HOW TO: Take a nice landscape photo at night. This is of the Keeper of the Plains in Wichita, KS USA

April 01, 2012  •  Leave a Comment

The Keeper of the Plains in Wichita Kansas at night by JC KirkIMG_7249

I already have a few shots of the Keeper of the Plains in which I really like.  They turn out really neat on Metallic paper.  I have been wanting to take some more shots of the Keeper from different angles and perspectives.  Right now, I do not have a very wide lens so I went down there last night, March 31st, 2012, to see what I could get with the nice equipment that I do have.  Needless to say, I came home with some amazing photos for you to enjoy.


I brought two cameras and two lenses.  My Canon 7d with the 24-70mm 2.8 L and my Canon Rebel Xti with a 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS.  The only filters I used on both lenses were a UV filter (which I always have on my lenses and it's there to protect my glass).  Most of the best shots were with the 7d of course.  I originally took the xti with the extra lens to shoot the setup of the other camera and maybe even to get a self portrait.  I ended up setting up another shot with a desktop tri-pod (which wasn't my best choice tonight but it did have a nice low to ground effect).  I used both cameras in full manual mode so I could control ALL of the camera settings instead of other modes where the camera controls one or some or all of the settings.  Full manual mode is the best way to get amazing shots like I have done in this shoot.  When doing still shots on a tripod like this (especially at dark) set your ISO to 100 so there is the lease amount of noise in your photos.  And of course, always shoot in Large JPG + RAW so you can get the best (raw data and uncompressed) file to work with in post.


I setup the composition of the shot (for the lens I had) and then set the f stop at 22 (the highest setting) so that the depth of field was maximum.  For landscape shots, f/22 is what you should use.  This will allow most of the shot to be in focus.  Now, with the long exposures on moving objects-those objects will blur (because of the motion of the object, not the focus of the camera).


The focal length that was used on most of these shots were 38.4mm, remember I'm using a cropped frame camera (rather than a full frame) APS-C (crop factor 1.6x).  So I had my lens at 24mm and it was converted to 38.4mm.  When I set up the composition of the shot, I made sure that I could get a good 8x10 crop for prints and also stay at 8x12 (which is the dimensions of the sensor).  Previously, in my 2009 photo shoot of the Keeper of the Plains (also shot in March), I filled the entire frame (8x12) during composition and unfortunately resulted in only being able to print those prints in 8x12 (otherwise a crop would have ruined my composition and therefore the photo).


Let's take a quick moment to touch on WIDE prints such as the 8x12.  I absolutely love 8x12 (and derivatives thereof) since it is a wide shot, a wide print, similar to the wider screen TVs and screens you find today.  I think that the wide prints look great and captures more of the scene as seen at that moment.  The downside, most frames and mats that you buy over the counter in stores are NOT for wide prints such as the 8x12.  Most of them are 8x10.  (I'll have to make a separate blog post about this subject and see how many fans and other artists will brainstorm this topic and offer their views.

The Keeper of the Plains in Wichita Kansas at sunset on March 31st, 2012 by JC KirkIMG_7220

Taking photos at sunset and after dark (or other long exposure shots) you will need a sturdy tripod that won't move once setup.  I then used a remote to activate the shutter release.  I started at about 1/16 of a second since the sun was still up (at sunset) then moved to longer exposures throughout the night once the sun had dipped below the horizon.  If you view the entire gallery of this photo shoot, then notice and keep your eye on the star (or planet) that is falling in the sky over the Keeper of the Plains.  The longer exposures capture more distance that the star travels.  Once I was up to 30 seconds (the limit for manual mode) I switched to BULB mode and opened the shutter with my remote and used my watch to time the exposure then with a click of the remote again the shutter closed.  I experimented and went up to a full five minute exposure but this was too long, especially when the flames ("Ring of Fire") surrounding the Keeper of the Plains were lit.  The schedule for lighting the flames are from 9pm to 9:15pm.  When the flames were activated, even 3 or 4 minute variations were simply too long since the flames were way too bright and damaging the shot.  So, what I did for the last flame shot was to try to start the exposure right before the flames went out.  My watch was probably not set for the same time as their clock.  So, I just had to guess.  I opened the shutter once again (just in time to) and the flames went out 6 seconds into the exposure.  I then had to decide how long to let the ambient light soak into the lens and onto the digital sensor.  During exposures, I couldn't look at the other photos that I just took in order to determine the best exposure time.  At the time, I was having good results (with ambient light in the foreground reflecting off of the logs and river).  I decided to split the time between 4 and 5 minutes.  The shot ended up being 271 seconds which is just over 4.5 minutes.  This turned out close to perfect in my eyes.  If I could do it all over again, or twice, I would use 4 minutes and 4.25 minutes on the last shot with the flames activated the 6 seconds.  It is still an exceptional shot, don't get me wrong.


I have already scouted a few other shots that I want to take down there at the Keeper of the Plains.  I have to be careful and try not to infringe upon another photographer's copyright or completed work.  In other words, I can't go down there and try to duplicate someone else's work and composition.

The Keeper of the Plains in Wichita Kansas at night by JC KirkIMG_7249

I love this photo.  The Keeper of the Plains is clear and almost exactly facing into the lens.  The suspension bridge structure (inspired by a bow and arrow) is on the left (the other side of this bridge is out of frame right).  The flames were captured but not overbearing.  The river was moving quickly but the long exposure captured the moving and rough water as a smooth blur.  The rocks and logs and stuck tree limb is in the foreground with the flames subtly reflecting off part of them and the smooth water towards the lens.


Here is the gallery to all of the photos from this shoot.  I have them separated into two galleries.  One for the 7d and one for the Rebel Xti (yes the image sensor needs cleaned badly on the xti-oops) I have not post-edited any of them.  I will eventually pick a few to work over in post and then they will get into the final Keeper of the Plains gallery on my site and on Facebook.  I am going to leave the large watermark on them for now (in the upper left corner) so people can't crop my logo out and print this or any other photo without my permission (ie paying for it). 

The Keeper of the Plains in Wichita Kansas at night by JC KirkIMG_7241

I would like to hear your comments and what you like about these shots.

Thank you for reading.



JC Kirk


The Keeper of the Plains rests in downtown Wichita, Kansas overlooking where the Big Arkansas and Little Arkansas River merge.  The Keeper of the Plains sculpture stands 44 foot tall and rests on a 30 foot rock pedestal.  Native American Blackbear Bosin created and donated the Keeper of the Plains to the citizens of Wichita in 1974.  For more information about the Keeper of the Plains, visit the City of Wichita's Website and the Mid-America All Indian Center located next to the Keeper of the Plains in Wichita, Kansas USA.




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