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I tried to shoot some photos the evening of the 5th of January (CET time), it was an event called Cabalgata de Reyes Magos. I tried to gain some practice with what I had learned so far, but could not properly find a solution to my scenes.

When I shoot at night, I had different light sources (street lamps, decorations, panel lights and the vehicles with lights) and I was wondering how would one go about such a situation.

I upload two of my pictures (the best I believe I could make) and would like to hear what could I do better. What trade off would I have to make (especially in regard to White Balance and ISO because that is what I am learning now). Maybe night photography is not suitable for me as a beginner, but I am still interested how an experienced photographer views this world.

Not so good. The orange one the vehicle was not orange in reality. ISO 800, f#1.4, 1/60, Auto WB, Centered light metering. Not so good. The orange one the vehicle was not orange in reality.

The vehicle looks overexposed. Here some information: ISO 1600, f#1.4, 1/250, Auto WB, Spot light metering. The vehicle looks overexposed.

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    How were you choosing white balance and exposure in each case? – Philip Kendall Jan 6 '17 at 15:06
  • I added some information about the settings of each picture to my question. – Ely Jan 6 '17 at 15:21
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  • Shoot raw You need the extra dynamic range which you can squeeze into the more restrictive jpeg format in post processing. The shadows can be raised. The highlights, to a degree, can be recovered. Whether using the contrast/highlight/shadows sliders, gamma correction, or directly shaping the luminance response curves you'll have much more flexibility to push and pull the various elements of the image to make them look the way you want. Having raw files and all of the information captured by the sensor in post-processing also allows you the freedom to adjust the white balance and fine tune the Blue-Amber and Magenta-Green axes non-destructively.

ISO 3200, 1/125, f/2.8, 115mm (1.6X) . Color temperature 3000k, WB correction Blue/Amber B8, Magenta/Green M5. Pushed .67 stops in post. Contrast -3, shadows +4, highlights -5. Additional HSL adjustments (developed using Canon's Digital Photo Professional). Other than the decorative lights, the primary light source was sodium vapor streetlights high overhead. Parade 1

  • Use manual exposure Base your exposure value strictly on the histogram and the highlight warnings (if available) on your LCD revue screen. You'll probably need to let the bright overhead streetlights and vehicle headlights blow out a little, but you want to avoid fully saturating the decorative lights on the floats in order to preserve their colors. In your two examples there was a full stop difference between what is essentially the same scene. With so many different light sources at so many different intensities as well as areas that are very dark using automatic metering will be all over the place. Don't be afraid of high ISO settings, either. Most cameras can handle ISO 1600 and ISO 3200 very well in such scenes. Newer full frame cameras are usually pretty good up to ISO 6400.

ISO 2500, 1/125, f/2.8, 142mm (1.6X). CT 2600k, WB corr. Blue/Amber A1, Magenta/Green G1. Pushed 0.67 stops in post, contrast -2, shadows +1, highlights 0. Additional HSL adjustments. (using DPP) Parade 2

  • Strategically select your shooting location based on lighting Most parade routes have widely varying ambient lighting conditions from one spot to the next. If you can, find a spot that is one of the better lit locations along the route. If there is a reviewing stand for judges or VIPs it will often have some portable lighting set up to help the judges see better and to help media crews covering the event.

This frame, while not really much of a keeper, shows the extra lighting in front of the revue stand that was to camera left in several of the examples that follow. (And yeah, media credentials are nice for the access they can get you!) ISO 2500, 1/80, f/5.0, 24mm. CT 3500k, WB corr. Blue/Amber A2, Magenta/Green G1. Pushed 0.17 stops in post, contrast -1, shadows -1, highlights -2. Additional HSL adjustments. (using DPP) Parade 3

  • Get in as close as you can It may mean getting to the location several hours before the event to stake out your spot, but it will be worth the effort. There's no substitute for being close enough to the action to fill the frame with your subjects in a parade. You can always shoot up and down the route to capture the sense of the line snaking its way through the city and then shooting more directly in front of your position to get the tighter shots.

The light to camera left (pictured above) is what makes this shot and the next work. ISO 2500, 1/80, f/5.0, 24mm. FEC -2.33. CT 3600k, WB corr. Blue/Amber A1, Magenta/Green G2. Pushed 0.17 stops in post, contrast -1, shadows -1, highlights -2. Additional HSL adjustments (using DPP). Parade 4

  • Throw a little fill on the scene If your position allows the use of flash without blowing out nearer things in the foreground, use some low powered flash to balance the scene out a bit and fill the harsh shadows. I usually use about two to three stops negative flash exposure compensation in E-TTL flash mode which is often less than the minimum manual power setting.

ISO 2500, 1/60, f/5.0, 24mm. FEC -2.33. CT 3800, WBcorr. B/A B1, M/G G2. Pushed 0.50 stops on post. Contrast -1, shadows -1, highlight 0. Additional HSL adjustments (using DPP). Parade 5

  • Use a Hue-Saturation-Luminance (HSL)/Hue-Saturation-Value (HSV) tool to fine tune your color and remove color casts from mismatched lighting sources. For example, when sodium vapor streetlamps are overhead I use something around the following settings. If there are people forward in the scene you have to be careful to not pull orange and yellow too far or it will wash out their skin tones. It's always a balancing act and every image can be slightly different as to what HSL adjustments work best.

The small image is before the HSL adjustments were made. Even though the WB is centered on the 2700k of the sodium vapor streetlights and the Blue-Amber axis has been shifted 8 units towards blue and the Magenta-Green axis has been shifted 5 units towards magenta there's still some of the signature orange glow on the pavement. Each B-A and M-G unit is roughly equivalent to 5 mireds of a color conversion filter. So 5 units towards magenta would be like using a 25 mired magenta color conversion filter.
HSL screenshot enter image description here The purple and magenta were desaturated and brightened to remove a pink color cast from the christmas lights on the truck in the photo below. They appeared white to the eye but not to the camera.

ISO 3200, 1/125, f/2.8, 70mm (1.6X). CT 2700k, WB corr. B/A B8, M/G M5. Pushed 1.0 stop in post. Contrast -2, shadows +1, highlight +1. Gamma adjustment used to raise white point +2 stops. HSL adjustments as above (using *DPP).
Parade 6

  • +1 but as an alternative to manual exposure (especially if the lighting changes faster than you can react to) you can centre/spot meter and under expose a stop. With raw you can lift it back up if you need to but with a lot of coloured light you might not. – Chris H Jan 7 '17 at 14:44
  • Try doing that when the spot meter lands on a headlight of a vehicle. You'll be underexposed by 5 or 6 or more stops and nothing you do in post will make it usable (unless your goal is to provide a near black frame except for the details of the glass and internal structure of the headlight). With a parade at night the overall light level generally stays constant at a fixed location. To get any Shot-to-shot consistency expose manually. Of course it is up to the shooter to remember to offset changes to aperture, shutter time, or ISO with changes to the other variables in the opposite direction. – Michael C Jan 7 '17 at 18:58
  • The night parades I've photographed have relied on ever changing lights on the floats and sometimes on poles which also illuminate the dancers etc. on the road. Headlights weren't an issue, but wouldn't be anyway unless they were facing towards you. I guess they must be quite different conditions to your "constant at a fixed location". – Chris H Jan 7 '17 at 19:38
  • @ChrisH Under rapidly changing conditions with constantly changing decorative lighting in a generally dark environment I find it much more beneficial to expose manually. When the lights are changing rapidly they can often change significantly between the instant the meter reading is taken and the time the shutter is open. This happens in concert/theatrical/stage productions. In such cases I tend to set exposure manually, pre-focus, and then sit on the scene until the lights come back to what I've set exposure for. I get a lot more keepers that way than relying on auto exposure modes. YMMV. – Michael C Jan 8 '17 at 1:32
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The basic problem with such nighttime shots is very high scene dynamic range. That is because the light sources are usually in the picture.

Things you can do to deal with the high dynamic range:

  1. Use as much of the sensor range as possible. This means exposing so that the brightest parts you want to properly show are just below getting clipped. The light sources themselves will be brighter and will be blown out, but generally people don't expect to see detail in the bulb of something like a street light.

    In your example, you want the decorative lights of the parade floats to not be blown out, but it's OK to blow out the street lights. Your examples are a bit overexposed, particularly the first.

  2. Use a sensor with good dynamic range. This is one of those cases where a better camera really does make a difference.

  3. Apply non-linear brightening in post-processing. There are various algorithms. Whatever your software is, it surely has some options.

    Here is your second picture with some non-linear brightening applied. In this case, differences at the dark end are mapped to 4x more in the resulting image than differences at the light end. This tends to make shadowed areas look more like your eyes see them. 4x is actually rather little. If the highlights you wanted to keep weren't a little blown, this could have been done more aggressively.

  4. You have a high dynamic range problem, so use HDR techniques when applicable. In the cases you show that's not possible due to the people moving around, but it can be possible with other night scenes.

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