Old 12-11-2008, 01:51 AM   #1
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Default Focusing at Night

Tomorrow evening I'll be attempting a night shot in a remote location with very little ambient light. I'll be a good distance away from the track as well...

My question is... how can I ensure sharp focus? Moreover, how can I focus in the first place? I'm shooting with a Rebel XT and 70-200 F/4 L - is there some way I can focus while it's light out, save the range, and then recall it a few hours later when the train arrives? I'd rather not leave my camera equipment setup for too long... it'll be pretty cold out there. I'll have a couple of the big old school Maglites, but I not certain they'll be able to shine far / brightly enough to give me a portion of track that I can focus on.
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Old 12-11-2008, 01:54 AM   #2
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ottergoose
Tomorrow evening I'll be attempting a night shot in a remote location with very little ambient light. I'll be a good distance away from the track as well...

My question is... how can I ensure sharp focus? Moreover, how can I focus in the first place? I'm shooting with a Rebel XT and 70-200 F/4 L - is there some way I can focus while it's light out, save the range, and then recall it a few hours later when the train arrives? I'd rather not leave my camera equipment setup for too long... it'll be pretty cold out there. I'll have a couple of the big old school Maglites, but I not certain they'll be able to shine far / brightly enough to give me a portion of track that I can focus on.



Hmmm... night shot... little ambient light... cold... snow... sounds like the Christmas Train to me...
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Old 12-11-2008, 02:29 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by Christopher Muller
Hmmm... night shot... little ambient light... cold... snow... sounds like the Christmas Train to me...
Very clever :-p To save further detective work, I'll be waiting here:

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After a quick chat with John Ryan, he suggested setting the focus close to infinity and letting the tight aperture handle the rest, as well as taking a high ISO shot and reviewing on the LCD to confirm.

We'll see how it turns out... I predict a 30% chance that the headlights cause enough flare or other problems to mess things up, a 10% chance that I somehow screw up the focus, and a 5% chance that I bump the tripod like a dumbass.
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Old 12-11-2008, 02:31 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ottergoose
70-200 F/4 L - is there some way I can focus while it's light out, save the range, and then recall it a few hours later when the train arrives?
The lens shows the focus distance. Focus during a time period of better light, make note of the reading, switch the lens to manual focus (there is an AF/MF slider) and use your maglight to focus to that distance when the time comes.

You gotta love taking advice from someone who has never done what he is advising you do ...
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Old 12-11-2008, 02:34 AM   #5
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I carry a giant spotlight for just this very reason. Light up the night, find the focus, and wait patiently..

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Old 12-11-2008, 03:06 AM   #6
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Go there before it's dark, set your focus and then don't move it.
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:08 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by Darryl Rule
Go there before it's dark, set your focus and then don't move it.
The problem is that it'll be between 15 and 10 degrees, the sun goes down around 5:00, and the train won't be around until after 8...
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:15 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ottergoose
The problem is that it'll be between 15 and 10 degrees, the sun goes down around 5:00, and the train won't be around until after 8...
I think you're missing the point...go there in the day, set the focus on the lens, switch it to Manual Focus, do not change the focus when you leave, and then when you go back at night, your focus will be set from when you were there earlier in the day.
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:17 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ottergoose
The problem is that it'll be between 15 and 10 degrees, the sun goes down around 5:00, and the train won't be around until after 8...

So its gonna be pretty warm then huh...

What you need to do, is pay that guy in the boat a couple dollars (or beers) to pull the boat to the same DOF as the train will be, focus on his navigation lights, and there ya go. Oh wait... that won't work. Get a spot light, and hopefully you'll be able to bounce enough light off the rail head to focus.
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:49 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Ween
I think you're missing the point...go there in the day, set the focus on the lens, switch it to Manual Focus, do not change the focus when you leave, and then when you go back at night, your focus will be set from when you were there earlier in the day.
There's no way to really lock the focus on that lens though. I understand what you mean, but putting it in and out of the camera bag will knock the dial around a bit... no?
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:59 AM   #11
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There's no way to really lock the focus on that lens though.
If you want the shot bad enough, there's a way...
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Old 12-11-2008, 04:04 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ottergoose
Very clever :-p To save further detective work, I'll be waiting here:

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Photograph ©


After a quick chat with John Ryan, he suggested setting the focus close to infinity and letting the tight aperture handle the rest, as well as taking a high ISO shot and reviewing on the LCD to confirm.

We'll see how it turns out... I predict a 30% chance that the headlights cause enough flare or other problems to mess things up, a 10% chance that I somehow screw up the focus, and a 5% chance that I bump the tripod like a dumbass.

Remove all filters to reduce flare.......... I have taped my focus ring before with that blue masking tape painters use (no sticky residue)

Otherwise you need a 5 Gazillion candlepower spotlight
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Old 12-11-2008, 04:18 AM   #13
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Originally Posted by J Douglas Moore
Remove all filters to reduce flare.......... I have taped my focus ring before with that blue masking tape painters use (no sticky residue)
Now that's an idea I can work with!

Thanks for the input all... now all I have to do is not screw up the exposure.
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Old 12-11-2008, 04:22 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ottergoose
There's no way to really lock the focus on that lens though. I understand what you mean, but putting it in and out of the camera bag will knock the dial around a bit... no?
A brilliant, fantastic solution to this problem can be found in post #4.

Yes, the tape idea is way better. But make a mental note of the distance setting anyway, just in case. I bet it is going to be either at infinity or just a smidge away, regardless.
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Old 12-11-2008, 04:34 AM   #15
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Now that's an idea I can work with!

Thanks for the input all... now all I have to do is not screw up the exposure.
Justa reminder.......... Dont forget to turn off the AF
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Old 12-11-2008, 05:04 AM   #16
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Justa reminder.......... Dont forget to turn off the AF
I'll put a big piece of tape over the switch with your name on it
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Old 12-11-2008, 12:52 PM   #17
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I just use a bright flash light to focus on, also you could focus on car headlights on the road next to the tracks.
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Old 12-11-2008, 02:38 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ottergoose
Very clever :-p To save further detective work, I'll be waiting here:
You know, somehow, before you even showed the location, I knew where you were going to take that shot.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ottergoose
After a quick chat with John Ryan, he suggested setting the focus close to infinity and letting the tight aperture handle the rest, as well as taking a high ISO shot and reviewing on the LCD to confirm.

We'll see how it turns out... I predict a 30% chance that the headlights cause enough flare or other problems to mess things up, a 10% chance that I somehow screw up the focus, and a 5% chance that I bump the tripod like a dumbass.
I'd say John would know if anyone would. That's pretty much how I would handle it, although I normally take my night shots with an aperture of 5.6-7.1 because I'm not a fan of huge starbursts and if the headlights shine anywhere close to straight into the lens, it'll probably kill the shot for me. Take a spotlight or powerful flashlight with you if you go at night. If there is something reflective near the track like a sign or something, you can get a decent focus off of that. If it's pitch dark, do what John said and set your focus to infinity, then back it off a little bit. I've gotten good results this way, and although they can be a bit soft, it's usually fixable with a little extra sharpening.

Maybe a stupid question, but are you going for a streak shot here, or are you going to crank up the ISO and try to stop the action?
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:05 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by ken45
Maybe a stupid question, but are you going for a streak shot here, or are you going to crank up the ISO and try to stop the action?
I'll be going for a streak - the train won't be long enough to do that location justice otherwise (and my wee little Rebel XT doesn't play well above ISO 400). If anyone else would like to drive down and attempt a "stop the action" shot, they're more than welcome to join me. It'll be lonely and spooky in those woods.
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:12 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by ottergoose
I'll be going for a streak
You are going to take a train whose particular interest to one and all is the details of the lights mounted to it and you are going to take all those individual lights and streak them into one blur?

So instead of a streak shot with three narrow light bands, you are going to have a shot of one wide band?

I'm not a streak shot fan at all, so maybe that biases my response, but still, I don't get it.

Maybe others have streaked the holiday train - anyone have any links? Does it look good as a streak?

Well, can't hurt to try it, I suppose.
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:37 PM   #21
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Originally Posted by JRMDC
Maybe others have streaked the holiday train - anyone have any links? Does it look good as a streak?

Well, can't hurt to try it, I suppose.
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:45 PM   #22
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That is nicer than the average streak - three lines here would be a total bore but the larger volume of light creates some nice light on the water surface. Well done!

Still not a fan of the basic three line shot.
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Old 12-11-2008, 03:45 PM   #23
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Quote:
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I'll be going for a streak - the train won't be long enough to do that location justice otherwise (and my wee little Rebel XT doesn't play well above ISO 400). If anyone else would like to drive down and attempt a "stop the action" shot, they're more than welcome to join me. It'll be lonely and spooky in those woods.

Interesting. Certainly post your results, RP worthy or not, for us to take a look at. I'm curious to see how this one turns out. If I were you, I'd try to get as much elevation as I can. My thought is that in your current setup, you'd get two massive headlight starbursts with the jumble of lights from the train between. Getting some elevation would spread out the light streaks, improving composition, and would reduce headlight flare. Also, if you get a cloudy night with light reflecting off the clouds, it would add a lot to the photo as opposed to a pitch black night with some light streaks.
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Old 12-11-2008, 04:19 PM   #24
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Interesting. Certainly post your results, RP worthy or not, for us to take a look at. I'm curious to see how this one turns out. If I were you, I'd try to get as much elevation as I can. My thought is that in your current setup, you'd get two massive headlight starbursts with the jumble of lights from the train between. Getting some elevation would spread out the light streaks, improving composition, and would reduce headlight flare. Also, if you get a cloudy night with light reflecting off the clouds, it would add a lot to the photo as opposed to a pitch black night with some light streaks.
Unfortunately that is *the* angle at that location... trees and property ownership being the primary limitations. I'm worried about the flare from the headlights as well, but we'll see... those shots are at 70mm... the train's a good distance away and I'm hoping the lights will swing quickly and low enough to not screw the shot.

I'm hoping for a clear night this evening... it's a full moon, don't you know.
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Old 12-11-2008, 06:33 PM   #25
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Unfortunately that is *the* angle at that location... trees and property ownership being the primary limitations. I'm worried about the flare from the headlights as well, but we'll see... those shots are at 70mm... the train's a good distance away and I'm hoping the lights will swing quickly and low enough to not screw the shot.
Well, do the best you can, but I hope you have other night shots of the train planned. I'm not sure I'd put all my eggs in this shot's basket if I were you.

If that's 70mm, have you thought about using your Sigma 17-70? While I've never shot at night with my 70-200, I've found that my 17-70 handles night headlight flare better than my other lenses, with the possible exception of my 24-105. Night's about the only time I use the 17-70 anymore.

Quote:
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I'm hoping for a clear night this evening... it's a full moon, don't you know.
I guess you could win either way...I forget that a lot of photographers like shooting with a full moon. I prefer little to no moon since it's so bright in the desert that it ruins the skies.
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