Oxnard in Artificial Light


An agave in a hotel courtyard in Oxnard, California.


My first of three trips to Oxnard last year was only a few weeks after I received my new Nikon Z7. I really hadn’t had much time to use it yet, so I spent an evening after dark walking around the hotel grounds taking pictures of whatever looked interesting. Since it was dark outside, everything I could photograph was lit by artificial light. The Z7 proved to be a wonderful walk-around low-light camera: the in-body image stabilization allows low shutter speeds, the electronic viewfinder lets you see in the dark and judge the exposure, it focuses accurately in low light, and it has low noise even at fairly high ISO settings.

Artificial light comes with a lot of possible color casts. Fortunately, most of the things I photographed were under pretty warm (i.e., orange) lights which usually look nicer than a lot of the alternatives. Most of my subjects that evening had very little color of their own, so the results were pretty monochromatic, matching the light source:

The notable exception was the featured photograph of the agave at the top of the post, with its yellow-green leaves.


The composition of this photograph is pretty basic and not very subtle—the subject is just centered in the square frame. The focal point of the image is the central leaf of the agave: it is the brightest, warmest, and sharpest feature in the image, as well as being right in the center of the frame. The leaves of the cactus make a variety of nice curves that end in a sharp point at the tip of each leaf. The edge of each leaf is emphasized by a thin line of yellow, and the leaves themselves are nice sculpted by the light. Although the light is actually fairly low to the ground, the way it hits the central leaf gives the impression of the cactus being spot-lit from above. The dark periphery of the frame and relatively dark orangish brown on the ground heighten this impression.


The primary challenge with this image from a post-processing standpoint was that the light was not, in fact, overhead; it was relatively low to the ground near the bottom left corner of the frame. As a result, the leaves and ground in that corner of the image were way too bright and would steal the viewer’s attention from center of the plant. After a lot of darkening in Lightroom with the adjustment brush, linear gradients, and radial gradients, I succeeded in balancing this out. After some global adjustments to the overall exposure, tones, and temperature, additional radial adjustments then helped boost the all-important central portion of the image. Some final dodging and burning with the adjustment brush helped to better sculpt the shading on the leaves.

The image was taken in camera with a square crop; the image was subsequently cropped (very) slightly tighter. In addition, a few distracting bits of debris in the agave leaves were cloned away.

Here is a comparison of the image before and after post-processing:

Comparison of agave photograph before and after editing in Adobe Lightroom.

I was also curious how the image would look in black and white, although I did not invest more than a couple minutes in processing the black and white version; I could undoubtedly do better in this regard:

Comparison between color and black and white renderings of the agave.

All post-processing of the image was performed with Adobe Lightroom Classic.

Technical Data

All images in this post were shot with a Nikon Z7 using a Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/4 S lens. The featured photograph of the agave was taken at 58mm, 1/30 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 800.

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