I have been accused (in a friendly way) of holding back my best pictures from my recent trips, so here’s one of my favorites from the Flagstaff advenutre.
I’ve learned something about how to photography neon in the past few months. I’ve worked out an effective (for me) method that begins, like almost all endeavors photographic: arrive early. I want the beautiful midnight blue color of the sky, and three dimensionality to the surroundings. If I wait until the sky is that actual color, the rest of the scene is too dark, and the neon will glow in a sea of black empty space where a neon sign porcelain background should appear.
Just at sunset, while the eastern sky has some pretty colors, I am setting up, camera facing east if the subject permits. Over the next few mintues, the colors will slide off to the west, and there may be a lot of sunset left behind me but the eastern sky will take on a middle blue-grey tone that gradually darkens to that pretty midnight color. This blue light happens even if the sky is completely covered in clouds.
I start shooting as soon as the transition from pink to blue starts. Raw files, a middling fstop, tripod. I will try to set up an HDR file, although I almost never have to use it. I just watch the highlight clipping in the histogram. There are always a magical few moments when the sky and the light from the neon is in balance. That’s when I start shooting like mad, recomposing, moving around.
Then I switch to west-facing. Repeat same process. There may be enough time to relocate a new subject, if the east-west angles work for each. The blue light special doesn’t last very long, so good scouting pays off if I need to set up somewhere else nearby.
Post-processing: I adjust the RAW files to bring up the midtones, and to adjust the white balance. I keep the D2X on the daylight setting, but 4750K is too warm for that time of night, so I drop it down quite a bit, maybe to 4000K. If I were shooting jpeg, I’d probably us the white balance for incandescent if I couldn’t set it manually. I may also sandwich two images, one deeply underexposed, and mask in only the neon. That’s what I did here, to give a little more crispness to the tubes.
The guy never went into the bar.