Sunday, July 9, 2023

Photographing the Sensorio light exhibit in Paso Robles!

Last month I made a visit to Paso Robles, California which is an area known for it's wineries, breweries and olive groves. But I really wanted to visit the area to see the Sensorio light show, which is a really cool site to see. The Sensorio light exhibit is a walking tour which comprises of thousands of solar powered fibre-optic lights which line the local hillsides, and are constantly changing in color. 

I have seen photos of this in the past and really wanted to see it for myself.

I took this photo at 8:52pm after the sun had set and the lights and colors were becoming really pronounced. But wait a second..let me start from the beginning. 

We purchased tickets well in advance, and arrived early enough to relax and watch the sunset. While the sun was still in the sky, I wanted to walk around to see some of the 15 acres. I brought my Canon R5 camera with the Canon RF 24-105mm lens. They do not allow tripods or "professional cameras" to be brought in to the area, but I figured that my one camera and relatively short lens would be allowed, which it was. (More on this in a minute)

I loved the way that the bare bulbs looked with the setting sun behind them, so I got down low and captured this image. 

As I always teach to my photo tour guests, a good photographer looks in all directions for photo opportunities. I turned around and saw that the moon was visible behind me. I walked to a spot where the moon would be just above the tree and grabbed this frame.

After walking around the area for half an hour, we decided to get some wine and cheese, sit down, and watch as the sun set and the lights became more visible. 

It was almost 9pm before the sky darkened and the lights really came into full effect. At this point, we started our walk. Typically it can get very hot in Paso Robles, but our visit to the area was perfect with really nice weather during the day and a cold evening. It actually got so cold that we were huddled by the fire pits before heading off on our walk.

There were so many places to stop and watch the lights, that I had a hard time figuring out where to capture my photos. I typically looked for good leading lines and trees as my supporting subjects.

As I turned in different directions I would get more (or less) light in the sky. I was also using exposure compensation in the camera (between -1 and -2) to darken the scene. 

I did this for two reasons:

1. It darkened the sky to a deep blue color.
2. I kept the colored lights from being overexposed.

I did most of my photography at the blue hour, which allowed me to still have nice color behind the trees.

Since I could not bring a tripod with me, I had to rely on the in-body camera stabilization, lens stabilization, and me holding the camera steady. Most of the images you see in this blog post were taken with the following settings:

Mode: A/V
ISO: 3200
Aperture: f/4
Exposure comp: -2
Shutter speed: 1/4 sec

During the retouching process, I would increase the exposure when needed and then run Topaz DeNoise on the images to take out any of the digital noise (grain).

Honestly, these newer cameras have such amazing stabilization that I am often shooting handheld at really slow shutter speeds with amazing results! 

It was now 9:06pm and I was able to capture the colored lights, the blue sky, and the moon in one photo. This is one of my favorites of the night. 

Just 5 minutes later, we lost the blue skies and I was now working with the grey/black sky. I had also taken most of the images that I wanted, so I decided to try something different. For this shot, I changed the camera settings to ISO 1600 (at f/4) which gave me a half second exposure. I pointed the camera at a nearby tree and then zoomed the lens out during the 1/2 second. This created the light streaks that you see here.

From the same location, I changed the camera to ISO 3200 (still at f/4) which gave me a 1/4 sec exposure and I twisted the camera to give me a different look.

I saw all these lights winding their way up to a tree and thought they made a perfect leading line. I turned the camera to take a vertical image and really like this one. I just wish I had taken this during the blue hour, as I prefer the deep blue sky to the muddy black sky you see here. 

This photo was taken at 9:12pm and was the last image showing any light in the sky.

When walking all the way to the back of the exhibit, they have some interesting light sculptures, including these light towers made out of wine bottles.

This is a close-up view of the wine bottles.

Also in the back area is a new display called "Fireflies" where almost 10,000 lights are blowing in the wind. Each of these clusters has flexible "tentacles" of lights which dance in the wind. It is really beautiful.

I took tight shots of the fireflies but also zoomed out to catch images like this one, with the sculptures, the tree, and the moon.

These last two photos were taken at close to 10pm. The light you see in the background (top right side of the image) is light pollution coming from buildings in the distance. This image was taken handheld at ISO 3200 (like most of the others).

This photo was taken at with the Canon R5 at ISO 1000 with a shutter speed of almost 3 seconds. For this shot, I rested the camera on a rock wall, set the 3 second timer, and avoided any shaking of the camera during the exposure.

If you live in California or have a display like this in your area, I would really recommend visiting. And if you do visit, I hope you will take your camera and have as much fun as I did!


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Ralph Hightower said...

My wife and I traveled to Ocala, Florida for the National Beagle Club Specialty in November 2016. For dog confirmation shows (like the Westminster Dog Show), the Kennel clubs will have an official photographer); for this show, they had two official photographers.
I brought my Canon 5D III with the 24-105 f4L for personal photographs. I noticed a woman going from person to person asking to take photos. She got reprimanded.
Waiting in line at the food truck, she was a few people behind me, and I overheard a guy say "What about him? He has a pro camera."
I thought about turning around and saying that I wasn't poaching clients.

OnlyInCA said...

Great pictures. We're going to be stopping by there in about 10 days so your blog post was a great "heads up" on some tips to get me off and running with my R5.
Catherine D.

outasktd said...
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