Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art lens

 

The first time I used this lens back in May 2016 I fell in love with it for a couple of reasons. The focal length, 20mm, is a real sweet spot for both landscape photographers and night photographers as well. Fast 1.4 f stop. While we don’t tend to normally shoot at the widest f stop on a lens having a 1.4 really gives you some breathing room when it comes to exposure and sharpness.  Let’s say you are doing night photography and you have a Rokinon 14 2.8 and you have a Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art Lens. The scene you are shooting is very dark  with only minimal light. with the Rokinon you may have your camera set at 6400ISO for 30 seconds in order to get a good exposure but you find that your images are coming out fairly noisy at that ISO. With the Sigma 20mm you could shoot at F 1.4 at ISO 1600 for 30 seconds and get the same exposure value. Now while the sigma does offer an amazing 1.4 f stop, it’s rare that I would shoot at that for my work. Generally speaking the widest f stop on any lens will also give you the least quality. Shooting at 1.4 would be very fun for some up close daytime stuff where you are feeling a bit artistic or even at night when you don’t mind of the stars are out of focus and you just want to focus on your foreground subject…  I have found that the real sweet spot for this lens is right at F2 or F2.2 depending on what I am shooting and the available light. Which is still quite a bit faster than a 2.8 lens.  In the images I will be sharing with you, you will be able to see the data for the lens used. I shoot this lens between 1.8 and 2.8 when I am shooting at night.  Enough talk, let’s see what I am talking about. The first set of images are multi shot panoramic images I captured with the Sigma 20mm. 1.4. Because of the extremely low distortion it makes stitching the images very easy.

 

This next set of images were taken later in the Summer when the Milky Way rising up overhead instead of low on the horizon. These are vertical panoramas all taken with the Sigma 20mm 1.4 lens.

Each of the images below were created using either multiple exposures or single long exposures.

The final set of images I would like to share are just simple single exposure, shorter exposures and general photographs taken with the wonderful Sigma 20mm 1.4

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I will be happy to respond. Thank you.

2016 – A Year In Review

It feels good to sit down with a little free time and finally write this blog. As bad as I wanted to write this before I left for my trip on Dec 21st, 2016 and just get it out-of-the-way, I am glad I waited. One of my favorite images of the year was captured on New Years Eve in Bandon, Oregon. Taking 2 weeks away from the chaos of the holidays was the perfect way to end the year and cleanse my mind. I spent my time along the Oregon Coast and the weather was really nice for December.

I am doing this a bit different from most other photographers. Many photographers simply pick their favorite images of the year. I am going to share with you 2 images from each month. That being said, obviously some will be much better than others simply because there are certain months of the year when I don’t do as much in the field.

January – Starting the year off with a bang broncos-win-afc-championship-game-20161

Holy Cow! If you were a Denver Bronco Fan then your year started off pretty dang good when they beat Tom Brady and the Patriots to win the AFC Championship and head to the Super Bowl. I had 2 options. Buy a ticket to the game and get a shot from the inside or find this vantage point and hope they won. Including myself there were only 3 photographers who had this view and only 1 other photographer who got a shot similar to this. We were on the overpass (in a pedestrian walk area) getting live updates from our phones so that we could time our shooting so we did not miss the fireworks. The fireworks only lasted a couple of seconds and they were gone. Given all the back story to this image, this is a once in a lifetime shot. Peyton Manning’s last game in this stadium. The last time he would ever play against Tom Brady. Peyton Manning retired after winning the Super Bowl. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @82mm, 64 ISO, F16, 1/4th second. Multiple images at these settings combined to make the final image.

rustic-winter-morning

Steamboat, Colorado is such a beautiful small place. I had been wanting to photograph this old historic barn/cabin for several years and the right conditions never presented themselves when I could go. After learning about a massive snowfall and then a day of clearing, I took my chances, I arrived in the middle of the night and simply waited for this light. Sunrise this morning was a bust, it was very foggy. After a couple of hours the sun had come up and the fog had lifted. I feel blessed to have shot this with no footprints or any signs of people. What drew me to this particular image was the shadows and lines in the snow. I also loved how the wood grain of the barn contrasted so nicely as the sun was hitting it. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @62mm, F9, 64 ISO,  1/250th second.

February balanced-rock-mono

Balanced Rock is an iconic location in Colorado’s “Garden of the Gods”.  From the parking area the rock really doesn’t look like it’s going to tip over because the base seems so much larger. I was set on trying to find an angle and vantage point that was a bit more dramatic. Something that would really give the viewer the illusion that it was ready to fall at any moment. Even walking around while standing up was different from getting low to the ground, as I did in this shot. I used the widest lens I had, got very close to the ground and shot the image looking up. I waited for a few minutes until the clouds were right over the rock to add a bit more drama to the overall image.  Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Rok 14mm, F11, 64 ISO, 1/20th second.

sunrise-trees

No scene is ever the same twice. This is 100% true when speaking about landscape photography. If you see something you like, you better shoot it now because it will be totally different when you come back. I was actually on my way to another location when I was driving into Chatfield Lake State Park near my home here in Colorado. I saw the sky blowing up with color through the trees and I had to stop and get this shot. It took a moment to compose it to my liking and while this image doesn’t have a huge impact at this smaller size. Imagine it as a very large print in the 50×50 inch range. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @105, F5.6, 200 ISO, 1/160th second

Marchoregon-storms

A typical, classic overcast day along the Oregon Coast. I had spent most of the morning hiking around the various areas of Cape Meares and I could see a big storm rolling in out over the ocean. As I made my way back up the trail I found this scene with the layered clouds and seas that were just starting to get rough. The color version looks black and white with very little contrast. I decided to just go with the Monochrome on this one and bring out the drama I was seeing with my own eyes when I shot the image. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @68mm, 64 ISO, F8, 1/80th second

sunset-circle

Ahhh, those springtime sunsets. The ponds have thawed, there are still some clouds in the sky and the colors are so unique. When I was walking around the pond I couldn’t quite find the comp I was looking for so I decided to do a panorama image of the entire scene. My results fascinated me. I never expected the land to be perfectly level with the clouds forming a circle in the sky and reflection. I believe this is a 5 shot vertical pano covering 180 degrees as I am looking north. The clouds were the reason I decided to pick this image. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @24mm, 100 ISO, F8, 1/2 second.

April

rainbow-from-red-rocks

I live 11 miles from Red Rocks and when I am home and there are no concerts going on this makes a nice vantage point to get above the city. I could see these clouds building up and was actually going up there for sunset. The weather in Colorado is crazy, don’t let anyone tell you different. As the sun began to set behind us and this cloud started pouring down rain, this gorgeous rainbow appeared. This lasted for about 3-4 minutes before the clouds behind us got dark and angry. We barely had time to get to the car before the lightning was striking all around us and hail was pounding the ground.  Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @105, 64 ISO, F8, 1/320th second.

milky-way-rainbow

The Milky Way Rainbow over the Paint Mines near Calhan, Colorado. Away from the town of Colorado Springs far enough to take advantage of some really dark skies is a beautiful place known as the Paint Mines.  We timed this image so that we could get the full moon rising a couple of hours before sunrise. This image showcases a few different things. A full 180 degree Milky Way. Roughly 8 images were used for the panorama sequence. The full moon rising under the Milky Way, the Milky Way bubble with the Lagoon Nebula and a very very rare siting of Comet 252p/linear. I am not sure if you can see that on this image but during April many photographers were noticing a small green dot in their night images. After doing a little research I found out that it was indeed a comet. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Rok 14mm – 3200 ISO, F2.8, 30 seconds.

Mayblack-ponds-1

During one of our workshops in Grand Teton National Park. While our Night Photography Workshops focus on shooting the night sky, we also like to allow our students to take advantage of sunset conditions when they present themselves. We could see this forming for miles. We arrived at this location with our students and it was fun to watch them all scatter and find a good vantage point. Mike stayed up top with some of the students and I went down along the creek with the rest and then the sky just started lighting up and put on a show for about 30 min. It was one of the most incredible sunsets I had ever seen. When we all gathered back at the cars we were all just speechless. It was a great bonus for our students to get to see such an amazing sight in such an amazing place. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @35mm, 64 ISO, F8, 1/15th second.

my-million-star-hotel

I’m not sure there is a better place to get a good nights rest. This particular night I went out with 2 other photographers down to 11 mile reservoir west of Colorado Springs, Colorado. We knew our timing was perfect for the milky way shots we wanted to get. One of my friends decided to bring his yellow tent. Towards the end of the night we decided it was time to set it up. The Milky Way was in the perfect location in the sky for the shots we wanted.  Many people will argue that this is a composite image or multiple image blend but I can assure you this is a single exposure. We used some creative lighting techniques to properly illuminate the tent from the inside and the longer, blurry stars in the water are simply from the water moving a little bit during the exposure. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24mm 1.4, F2.2, 1600 ISO, 30 seconds.

Junebleeding-light

Vacation time with my daughter. We set out on a 6 week road trip, traveling through many states and national parks. We left our home in Denver and drove straight through to Yosemite NP in California. Crazy I know. It was her idea. I will openly admit I had never been here before and I had not planned out any places to shoot. I wanted to experience it with fresh eyes and no set images I wanted.  We car camped up at Glacier Point that night and what a great experience that was for her. My daughter loves car camping. It was a crystal clear night, billions of stars to see. The next day we wandered around the park in the early hours after sunrise and I found this scene. I loved the way the light was beaming down behind the rocks yet in the middle of the scene. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @90mm, F7.1, 64 ISO, 1/320th second.

coastal-clover-sunset

As much as I love the Oregon Coast all year-long, there is one thing that makes Summer that much more special. The clover blooms along the beach. When you book a room at either the Overleaf Lodge and Spa or Fireside Motel these blooms are right our your front door on the beach. I happened to be here at peak season and they were beautiful . There was a very thin haze in the sky which made for a very colorful sunset in spite of the fact that there were no clouds. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @52mm, 200 ISO, F13, 1/80th second

Julydelicate-explosion1

Delicate Arch, Moab, Utah, Arches National Park with the Milky Way bursting out from behind. I had tried this shot on many occasions and was bound and determined to get it right. I knew it could not be done with 1 image so I started looking around for software programs that would zoom the stars for you. I didn’t find any that I thought gave good results. One night while out shooting I decided to use my zoom lens and do a longer exposure while zooming the lens. It worked. It took me a few tries to get it like I wanted but in the end I had the stars just how I wanted. I knew I could then shoot the arch and blend to the 2 together. For those of you who have been up to Delicate arch in the summer, you know the Milky Way does appear right behind the arch. It’s quite a sight to experience. I was happy to be able to make my vision come to life with this image. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-35 @35mm, F2, 3200 ISO, 20 seconds

colorado-morning

Rocky Mountain National Park, 90 miles from my home. This particular morning I was scouting for Elk in the meadow and I noticed these clouds forming over the mountain. I walked along the stream to find a decent comp where I could include the foreground rocks under the water. A short exposure freezing the water would not allow the viewer to see the rocks. By using a slightly longer shutter speed the water moved over the rocks during the exposure and allowing them to be visible. When I took this shot I remember thinking how nice it was the way the clouds expanded from the mountain covering the entire sky of my frame. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Rok 14mm, F18, 31 ISO,  0.8 seconds.

Augustkolors-of-kansas

August was the month I fell in love with Kansas all over again. I used to visit all the time as a kid. We had (have) family that live there. I remember big hail storms in the summer and everyone running for cover. Broken windows, dented cars, ect… I met Barbara Mandrell in Kansas back in the early 80’s. Family got older, we quit going to the reunions and time passed. Then one day while scrolling through the internet I found this picture of an arch. An arch I had never seen before. When I found out it was in Kansas and only a 5 hr drive…I took off. Not knowing what to expect I figured I would get out there, see it and then turn around and come home. Quite the opposite. While the area is rather small and there are only 2 rock formations on the property, you can walk around all of them to get different views and angles, depending on what the weather is doing. I went out there twice  for a couple of days at a time and there was never a dull moment. massive thunder and lighting storms all night and epic sunrise and sunsets in the morning and evening.  This particular image was taken just as the sun was setting and these monster clouds were building. I kid you not. An hour after I shot this, we had major lighting bolts 366 degrees all around us. It was amazing. I left the person in here to give the area a sense of scale. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Rok 14mm, F15, 64 ISO, 1/2 second.

milky-way-monsoon

And then it happened. This cloud produced serious lighting all night long. While most of it was internal it still lit up the cloud very nicely. Again, this is a single exposure image. There are a few areas of the clouds that look like they are layered and the reason that it looks that way is because the lightning was going off multiple times during the exposure so the clouds were in very slightly different positions, therefore, showing the movement of the clouds. This was only the second time in my life where I had a chance to witness a storm cloud and lighting with the clear sky above. The previous time was up in RMNP and I was already at 11k feet. This image in Kansas was taken at sea level. Exif Data – Nikon D810 –Sigma 24-35 @24mm, F2.2, 1600 ISO, 30 seconds.

Septemberwindow-to-the-heavens

Mike and I plan our workshops roughly 9 months in advance. After looking at the dates for our final Arches workshop in 2016 I began to do a bit of research. I had been to this location several times for sunrise or sunset and even one time at night by myself. None of the images I go turned out like this. This was the image I wanted. I had been dreaming of this image for about 3 years. I quickly checked the position of the Milky Way and knew it would be lined up perfectly. I knew with both instructors we would have enough light panels to properly light each of the areas of the arches. We made the suggestion to our students on what was a crystal clear night and they jumped at the chance to do this. We had 2 students from Austria who were very excited about this location and were asking me about it even before the workshop started. Working together with other people to create an image that is rarely seen sure is a nice treat. Mike worked with one group of students back at Turret Arch and I worked with another group at this location. By using walkie talkies we were able to do test shots until we got the lights in just the right spot. We let after my group got their shots, we let the groups switch locations so that everyone who wanted a chance to shoot this got it. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-35 @35mm, F2, 3200 ISO, 25 seconds.

oxbows-autumn

Grand Teton National Park, Jackson, Wyoming. Mount Moran reflecting in the very calm Snake river as the fall colors line the banks. When shooting this location ( and I have many times ) it’s amazing how just a few steps this way or that way can really make a difference in your composition based on the way you’re facing the mountains. We generally schedule our final workshop of the year in Grand Teton National Park. We are able to take advantage of the late summer Milky Way as well as the fall colors. When we have ambitious students like we normally do, it’s not uncommon to show up at class in the afternoon and hear how awesome their day was shooting the sunrise. We really like that they can take advantage of the other wonderful scenery as well as the gorgeous night sky. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @105mm, F5.6, 64 ISO, 1/250th second.

Octobercrystal-mill-fall-sunrise

I have a 4×4 Jeep but it’s not really suited for the kind of driving needed to get up to the infamous Crystal Mill near Crystal, Colorado. So, when a group of friends asks you to go along for a weekend of shooting and camaraderie up in the mountains, you don’t say no. Even better was the fact that we were going during the fall colors and we had a cabin right across the street. I had seen a billion shots of this mill and knew I wanted something at least slightly different for my own. Anyone who has been here knows that it’s a pretty cramped location. You can just pull out a 35mm lens when you’re down near the water and get the whole scene in the shot… I mean that mill is right there in front of you looking down on you.  I used the widest lens I had at the time and did a sequence of about 7 shots to get this more than 180 degree pano and still include the entire stream and the sky. I had to leave a day early  and when I left there was a nice storm blowing in and the next day all the fall color was gone and the trees were bare. Hearing that made me even more glad that we arrived when we did and not put it off till the following weekend. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Rok 14mm, 7 images, F22, 64 ISO, 1/20th second.

pumpkin-spiced-aspens

After getting back down to my Jeep I knew I had the whole day ahead of me. I wasn’t in a rush to get home. I took my time wandering around Colorado and enjoying the fall colors. We stopped in Crested Butte and had lunch at Secret Stash Pizza. So good. Highly recommended when you’re in Crested Butte, CO. After some pizza I continued on my way home, again not in a hurry. I was getting close to Buena Vista when I saw a sign for Cottonwood Lake. I had never been there before and decided to drive down the road to see what I could find. Well, let me tell you, that entire area is great for fall colors. As I was looking for a nice grove of Aspens I also knew I wanted some color mixed in. By this time the sun was getting low on the horizon and the road, which is pretty much just a canopy of Aspen trees wasn’t letting much light in. I was almost to the end and I looked to my left and saw these nice Aspens with some nice colors mixed in. I quickly  grabbed my camera and took 2 shots before the light totally changed the entire scene. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @105mm, F7.1, 200 ISO, 1/40th second.

Novembertree-trunks-in-the-sunset-light

One of the things I always tell people is that the light is never the same twice. Even if it looks close, it’s not. Your camera will read it differently each time. These trees are generally pretty ugly and not much to look at. I walk around this pond where they are located often, usually not seeing much to shoot. This particular evening happened to be different. The light was low and soft. Some fall color still remained and the way the light was hitting the grasses really struck a chord with me. I carefully composed the image with the trees offset so that nothing was centered. I wanted the viewer to be able to look around in the image yet not go out of the frame. By keeping a tree on each side I feel I accomplished this. I also liked the layers this image offered. From the golden grasses to the reds and then back to the sunlight coming in from the top. I felt as though there was just enough depth to make it work. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 105macro, F2.8, 64 ISO, 1/50th second.

hallett-nights

Hallett Peak from Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. Yes, I like to shoot at night when it’s cold. Not only do the skies seem clearer but the cool temps also keep your sensor from heating up too quick and adding excess noise to your images. This image was actually shot as we were leaving. We had been shooting from the other side as the moon was rising and lighting up another mountain. As we were leaving I noticed the partially frozen lake and thought that might make a nice foreground in addition to the stars in the sky. As you can see here this is a late in the year Milky Way image. The Milky Way has already flipped over and is now leaning  slightly to the north.  Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-35 @35mm, F2, 3200 ISO, 30 seconds.

Decemberpolar-express

The Polar Express – Durango, Colorado. This gorgeous steam engine is historic yet well-kept up by the Silveton Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad. You can hear it all over town when it’s running and on a cold winter morning the steam is really thick and there is lots of it. When you are on a family trip it makes things a bit more difficult to get a particular shot you may want. Adding to that the schedule of the train and it can be near impossible. One afternoon before we went to lunch I asked when the train was going to be coming back into the station?  They told me 2:45pm. That worked for me. As we were finishing up our lunch I noticed the sky getting darker as if there was a storm moving in. I went down to the tracks and found a good vantage point that would allow me to fill the frame with the steam engine. Just after I shot this it started pouring cats and dogs…I packed up my gear and found cover.  Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @105mm, F7.1, 200 ISO, 1/500th second.

bandon-new-year-eve-light-show

Last but not least, the reason I waited to write this blog until after my trip to Oregon over the holidays. In the 10+ years I have been going to Bandon, Oregon I have only been totally skunked one time. Even when the weather is overcast you can still get some great shots. It’s simply a photographers paradise. I had been in Bandon for 4 days and didn’t have many clouds. I, personally, like clouds in my images. I am not a fan of clear blue skies unless I am planning on shooting the stars at night (I did some of that too). Just as my luck would have it the clouds started forming early on New Years Eve day. I could see it was going to be great. I just needed to find a nice comp that would showcase not only the clouds reflecting in the wet sand but also the depth of the beach.  I found my comp, made sure there was separation between the 3 middle rocks and then started shooting. I did some long exposures, short exposures, really long exposures, some with the water coming into the frame, some without out. While I am out shooting I generally will shoot though most scenes and then pick the best one when I get back to have a good look on the computer. Something about the waterline in this one as the wave stopped and then headed back out to the sea really caught my eye. I feel like when I am looking at this my eye initially sees the entire scene but then follows the white line through the frame. This lets the viewer explore more of what the scene has to offer. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end 2016. Exif Data – Nikon D810 – Sigma 24-105 @24mm, F14, 64 ISO, 2.5 seconds.

As you can see 2016 was a great year. I had a wonderful time with my family in various locations as well as co teaching our night photography workshops. All of these images are available as Fine Art Photographic Prints, Fine Art Canvas Gallery Wraps, Fine Art Metal Prints or Fine Art Acrylic Face Mount Prints. I will offer special discounts to those of you who contact me via the contact form below.  Simply message me with the medium you would like, the image description and size. Thank you all again for your continued support throughout the years. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog,

Darren White – Darren White Photography

What’s in my bag – Gear I use

I often get asked, “what camera and what lens did you shoot that with?” Generally speaking my answer is usually, “a digital SLR.”  A very vague answer, yes. Every photographer has a different goal with their work. We are not all going to print 40×96 images nor are all of us just going to simply post online. We photograph for many various reasons and I can honestly tell you that the best camera to have is the one you have with you.  I am seeing more and more magazine covers that have been shot with smartphones. Our phones do a pretty good job when we don’t have to make huge prints or we just want to share something to Instagram or Facebook.  Now try to print that same photo as a 24×36 and see  how it looks. Probably not so great. For me, personally, I need to make sure my images are clean, sharp and will enlarge without showing artifacts.

I feel safe in saying that 98% of all digital SLR cameras today do a pretty dang good job with image quality. When faced with basic daylight landscape shooting I think it would be very hard to tell the difference in an 12×18 print shot with 12, 16, 20, or 36mp camera. Blow that same image up to a 40×60 and now the difference will show.

Just like a construction worker needs the right tools for his/her job we as photographers need the right tools for our jobs, whatever that may be. While I do large format printing on a regular basis there are those rare exceptions like back in 2009 when I had a request from a company to print one of my images 5ft by 10ft as a backdrop for their exhibit. At the time I was shooting a 12mp Nikon D300 and needless to say the test prints were not coming back looking very good. I did some tweaking on my end and the printer did some tweaking on their end and we finally got it printed.

Below you will see what I am currently using with the gear list below the image.

bag-contents

Induro CTX 314 Carbon Fiber Tripod w/ BHL3s ballhead

Nikon D810, Nikon F4s, Mamiya C330f Medium format twin lens reflex

Sigma Lenses 15mm fisheye, 20mm, 24-35mm, 24-105mm, 35mm, 105mm macro

Nisi Filters 10 stop ND, 6 stop ND, Circ Polarizer, Blue/Orange

Nikon MC-36 cable release, Vello wireless remote trigger, Manual cable release for My Mamiya C330

Nitecore flashlights, Tiny Monster TMGT16, NightBlade MH25, MH27, EC25 Cobra

I am currently using Kodak and Ilford color and black and white films. I carry a couple microfiber cloths with me to clean my lens if I need to.

Joby mini tripod with F&V HDVZ96 16×9 LED Light Panel

Cabelas Multi tool pocket knife.

Kingston waterproof media card holders

Nikon Charger and extra battery

Business cards and sensor cleaning kit.

CaseLogic Kontrast DSLR backpack

Tamrac shoulder bag – I use this for my medium format gear.

I believe that is all the gear I currently have. It was good for me to do this as I am leaving for Oregon on Thursday and I needed to re organize all my gear in my bags.

If you have any questions please feel free to use the form below to contact me.

Night Photography – The Art of Creating Images at Night.

northern-lights-over-jackson-lake-pano

What is Night Photography?  Taking your camera out at night after the sun goes down. Sounds easy enough, right?  I mean you already know how to take pictures in the day time so why would night be any different? Lots of reasons. I have been co teaching night photography workshops for 3 years now and I have seen a lot of various skill levels come through our classes. Some of our students by brand new gear just before the workshop and find out what they like or don’t like and then send the rest back. We recommend renting gear you may need from Lens Rentals. I have used them for several years and they have been great to work with.

Night Photography is actually quite a bit more than just taking your camera out at night and taking images… There are a lot of questions you need to ask yourself if this is new to you. Let’s say there is a meteor shower coming up and you are very interested in capturing some meteors but you have never shot at night before…

  • How do you focus in the dark?
  • Will you be shooting with a manual focus lens or autofocus
  • What should my exposure be?
  • Do I need a tripod?
  • Do I need a cable release?
  • Do I have enough memory?
  • Do I have enough batteries?

These are a list of questions you need to ask yourself before heading out for a night shoot. Not knowing the answer or not having one of these pieces of gear could ruin your whole night. You arrive at your vantage point, set your camera up and you see these meteors shooting across the sky. You shoot and 1 of 2 things happens ( I can say all of this because it has happened to me) Your image is very dark or it’s very blurry. Opps, you forgot to change the settings on your camera from the last time you shot… You set your autofocus lens to infinity. These meteors are shooting across the sky and you are frustrated because you can’t get a good picture and you don’t know what’s wrong. You continue to fumble around and still nothing good is coming out of the images you are taking… after about 30 min you pack it up, go home and rack your brain as to why things didn’t work out..

Here is what happened. Chances are you were trying to use your camera on one of the program settings.. P is not for Professional, A is not for Awesome. M,is for magic, the manual setting is where it all happens.. You take that camera and you personally make the settings you want the camera to do.. To make the magic happen you need to do a few things.

Focus – Using  your camera in manual focus mode with Live View on you can then zoom in all the way and focus on the brightest star in the sky. This will allow you to precisely focus for the best image quality.

Exposure – Trust your histogram – It’s dark out so your eyes will be easily fooled by looking at the LCD. Let’s say you take an image at 1600 ISO for 30 seconds and it pops up on the LCD and you think, “Wow”, this is awesome…and you do this all night. The next morning you get home and start to look at them on the screen and see they are really way too dark. So you make some adjustments to your shadows and exposure in Photoshop only to find some horrible purple noise show up. Not good. While it may be hard to do on a moonless night, “Exposing to the Right” will always yield the best results. Trust your histogram, learn what it is telling you. Don’t be afraid to push your cameras ISO unless you are using a very old camera. If you are using an older camera we have some tips for you on how to take great night images without getting a lot of noise – Stacking for Noise Reduction

balanced-spin

Night Photography is huge. There is quite a lot that goes into getting a great night image. From set up to post production. If you can focus in the dark and understand how to get a good exposure this is a huge step in creating great night images.

Planning your shot is crucial. Knowing if the moon will be rising or setting or if there even is a moon on the night you want to go out. If you have never been to a location before but are planning a trip and want to see if your shot is possible, I recommend Planit! For Photographers  $5.99. During our workshops Mike Berenson dives into using this to plan a shot. What is cool about this app is that it takes into account elevation. You don’t want to get to a spot in the mountains only to find that the mountain you want to shoot the Milky Way over is blocked by another mountain/hill. It also has a Milky Way seeker so you can pinpoint the best days to get out and shoot if you want to shoot the Milky Way Bubble. Another app I use a lot is Stellarium it’s free and very easy to use. It’s easy for me to know when and where the Milky Way will rise as well as see what else is in the sky.

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This next image shows you something I had never seen before. This is a 100% partial view of an image I captured while doing a panorama sequence.  I have known what Andromeda looks like in the night sky but I had never seen the other galaxy. Would you believe this was shot with a 20mm lens. It’s simply incredible and what the camera sensors can pick up.

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The Milky Way is hard to see in the above image of  Longs Peak over Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park due to the 3/4 Moon that was up in the sky. Still some of the other features of the night stood out pretty well. I was able to identify each of these by using the Stellarium App on my iPhone. Knowing what it is you are looking at will make stargazing and photographing the night sky so much more enjoyable for you.

Let’s take a look at some images that feature the Milky Way. Below is an image taken from Independence Pass in Colorado. This is an image which shows the brilliance of the night sky when there is no light pollution or moonlight to dim the view. The second image below was taken on a moonless night as well. This is Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, Moab, Utah.

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The Milky Way bubble as seen from String Lake in Grand Teton National Park. Being near the small town of Jackson, Wyoming provides a small amount of light pollution as well as great visibility. As you can see here the Milky Way really stands out and the color adds a bit to the overall scene.

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These next 3 images show a little more light pollution and how artificial light can add to a scene. The top image was taken on a very very clear night along the Oregon coast. The seastacks were light by the house lights up on the hill to my left. I had my camera on auto white balance and it created a gorgeous contrast between the blue sky and the warm golden tones of the rocks. The 2nd image was taken up in Rocky Mountain National Park with the lights of Denver below. Delicate Arch in Arches National Park faces the town of Moab, Utah. the lights from Moab can add quite a bit of light or drama if there are clouds in the sky. You can see the glow from the lower left corner of the arch.

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Giving the viewer a sense of place in your images. For places that people have never been, sometimes it can be hard for them to understand how big or small a place is. We like to add some key elements into our images to help the viewer. As with the above image we added a tent. No we did not camp here.  Capturing images with people by taking a few steps back away from the scene and including more can have quite an impact on the viewer. Below you will see some of our students taking advantage of the great skies behind Delicate Arch on the last night of our workshop.

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What are some other types of night photography you can think of? It doesn’t always have to be the Milky Way or static stars…  I like to get out to the city once in a while at night and roam around to see what I can find. Each of the below images are 30 second exposures to allow the cars to create trails of light.

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Moon photography proves to be the hardest for me. It takes a great lens, very sturdy tripod and no wind to get a really good image of the Moon. The Moon is most easily photographed when it’s either rising or setting just before or after sunrise or sunset. A full moon high in the sky at night is by far the most challenging.

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We use LED Lights to help illuminate some of the scenes we shoot. Light painting is an art form in and of itself. Over the years we have found some more simply ways to light dark scenes for great effects…

First image used 3 LED panels to properly light both North Window and Turret Arch. The second image shows Mesa arch being lit by 2 LED panels strategically placed to create the light you see here. In the 3rd image I lined up the Milky Way with the arch in the rock and placed my LED panel on the backside of the Arch. The 4th images was created with 1 LED light but just before my exposure stopped, Mike’s camera finished his exposure and that is what is creating the blue light from his camera. The last image is using only 2 small candle lights.

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Super long single exposures allow you to create clean images with nice star trails. Often times I will use the foreground from a super long exposure (30 or more minutes) and put it with the static stars from a shorter exposure for best printing quality. Each of the images below are single images leaving the shutter open about an hour. Depending on which way your camera is facing the star trails will have a different line of travel.

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And last but not least, stepping out of the box once again and creating vertical panoramas of the night sky and our foreground subjects. Each of the images below is at least 180 Degree full overhead panorama of the Milky Way in the Night Sky. This is much easier to do in the Summer months when the Milky Way is overhead right after sunset.

 

I hope this blog has inspired you to get out and try your hand at night photography. If you want to read more about our articles and tutorials   <–click here.

If you would like to see what our previous students have said about our workshops please visit our Testimonials.

If you want to take your night photography to the next level and beyond, please take advantage of our December Discount Days and get 20% off all monies paid towards any 2017 workshop. You can see the entire schedule here. Simply enter december at checkout and your discount will be applied.

I thank you for your time and please feel free to leave me a comment or question.

Darren White

Digital Compositing – Time to Move Forward

Is compositing right or wrong? Doesn’t matter. It’s my art

It’s almost 2017. I have been a photographer for over 20 years starting back in the day of film. I think back to the tricks we used to achieve certain effects of our final images. When I was doing wedding photography we would use a clear filter on our lens and apply a very thin layer of Vaseline to soften the focus. I have shot a sharp image and then a blurry image and sandwiched the 2 in the printer to get the “Orton” effect.

Over the last 10 years since switching to digital I have kept pretty true to my art. I have waited for epic light, I have lost many nights sleep, I have spent a lot of time away from my family to get really great images… 99% of them coming from a single shot. Doing my best to get a great exposure on any given scene.

The image below is composed of 5 images to make up the wider panoramic image. During each exposure the light did not change, yet if you were to walk up to this scene in the dark your eyes would not see this as it’s presented here.. In theory, yes, this is how it looks to your camera sensor. We used an LED light panel to illuminate Turret Arch. Vega, the star above the arch was diffused by the thin layer of clouds, The light pollution from Moab added to the color the clouds giving them a nice yellow color on the left. With only minimal processing this was the final scene. Fact is, the eye did not see this…the camera sensor did..

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I am at a point where I want to try something new, Digital Composting, a term so many feel is wrong.  I think of a painter who wakes up one morning, walks over to his canvas and begins painting a scene from his head, it’s not a real scene, just a scene he has  envisioned and wants to put on his canvas. Who are we to tell him that is wrong? Have you been to EVERY place in the world to know if that scene exists or not? No. You haven’t.

For whatever reason, through the ages of photography there has been negativity towards editing and adjusting scenes… For the purpose of our Art I feel that we are free to do as we wish. For commercial purposes I don’t feel it’s right to advertise something that a tourists or traveler will never see… I would never advertise a workshop to Death Valley with a shot of the sand dunes with a castle in the middle because that is not something the students would see.. I would use the image if I were advertising that we would be learning how to composite images.

Over the last week I have been trying some new things to see if I can create some realistic images using 1 or more image. I think so far I have done a pretty good job.  If this is your thing or something you like seeing, great. If not, that is fine too. This is my art and I will continue to do things my way..I am willing to teach as much as anyone wants to learn.

I feel over the last 10 years I have kind of been in a bubble. Yes, I have learned new techniques and tips to create better images but I have never really stepped outside that bubble until now and I feel like there is an entire world in front of me with endless possibilities.

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Changing Seasons” –  The above image is a piece I created this fall by using 3 separate images of the same scene and all I did was combine them in Photoshop to create the desired effect. All blurring was done in camera..

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“Delicate Explosion” is a 2 image blend. I took one image of the stars while using my zoom lens to create the desired effect of the star burst and then another shot for Delicate Arch. This image represents a true scene. The Milky Way does rise behind delicate arch in the Summer. An image like this simply can’t be created in one exposure. Having the skill and foresight to create 2 images to put together later is where the credit for being creative comes into play.

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Lightning Lane” – Arches National Park – 2 image composite with a sky replacement. The orig image had stars in the sky. We were light painting the road and Courthouse Towers while shooting at night.. This was the first image using a new technique to replace the sky. The final image is much more powerful and thought invoking. It looks good in print too.

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Desert Storm” is a 2 image composite with the lightning bolt from Kansas and the alcove from Valley of Fire State Park.

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“Storm over Mesquite Dunes” is a 4 image composite for the final image The 3 lightning bolts and the sand dunes. I took the lightning bolts behind my house from Chatfield Lake State Park and the dunes are from Death Valley.

These are a few examples of digital composites I have created. Yes, there have been some I have worked up that I just look at and think, “that’s just wrong on too many levels” and I end up deleting the images.

Having the skills needed to take each image and then see it as a compliment to another image is a great example of how my vision has progressed throughout the years.. I won’t be stuck doing the same thing…For me personally, this progression is good for me on all aspects of my work.. Will I completely change the way I shoot? No. I still plan on getting great images they way I have before. Now I am simply seeing places where other images might fit into another image.

Right or wrong, it doesn’t matter to me…It’s my art and I will do what I want…

If you would like to read my first post on “Nothing is Real” <— please click and enjoy.

Whatever your vision is, create it and never let anyone tell you different…

Thanks for your time,

Darren

 

 

New Luminar from Macphun

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Luminar from Macphun is here! 

I will start out by saying that I have only had the program a few days. There is quite a bit to learn and I have only touched the surface. It’s been a fun ride so far.

Whenever I try out a new editing program there are a few criteria that the software needs to meet for me to continue using it.

  • Simple
  • Responsive
  • Fast
  • No Crashing
  • Effective

Simple – This means that once installed I can push some buttons, move some sliders and things will happen that I like. I don’t want to have to go searching for results.

Responsive –  This is a big one for me. When I make an adjustment with a slider I want the effect to happen as I am doing it or within 1 second of the adjustment… I have used other programs that take minutes to apply the adjustment and quite frankly I can’t live my life like that.

Fast – No lagging. As mentioned above things need to happen fast. I didn’t purchase a fast computer to run slow software.

No Crashing – When things start crashing I get nervous… With some of my more detailed night photography where I am using a lot of individual images to create one final image.. Putting in an hour or so worth of time and then have the program crash is a deal breaker for me, and probably you too, right?

Effective – It has to be able to do some nice things and produce some great results. If you bought a program only to find out it didn’t do what you wanted or give you the desired effects you like, you probably wouldn’t use it much. I have found that what I am doing with Luminar works very well and keeps my images very clean. This is extremely important because my images are printed large…I don’t want any artifacts from processing showing up in my images.

I am happy to say that Luminar has met and exceeded all my criteria. The software was easy to install the first time. It hasn’t crashed, it’s fast and responsive to the adjustments I make and it’s loaded with a lot of great presets to get you to a fantastic starting point quickly. I say “starting point” simply because there are still things I do in Photoshop when I am fine tuning my images and preparing them to be posted online.

Let’s take a look at some side by side comparisons with a few images I have processed with Luminar.

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Here is a nice side by side comparison of my RAW file on the left with the “Warm Sunset” preset on the right. That’s 1 click to this point. In PS you would need to do 2 or 3 individual adjustments to get to this point. Here I simply found the preset that most closely matched where I was headed with this image and selected it. I took this screenshot before I made any minor adjustments to the panel on the right because I wanted to show you the effect it had on the RAW file. As you can see in the very top image of this article I did finish off the image in PS before creating a file for posting online.

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“Center of Attention” – This preset works great when you have a centered subject and you really want to put emphasis on your subject. This image is from 4 years ago and one that I never took the time to process before. As you can see from the Before and After and the final image underneath. All I did here was use the preset and then add a little warmth to the color tone and I was done… Less than 30 seconds to edit this image from start to finish. I want to spend more time out shooting when possible and less time editing so having a program that is this quick and easy to use really excites me.

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I could show you these side by sides all day. I think the best thing to do is try it for yourself and  Download the free trial and start creating your own amazing works of art.

If you wish to purchase Macphun Luminar <— click here this let’s them know you found it on my blog.

Please note that I do not get paid, or paid for anything that is in this blog. The opinions are my own and I am simply sharing then with you…  Will Luminar replace photoshop for me, probably not. It will become a very useful addition to my workflow. This program is extensive. You can use layer, masks, blend modes ect to create anything you want!

Nothing is Real – Photographically Speaking of course.

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Photographically speaking of course.

Over the last year or so myself and several other photographers I know have come under fire about “Photoshopping” images

in this blog post “photoshop” will be used to describe any edit or editing done to an image, not just the use of actual photoshop by Adobe.

Many of you may know my history with photography and some of you may not and this is where I want to tell my story.

When I was 12 yrs old in 6th grade my mom got a free 35mm camera becasue she had subscribed to x amount of magazines. The camera was crap yet compared to the 110 camera we had it was like winning the lotto. It did not take me long to get my hands on it and start shooting my friends while we were out skateboarding. What a way to learn photography, shooting fast moving objects at various speeds in various lighting conditions. How did I learn about ISO and what each one did…I had to read the back of the Kodak film box. ISO 100=bright light and still objects. ISO 400=less light needed to capture fast objects and such.

Because the ISO was set by the code on the film canister I never had the chance to set the ISO manually to compensate for my exposures. I was still learning and only 12 yrs old….I just know that it took a lot of trial and error before I started getting the images I wanted. 
I would have my friends get ready for a shot and then hopefully click the shutter at the right moment with the right ISO Film to get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze them in action. It was a struggle, a fun struggle though. This is how I learned what ISO worked best for different images…Now imagine the horror that I had to shoot all 24 or 36 exposures on that same ISO…..WHAT!!!!!!! NO control over ISO… now when I go shoot I probably change my ISO 100 times throughout a week long shoot… Ok back to the story…trust me this is going someplace…

In 9th grade I began using black and white film…we went on field trips and had a darkroom. Remember, Nothing is Real. While a point and shoot was a great camera to start with, it was very limited. Now that I had access to a darkroom I could adjust my images to my liking. I spent a lot of time in the darkroom working on developing and printing for the yearbooks as well as taking a lot of the images. I quickly learned how your developer temps and times for your film would adjust the outcome of your negatives. Nothing is Real. Yes we had some standards we used as guidelines to get good negatives so we could get good prints but they were just that. Guidelines. Now even with non adjustable ISO cameras I had control over the developer times.  I could now Push or Pull my film. Once the film was developed and ready to be printed I would take an 8×10 sheet of photo paper put it under the enlarger that had the negative in it and shine the light on the paper for 1 sec, 2 seconds or however long I wanted to get a good image…Right here is where photo editing began for me and probably everyone else who has developed and printed their own work. By combining the exposure of light onto the paper and the time I left the paper in the developer tray I was essentially editing the image to my liking…Nothing is Real. Just think about those last 2 sentences for a while…Photoshopping before photoshop was even around..I wasn’t the first, nor will I be the last…

Ansel Adams had a vision. Like most photographers these days we see a scene and we feel connected to it and want to create an image we feel strongly about. Ansel was a master in the darkroom while printing his own prints. His dodge and burn techniques were unmatched… do you think the camera he used was really able to capture ALL that dynamic range in a single exposure…No…He knew how to expose that sheet of film so he could then work that over in the darkroom and get an epic print. True, you have to have a good beginning to have a fantastic end print. He couldn’t expose a shot with a completely blown out moon and expect to regain the details in the darkroom, Hence he probably metered on the moon (the brightest object in the scene) and based his exposure off that, knowing he could bring up the shadows and tonal values easier then he could ever recover a blown out moon…

Moving on, I am now 18, freelancing on my own and working in a 1 hr photo lab. I have purchased a Nikon F4s that I worked what seemed to be 1000’s of hours at min wage to be able to afford…

Now I could change my ISO, shutter speed and F stops even though I was still shooting film..I had full control over the exposure the moment I clicked the shutter. This camera is sitting next to me right now as I am typing out this blog. I will never get rid of it as it was truly my first love of a camera. Now with the Nikon F4s in my hands and a darkroom at my disposal I was pretty much ready to go.. I soon went to work for a local news paper shooting sports, working in their darkroom doing layouts and printing the images to the specific sizes for the paper. Knowing I had to get that good image in my camera so that I would have a good image to work with back in the darkroom was essential to me. I wasn’t just out there snapping away crappy images thinking, Oh well I will just photoshop them after I develop them. That wasn’t the case at all. While I still had the ability to manipulate my images my goal was to get the original capture the best I could.

Skipping ahead to 2006, I break down and buy a Nikon 5700 coolpix digital camera. This was a monster 5 megapixel and pretty much king of cameras at the time…it was a point and shoot and it was digital. There was one thing missing….A computer…so back to basics, shoot to get the best exposure I could in the original capture. Then we got a computer and I quickly found some online forms where other people posted their images…I was blown away with what I was seeing…Nevertheless I stepped forward and began posting mine too. My images received harsh almost rude comments saying I was a crappy photographer, my images sucked, people told me to do this and that and how to make the images look better…It was a hard hit to take as someone who had been freelancing for years and working as a photographer for a newspaper.  Remember, Nothing is Real and I am coming to this really soon.

Through the online forums I met some nice people as well as rude A$$holes. I was introduced to some image editing programs and was really loving the creativity I had over my images now. One of the photographers who I admired greatly at the time, Marc Adamus, was kind enough to ask me to go shooting with him and another photographer. Back then Marc always said it was best to get it right in the camera or as close as possible in the camera and I, to this day, still believe that with my heart and soul… Today Marc teaches a different way of photography and while our styles differ greatly, he is still by far the best photographic artist I know. His photoshop skills are like no one else I know. Can Marc shoot good single exposure pictures…Yes, he can.. His style today is more along the lines of shooting anywhere between 3 and 20 images to create one image. Maybe it’s focus stacking, hand blending, exposure blending and so on…his images create depth and dynamic range you simply can’t get in one exposure. As I said our styles are very different yet he is still highly respected as a photographer by me.

Between 1987 and 2012 I was pretty non artistic when it came to photography. I was pretty much a straight shooter. I would work hard to get that almost perfect expsoure if it meant I had to wait hours for that epic moment of light or go back to a certain location many many times. This is what I did. I would then take the images into photoshop and adjust minimally, resize and post online..

I could go on and on about this but I want to get to my point…

NOTHING IS REAL (photographically speaking)

Photography from the beginning of time has never been real. Cameras, film, sensors, none of them can capture what our eyes see. Your eyes see differently than mine. We might look at the same sunset and you may see more reds and pinks while I see more oranges or yellows.. Even back in the day when photography first started nothing was real. The images captured were not the real images, they did not look like what the photographer saw with his eyes. Ansel Adams edited his images in the dark room. Photography is about choices, visual and artistic choices. If you choose to shoot a scene at 1/125th second and I shoot the same scene at 1/2 second we have both created an image based on our vision. Your image froze the subject while mine allowed it to move during the exposure. Your image came out darker cause thats how you wanted it while mine was brighter. These are our artistic visions.

Now that digital is the standard in photography I want those of you who don’t know, to know, that our eyes see WAY more that a camera can ever capture. The dynamic range of even the BEST camera can not see what our eyes see.. So Yes, we edit the scene we are shooting from the moment we turn on the camera choose the ISO, choose the shutter speed, Fstop and so on… Then we take it back into the darkroom (photoshop) and bring that RAW file back to life. Even if you are shooting on Jpg mode you are still editing the scene and letting the camera process your images based on the settings you have applied in your camera. Those of us who shoot RAW do our developing and processing in the darkroom known as photoshop…

So when someone tells me they are against photoshop and only love REAL photography I ask myself, “What is real Photography?” Is there such a thing? Maybe it’s the term “Real Photography”

2012 till present time I have been open about my artistic vision as a photographer. It has taken me this long to come to terms and inner peace with using photoshop and feeling like I don’t need to defend process to anyone. We all take artistic liberties with our images. Some of us make small adjustments and some do composites of several images taken not even in the same location..It is what it is and if we never told you different, chances are you would’t be able to tell.   If you ever come across a professional photographer who says he or she does not edit their images, you can be 99.999999999% sure they are lying to your face…

I will leave you with this image which attracted a lot of heat recently on my Facebook Page. You can see in the first image how the colors are muted and dull. That is how the camera captured the image in RAW mode when I shot it.. The actual scene looked more like the image on the bottom. The sunrise was amazing that morning and the colors were a sight to behold…My camera just could’t capture that on RAW mode…yes I could have achieived these results if I would have switched my camera to Jpg and boosted the contrast and saturation and adjusted the color to a slight magenta. In the end, I want full control over my vision like many artists, photographers, painters, sculptors before me we all have a vision and no matter how little or how big we make adjustments to our images….Nothing is Real!

Feel Free to comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts on this and thank you for taking the time to read. raw-vs-final