Update from Green Vermont (and Tips on Focusing in the Dark)

by | Oct 5, 2015 | Tips & Tricks | 0 comments

Vermont was a little greener than I expected at this time of year! The warmth of summer continued longer than normal and has pushed the fall colors later too.

9181_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 40 mm, 2.0 sec at f - 11, ISO 200

But this unfortunate and unexpected turn of events would proved to be a good challenge for the CAPTURE Vermont students over the weekend. Most of them lived in New England (or Quebec) anyway, so the workshop was prep for the real color that would pop when they got home. As for me, it helped me see how green I still am in photography even after 10 years of shooting.

This is Moss Glenn Falls. They say it’s the most picturesque falls in the state of Vermont  and I would agree that it was indeed a very pretty falls. On a day during the workshop that it was cloudy, we traveled here for our “sunset” photo-shoot. Though I don’t generally spend much time taking pictures myself during CAPTURE excursions, I do like to snap as many pictures as I can to use as examples, to demonstrate how I set my shots up, or to simply record the event. Well, at Moss Glenn Falls, I felt more green than I have in a long time.

The first time I had a minute to shoot the falls, I didn’t feel I had the right composition.

9539_Green Mountain National Forest-Vermont-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 84 mm, 1-10 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 3200

Light was fading fast, but not too long after, I found a minute to take a second stab. How d’ya like the special effects?

9544_Green Mountain National Forest-Vermont-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 95 mm, 30.0 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200

I wouldn’t say that the traffic that passed down the road between me and the falls was exactly “special”. Just a problem with using the necessary long exposure. But thankfully, you can solve this problem. A car passed in front of this shoot too:

9545_Green Mountain National Forest-Vermont-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 95 mm, 30.0 sec at f - 5.6, ISO 200

If you’re running a long exposure, and you see a car (or anything, for that matter) that is coming to ruin your picture, just quickly place something (the darker the better) in front of your lens while the object passes. In this case, I used my hat to cover the lens. It doesn’t exactly capture the best quality exposure, but it certainly keeps “special effects” from happening.

But anyway, back to the “green” story. A third opportunity did presented itself, though it was pretty much too dark to shoot anything. But I tried anyway. Here’s a few tips I tried to do to focus in the dark:

  • Look for a bright point to focus on. The automatic focus system needs contrast to focus, or, if you’re using manual focus, you need something of contrast to show you’ve focused properly. Focus on a star, the moon, a street light off in the distance . . . a bright point in your dark frame to help you know if you are focused properly. Sadly, there were no bright points anywhere close to the falls (except for the cars whizzing by, but they just wouldn’t hold still long enough for me for some reason).
  • Use a flashlight. If there’s no light on your subject to focus on, add your own! Temporarily. Just shine your flashlight on the subject long enough to focus on it. (Sadly, yours truly had lost his flashlight the day before).
  • Switch to Manual focus. Like I said before, automatic focus needs contrast to focus so if you’re shooting in the dark, it won’t work. Use Manual focus instead. Depending on how dark it is, you still might be able to focus manually through the viewfinder. (Sadly, I couldn’t here. It was too dark.)
  • Focus almost to infinity. In Manual focus, take a look at where infinity focus is and set the focus ring to that, and then back a little. A shot in the dark, right. Well, it’s at least worth a shot. After a few test shots, tweaking the focus ring one direction or another, hopefully you will eventually find where the “in-focus” is.
  • Use a high ISO for test shots. If you think about it, if you’re shooting in the dark, you’ll probably be using a super long shutter speed, like 30sec or longer. If that’s the case, and you are trying to “focus almost to infinity”, then you could spend several minutes just trying to get it in focus (let alone, getting a nice composition)! That’s where it’s often handy to knock your ISO to an astronomically high number for your test shots. Temporarily. Once you get a composition in focus (and if you’re shooting from a tripod, of course), you can then proceed with confidence to take your high-quality-low-ISO, super-long-shutter-speed shot with peace of mind, knowing that it will turn out splendidly.

So, those are a few tips for shooting in the dark!

And here’s the super amazing, incredibly incredible result after putting them all into practice:

9552_Green Mountain National Forest-Vermont-USA_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 105 mm, 30.0 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 320

Did you catch my sarcasm?

I guess I’m still pretty green. I thought I had it in focus . . . Somewhere before (or perhaps during?) the exposure, the focus ring got bumped I guess. And there was no time to do it again. Oh well. Just because someone leads a workshop doesn’t mean their pictures always turn out amazing!

But all in all, it was a fantastic workshop. Wouldn’t trade shooting with this great team of photographers for anything!

9689_--_Canon EOS 5D Mark II, 70 mm, 1-200 sec at f - 4.0, ISO 400

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