Photographing a Gazebo at Night

One of my recent assignments was a property shoot for a horse farm owner in Northern VIrginia. I was asked to show more of the beauty of the farm and to de-emphasize the working environment. This is a farm I know very well and I instantly had some shots in mind. With over 100 acres to cover I made sure the farm owner understood that I’d need to return for sunrises and sunsets to get the best shots and that the weather would play a big part in how long this assignment would take to complete.

In the weeks after getting the assignment I took plenty of killer sunrise and sunset pictures but I didn’t just want sunrises and sunsets. I needed some daytime shots, detail shots and even a night time shot. I also needed to get some people into some shots. Here’s a thought, how about a night shot with some people in it?

A gazebo on the property served as a foreground element in a bunch of the shots I had already taken. Every time I saw it I thought about how I’d light it for a night shot. I came up with an idea to light the inside of the gazebo with a shoe-mount flash and blend it with a long exposure shot just after sunset. Now that I had the plan I just needed to wait until the right time to make it happen. Here’s a shot of the gazebo during the middle of the day.

In March (2012) I met lots of people at Photoshop World DC. One person I met was Kevin (the product manager of Lumopro) who spent some time convincing me that I haven’t taken full advantage of what his $159.95 LP160 flash is capable of. I already owned a few LP-160s but I’ve only used them for creating fill light. Kevin encouraged me to put his flash to the test (and to get back to him with any ideas I had for future versions of their flash). I promised him that I’d give his flash a thorough workout the first chance I had. This farm shoot was a perfect opportunity to keep my word to Kevin.

I grabbed two LP-160s, a 40″ shoot-through umbrella, a 8′ light stand, a boom arm, some clamps, my tripod, a camera body with a wide lens, a radio trigger system, my flash gels and a bunch of sand bags. According to the U.S. Naval Observatory website sunset would begin at 8:00pm. To get setup I arrived at my location by 7:30pm and started getting my gear ready.

I began by putting a full cut of CTO gel on a flash and mounting it to an umbrella bracket. Sometimes I use CTO (for Color Temperature Orange) gels to better match the color of my flash to tungsten light used at a location (I’ll set the white balance on my camera to “tungsten” to get the colors to look right). For this shot I stayed in “Daylight” white balance to get the full glory of the orange colored gel along with a deep blue sky. Here’s a look at the flash with the CTO gel installed.

With the gel in place I directed the flash head back towards the umbrella. In these shots you can also see my CyberSync CSRB radio receiver mounted to the boom arm.

Next up was to get the flash into position inside of the gazebo. I removed the black backing from my 40″ umbrella and raised the boom arm up as high as possible in the middle of the gazebo. Using the umbrella this way allowed me to get soft diffused light inside the gazebo and it also bounced light back up to the top of the gazebo. I positioned the stand/boom to be hidden by the gazebo upright posts in the final shot. Here’s a look at the flash and umbrella in it’s final location.

Now it was time to get my camera in place and take some test shots to get my settings zeroed in. I bought two LP160’s with me to get tons of power if I needed it, but I was really happy with what the single flash was doing. After getting my settings figured out I planned on running up to the office building in the background to turn on it’s outdoor lights. Here’s a test shot showing what the scene looked like at 8:00pm as the sun began to set.

I went with a shutter speed of 20 seconds and an aperture of f6.7 at ISO 200. The flash setting was “last curtain” (meaning the the flash would be triggered at the end of the 20 second exposure). Drive mode for the camera was set to “10 second delay” to let me join my girlfriend inside of the gazebo. The plan was to trigger the camera, run into the shot and stay still until the orange flash told me that the camera was done making a capture. To get an idea what the shot looked like without the flash inside the gazebo here’s a shot with the radio trigger removed from my camera.

All of the setting up and waiting for interesting color in the sky brought me to a final shot that was taken at 8:30pm. Here’s the finished shot (processed in Lightroom 4 and finished in Photoshop) that I captured only 30 minutes after the first test shot I shared above. What a difference a single flash and waiting 30 minutes can make.


7 thoughts on “Photographing a Gazebo at Night

  1. Hey Monico, thanks for a great tutorial about your lighting setup for that gorgeous evening gazebo image.
    If I ever need to setup something like that, this is where I’ll come to get a head start on the details.
    I’m really enjoying your blog so keep the good stuff coming!

    • Thanks, Mike.

      I’m still trying to figure out what people will enjoy reading here in my blog. Hopefully more people are thinking like you.

      I’ve got some “big flash” stuff coming up to remind people that I’m not just a “small flash” guy. Hopefully those blog entries are entertaining for readers.

      I find myself writing more about small flash projects because I really like the challenge of using small flash in different ways (sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing but always learning). The big flash projects never seem as interesting to me, but perhaps others will like to see more about how I use the studio sized strobes.

      Thanks again, Mike.

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