Christmas Lights Santa Maria 2014

Canopy_Branch-Night Photography by Steve Rossman

For the past few years, I’ve spent part of Christmas eve shooting the holiday lights in Santa Maria, CA.  It’s one of my favorite things to do.  I love night photography.  And I love shooting these wonderful lights best of all.  Santa Maria goes all out.

Spoiler alert:  I’m about to get a little technical here.  If you find the following to be just so much blah, blah, blah, feel free to skip down to the pics.  I won’t be offended.  Promise.

Here goes:  This year, working with a new-ish camera (a Nikon D800), I went out shooting without the aid of a tripod.  Which I almost never do at night.  I just didn’t feel like lugging the 25 extra pounds up to Santa Maria and I knew that this camera could shoot at VERY high ISO (6400–where normal is around 200).  ISO (named for the International Standards Organization, the group that developed the, uhh, standards) is the setting that adjusts the light sensitivity of the your camera’s sensor plate (where the image is captured and recorded).  For most modern cameras, the default ISO is around 100 to 200, depending on camera and manufacturer.  For many cameras, especially DSLRs, higher-end “point-and-shoots” and even for some newer SmartPhone cameras, ISO is an adjustable setting.

Just a few years ago, really funny things would begin to happen when the ISO was elevated.  Not ha-ha funny.  Strange funny.  Specifically, grain (for us old guys) or visual “noise” (in the digital realm) would increase dramatically at higher ISO settings (anything over, say 640) with the phenomenon getting more and more obvious as the ISO setting was increased.

Here’s the best example I can think of to describe this…

You may have noticed when watching late night TV talk shows (Letterman, Fallon, Kimmel, Conan, etc.) that when the camera is on the brightly lit stage, everything is quite sharp.  But when the camera turns to the darkened audience, the image gets very “grainy” or “noisy.”  This is, I’m sure, due at least in part to the increased ISO required to shoot the much darker area of the theater.

Today, increased ISO still increases visual noise, but not nearly as dramatically as in the past.  And, quite frankly, I’ve always considered this noise as part of the look of night photography.

So out I went to shoot on a crescent-moon lit evening with a hand-held camera, shooting primarily at between 3200 and 6400 ISO.  Yikes!   I was, however, delighted to find that the noise, while still apparent, is indeed substantially reduced.

Here are the results…


And Happy New Year!

steve sig

reindeer close-Night Photography by Steve Rossman

ornament2-Night Photography by Steve Rossman

Lighted Bow-Night Photography by Steve Rossman

Motion Study-Night Photography by Steve RossmanLighted Cube-Night Photography by Steve Rossman

Ornament Globe-Night Photography by Steve Rossman

reindeer and sleigh - Night photography by Steve Rossman Ornament Globe2-Night Photography by Steve Rossman

Bough and Ball-Night Photography by Steve Rossman 2 reindeer-Night Photography by Steve Rossman
Haloed_Angel-Night Photography by Steve Rossman

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8 Responses to Christmas Lights Santa Maria 2014

  1. John says:

    Thanks for sending me these great pictures, Steve.

  2. Bill Schroder says:

    These have everything to recommend them, every which way, but what strikes me just this moment is the astounding richness of the color. I’d ask how you capture it, but know I’d never understand it. Well, all I have to do is appreciate it and sing its praises in anthems sweet.

    • steverossman says:

      Thanks Bill! Actually, the answer to the question of richness isn’t all that complicated, but it does involve eye of newt and horn of toad. Okay, more seriously, since night photography tends to tamp down color a bit, I elevate saturation, vibrance, contrast, and, of all things, darkness in photoshop. They’re all simple sliding controls. But I just raise them by a small amount. If you get heavy-handed, it shows…

  3. Barbie Rose says:

    Excellent photography Steve, Thank You for sharing your gift to the world! Thank you for sharing the technical info too, much appreciated! Happy New Year!!!

  4. steverossman says:

    Thanks Barbie! Our love to you and Peter and Kay and David! Happy New Year to all!

  5. Sue Minnock says:

    AmaZing pictures Steve! I’m sorry it took me soooo long to get to them. Happy New Year to the both of you! Sue

  6. steverossman says:

    Thanks, Sue! Much appreciated! Hope your holidays were wonderful and the new year brings all good things.

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