The Night Watcher – New Mexico

The Night Watcher by Gavin Seim - Near White Sands New Mexico, March 2012

An open New Mexico sky and a gentle foreground glow from the lights of a distant military base. This tree stands alone on a dusty patch of earth. In the daytime you might not think much of him. But as he watches over the trailing stars of night his delicate majesty is revealed in full.

I made this just outside the camper in the same spot near White Sands where I made Sliver Moon Blues. A seemingly barren patch of earth, that in three days offered me two new images. But I had to work for it and I was up until the middle of the night making it happen. It took well over an hour for each exposure and that adds up fast. It was worth the effort however and the Night Watcher is the result.

Release details: Prints Coming Soon.

For Photographers. How it was made…


Technical Notes: Canon MK2, 24mm TSe II, f1, 47 minutes exposure, ISO160

Night images take planning, but are incredibly satisfying to get right. The camper and distant lights helped me set this up, which meant I didn’t have to prepare it during daylight (sometime I try to do for most night images). That said, I took around 30 minutes of planning for exposure, composition and details. But as always that was time well spent. This was actually my third exposure, due to light pollution problems and position of the stars. Third time was a charm.

I generally park the camper on site to do these kind of exposures. It allows me to start the exposure, then go back with my family in the warmth of the Super Camper. It makes the long wait times vastly more enjoyable. I can relax while the night paints my visualization into the camera. But the exposure is just the beginning.

I’ve been using long exposure noise reduction on my ling exposures. At least I have after making 140 Minutes of Night. I learned a lot from that as my longest digital exposure ever. Without long exposure noise reduction I found that the artifacts get really bad on ULE’s (Ultra Long Exposures).

The down side is that long exposure NR takes an equal length of time as the exposure itself. It takes a dark frame to match up and remove the noisy artifacts from the exposed frame. This means every exposure you make takes twice it’s exposure time. That can be frustrating but it’s generally worth it, as otherwise we’ll find ourselves spending more time on complex techniques like I described in 140 Minutes of Night, to keep the artifacts and hot pixels at bay.

I love refined wall prints and I find night images take the extra mile to make them work well at wall sizes (24inch and beyond). Even with long exposure noise reduction there’s usually artifacts left over, hot spots that have to be carefully cloned or painted down. There’s always details that have to be managed. Things such as gentle burning and dodging for example to keep the main subject as the focal point and lighten the highlights of the sky, giving it a vividness that conveys the drama of the night.

I did all that here, including work on the light stripe across the bottom. While it gives a separation, I had to keep it and other distant lights that arise near urban populations from becoming a large distraction. I did this with some retouching, burning, dodging and gentle Pixel Painting of details to tone down and blend the hues and smooth colors. This included keeping the gradients of the sky smooth and gentle by selecting and painting where they met the light polluted horizon. That made a huge diffence in the final image.

The details matter if you want a refined image. Often with night images you need to work even harder because there’s so much Exposure time for outside elements like small distant lights to cause a distraction. But taking the time to visualize and plan a night scene and then doing the detail work to make it match what you visualized, will often pay in spades by producing a great image.

Hope you enjoyed… Gav

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2 Responses to The Night Watcher – New Mexico

  1. Gavin;
    watched your interview with Fredrick, and you warmed the cockels of my heart talking about the zone system. Back in the 80’s I spent weeks calibrating film, development and exposure using the guidelines of Adam’s book the negative. It was well worth it.
    Unfortunately, since going to digital I have relied heavily on my incident meter and only mentally shifted a reading. I have two quick questions that with your experience with digital long exposure you probably can answer. When you make these exposures it seems there is a lot of stress being put on the electronics of the camera. Mirror locked up, shutter held in the open position, sensor charging(?), heat build up. Have you had any failures? Have you talked to any of the tech people at Canon as to the stress you may be putting on your gear?
    Second question. How do you market your prints, and what is your bread and butter work that keeps you family fed and pays the bills?

    • Gavin Seim says:

      Thanks Richard.

      Good questions. Something worth considering, though I don’t seem to have experienced negative effects. I’ve wondered about long term sensor damage from being on so long but have not seen any evidence of it. I imagine with the mirror and the like it’s actually less wear staying up that actuating. I imagine time lapse work which I do a little of is harder on the moving parts.

      As for profitability. My bread and butter work was portraits and weddings here at the studio, but less so in the past few years as my tools, workshops and the like have become very profitable. That’s allowed me to spend a lot of time researching, traveling and staying focused on lower volume, high end wall portraits. As for my pictorials, I’m gradually expanding. I have some bigger plans this year. Larger gallery openings in my studio, placing my open edition prints in stored beyond my local area and the like.

      It’s a work in progress. A few years back when I started getting more focused on selling wall pictorials I figured it would be a 10 year plan. I’m in about 4 years now and am starting to see progress as I build this brand. I’me really feeling like it’s taken me this long to nail down how I’ll present myself beyond “hey I take photos”. As you’ll see on the site, I use a lot of concepts I’ve learned from vising other galleries, history study and the wall portrait training I have has. I’m working to add value to my prints with limited editions and the like. That said it’s no bread and butter yet. Still a work in progress. I hope in a few years I can share a more detailed success story.

      Thanks again… G

      That said. Print sales aside, the time I spend on making these has taight me a great deal and has given prot in the tools I make, the workshops I teach etc because I’ve learned so much more by doing it.

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