Cardiff State Beach, Early Morning (8 photos)

I woke up at 4am this morning and felt quite awake, for whatever odd reason (I’m really not a morning person). The current unusual heat in San Diego makes getting out of bed and outside easier, so after pondering what I could do, I opted for a very early morning walk with Toni at South Cardiff State Beach.

The previous days had been entirely cloudless, so I was hoping for some color in the sky around dawn, when the Belt of Venus would (hopefully) appear in the sky to the west. I arrived at the beach way too early though (could’ve had another coffee…) and the first 15 or 20 minutes were pretty much night photography.

For the photos, I decided to keep the colors and white balance that the camera chose for the most part, including the more or less strong magenta casts in the pre-dawn pictures (well – it either wasn’t there, or it was too dark for me to see it). As soon as I saw how the camera rendered the early morning scenes on the camera’s display, I knew that was what I would stick with – a neutral color rendition would only take away something from these photos.

The technical difficulty with night photos, especially with newer digital cameras that have high resolution sensors, solely lies in the maximum exposure times when you want the stars to appears as dots instead of streaks – and how much light you can gather during that exposure, of course.

I find that the old “600 rule” (600 divided by your focal length = maximum exposure time to get the stars as dots, not streaks) does no longer apply. I use a “400 rule” instead, and still see some streaking with exposure times of just 20 seconds at 16mm focal length, where the old “600 rule” would suggest that almost 40 seconds (twice as long!) should be okay.

My first photos where made around 5:15am, at 16mm focal length with 20 seconds exposure time and ISO6400 – and with my wide angle zoom and it’s maximum aperture of f/4, that’s just not enough. These photos are underexposed by at least one stop, resulting in added noise and loss of detail in the shadow areas – all visible in the first photo in the gallery. Once nautical twilight had begun and ambient light improved, that problem quickly vanished (second and third photo above) because more light means better data quality.

Of course it’s possible to get around these limitations with a camera body that has a lower resolution (which often comes with better high ISO quality), plus a faster and/or wider lens, like a 14mm f/2.8 prime, for example – now tell that to anyone who insists that gear doesn’t matter to make good photos… (sorry, could not resist;-)

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