Photo Blog

Photography and assorted thoughts

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Foregrounds and Backgrounds

At the start of my night photography workshop, I was thinking that you rarely find a really good foreground.

Then I started light painting the foreground. And then we saw the reflection of stars in the river. So as Thom Hogan would say it was a foreground, middle ground, background shot.

Thankfully there was very little light pollution there.

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Waiting for the right time

   This morning when I was photographing I was struck by a comment by Tim Cooper, that much of landscape photography is waiting for the right clouds.  I was out with the American Photo Treks crew this morning and the clouds didn’t cooperate with us.


About the time the the core of Milky Way was about to rise the clouds rolled in. But we took pictures and waited, and almost when the moon was about to rise, the clouds were somewhat more favorable. Not perfect, but better than it was earlier.

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Milky Way over the Plains

I went out a few weeks ago with the American Photo Treks group. to take pictures of the Milky Way over the plains.  I tried out a new lens to see if that made it easier.

This was a 20 mm lens and I used a shutter speed of 15 sec.  I could have gotten away with 20 sec according to the 400 rule, but I’m beginning to think that I should do the math and calculate the star’s rotation rate by how far away the star is from true north.  Then, I’ll write an app for my iPhone.

And I did shoot this in color but came to the conclusion that I didn’t need the color for what was important in this picture.  I used NIK silver efex pro 2, and the noise reduction in DXO optics.

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Merry Christmas

   I originally was going to title this, Keeping True to Your Concept.  But since it’s Christmas today…

Last week, I took a class from Mike’s Camera talking about Exposure Values.  One of their sales associates/instructors, Joe Klocek,  was telling me that the night photography class was an advanced class that they taught. Since I like night photography, I thought I’d take that class.

While I was walking around with the rest of class, I was trying to figure out what these Christmas festivities meant to me.  As another of my instructors said, you should photograph what interests you.  So I was walking around with the class reminiscing about decorating the Christmas tree, and realized that the lights were my thing.  So I looked at the trees, and thought why not a simple composition, just the lights and the trees.  So I took this picture.  There were other things in the background, but I was focused on something simple.

It’s easy to expand the subject here, since there was lots of multicolor lights in the background, but I finally just said, no, this was my original concept, so I will stick to it. 

There were other photos I took that night that I was happy with, but this was the concept that stuck with me.  Those other photos are posted on Facebook, but I really don’t have much to say about them.

This leads to a discussion of night photography.  There are folks who specialize in Astro-Landscape photography, but currently I feel more of a calling to urban night photography. 

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Seize the Night Part 1

Just got back from the Rocky Mountain School of Photography class at Crater Lake.

Milky Way at Crater Lake Park HQ

Milky Way at Crater Lake Park HQ

I took this picture with a Nikon D810A, the astronomical version of the D810. It’s tuned for night photography work and has a slightly different filter in front of sensor. So if it looks like we have more deep reds, the filter allows more light from the Hydrogen Alpha spectrum. It felt like it had about one stop better ISO performance than my D810 which was the real reason I rented it.
We had been photographing star trails over Crater Lake, and as many people say, once you’re done with your first picture, look behind you to see what else you’re missing.
One of our instructors, Gabriel Biderman, was lamenting that now that more people are using led lights, the night photography scene was getting less interesting. So I liked the interplay of the milky way, with the spill of the light from the park building. Our other instructor, Matt Hill, converts most of his night shots to black and white, so he likes the purity of the new LED lights for his black and white work.

Both Gabe and Matt are part of a venture, National Parks at Night. In this case they were offering this class in conjunction with RMSP.  One thing about National Parks at Night is that they will only offer one class at each park.

If you want to learn night photography, these guys are some of the best instructors teaching night photography.  I suspect that they must have had the motto, leave no one behind.  For the folks in the class who had never done this before, they spent the time to make sure everyone got what they needed.

And the spoken motto was Carpe Crater!  Or seize the crater.

Gabe’s phase he keeps saying is Carpe Nostrum, or Seize the Night!

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Shooting Raw

One of the things that my Nikon cameras give me is the ability to shoot in different formats. Usually the folks who are starting out ask is should I shoot in raw or shoot in jpeg? I would suggest to the folks who are getting started in post processing, that they should do both. And unless you’re a sports shooter, if you have to pick one, you should shoot in raw.

Milky Way from Collegiate Peaks

Milky Way from Collegiate Peaks

Here I was shooting with the American Photo Treks folks, and David Soldano did the light painting.This photo was taken at 1:30 AM, so there’s a large amount of dark tones.
By shooting in raw the darkest portion of the photo has 64 times the levels that I would have had in the 8 bit jpeg.
Additionally, I used DXO optics to process this photo. They’ve improved their noise algorithm to clean up raw photos. Since I was shooting at ISO 5000 it needed some help with the noise. DXO also helped with lens imperfections for this photo. While the Rokinon 14 mm lens is a good lens for its price, it has some distortions and vignetting.
By shooting in raw I was also able to choose the white balance that suited me.

Some folks will say that the raw files are larger than the jpegs out of the camera and they’re correct. But if you need to do any work on the photo, the added resolution comes in handy. And whenever you process the photo and save it out as a jpeg, the jpeg compression algorithms cause a degradation of the photo.

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Night Photography

I’ve made it out the last two weekends to do some night photography. This weekend, was more urban night photography, and I had a chance to try out what Tony Sweet was telling us, that you can overlay multiple shots to make a more interesting picture.

Saturday night on I=25

Saturday night on I-25

Here we took two pictures and used the lighten blend mode to overlay them. Since it was lightly sprinkling, we had some reflections working for us. The two shots were 25 seconds each, and since I had my iso set to 64, I didn’t need my neutral density filter. It does rely on the fact that you have a good tripod.

Tony had shown us a demo, where in the small town he was photographing in, where you could make a small town look like it had the traffic of the Las Vegas strip. In this case, the traffic on I-25 wasn’t bad either.

Since I was doing urban night shots, we didn’t need a cloudless sky.

In the next picture, I was out at Mt Evans, where I was trying out some software that allowed me to stack star shots and align them automatically.

Stars and Bristlecone pines

Stars and Bristlecone pines


Here this was 4 shots that I stacked. I was using Star Stacker Pro to do the alignment. This technique should allow me to use higher iso levels without paying the noise penalty. Thankfully last weekend, the clouds cleared up before nautical twilight. This 4 shots were all shot at 25 seconds each as well.
If you click on this photo, you can see how many stars are in it. I did get a comment on Facebook asking if there were really that many stars.

Mt Evans is still within the Denver light pollution, and later this summer I hope to take pictures on the other side of Rocky Mountain National Park where it will be darker.

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Inspiration in Denver

This weekend I went out with the Denver Photo Night Walk Community. It was easy to be inspired that night, partially because the weather was pleasant for February, and we weren’t freezing. And I was wandering around with friends who made suggestions. It’s nice to be able to bounce ideas off of folks who don’t think you’re insane for trying new things.
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Here I was struck by the Soup of the Day sign and the artwork. Here I was also experimenting with Aurora HDR.

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International Snow Sculptures-2016

I was in Breckenridge photographing the International Snow Sculptures. To keep from disturbing the crowds, I decided to take pictures during the evening.

One of the prize winners

The Gold prize winner

This one was titled “Rhonda and Her Recycling Robo-Octopus”. While there were many excellent pieces of art, I suspect that this one would tackle the fancy of the Big Bang crowd the most.

For those of you interested, I did use a tripod and a 2.5 second exposure.

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Night Photography – Milky Way and windmills

Last night I went out with Jason Odell in a class about night photography.  Jason’s classes are lots of fun, so we ended up at the windmill site outside Liimon, CO, where he encouraged us to shoot star trails and the Milky Way.  He came out with a technique for shooting star trails where you don’t have to invest in an external  multifunction remote.  Of course I have the Nikon MC-36A but his suggestion had less background light, so to my eye it looked better.  He suggested shooting 30 second intervals, which most cameras can do with a simple remote and setting the camera to continuous high. Then you will need to import these into a layered workflow.  Adobe Photoshop, and On1’s Perfect Photo Suite would work for this.  If you want to use Phase One’s Capture One Pro, you are limited to 16 layers so using the multifunction remote  would be better.  There’s also a new tool Affinity Photo for Mac that can deal with many layers, but I haven’t got much experience with that too.

One of the things I wanted to do last night was experiment with star stacking, so shots of the Milky Way were what I was concentrating on.

Milky Way at Windmill site

Milky Way at Windmill site

If you stack multiple shots, and adjust them for motion of the earth, you can reduce the noise. The key is to mask out the ground, so you don’t get multiple images of the sky. The tool I used here was StarryNightStacker which runs on the Mac. Mike Berensen has another technique that you can use with photoshop by it self, but it takes a bit longer.

Here I took 5 pictures at F/2.8 and 25 seconds.  I was using my Rokinon 14 mm manual focus lens.  The really nice thing about that lens, is infinity is at the stop, so the problems of focusing in the dark are decreased.  Being a wide angle lens, I ran the shots through DXO Optics to remove the geometric distortion.