Newspaper article International New York Times

New Cameras Help Capture the Night in Digital Photographs, Spectacularly

Newspaper article International New York Times

New Cameras Help Capture the Night in Digital Photographs, Spectacularly

Article excerpt

A photographer shows how improvements in cameras and in postproduction software have made it possible to take excellent photos at night.

Vincent Laforet remembers the moment he realized that digital cameras had surpassed the human eye. It was late in 2009, and Mr. Laforet, a photographer who worked for The New York Times for many years, was shooting in Los Angeles with the EOS 1D Mark IV, a Canon camera that he had gotten as an early prototype.

"It was at night, and I remember pointing this camera into a dark bush. It was pitch black -- my eyes saw just pure black," he said. "But on the LCD screen of the camera, I saw green leaves and little red cherries." The moment was a revelation, he said. "I was seeing stuff that I could not see with my eye, and I knew that we were entering a new age of photography."

Since then, Mr. Laforet has watched as digital photography has steadily improved to be able to achieve something he long considered impossible: photographing the world in the dark. Mr. Laforet says that sometime in the last two years, photography crossed a threshold. The sensors in high-end digital cameras can now capture light extremely efficiently, and the software in the cameras, as well as postproduction software such as Adobe Lightroom, are now very good at reducing the grainy image quality associated with pictures taken in low light. As a result, night photography without the aid of a flash isn't just possible -- it's spectacular.

To prove it, for an hour and a half one evening last month, Mr. Laforet took me up in a helicopter high over San Francisco. Using several cameras and lenses, he shot images including a vision of San Francisco as an orange-and-blue microchip shot entirely in the dark, with only minimal adjustments for color and reduction of noise, or digital dots on the image, in postproduction software.

These images are part of a series that Mr. Laforet has been touring the world to produce. He shot the first set last year in New York on assignment for Men's Health magazine. They were meant to accompany an article about psychology, and Mr. Laforet thought that the grid of the city, and the pulsing lights of cars shuttling about it, resembled the synaptic wiring of our brains.

But when the photos ran in Men's Health, Mr. Laforet was disappointed by the muted response. So, on a lark, he put the photos up on Storehouse, an app that lets you turn a set of photos into a beautiful online story page. Storehouse attracts a large community of photographers who immediately understood the significance of Mr. …

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