Shooting the Blue Lights, Part 3


You have to keep an open mind when taking pictures like this. Sure, I had some ideas for what I wanted to capture. And if I had gone to Jersey City, I might have had a better angle to get those shots. Instead, I was shooting a bright blue light in a dark sky on a fairly clear night in an un-scouted location. Time to think on one’s toes.

That’s how I wound up with today’s shot. This is not something I ever would have pre-visualized, but when I walked a bit and saw everything lining up so perfectly, I jumped at it. I planted my tripod in a patch of grass, moved it to the sidewalk, and played with the angle to get the right spot. I’m still not sure I got it. I wonder if I had stepped back more, would I have had a better line leading into the picture? Or would I have had more dead space at the bottom? I guess we’ll never know.

But this is the spot where I learned my most valuable lesson of the name: Manual focus is your friend. The camera couldn’t grab focus on the blue light here. Heck, it was having a hard time grabbing focus ANYWHERE. My poor little Canon XTi only has one cross sensor. That’s at dead center in the picture, where there’s not much besides black sky and a blue light that’s multiple stops less bright than the lights surrounding it. There’s not enough edge contrast there for the camera to lock focus.

That’s when it hit me to go with manual focus. And that’s when I was happiest that my lens was a Tamron and had all the markings I needed. Specifically, it has the infinite focus spot labeled on the focus ring. Thanks to that, I had everything effectively in focus, from front to back. After that, all I needed to do was play with the aperture to dim the bright lights a little bit, and the ISO to get the shutter speed quick enough to avoid some shake.

One other lesson I was already learning from this picture: Lens compensation would be a very handy thing to have. I don’t have Lightroom 3 yet. Don’t have a computer that will work with it. Butbeing able to straighten out some of the lines in this picture would be a good thing. Look at the way the light pole pulls in on the left there. The blue beam is straight, only because it’s in the center of the frame, where the distortion doesn’t happen.