Jeff Smallwood Photography
Driving from Day to Night
Jan 18, 2014

Driving from Day to Night (click to enlarge)

Daylight on the left. Evening on the right.

Being a member of a photo club or photo group can have great rewards when you're pushed to try something new. That's exactly what happened here.
The Calvert Photo Club's January assignment/challenge was the term "motion". I've wanted to experiment with capturing motion in the car for quite a while but never got around to it. Having to produce something for the monthly challenge finally kicked my butt in gear to give it a try.

The Setup

I setup the tripod in my back seat. I opened the access panel to the trunk so I could extend one of the legs all the way back to help with stability, but it didn't work as well as I'd hoped (which I'll explain below). Used my wide angle lens and shot at 10mm. Settings were manual focus and f/8 in aperture priority.

After the camera was setup on the tripod I connected it to my Asus tablet using a USB cable. I have an Asus Transformer TF101. The software I used to take photos while I drove is Helicon Remote (which can be found in the Play store). I've been using this remote software for about a year and it's been excellent. The free version has a tremendous amount of capability but one limitation of the free version is it will only shoot in JPG, not RAW. So last month I finally ponied up and purchased the full version (very reasonably priced too). Helicon Remote has a time lapse feature, so I set it up to shoot one photo every minute. I shot in aperture priority because I wanted the camera to automatically adjust the shutter speed to get longer and longer as the light diminished while I drive. Having the software on my tablet makes the whole solution incredibly portable. It'll also work on your Android phone too as long as you have a USB host connector. I started the software, put the car in drive, and took off.

Constructing the Image

I ended up with 48 photos in all. Exposures were anywhere from 1/30th of a second at the beginning to 1.6 seconds at the end.

Sample bright shot
One of the first shots of the drive


Sample dark shot
The last shot of the drive


I reviewed them all in Lightroom, seleced the best 10 from light to dark, and opened them as layers in Photoshop. I added a mask to each layer and applied a gradient fill to the mask. I moved the gradient to the right for each layer which allowed the scene to gradually change from left to right over the different images.

Lessons Learned

I'm going to try this again at some point because there was one big lesson I learned. And I learned it not 5 minutes into the drive. 

A camera tripod will not remain stable, no matter how gentle you drive or how smooth the road is!

I could tell by looking in the rear-view mirror that many shots would be way too blurry, as I saw the camera slightly rock left and right on many occasions. Even with one of the tripod legs secured in the trunk the entire setup rocked left and right way too much. My tripod has a hook on the bottom for adding weight for stability so I'm going to use that next time. I also think I'm going to use bungee cords to add additional stability.

The other lesson I learned is I need to drive more in true darkness. I finished my drive around 5:30pm and although the sun was set, it wasn't truly dark. Looking back I should have had more shots in true nighttime. That would have allowed the transition across the final image from day to night to be more dramatic. 

But I'm not disappointed in the result. I learned some valuable lessons, ones I'll definitely put to use again in the future. After all, the lessons are one of the reasons why we experiment and get out with the camera to try something new.

Next month's assignment is "still life". Gotta start thinking about what to do for that....

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