemy when shooting long exposures at LAX.

Quoting ckw (Reply 19):

Yes "short-long" exposures are a problem, partly due to the mechanical actions within the camera which can cause shake (hence the reason to use mirror lock up), but also due to any residual vibrations from handling the camera etc.

Going longer - multi second exposure - makes no odds once you're using a tripod, and this will reduce the effect of any vibrations caused by firing the shutter.

Yep, that's my experience. Even though I use mirror lock-up, and wait at least a few seconds after the mirror locks up to fire the shutter, and I use a remote shutter, I can sometimes still see vibrations in "short-long" exposures.
 
GFB
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Mon Apr 07, 2014 11:06 pm

Wind can certainly be a factor at IAH as well, and I have indeed removed the lens hood in windy conditions. Regarding catching the landing lights illuminated, that is definitely where the full frame helps. In many cases they will start moving before turning the lights on, and usually you only have a very short window otherwise. In this picture, the exposure was only 1.6 sec., which gave acceptable noise on the full frame. With the mirror lockup of 2 seconds, it was 3.6 seconds to get the image. I only had time for 1 shot as the plane was moving for the next shot.


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Photo © GFB



As a general approach. I'll take a shot or two at a faster shutter speed to try to grab the image, and then use a longer shutter if the aircraft is staying in place for longer than 5-10 seconds. When trying to get these, speed counts.
 
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pilotkev1
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RE: Night Ramp Shots - How They Are Made

Fri Apr 18, 2014 5:10 am

With regards to catching the forward lights, I believe a scanner is invaluable in timing it just right. For example most of the time the aircraft will call the ramp "Qatari 714 Heavy ready to taxi" and then I'll usually start the exposure at the end of the next ramp tower transmission "Qatari 714 Heavy, taxi to spot 12 and contact metering 128.1". Then the aircraft will readback while the other pilot reaches to flip on the forward lights, then commencing taxi seconds afterwards. Generally for foreign carriers at IAH this works really well, whereas local United cowboy pilots may be less inclined to flip any forward lights on till clear of the ramp.

Also it's awesome when the 777-300ERs have their wing lights, and taxi cam lights on, that's the best.

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