Photographing Neon: The Beauty Of The “Living Flame”: Photographing Neon Signs

The custom neon sign is an ideal subject to combine light and color in intriguing and innovative ways. If I come across something distinctive in neon, I pull over to snap a few photos and marvel at the custom neon sign maker’s abilities. As I was making a quick turn into a parking area along Route 1 in South Florida, I almost hit a car. The neon horse (#1) was a bit of a surprise the thing I observed. It’s hard to know the moment you’ll see an interesting neon sign during the night. Neon was frequently referred to as”the “living flame” by early neon sign-watchers.

Although unusual and complex signs are becoming rarer, however, there are still attractive and creative signs even in the smallest bar or restaurant. Certain places, like the Las Vegas Strip (#2/33) or Times Square (#4) in Manhattan are home to a large range of signs. You could easily spend long hours taking photos of these signs.

While taking photos of neon isn’t easy, there are techniques to help improve the number of keepers. These techniques will enable you to get the most vibrant and precise color. Even cameras with basic settings can produce amazing results using just some basic settings. It is recommended to shoot using Raw format if you’re capable of it. This lets you adjust the color and exposure.

Time of Day and Year
While it’s obvious that the best time to shoot neon signs is when darkness is falling, there are certain exceptions. If you happen to capture a sign from the past such as the Hollywood Theatre sign (#5) in downtown Portland, Oregon by Janet Loughrey It could be beneficial to shoot in the evening to capture an angle that is low and to take advantage of a blue sky and an interesting background. If the structure of the sign is intriguing (some vintage motel signs are quite interesting) It might be worthwhile to have some light available to capture the finer details. The reason many neon signs is found in the windows of retail stores is that these shops typically shut down their signage when the store closes. If a shop closes at 8 p.m., and the sun shines until nine, it could be a challenge. The intriguing sewing machine (#6) was photographed in the window of a tailor’s shop on a night in March. In summer the sign would have been darkened by the time it was photographed. Sometimes, you’re lucky. I took the Corona beer sign (#7) from the window of a liquor store in August, and there was still light outside, even after 9 pm. The sign was illuminated with a timer which allowed the sign to remain lit for long hours after closing. Restaurants and diners (#8 and #9) remain open until late, and signposts are often placed.

Sometimes, you must shoot when the light is out and you don’t have a choice other than to shoot at the right time. While walking in the summer sun I snapped a picture of the “Safe Ice Cream” sign (#10) near the Eiffel Tower in Paris. While there was some sunlight the sign was visible enough and dark enough to be effective. I was able to capture certain details of the surrounding signs, which was a nice bonus.

However, the retail custom neon sign is often photographed in autumn or winter. While I don’t like the cold and short days, the neon is something that I am looking for with anticipation.

Exposure and Metering
It is simple to measure and then expose for neon. Most patterned meter modes (Matrix, Evaluative, etc.) If you’re shooting close-ups of signs, the patterned meters (Matrix and Evaluative.) offers an extremely precise exposure. It is possible to adjust the exposure to achieve amazing results using neon tubes.

When you alter the exposure, the primary shift is in the color saturation. Underexposure causes saturated hues. The phenomenon called “halation” (#11) is an overexposure of a small amount that creates glowing around the tubes that can decrease their clarity. This is most evident in blue-colored tubes. I shoot at a lower ISO typically 100 or 200 due to the intense light. It is not necessary to add noise with higher ISOs, even if it’s dark outside.

A camera placed close to a bright object like neon could cause it to overexpose the background, and shift the exposure to the brightest part of the image. This is typically the result you’re looking for. For the sake of security, I set an exposure compensation of -1EV.

It is possible to reduce the effect of background noise on the exposure by moving closer to the sign. Sometimes you don’t need to alter the minus compensation. In this instance of a motel sign from the past (#12) I applied the longer focal length setting to allow the background to play more of a part in how the exposure was read. Then, I zoomed in on the tube and read the sign. It is also possible to move closer to capture and take a lock on the exposure and then return to the original image (#13).

Although neon can be captured handheld, I prefer using tripods. So I’m not afflicted with the fear of camera shake when using an extremely slow shutter speed to improve the depth of field. Another reason for this is that I’m more prone to exploring new ideas for composition and creative techniques like “zooming while exposing” when my camera is mounted on a tripod.

Shooting in Raw
Raw format is my favorite method for shooting neon since it provides a variety of edit options that are not destructive. My preferred option is the possibility of altering the White Balance (WB) after the fact. You can alter the color temperature of the image to alter the temperature and coolness, as well as the neon colors. This allows you to have more control over making adjustments later on using the hue and saturation controls. It is also simpler to alter the settings of the WB after you have made them. Automatic is always a great alternative, but you could also experiment with different styles using WB bracketing if the camera supports it. You can also take some shots using different WB settings.

Similar to the example above Although I do my best on camera to adjust the exposure, I sometimes struggle to make critical exposure decisions when I look at the LCD screen. Sometimes, it’s better to make these choices later in the process. Another tip: the Vibrance slider, which is available within Adobe Camera Raw (and other processing software) can make the neon colors pop. While it is recommended to apply this “in camera” however, there are a variety of programs that will make your neon photos more appealing.

Search and You’ll Find
While neon isn’t as popular these days, however, it’s still accessible to locate some fantastic neon signs in every American city. The most appealing aspect of finding neon is the fact you don’t know exactly where it could be, whether in the form of a street sign or an old window of a drugstore.

The Color Of The Glow
The fundamental concept behind neon lights is that a glass tube has been “evacuated” that is, it draws out the air and is replaced by an inert gas. A pair of electrodes (one positive and one negative) is located opposite one of the tubes. When an electric charge moves between the two poles, the gas behaves as a filament and produces light.

While neon signs are often known as neon signs, sign-makers employ a variety of gases. They include neon, the gas argon (usually mixed with mercury) as well as xenon, krypton, and xenon. The colors of each gas can vary according to the glass’s color and the kind of coating. It is possible to get the neon’s natural glow by placing neon into the clear glass tube. When you add argon to the tube, it will create an orange-red glow. It is possible to experiment with lights and gels however, you’re mixing the colors of glass as well as a noble gas.

Signmakers today utilize UV-sensitive, coated with phosphor (“phosphorescent”) tubes. This lets them increase their color palettes and enhance the intensity of the hues. It is possible to make phosphor tubes in a variety of colors, and when coupled with other gases, provide a new spectrum of colors. Glass bending is an entirely different art style.