Depending on your skill level or desired outcome, there can be more or less that goes into creating a great night image. When I say great I am talking about the level of quality needed for printing large. If you can print an image at least 3 ft wide or tall with little to minimal noise then I would say you have done a great job. I’m not talking about using that single exposure and shrinking it down to fit on your IG feed or in your FB post. Anyone can do that. I am talking about using the tools (your camera and photoshop) to help you create a masterpiece you can be proud to hang in your home or office.
I’ve been doing night photography for over 20 years and while it has changed quite a bit some aspects have remained the same. I am here to tell you that the amazing image you see on social media of night photography are images of creation, not snapshots. Today I want to step you though a very basic image creation process. Each of you will have your own opinions on what you feel this is or how you would categorize it and that’s fine. Technically, in my opinion, it’s a “Blend”. I used my camera to shoot multiple images of a scene that was in front of me and then use those images to create the final image. Here we go!
When possible, I always try and arrive at my location before sunset or before sunrise. This allows me to use a low ISO with a longer shutter speed but still using the natural light from the sun or moon. If your timing is so that you arrive at dark and can’t stay long enough, then I highly suggest you still shoot a long exposure with a low ISO at night and this will give you the best possible quality for your foreground. This example was shot right after sunset at 31 ISO for 2 seconds to get the absolute cleanest foreground possible.
There is no getting around it, you have to shoot the stars at night! It’s true so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! This is where a little technique comes into play. Focusing in the dark can be challenging sometimes and while it may be easy to focus on the barn with a light, the stars may be out of focus a little depending on what lens you’re using. The sharper you can get your stars the better image quality you will have to start with. In the above image I focused on the stars to insure they were sharp. I used 44 images that I shot back to back to stack and reduce the noise in the sky. I generally shoot for 36 images but depending on what ISO I am shooting I may use more or less. These 44 images were ISO 8000 for 15 seconds each. By doing this it gave me roughly a 6x noise reduction factor which then brings the final image ISO equivalent down to about 125.
This is where things get fun. I now have my clean low ISO sunset shot of the barn and my stacked 44 image sky that I need to bring together. I use the select and mask option in Photoshop to remove the sky from the barn image and I replace it with the stacked sky image. Using the free transform tool on sky I can place it exactly where I want it. This is where most beginners stop. They have a good sky with a good foreground and to the untrained eye it doesn’t look too bad. To my eye and any of my photography friends’ eyes it should look like a cut and past job. Not something I would be happy with at all. If you look closely you will see that the exposure values differ too much between the sky and the foreground. If you look on the left side you will see how bright the field is in the back towards the sky. Looks like a cut and paste job huh?
Because we don’t want our image to look like a cut and paste job, there is one more little trick that we must do. Giving the image some depth or separation between the foreground and the sky. It’s not much and it’s very subtle. The depth layer gives the perception of distance and that the barn is not sitting right in front of the Milky Way.
If you look closely at the side by side above you can see the difference the depth layer makes. Had I not told you it was even there you probably wouldn’t have ever noticed without seeing a side by side comparison. This is a crucial part in helping to create a natural looking image.
Now we’re are getting into the meat and potatoes of how this image comes to life. Once you have your 3 layers (foreground, depth, sky) you can now adjust them independently of each other and make them blend together. I make one adjustment for the foreground and then one for the sky. By having them each as their own layer in PS I can visually see how the adjustments work together. You may ask, “why not just make one global adjustment for both?” The answer is simple, we need the sky and foreground to blend seamlessly in exposure values and the adjustment for the sky wont be the same for the foreground. By doing them independently of each other we can fine tune so they go together.
Once you have your foreground and your sky exposure values working well together you can now make some global adjustments. I, personally, like to do this in DxO Nik Color Efex. These adjustments can really be anything you like. I have my own standards that I use to make images look the way I do. What I really like about using DxO Color Efex is that once you are done making the adjustments and you click OK, it will open it back up into photoshop as a new layer. This is really helpful because it allows you to toggle the eyeball next to the image and see the difference before and after. If you feel like something is too strong you can always use the opacity slider to tone it down or you can simply add a layer mask and brush out the parts you don’t want. Having this finite control is crucial in creating a final image.
Now that the image is opened back up into Photoshop we can make some tiny, fine tuned adjustments to finalize our image. Now we have a super clean, printable image that looks very natural as if the moonlight is gently hitting the barn and grass in the foreground as it sets. The Sun, Moon, Milky Way and planets all follow the same ecliptical path in the sky. It’s very important to make sure when blending images or making composites that the direction of light is the same for all the images you are using. Because I shot my foreground right after sunset I knew the light was coming from the west (right) as if there moon were setting. You never want to shoot your foreground in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead unless it’s an overcast day.
The above side by side will help you see the difference from start to finish and by adding that layer of depth, it now feels as though the brighter left side is being softly lit by the light behind the barn and is much more natural to our eyes.
I hope this helps you understand the basic process and one of the ways super clean night photography images are created. If you want more detailed help I am happy to do so both via Zoom meetings or out in the field actually shooting (it helps to have the images to work with first) If you already have some images, I’d be happy to help. See links below.
Friends, today I am writing this blog purely for informational purposes only. When it comes to working with galleries there are a lot of variables that come into play. This is true for both the photographer and the gallery. This blog will be written from a photographers view who is selling Matted and Framed Prints, Acrylic Prints, Canvas Prints and Metal prints. This blog will not have anything to do with other types of artists who sell in galleries. This post is also aimed more towards the people who are actively trying to make a profit from photography.
Some of you will take this to heart and re think your current situation, some of you will blow it off and for a select few it will upset you because it’s happened to you. This blog post is not designed to make anyone mad, it’s just me speaking the truth. I am sure there are a very few of you who have had different experience but for most this is the cold hard truth.
When I arrived in Denver 7 years ago I was asked to be part of a gallery in the Santa Fe Arts District and over the following couple years I joined a couple other galleries in the greater Denver area. The experience was a huge eye opener for me.
I have friends who have been or are still showing their work in galleries and as long as they continue to do so I will continue to help support them through various ways to help promote their work and bring attention to others so that they know where to go to see the work. Some of you may know that I worked in a photo lab for a few years after high school and I really love seeing printed images. Whenever I am in a new city or a friend is showing work in a gallery near me, I will do my best to stop in and take a look. We all have our own unique styles and that is one thing I really love about being a photographer.
Being new to Denver and having the opportunity to join a gallery was amazing and I was really excited. This was my first time being in a real gallery. I had a great social media following and figured I could use that to draw people in, in addition to what the gallery was doing. Some nights it worked, some nights it didn’t. That’s just the nature of the game.
As I was ending my time in the galleries and one of them was about to close I really started thinking about the business aspect of it all from both the gallery owner side as well as the photographer side and it didn’t take me long to realize that for the average photographer, you’re not go to make any money by showing your work in galleries. If you do it will be barely breaking even or maybe a tiny profit. In my opinion the tiny profit at the end of it all probably wont be worth the time and effort you put into the whole thing.
When people I knew were telling me they were accepted into such and such gallery I was naturally happy for them, just as my friends and supporters were when I shared the good news. Some of them I went a little deeper with and told them my theories on why you will never make money in a gallery. Of course, as I said before, there are some variables. One of them being this, “Well, it’s a great way to get my name out there.” True, it can be a good way to promote your work in general and if someone sees something hanging on a gallery wall that they love but want a larger size then it can be a nice feeling to make that sale, but are you really making any money?
I found that there are a couple ways galleries work, at least from my experience. A gallery can take up to 50% of your sales, generally more in the 40% range and not charge you any “Wall Space Rent” or the can charge you “Wall Space Rent” and take a smaller percentage of your sales. One gallery I was asked to join wanted $600 a month rent for the space. They also offered me the other option of no wall rent space but they would take a higher percentage of my sales. I kindly declined both offers. It wasn’t too long before a friend of mine decided he wanted to jump in on that deal. If I remember correctly, I think they said that just to get into the gallery on a 6 month lease for wall space and his prints was somewhere in the $5,000 range. I have confirmed this with them. After talking further to get the facts correct, they told me that in 2.5 years of showing in the gallery, they broke even. They did not make 1 penny profit. I could use this as one of my examples but I’m not going to. Once you read further you can come back to this and figure it out on your own!
For these situations, I am going to use real world whole numbers to keep the math simple. Let’s start. Gallery X offers you wall space for 1 year. No rent but they take 40% of your sales. You’re excited and go home and figure you can get 10 good sized images on the wall they have offered you. You decided on the prints (24×36) and have 10 printed up. Ten beautiful metal prints (I picked metal because they are priced between canvas photos and Acrylic prints) headed your way to showcase in your newly acquired gallery space. Your total investment cost for the 10 prints comes to $2000 at 200 each with printing and shipping. It’s opening day of your show and you sell 2 prints for $600 each. That’s being pretty generous for the average photographer with that sized image. Your total sale is $1200 and the gallery is going to take $480 leaving you with $720. Now you need to replace those 2 that you sold because the gallery doesn’t want empty space on their wall. $400 more to replace them and now you are looking at take home of $320 or, and this is the way you should look at it…you’re still $1680 in the hole. This continues on for the year and you end up selling all 10 prints in that year with your last sale 2 months before your year is up. 10x$600=$6000 in sales, Gallery takes $2400 and it costs you $2000 to replace the sold prints. That’s $1600 left over but with your initial investment of $2000, you have still lost $400 over the course of the year. It’s that initial investment that most people don’t want to look at because they are getting their gallery business set up and it’s something you simply can’t avoid yet it’s still an expense. So what happens when the gallery closes or decides to keep you on for another year. Maybe next year you sell 15 prints because now more people are aware of your work. 15×600=$9000 in sales, Gallery takes $3600, replacement costs are $3000 which leaves you with $2400 and now you have made a $400 profit for 2 years in the gallery. Don’t forget that the gallery is going to send you a W-2 because your sales were over $500. I think that’s the lowest amount before they have to send you one. So you will end up paying 30-40% taxes on the $400 you made so in the end, for 2 years in a gallery your take home profit will be about $260.
For most people, that’s a pretty hard truth to swallow and in all of your defenses, it doesn’t feel like that…It feels great when someone comes in and buys a print for $600 that you’re showing at a gallery…
Now, If you do want to show in a gallery here are some things I recommend you do to increase profits. First and foremost, talk to the gallery owner and ask them about how much art you are required to have on your wall space. If they don’t require you to replace all your work that you sell then your profits will potentially go higher. Talk to your printer and see if you can work out a deal on prints. If they know you will be buying 5-10 pcs up front and more throughout the year it’s very possible they will give you a deal and that will contribute to the profit margin. Bin work (small matted prints) usually have the highest profit margin. You can make all your prints standard sizes, 12×18 inches and purchase the mattes in bulk for pretty cheap. Let’s say you do 25 9×12 images that will fit in 11×14 mattes that have openings of 8.5×11 with backing and plastic bags. Total cost is going to be roughly no more than $150, or you can go a little larger and do 16×20 mattes with 11×14 openings for about $170 for 25.. The smaller ones I would sell for about $59 and the larger ones $79. You really only need to sell 5-6 to make your initial investment back even after the gallery takes their cut. If you do sign a lease for 6mos, 1yr or 2yrs, be very cautious about ordering replacement prints towards the end. You really only make money when you sell what you have and don’t have to spend more money to replace inventory. One last thing, if you can get away with it and you’re an amazing salesperson, up your prices, a lot…
If you sell 10 prints at $999 each for a total sale at the end of the year of $9999 and the gallery takes $4000 that gives you $5999-$2000 initial investment leaves you with $3999 and then $2000 to restock inventory so now you have made $1999 for the year minus the taxes you will pay. There is also a chance that if you raise your prices too high your sales will be down and therefore you will take a loss (again) rather than make anything.
If your prices are really high and your initial investment is $2000 for the 24×36 metal prints and let’s say you only sell 1 print during the year. You would have to sell that 1 print for $3450 in order to make your $2000 back.
This is something I feel very strongly about and I hope this helps you to understand how it works for photographers in a gallery setting. Galleries that rent out wall space to several photographers are generally doing it so they can pay their rent because the commissions from the sales aren’t enough and it’s less risky to collect rent from a signed contract than it is to rely on commissions from random sales.
One final note to think about is this and this is exactly what happened to me. When your time is up in a gallery or the gallery is going to close due to unforeseen circumstances ie, Covid-19 you will either end up with a garage full of your work or you will try to have a “sale” before the gallery closes. If you have the “sale” then you’re cutting your prices even more and while you may end up getting some of that money back, you’re not making a profit. After 2 years of about 100 total pieces sitting in my garage well cared for and protected. I decided to sell them privately. It was in the beginning of this whole pandemic and I was amazed at the support. I used Facebook Market place as well as Nextdoor to connect with potential buyers. I sold all but 4 images. If you can sell privately or on your own I feel it’s a much better deal for you as a photographer.
All that glitters, is not gold.
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This blog seems fitting since today is the 1 year anniversary of me getting the Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 Art Lens. I have been wanting to do this blog for a while and today it just seems right. Some of you know that I already have the Sigma 14mm, 20mm and 24mm so you may be asking why does he have/need the 14-24? Great question and I am happy to explain. It wasn’t really a matter of need but more want the lens. My goal was to find out if this 1 lens could replace all 3 primes. Some of you are probably reading this and think I am crazy. That’s good.. I kind of thought so too. While I do focus most of my work on Landscapes and Nightscapes, I also consider myself a fairly general photographer. If you were to see a lot of the work that I never post to my socials you would see what I am talking about. Nonetheless, my purpose was to test this lens in all areas and see if it was right for me. I will break this down into 3 sections. Landscapes, Astro/Nightscapes and City Photography.
Various regions will require various focal lengths to get the right composition. I find myself using super wide and wide angle lenses when I am up close to my subjects and want to put an emphasis on the foreground as well as create depth. This works well for waterfalls, reflections and when your subject is fairly close to you. When I first moved to Colorado I found that most of the scenery I was shooting required a longer lens or I needed to find ways to get closer to my subject.
One thing I love about the Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 Art lens is that it covers 3 popular focal lengths for landscape photography. Because I already have 8 lenses in my bag, this lens pretty much lets me eliminate 2 of those. I have never been a photographer who shoots my lenses wide open. It’s sure great to have the option to shoot at 1.4 or 1.8 but it’s rare that I would ever do that. For landscape photography I also would never shoot a scene like this at 2.8. So the need for a super fast lens for landscape photography isn’t something that I personally need. I will talk about the benefits of these lenses in the next section. Making sure your image is in focus all the way through the scene is important so shooting at F/stops that range from 7.1 – 16 and sometimes 18 and 22 is what I mostly shoot with. Also I don’t generally shoot images that would be easy to focus stack so I rely more on hyperfocal techniques to get my images sharp.
With super wide angle focal lengths as long as you are 4ft or so from your subject you should not have any issues getting the image sharp from front to back. This scene of a thermal pool was shot at 14mm from the boardwalk and I am only about 7ft away from the edge of the pool. Had I shot this with even a 24mm lens and did verticals to stitch into a pano, I don’t think even shooting at F/16 would have got it in focus from front to back. Having the versatility of 3 lenses in one is incredible and lets me focus on my work rather than trying to decide which lens I need to use next.
Getting close to my subject is key sometimes to create the mood or feel to an image. The Sigma 14-24mm has a minimum focusing distance of just under a foot. At 10 inches it allows me to get down and dirty to get the right angles when needed. I do believe that I was right at the 11-12 inches when I shot this image. I remember getting a little too close and not being able to focus so I backed up and zoomed in just hair to end up shooting at 19mm just to eliminate some of the super wide angle distortion that I normally like.
There is beauty in putting a lens on your camera and knowing that you may not need to take it off all day. Thus the case on a recent trip to the east coast where I was shooting waterfalls and creeks all day long. This image was shot around noon on a very overcast and damp day. I was able to get right out into the water with the camera and lens just above the water surface. Knowing that I was going to blur the water with my shutter speed, I decided that I wanted the big foreground to fill the lower portion of the frame and that it did not need to be tack sharp. With my camera and lens about 6 inches above the water I knew that it was too close to focus on so by focusing on the rock where the water was cascading over I was able to create depth in the scene with it appearing sharp throughout by using an f/stop of 18.
Sometimes a shoot happens that doesn’t involve much planning. This particular location is super closet to my house and it’s a place I like to visit when the conditions are right. Snow being one of them. For this shot I wanted to make sure that the entire reflection was in the image and that I did not give the viewer that “looking down” feeling. I set my camera up right at the waters edge only a few inches above the water and by doing this I was able to get more of the reflection of the trees and clouds. The sharpness of the Sigma 14-24mm is incredible and I hope you can see that in this image.
As a night photography instructor for the last 7 years, it would make sense that I suggested to students to bring a super fast lens to shoot with. Sigma makes AMAZING Super fast primes, there is no doubt about that and not even something I want to question or debate. The real question here is can a 2.8 zoom lens take the place of a 1.4 or 1.8 prime lens for night photography and I will get right to the point and say yes. Yes it can. Part of this stems from the quality of the lens and part of it stems from the processing of the images.
It wasn’t long ago that photographers with digital cameras who were shooting the night sky were doing so by shooting 1 single image. This meant we needed super fast lenses to let enough light in that would allow us to use a short enough shutter speed to make sure we did not get star trails. With the advancement of various processing tools and stacking software 2.8 is plenty fast and often times I will shoot at F/3.2 or F/4. We can now shoot at much higher ISO’s at greater DOF’s and use shorter shutter speeds to get amazing results by stacking images.
I’ll be very honest in saying that I no longer care about what ISO I am shooting at at night. If I need to crank the ISO up to 12,800 ISO to get a 15 second shutter speed instead of a 30 second shutter speed at 6400 ISO I do it. I know that the noise is now irrelevant when shooting because I can remove it later. Stacking images is the key to noise removal when you don’t have the option to shoot a single long exposure for your foreground. We can talk about the techniques all day long but I want to keep the focus of this blog on the Sigma 14-24mm lens and how well it performs. It’s my opinion that the sharper the lens and the better the focus you can get in your image, the less noise you will notice in a well exposed image. A sharper image will also allow you print larger.
When an image is super sharp and well focused at night the noise is often mistaken for detail. At smaller sizes this is not noticeable but when you print larger images over 30 inches it becomes a crucial element in the entire process. If you have an image that is even the slightest bit out of focus, enlargements are pretty much out the window. Having a lens that you can get razor sharp focus with will allow you to see details in your images you have not seen before. Image quality should be a major concern to you as a photographer and your image will only be as good as the lens that lets the light into your sensor. I can say this with confidence because we did a test in one of our workshops with a student who had a Nikon D3400 and a Sigma 20mm and we compared that to one of my images that was shot with a Nikon D810 and a Sigma 20mm lens. Even though her camera produced more noise to begin with the final images were 99% identical in terms or how little noise there was. Razor sharp focus is key! I can’t repeat this enough.
Having the ability to use 1 lens all night is, as I have said before, a wonderful feeling. You would be surprised at how many subjects and compositions you can get between 14mm and 24mm. Being able to get your composition right in the camera at the time of shooting is another element I wish more photographers took seriously. This was shot at 18mm which falls between that 14mm and 20mm length. I prefer not to crop my images because I like to retain the native file sizes the best I can. I want to make sure I can include everything in the image I want and not have to crop in later or cut something off that may be important to the scene. As with the tree on the far lower left..
While I don’t do a lot of urban or city photography on a regular basis, I did have the chance to use the lens and do some while on a trip to Tallinn, Estonia. Again, and I feel like I am repeating myself, it was nice to be able to walk around the city and not have to worry about changing lenses. 14mm is wide enough and 24mm was telephoto enough to allow me to get a lot of shots I wanted without having to change lenses in the rain or snow. The added benefit to this is that the less you change your lens the less likely you are to get dirt or debris on your sensor.
People who shoot with me on a regular basis know that I have a bad habit of changing lenses a lot. I like to capture the same scene with lots of focal lengths and compositions. With the 14-24mm I can eliminate a lot of that. This was a particular scene that I needed the 14mm. I could not go back any further without including a bunch of junk in the image. A 20mm or 24mm would not have allowed me to capture this image the way you see it here. With just the right amount of sky and arch with the open doors this scene came together very well at 14mm based on the fact that this was my only vantage point to capture it from.
I’ve talked about the uses of this lens and now I want to finish up by talking about the quality of the lens. For starters it’s built like a tank. You are not getting some chuck of plastic. This lens is built to endure whatever you throw at it… Just not a bucked of water probably. I have shot with this lens in the rain and snow and it works without problem. It does come with a built in lens hood so filter options are limited. I don’t personally use filters so that is not an issue for me. The lens provides wonderful edge to edge sharpness in both landscapes and astrophotography. It has a very small amount of distortion that is only noticeable at the 14mm range and is easily corrected in ACR or LR by using the Lens Correction panel. Minimal chromatic aberrations and color fringing throughout the zoom range for improved clarity and color accuracy. If you do happen to be shooting a super contrasty subject and you get some CA, it’s super easy to fix with one click in ACR and LR.
If you are a photographer that REALLY needs that extra couple stops of light then by all means grab the Sigma 14mm, 20mm and 24mm primes. I still own the 14mm and the 24mm 1.4 lens and they each have their own unique purpose at the wider Fstops. After a full year of shooting with the Sigma 14mm-24mm 2.8 I can now honestly say that If I only take that lens and leave the 14mm prime and 24mm prime at home, I’ll be ok and my image quality will not suffer one bit. It should be noted that I am also not in my 20’s anymore and while I am still very active and healthy, I am trying to be more aware of the stress I put on my body. Because these lenses are so well built and do have a bit of weight to them, only needing to carry one lens can be a nice rest for your back.
This lens fits all my needs in terms of image quality and focal lengths at the wider angles. If you are looking for an amazing lens that can do it all at the wider angles then I highly suggest you check out the Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 Art lens! You wont be disappointed.
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As someone who grew up working in a photo lab developing other people’s pictures, I quickly learned what I liked and what I didn’t when it came to the outcome of images. I knew right away when a particular customer walked in to drop off his or her film what their images would look like. I feel it’s kinda the same way now that we are all connected through social media and the internet. Over the last 8 years I have helped teach 100’s of students during our Night Photography Workshops that we hold in the summers, except this summer due to the pandemic. In our workshops the info is pretty deep and I could probably write an entire encyclopedia set just on Night Photography.
Most of my friends who I shoot with know that I refer to myself as the lazy photographer. Not because I am lazy physically, but because I will find the easiest way to do something in the least amount of time with the best results. In this blog I will give you, my opinion only, what I feel are the 10 best tips to improve your night photography.
1.Fill the Frame– all of our cameras have lots of megapixels now. This is no reason to have a crappy composition and tell yourself you will just crop and recompose in post. Composing in the dark can be hard… If you don’t have a light that will shine on the entire scene you’re shooting then just point your camera in the general direction and shoot a 20 second shot at a very high (12800-25600) ISO. The image quality will suck but you will then be able to see what your composition is like. Adjust your comp until you get it just right and then tone down your exposure to something like 6400 or 8000 and do your shooting.
2.Sturdy Tripod– This is a MUST. At night when we are doing long exposures (20 seconds to an hour or more) any amount of movement can ruin a shot or a set of shots. I personally use Robus Tripods for my work and have been using them for the last year. I recommend whatever tripod you purchase that it not have a center column or it has the short center column. I love my tripod because it does not have a center column and I can get super low to the ground. It also has a hook that hangs down from the tripod platform that I can hang my bag on in windy conditions to help stabilize and eliminate movement.
3.Scout and Plan – It’s important to know what will be in the night sky on any particular evening you’re planning on going out shooting. If you want your images to look like daytime with only a few visible stars then shoot on a near or full moon. If you want lots of stars in your image then shoot closer to a new moon. There are many apps that will help you figure all this out. I use 2 different apps to do my planning because they each serve a unique purpose. Moon Phase is an app that tells you the phases of the Moon, when it will rise and when it will set. It also tells me when golden hour and blue hour are. Photopills is an app I use for my planning. Once I know the phase of the moon, then I can plan where I am going to go based on where the Milky Way or other celestial object will be in the sky.
4.Proper Exposure This is one of the most important components to getting good night images. As our eyes adjust in the dark the back of LCD seems to become extremely bright. This will fool you into thinking your images are bright and properly or over exposed when in reality they are probably underexposed. ALWAYS use your histogram to make sure you are not pushed up against either side. With cameras today you should not have any pure blacks in your raw images unless you want it there. Having a good histogram means that the info should be off the left side a little (blacks) and not pushed up against the right side (whites) Having a proper exposure to work with will give you a huge advantage when it comes to post processing.
5.Use different ISO’s– If you are new to night photography and possibly afraid of the high ISO’s don’t be. You’re not wasting film by taking test shots. You have nothing to lose. I suggest you take one night to learn before going to a specific location to shoot. In theory ISO 6400 should have more noise than 1600 ISO right? Well, yes and no. A well exposed 6400 image may actually have less visible noise than an underexposed 1600 ISO image that you have to bring way up in post processing. 6400 is also 2 full stops brighter than 1600 so you can use shorter shutter speeds to help keep the stars from trailing during your exposure. So if you are shooting 30 second exposures at 2.8 at 1600 ISO with a 24mm lens and you are seeing the stars trail in your images then you can bump your ISO up to 6400 and shoot 8 seconds and you wont have the trailing stars anymore.
6. Lens selection – I have a bad habit of carrying all my lenses (8 of them) with me each time I go shoot. It never fails that when ever I leave a lens at home, it’s the lens I need. I don’t suggest you do this when going out at night… In all honesty if you have 3 lenses that cover 14mm up to 50mm you will be fine. You don’t need anymore. Knowing the difference between what a 14mm scene looks like vs what a 50mm scene looks like is very important. If you were too close you may cut off part of the image you wanted. With a 14mm you may end up with a lot of empty space and end up cropping later (see tip #1) Generally I shoot with 14mm, 24mm and 50mm. I recently sold my 20mm after extensive testing with the Sigma 14-24 2.8 art lens. With my style of shooting I did not need the F/1.4 that the 20mm offered. I can shoot at 2.8 and be totally fine. More on this a little later. Keep your gear light and simply bring what you need. Quality of lenses actually make a difference too. The sharper your lens and the ability to focus with give your image less visible noise on a properly exposed image. Also the sharper the image the more you can enlarge without increasing the noise.
7. Shooting Technique – Stacking or single shots? This is where people seem to separate in their styles. Do you shoot single images or do you shoot a set of images to stack later. I can honestly tell you that if you are not using one of the stacking programs available today (Sequator for Windows, Starry Landscape Stacker for Mac OS) your image quality will never be as good as those who do. This really all boils down to, “What am I going to do with the image?” If you are just out for fun and want to share online with friends and family then you probably don’t need to use one of the programs. If you are out shooting for images to print and or hang in homes or offices, then using one of the stacking programs will help advance your overall image quality. Personally, I stack all of my night images using Starry Landscape stacker the reason I use the stacking program vs noise reduction in PS or other programs is because it works the best to keep the details in the image while removing the noise. ALL the other programs remove more detail when any noise reduction is applied. I like details in my images. I don’t want my images to look like what some have called “oil paintings”. If you use too much noise reduction it can create a painterly feel by smoothing the entire scene and removing lots of detail. Can you get a good image without stacking? Sure, and if you never compare it to a stacked image chances are you wont even know the difference. As you can see in the image below there is much less noise in the stacked image. No editing has been done to these images other than stacking. This is a 100% crop from the image below it after it’s been edited and sized for web presentation. By stacking you not only give yourself a much better starting point but your beginning image has more data (colors) to work with when you process it. By stacking images in your shooting technique, you no longer need to worry about the noise in each of the raw frames… I typically shoot my stacked sequences at 6400-12800 ISO because I know the stacking will remove the noise.. This allows me to use shorter exposure times and get sharper, more pinpoint stars. As a general rule of thumb, Stacking images to reduce noise reduction works like this, if you stack 16 images you will get a 4x noise reduction factor, If you stack 36 you will get a 6x noise reduction factor so that means that your 6400 ISO stack of 36 images will have an end result that has the noise of ISO 100. This works up until you get to 36 images, after that you need to double the images to get any more visible reduction…so 49 wouldn’t be any better than 36 but 72 images would.
8. Calculating super long exposures – This is so easy. Let’s say you want to do an hour long exposure. You can’t just point your camera and set your timer for an hour… Well, you can but chances are you wont get the desired results. First you need a good test shot at a super High ISO. Your test shot can be 30 seconds because we don’t care if the stars are trailing a little or not…Once you get a good, properly exposed test shot at, for example let’s say 10,000 ISO, F/2.8, 30 seconds. then we know our final long exposure will be 80 ISO for 64 minutes and the image should look exactly as bright as the test shot at the high ISO. No matter what your starting ISO is, just cut it in half and double the exposure time until you get down to your desired length. Most cameras now go below 100 ISO into what is known as expansion ISO’s. My D850 goes down to ISO 31 so for the above example, if your camera doesn’t go below 100, then just set it at 100. It’ll be slightly brighter but not by much. Most all the times in our workshops we start with test shots of 6400 ISO 2.8 and 30 seconds so then the final long exposure will be 100 ISO for 32 minutes. The long exposure is very useful for 2 reasons… 1. It will create beautiful star trails. 2. the low ISO foreground can be used to blend with a stacked sky for optimum results. In the below image you can see the single high ISO image on the left and the long exposure at a low ISO on the right. The image quality of the low ISO image is 100x better in my opinion… Try this for yourself and see.
9. Post Processing – I think it’s safe to say that most of us are like kids in a candy store when it comes time to start processing our images… We get home, get the images stacked and then bring them into Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw and start moving the sliders..We make the images bright and colorful, boost up the saturation and vibrance add some contrast and WOW…this looks awesome… Now go take a break for 15 minutes, give yourself a chance to be away from the computer…then come back and open your raw file on top of your processed file in photoshop, toggle back and forth and see if maybe you went too far too fast.. Maybe, just maybe, it needs to be toned down a bit. Other things to look for are processing artifacts caused by over processing your image. Banding between color gradients, Halos around rocks or buildings because you have too much contrast or sharpening, Level your image… If this was not done when you shot it, do it now. Check for dust bunnies. Don’t be afraid to work on your image at 200-500% to make sure you get everything. Dust bunnies generally don’t show up in night images because we tend to shoot at wider f stops…but it’s always good to check for them. Remove Chromatic aberrations, these are the bright yellows, greens, reds, purples and blues around rocks and buildings or other areas where there is a lot of contrast… Each lens will produce a different amount and it’s fixable with one click in LR or ACR. I recommend you do this as a first step before doing all your other processing. When processing your images ask yourself, does this look right? Get another persons opinion before posting it. Is it too crunchy looking. In my opinion I feel that images that are over processed have a very harsh/crunchy feel to them and it’s just not my preference. Remember, less is more and the cleaner you can get your image the better it will represent you as a photographer.
10. Use a star tracker or not? – This is a topic I feel pretty strong about on a personally level. I’ve already spent money on camera, lenses, extra batteries, remote cord, memory cards, lights, light stands, do I really want to spend more money on another piece of gear to carry with me in the field… Not really, am I willing to try it? Sure… I even went so far as to borrow a friends tracker….guess where it is… sitting in my closet in a storage bin with other photographic accessories. Why? Because honestly I don’t feel the need to bring it with me and try to polar align it (you can only properly align it if you have clear visibility on the north star). For me personally, it’s just not something I want to deal with. I will say that when trackers get better and can track for a longer period of time I may reconsider this as an option.. For now, I am totally fine stacking images with amazing results.. I do suggest if you want to get into high quality night photography then check out a tracker and see if it may be an option for you. After all we all do things a little differently with different styles.
As always, Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I appreciate each one of you. If you have any questions at all please feel free to fill out the contact form and I’ll answer as soon as possible.
Interested in taking a Night Photography Workshop? We are already planning for 2021 at Night Photography Workshop in places like Moab, Utah; Yellowstone National Park as well as Colorado. I offer Zoom Learning through private 1:1 Zoom sessions to help take your processing to the next level. Private Small Group workshops available here in Colorado as well. Contact me directly to learn more about these. They are great for people who live in and around or travel to the Denver area. I have specific locations picked out based on the time of the year and what is up in the sky.
In the Fall of 2018 I traveled to Iceland with a friend and we explored the southern part of the island. While we were at one of the waterfalls a young lady asked me if I would take her picture in front of the falls. I took a few of her, we chatted for a little while and then parted ways. Later that evening while back at our house in Iceland I decided to scroll through Instagram to get ideas for our next days shoot. As I was scrolling I saw the image I took of the young lady. I commented on the photo letting her know I was the one who took the image. @Sunshinetravelr and I connected and I began following her travels. Towards the end of Jan 2019 she began posting all these amazing images of this old Medieval town. It had beautiful cobblestone streets, quaint alleyways and side streets as well as an “Old Town” I asked her where she was and where all the people were. She told me, “Tallinn, Estonia”. This place was unlike any place I had ever seen before and I knew I had to go see this place for myself.
Because she was posting images that did not have any or many people in them I knew this was the same time I would like to go. Low Season when tourism numbers are scarce. I kept searching online and reading more and more about Tallinn and it just kept sounding more and more interesting to me so in June 2019 I asked a friend if he wanted to go with me and we booked our trip for Jan 2020. We ended up going for 8 days and that gave us plenty of time to see all the things we wanted to see. We did a little traveling outside the city as well to some old ruins, waterfalls and we did a day trip to Helsinki Finland.
The “Old Town” part of Tallinn is an old walled city. Tallinn is the best preserved medieval city in Northern Europe. It boasts Gothic Spires, winding cobblestone streets and amazing architecture. The 13th century city is so well preserved that it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The City of Tallinn celebrated its 800th year in 2019. From Wikipedia – Tallinn, first mentioned in 1219, received city rights in 1248, but the earliest human settlements date back 5,000 years. The first recorded claim over the land was laid by Denmark in 1219, after a successful raid of Lyndanisse led by king Valdemar II, followed by a period of alternating Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers. Due to its strategic location, the city became a major trade hub, especially from the 14th to the 16th century, when it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League.
The Viru Gates were part of the 14th century defense system. The gates are now a historical landmark and are the entrance to one of the busiest streets in Tallinn. You can’t see anyone here in this image even though there were hundreds of people. I used a super long exposure to make the people disappear.
“House of Blackheads” – The name doesn’t sound to great but this is really what it is… Tallinn is pretty well known for it’s doors. In fact their doors on their buildings are so old and unique that there are people who make projects out of photographing/painting each one. This is probably the most famous.
The following is from Wikipedia – House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads, in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a former headquarters of the Brotherhood of Blackheads. Historically this was a professional association of ship owners, merchants and foreigners dating from the 14th century. They were active in Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) but fled to Germany during the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States in 1940. The House of the Blackheads was visited by several Russian Emperors including Peter I, Paul I and Alexander I who also became honorable members the Brotherhood.
The building was acquired by this organization in 1517. In 1597 it was renovated under supervision of the architect Arent Passer. The façade was rebuilt in the style of Renaissance architecture from the Low Countries. The painted doors date from the 1640s. A Maure, a symbol of Saint Maurice, the patron saint of the Brotherhood, appears both carved in wood and sculpted in stone above the door.
The House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads today comprises three separate buildings, and has four halls and several other rooms which are used for a variety of events. The White Hall was built in 1531-32, but was remodelled during reconstruction work between 1909 and 1911. St. Olaf’s Guild Hall, whose interior architecture comes from the early 15th century, was purchased by the Blackheads in 1919 and was remodeled between 1919 and 1922.
The town square is the most popular part of Tallinn. Each year it hosts a massive Christmas market (google it for amazing images). We arrived after Christmas and missed the market but the tree was still up. I’m not sure when the tree is taken down or who is responsible for that task. Being there at the end of January and seeing the tree still up with no lights was a little odd to me. Nonetheless, we enjoyed it just the same. If you look at the small puddle in the street on the top image you will see that that is where I took the 2nd image from. Just getting down lower with a wide angle lens allowed me to capture this beautiful reflection of the sunset. There are many streets that lead to and from the town square so it’s easy to find compelling compositions for photography.
On the second to last day of our trip the clouds broke and allowed some nice blue sky to come through. We took full advantage and explored the city with our big cameras. Yes, there were some days we only took our phones because of the rain. On the day we visited Helsinki, Finland it was a downpour so we decided not to worry about lugging the big cameras and only took our phones..Even then, we didn’t take too many images because of the weather. These views from the Hellemann Tower were sure a fun experience. Again you can see there were just not many people here and we used this to our advantage to take our time with our tripods and set up good shots without having to worry about people getting in our way. It’s a 14th century, 3 story tower that offers amazing views of Tallinn’s medieval defenses. It was used as a prison and a weapons store. Now it simply attracts tourists and houses art galleries.
Depending on which way you’re walking, this massive door leads you to or from Short Leg Street. I have not been able to find any history on this door but my guess would be that this is a newer version of an original that was built in the 15th century. This small walkway along these steps is what connected upper town and lower town hundreds of years ago when tensions were tight between the 2 towns. The rich merchants of the lower town and the nobleman and knights of the upper town both wanted to obtain more power. This door is probably 10ft tall, 4-6 inches thick and very heavy. Now that I think about it, I wish I would have taken some images of the iron hinges.
The previous image with the door is the walk way that leads to the stairs in this image. I simply stepped back through this archway to snap this shot showing the stairs and cobblestone street. This is a walking only street as it’s too narrow for cars.
This guy was painting the scene you see here and selling the small art works. I did not see anyone buy from him while we were there. This cobblestone street leads you into Upper Town before walking down the small passage to Lower Town.
My favorite time to shoot was very early in the morning when the locals were walking to work before the sun came up. The yellow building you see here is Cafe Maiasmokk. It’s the oldest operating cafe in Estonia, let alone Tallinn. It’s been in the same location since 1864. It was just beginning to show when I was shooting this image. The building also has museum about the history and uses of marzipan.
Simply turning around from the previous image provided me with this view. Empty streets, storefronts and beautiful soft pre sunrise light. Veta is an Estonian clothing brand that began in 1994 and they opened their 5th store in Tallinn in 2011. While the brand may not be new by Estonian standards, it’s in a beautiful old building that dates back to the 15th or 16th century and has quickly became an “instagramable” hot spot.
While out walking around one evening we came across this dirty Porsche parked next to an old wall with lots of graffiti. I don’t know what it all says and I think the not knowing makes the image a bit more striking to me. Seeing it and photographing it in color was nice but the black and white is what really spoke to me.
St. Catherine’s Passage – formerly known as the Monk’s Alley, winds its way from Vene Street past the southern end of the Dominican monastery to Müürivahe Street. St Catherine’s church, from which the alley took its name, is thought to have been built here more than 700 years ago. The southern side of the alley is lined with predominantly 15th-17th century residences. The alley as a whole retains its medieval atmosphere. It was last restored in 1995. This was one of the places I really wanted to photograph. To get this shot, timing was crucial. Evening light, shops closed for the day and no one walking through the passage. It didn’t take long to get the shot, I simply waited until the business (red door on the right) closed for the night. There were people walking through from time to time and I did shoot some of those as well but the emptiness of this old passage was the feeling I was going for. I may also try it in black and white to remove the warm tones from the lights.
The above 3 images show the Alexandar Nevsky Cathedral. I have heard a lot of mixed feelings about this place and while some people love it, some people feel it’s out of place and doesn’t belong here. Neither of these opinions are for me to decide. To me it was a very unique building with amazing architechture that was Soviet inspired. It was built between 1894-1900 while Estonia was still part of the Russian Empire. From Wikipedia – The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Tallinn’s largest and grandest orthodox cupola cathedral. It is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky who in 1242 won the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus, in the territorial waters of present-day Estonia. One rainy day we went inside to get out of the rain for a little bit and much to our amazement we heard a young man reading from scripture. It was more of a chant than reading and it sounded amazing. If any of you have heard this, you will know what I am talking about. Pictures were not allowed inside. The second image you see above, black and white, is one I felt compelled to take. As we walked out of the cathedral there was a lady who appeared to be homeless standing at the bottom of the steps. It didn’t seem like she was begging and I am not sure what to really make of why she was there. As I walked away and turned around I saw this image. It hit me like a brick. With the woman at the bottom of the empty stairs and no one around it created an emotion inside of me. Partly because I did not know why she was there and partly because she completed the image and finished telling the story.
We did have a rental car and we only used it one day. I had done a little searching online to find things outside of Tallinn that may be of some interest and unique that those who just visited Tallinn would not see. From Baltic Coastal Hiking – The ruins of the Ungru manor used to represent one of the most impressive Neo-Baroque buildings in Estonia, although it never was really finished. Its sophisticated footprint and the numerous baroque volute ornaments on its gables are characteristic for the castle. Interesting to know: The Ungru Manor was an almost exact copy of the Merseburg castle in Germany. After World War II the manor fell into the hands of Soviet troops, in 1968 the chief of the airport decided to use the ruins of the manor to fill in the holes in the runway. About one third of the manor was torn down, fortunately the rest was preserved until today.
I’ll be honest, it was the unique features and remoteness that made me want to see this. This image was shot on a flat grey overcast day so I decided to use some creative processing to create an older more appealing image that appears to date back to it’s time.
Haapsalu, Estonia is home to the Railway and Communications museum. It was built from 1903-1905. Just to my right are some old train cars. I felt the design of the building with its bright colors was a better picture. This covered area is 648 feet long and where passengers would have waited to board the trains. Passenger trains continued running until September of 1995.
Jagala Jogi River was simply a waterfall I wanted to see. It’s located east of Tallinn about 15 min and we arrived when it was almost dark. There are 2 access points, one on each side of the falls and we make the most of our time and shot from both locations. As you can see from the 2nd image the water was shallow and not covering the entire rock face. We could have walked across if we wanted to get wet. The waterfall is roughly 24ft high and 150 wide making it the widest natural waterfall in Estonia.
Driving on the highway through Taebla you will see Lääne-Nigula Church. The building was built in 1760 and restored in 1816, the steeple dates back to 1882. The height of the church is 156ft of which the spire is 81 ft tall.
There is an old cemetery around the church filled with old crosses and headstones. This was not a planned find. We were simply driving and saw this huge spire from the road and decided to turn in and see what it was. I loved the old green door.
The medieval restaurant Olde Hansa is the home of a rich merchant, whose guests enjoy delicious, authentic Hansa-era meals and drinks, true period music and always friendly service. Our waitress was a very fun, outgoing lady who played her part well. All of the dishes on the menu, including many wild game delicacies, are cooked using 15th century recipes and methods. Medieval musicians sat high above us in the corner of the room and played their music. This image was shot from our apartment as 2 ladies walked around the corner shops.
All in all I took over 3000 images while I was there. I simply had to pick the ones I felt worked well and were to the point. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you will see more from the trip as I get them edited. I sure appreciate the time you took to read and look at the images. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask.
A huge thank you to the following companies who support my work and products I use on my photography adventures.
Before we get started I wanted to say, “thank you” to everyone who has helped support me over the last year. From purchasing prints, licensing images and taking workshops 2019 was a fantastic year with so many memories. When I asked on my FB page if people wanted to see 12 of my favorite images of the year or my favorites from each month, the answer was clear, you wanted to see my faves from each month. I love that you want to see this because it helps keep me shooting all year long when in reality, I could easily take some time off in Jan and Feb when the weather isn’t favorable for photography where I live.
It’s super hard to pick 1 image from each month because some months include several shooting locations. So this year I have sat down and picked out 27 images to share with you. I picked these 27 out of the 754 master files I created this year. I love photography, I love being out shooting images and sharing the beauty of what I see with you. From the West Coast all the way to the Caribbean, abandoned nights to beautiful sunrise and sunsets, I’ll be talking about each of these images in detail so you know the story behind them. In this set of images there are no blends or composites. All are real images as seen through the camera as they were when I shot them. I hope you enjoy!
After hosting a workshop along the central Oregon Coast, I took some time for some personal shooting along the southern Oregon Coast. There are many places where you can get right out to the waters edge with breathtaking views. This is a short 10 min hike down to an overlook (flat spot on a rock) that offers views that span 270 degrees wide. When I started this shot the sunlight wasn’t showing but during the super long exposure the sun started to light up the horizon. The smooth water is created by using a very long exposure.
2019 will always be known as the year Jupiter was riding around the Dark Horse Nebula. Right above the cross on the old abandoned church you will see a bright spot, That’s Jupiter, and it stayed there for the entire summer. It moved around a little bit but not much. I am honestly happy to say that as much fun as it was to watch the various positions of Jupiter in the DHN, I am glad it wont be there in 2020. It will be under the Milky Way aligned with Mars, Saturn and Pluto (the 9th planet). Venus is the bright planet you see in this image in the lower left. Shot in Eastern Colorado on a moonless night.
“Afternoon at the Dunes”
Great Sand Dunes National Park offers stunning views, there is no doubt about that. My intentions were to hike out onto the dunes and create some images with beautiful sand patterns in the foreground. Upon my arrival I realized I had picked the windiest day of the year to attempt this. Making the most of it, I did walk out onto the dunes only to find that it was impossible to shoot while being sandblasted. I don’t mind shooting in a little rain or wind but when there is blowing sand involved I am a little more careful with my gear… 1 or 2 grains of sand can run a lens. I saw the clouds rolling in and decided to cut my losses and come back another time in hopes of calmer weather. As I was driving out of the park I noticed some deer along the side of the road. I stopped to take their picture and then looked back and saw this scene. What caught my eye was the angle of light and various textures in each of the 4 layers of the image from foreground to sky. The baby blue sky was nice but I felt the image was stronger in back and white and that was my thought when I was actually shooting the image.
In March I had a unique opportunity to visit Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico with a friend who was able to get us permission to stay up there for a night and shoot. We had planned for 2 nights in case of weather and we lucked out and had great skies on the first night. The second night a storm rolled in and it was totally cloudy. While we were there we had the freedom to pretty much shoot anywhere we wanted as long as we were not in the way of the researchers. The astronomers who were working there were super nice and willing to talk to us about what they were doing. Most were college students working on various levels research for papers. We got to see how the Sloan 2.5 meter telescope worked and how they are using fiber optics in metal plates to map the sky. That was really cool. Looking south in this image you see Orion as it’s rising up over the housing for the SDSS (Sloan Telescope) on the far left and the ARCSAT 0.5m telescope just to the right of it. Higher up in the atmosphere were some winds which caused the clouds to streak during the exposure. The lights in the background are from El Paso, TX and Juarez Mexico.
“Through the Looking Glass”
In and around the Moab area there are many hidden treasures if you are willing to go looking for them. Because I knew we had a BLM permit to teach in other places besides Arches and Canyonlands I started doing a little research for other places to take our group during our workshops. As coincidental as it may be, while looking on Google Maps I was also scrolling through facebook and noticed an image of this arch. I asked my friend if he would give up the location and he soon responded with enough info for me to find it. I had some time to kill so I went and scouted it out. When I got close enough to park I was looking at it thinking, nah, this wont work but then when I got out and started walking around I soon realized that this was an amazing place to shoot the night sky with a group. What I also noticed was how the midday sun was creating some amazing shadows that were just deep enough to give this image so much depth and texture. I shot low and wide to capture the beauty of this place in it’s sunlit glory.
“Riding Through the Heavens”
Here we are with the group of amazing workshop students who were willing to trust our knowledge and planning. We arrived just as the Milky Way was rising up over the arch. We took our time and got everyone set up in a spot they felt comfortable. After everyone was set up and shooting, I dropped back to set my camera up and capture a timelapse while I worked with the group. During one of my test shots to dial in the settings this meteor when streaking through the sky.
An old abandoned stagecoach sits under Polaris as the Earth spins at roughly 1000 mph. The goal of this location was to shoot the Milky Way as a pano arching over the old building. We were able to do that successfully and then we decided to try other things. The sky was super clear and that means it’s a great time to do some star trails. There are some reports that this place is haunted. Legend has it that the lady ghost is waiting for her fiance to arrive on his horse. He was killed in a hold up on his way to join her on their wedding night in May of 1878. I was hoping to see her but she never appeared. Maybe next time I’ll ride a horse to the old stagecoach.
This is the Lasal Viewpoint in Arches National Park. It’s a place I visit often, generally at night, but rarely shoot during the day. I find the scene rather challenging most of the time. On this particular morning I could see the clouds building as it was getting light and thought this may be a good time to take out my camera and find a nice composition. Often times the clouds are never where we want them. Just as the sun was getting ready to come over the horizon this really nice pastel light appeared and created the soft tones you see here. I gave the image some breathing room by standing back just a little bit from the edge so that the viewer would have a sense of place as if they were standing there too.
I spend roughly 35-50 days a year in Arches National Park. Scouting locations and teaching workshops gives me a good sense of the area. This is a location I had been to many times before but had never went the extra 100 feet past the arch to see what was on the other side. Directly behind me is the arch. The sun was setting and we were waiting patently for the sky to get dark so we could shoot the Milky Way when I noticed this unique rock that looked to be balancing on one side. I had nice clouds with good light but I couldn’t figure out the composition…It needed balance and I was very limited where I could stand to shoot. I felt the rocks on the right and left balanced out the image nicely with the sprawling clouds in the sky.
“Sugar Beach Piton’s View”
With a small family of just 3 people it may seem easy to agree on a vacation destination yet we all have different likes and wants when it comes to where we want to visit. We sat down and did some looking and found a place that fit all our needs and wants. We ended up in St. Lucia. This worked out well for all of us and I was even able to do a little work while I was there. From our resort we had amazing views looking south between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean but the real adventure started when we took a catamaran out into the Caribbean to see the island from the water. The views were idyllic. The lush green trees of the hillsides towering up into the sapphire blue sky with homes nestled along the shores and boats in the water. It was just too perfect not to capture with my camera. We visited 2 locations to do some snorkeling and I opted out of the second one so that I could spend some time capturing this beautiful island.
After a couple years scouting and planning (and waiting for permits and lodging) we were finally able to make our 1st Yellowstone National Park Night Photography Workshop a reality. It sold out extremely fast and we were super excited to be able to bring people into such a popular place and have them leave with such unique photos. After the sun goes down the crowds just vanish and we basically had the entire park to ourselves. This is one of the locations we had scouted out to share with our workshop students. In this area there are 3 thermal pools which all offer great views of the Milky Way. The trick here was to get the image while the steam was being blowing in the other direction so that it wasn’t blocking the view of the Milky Way. You can see Andromeda just to the right of the steam above the hill in the back. The workshop was a huge success and we look forward to doing it again this year!
We finished our Yellowstone workshop on July 7th about 2am in the morning and I knew I was headed to Montana. I had seen pictures of this old church and it top on my list of places to visit and photograph. I packed up all my stuff and left Yellowstone about 2:30am and made the 600 mile drive up to Dooley, Montana. I stopped along the way and shot other things, took a nap and just made sure I was up there before sunset. I had plenty of time and made it with time to spare. I took my time getting familiar with the area as a massive storm rolled in. About 9pm on July 7th, thunder and lightning started and it lasted a good 5-6 hours. The sky started clearing just before sunrise. I grabbed my camera and did a walk around of the building to find a good vantage point to shoot from. After shooting for 30 min the sun came up and headed out to my next locations. When I got home a few days later I found out that the church had collapsed just hours after this shot was taken. There was another photographer who was doing some scouting just after I had left and when he arrived the church had already collapsed. The Rocky Valley Lutheran Church was built in 1915 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1993. Collapsed July 8th, 2019. I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to be the last person to photograph it during it’s final sunrise. The scary thing is, as I was walking around the church I stopped on the right side, looked in the window and snapped some pictures of the sunrise through the windows on the left side. I am very lucky it didn’t fall on me.
Each summer after our first set of workshops is over, we take a break for about 30 days to allow us time with our families and friends. During that time I always make my way back to the Oregon Coast. I always enjoy being on the beaches when the tides are super low. This allows me to access places that you usually can’t get to during a normal tide. This morning was one of those days. I had just finished shooting sunrise and continued my walk along the beach to see what I could find. I went through an arch and up over some rocks and ended up here on this wide open expansive beach. I had been here before several times when I lived on the coast. There were no other people here when I got here but as soon as I was done photographing this lone crab a few other people showed up. The crab was alive and well, just hanging out watching the waves roll up on the beach. He had the whole beach to himself and the sun was on his back!
I wont lie, I first saw an image of this location on Instagram. Normally I wouldn’t pay much attention but there was something about the image that really caught my eye. I kept looking and looking and trying to figure out how the photographer lit the trees on the other side of the water so perfectly. I didn’t see any lights in their image and after finding the place on Google Maps and seeing how it was positioned even made me more curious. I contacted a friend and asked if he wanted to join me to see what this place was really about and he willingly said sure! We arrived before sunrise to have a good look at the place in the daylight and neither of us could figure it out. We were completely confused on how they had lit the far side of the water up so nicely. We were in awe of how still the water was and how we could see the reflection perfectly. It wasn’t until after it got dark that we solved the mystery of the unlikely light source. If you look on the far left side of the image you will see a yellow light, that light is from a pole that is in a rest area and that is the light is is positioned so perfectly that it lights up the side of the lake. Not too bright and not too dim…just far enough away to work perfectly. I made sure to set up my camera with the light just outside the frame yet still show a little of where the light was coming from. We shot here for a couple hours and then the wind picked up, killed the reflection so we called it a night.
“Sunflowers at Sunset”
There are a few areas in Colorado that are known for their massive fields of Sunflowers. Farmers rotate the crops each year so the first people who go looking never know where they are going to find them. Of course once they are found and put on the internet the whole world knows. That’s ok, they’re just sunflowers and they are still on someones property which we need to be respectful about. Knowing I did not want to go into the fields, I walked around trying to find a grouping that looked nice that I could shoot from outside on the edge. These 2 looked so happy to see me and I knew the sun was going to be going down fast. I did my best to compose the image with balance and depth making sure not too many of the sunflowers were being blocked by other sunflowers. Easier said than done. Making sure to get close enough so that my horizon wasn’t dead center and that the 2 flowers were helping fill the frame was my goal. I set my tripod up, got the camera positioned correctly and began shooting as the sun went down. I could see in the camera the way the petals were backlit by the sun and I knew that was going to help make a strong image.
Summer wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Kansas. Just my opinion. It’s funny how things come full circle in life and it may take years and years and years before we realize it. All my Mom’s side of the family is from Kansas. When I was in 2nd grade (1982) I visited Kansas for the first time for a family reunion. When I was 18 (1993) I took my Grandma back to the family reunion with me. This was only my 2nd time in Kansas. My mom and grandma were both big on keeping up on family trees and our ancestors. Fast forward to Summer of 2016. I’ve now been living in Colorado for 3 years and decide it’s time to start exploring other states. Kansas was right next door. The Kansas border is 3 hours from my house. By this time my love for old abandoned buildings was rising at an alarming rate. Kansas was the perfect neighbor. Ever since then I have been spending about 2-3 weeks a year in Kansas, exploring the backroads. I have spent time in the towns where my relatives were from, learned some of the history and really just had a chance to explore and find things I never knew existed. This old square home being one of them. I was on my way to Zurich, KS (pop 99, less now) to see the place where some of my family was from when I looked up on a hillside and saw what looked to be an old home. I turned around, drove up the gravel road and found this beauty. I was in awe. It was amazing, I had not seen any other pictures of it and it was in the perfect location for night photography. I went to Zurich, looked around but didn’t find much, pondered my family’s existence there and wondered how they lived or ended up not living then took the long quiet drive back to my hotel, grabbed some dinner and made my way back here in time to capture the Milky Way right over the house. I saw 3 cars in the 4 hours I was there. None of them wanted anything to do with me (normally people stop and grill you with questions). This was a special night for me that I will remember for a very long time.
Our workshops are made up of a diverse student base. Students come from all over the globe with different skill levels and ideas of what they want to capture. This is where having 2 instructors comes in really handy. On this evening we arrived at our location and a large portion of the group wanted to shoot the Milky Way while 1 of the students wanted to learn how to do star trails. I knew where this tree was that would work perfect as a foreground subject under the swirling stars. We split from the group. Mike and his group went to shoot the Milky Way while Jim and myself walked over to this tree. Working together, side by side with Jim, I was able to help him capture the star trails like he had always wanted to do. The light you see on the horizon is Moab, Utah and the light in the foreground is from a LED panel on the lowest setting, facing straight down at the ground so that only the residual light is hitting the rocks and tree.
“Moonlight and Milky Way”
There is no doubt that for most people who attend our workshops in Moab that Delicate Arch is the most prized location. Yes, it’s iconic, yes, it’s crowded at sunset, these are statements I wont deny. I’ve seen as many as 300 people or more up there for sunset at times. Our group hangs back and enjoys the views as the sun dips below the horizon. Almost like clockwork, the moment the sun is below the horizon people start leaving. My guess is because they don’t want to hike back down in the dark. We stay patient for a little while longer and then when most of the people have left or are headed out, we make our way over to the arch and claim our small piece of real estate for the night. This image is a late season image meaning it was shot towards the end of Milky Way season when the Milky Way is more vertical in the sky. We timed it with a setting moon that would light up the arch for the first half of the night. When the moon goes down the skies get super dark and the Milky Way just pops out at you once your eyes adjust to the dark. In this image I wanted to convey all the elements to the viewer so I left the students in the shot, the Moon as it was very low on the horizon and the Milky Way in perfect position over the arch.
Located in SE Colorado in the middle of nowhere sits this old radio telescope. When you’re parked on the dirt road looking at this, it’s pretty big. As it gets darker and darker and the Milky Way appears, the telescope gets smaller and smaller. This is an image that really puts things into perspective for me. The Radio Telescope is maybe 100ft tall, top to bottom. Jupiter, the bright dot to the upper left of the telescope is 450 million miles away and is big enough to fit 1300 earths inside. The lagoon nebula, the purple dot inside the milky way just to the left of Jupiter and up a hair is 4077 light years away from Earth. Each light year is 93,000,000 miles. That dot, the lagoon nebula, is 600 trillion miles across. Let that sink in for a while… We, not just humans, but Earth in general, are dwarfed by the size of our universe. I found this location to be a fantastic spot to sit quietly and just ponder.
Oct 13th, Nebraska, Hunter’s Moonrise. Photographers can be over thinkers and planners. We have so many tools at our disposal now that we can sit in our house and plan a shot without ever actually seeing a location. After finding this church on Google Maps, that’s what I did. I figured out what events were coming up, what days I had free (the family was on another trip with their family) and decided to make the most of it. I knew the full moon would set behind this little old church. I knew what day it would happen and I knew the exact time based on info I gained from PhotoPills (everyone should have this app). I allowed myself 4 days. The church sits atop a small hill in the middle of nowhere Nebraska. I made the trip with a short detour through Kansas (to scout other places). I was so focused on capturing the moon setting behind the church that I never even thought to think about shooting it as it was rising. I literally stayed at this church for 3 solid days waiting for the perfect moment. I drove the backroads in the area looking for other little gems, shot the stars at night under the moonlight and then on the last night, right after I shot this image, the clouds rolled in. It had been crystal clear for 4 days with not a hint of clouds… I was ok with that because I knew it would make for a better sunrise with the setting moon and it did. The sky turned an amazing shade of pink just before the moon went down. I got the exact shot I was after and all my planning paid off. But this, this was the unexpected surprise of the trip. I had totally forgot about the full rising Hunter Moon. I was coming back to the church after shooting another abandoned place and I saw the way the sunlight was hitting the headstones of the graveyard. I then started to see the glow on the horizon and realized it was the moon rising. I quickly (1 min or less) figured out where I needed to be to get the moon perfectly in front of the church. I was able to take about 3 test shots before the moon was in place, I shot a couple with it perfectly centered while the light was still hitting the headstones and then it was out of place and too high.
“Joe and Kelly”
With my Oregon Coast workshop coming up I had been watching the weather very closely. I always arrive a few days early to scout areas (tides cause big changes in beaches) and get settled in. From my room at the Overleaf Lodge and Spa in Yachats I could see this massive shelf cloud forming but it was so far out that the rain was not affecting us on the shore. I walked out of my room and saw this couple sitting on the bench watching the storm and grabbed their picture. They later got up and as they were walking back to their room I stopped them to show them the image and ask if they wanted a copy. They were more than pleased to have one. As luck would have it the dates I picked for the workshop were right between 2 major storm systems. It’s not often you see clouds like this on the Oregon Coast so I was happy to have the chance to photograph the storm watchers!
Living next to a state park has it’s perks. It gives me a “go to” place to photograph when I time is short or the weather changes in a very short amount of time. It was really cold and had snowed all night. I got up, looked at the weather app and saw clearing just after sunrise. In Colorado the snow rarely sticks around on the trees. It’s either super dry snow and evaporates or the temps rise really quickly and the snow falls off and melts. Getting over to the park in a timely manner was crucial. They have re-done many parts of the park which allow new vantage points. I found this area with extremely calm water to shoot the reflections of these freshly coated trees. Getting super low allowed me to capture the full reflection of the tall trees.
At the end of October I took a trip to the east coast to photograph some fall colors with a friend. I knew we would be a bit late but due to other commitments I had to plan the trip when time allowed. We visited several state parks and other photogenic areas while I was there. Even made a trip up to New York which was beautiful. This image was shot in Pennsylvania in the bottom of a canyon where to water systems meet. This was half way through our 10hr hike in Ricketts Glenn State park. The day was perfect for shooting waterfalls. We had overcast skies and smooth even light the whole day. I actually like the sparsely colored scene as it allows your eye to appreciate the colors but also focus on the waterfall. This was an amazing place that I hope to return to someday. This hike isn’t for the faint of heart, it’s steep going down and steep going back up. There is no easy way to hike the entire loop.
“Glade Creek Grist Mill”
On my last morning of my trip back east we visited this iconic location. I had seen a million images of it and sure enough it was just as nice in person. There is always a special feeling I get being in a spot I have seen so many pictures of. Looking for some slightly different comps (are there any) I decided to get low by the water and shoot looking up towards the mill. We had some nice clouds and some nice light as the sun was just making it’s way over the horizon. While we were there, only one other person showed up. It was nice to be there past the peak season so we didn’t have to fight the crowds. It’s a working mill that is only 44 years old. I am sure most people think it’s much older. The basic structure comes from Stoney Creek Grist Mill which was located in Pocahontas County and dates back to the 1890’s. The giant wheel, which is pushed around by Glade Creek, and in-turn powers the giant grindstone, is from the Spring Run Grist Mill in Grant County.
Another opportunity to photograph something that I may never get to shoot again in my life? Yes, I’ll jump at the chance. At the end of November The “Big Boy” locomotive was making it’s way across America and it just happened to be coming through Kansas. Like I need another reason to visit Kansas! I started looking at Google Maps trying to find a place away from the crowds where I could photograph it with the big plume of steam as it crossed a trestle. I did my research, found a great spot, contacted my friend in Kansas and he was able to figure out the land owner and tenant. We got permission to access the land and shoot the train. It was a huge success. Everything worked out as we planned. I ended up following the train to Sharon Springs, Kansas. My plan was to shoot it at sunset and then again at sunrise. After the train had parked for the day and I arrived, I found hundreds of people gathered around. It was very cold out so I decided to find a hotel room and grab a shower and a nap. I looked to find out when the moon was going to come up and realized it would be coming up at 3am. I left the hotel at 1am went down to the train station and I was the only one there other than the police officer who was on duty. I talked to him and told him I was going to photograph the moon coming up over the train and he said that wouldn’t be an issue since it was parked. He told I could go anywhere I needed. It was still freezing cold out so I would take some shots, go sit in my car and warm up and then repeat until the moon had come up far enough where I could shoot it over the train. While I was there there were 2 other people who showed up to photograph it as well. Both nice people who I ended up talking to for a while. One of them is the gentleman you see in this image. The other guy had left and it was just he and I shooting the train, as he walked off and set up his own shot, I stayed in my spot and kept shooting. He couldn’t have positioned himself any better.
“Pull Me In”
I ended the year with a 2 week trip to the Oregon Coast. A week of shooting for myself and a week to visit my Dad. It was amazing. For the most part of the trip I didn’t have epic skies for sunrises and sunsets (only 2 days of the whole trip) but I did have storms, big waves and dark, dramatic clouds. For an Oregon boy, that was perfect. I had just as much fun hiking along the coast in the rain as I would have taking pictures. In between storm systems I did pull out my camera to capture the drama as it unfolded before me. This is an image that was shot well before sunrise when the clouds were super dark. It allowed me to use a long exposure and capture the water rushing around the rocks in the foreground. I have not seen many pictures, if any, of this rock which is surprising because it’s very easy to access.
To some of you this may look familiar. It’s a scene I shot last year too but when I did, I cut the tops of the trees off. I am not sure what I was thinking. I wanted to go back and re-shoot it and make sure not to cut the tops of the trees off. Just like before, I had nice dark, stormy skies to work with. The light was moody but even which allowed for easy exposures. For those of you who don’t know where this location is, it’s near Brookings, Oregon and down a hillside to where you come out and are standing on top of an arch. You can feel the waves hit the rock you’re standing on and the rush you get is amazing. For me, personally, it was the perfect way to end the year. During the first part of my trip I had a friend with me and being able to show him these places was a blast.
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Last but not least. I have the Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art Lens for Nikon for sale. It’s in near mint condition, cleaned and boxed up ready for a new owner. I am only asking $650 for it and will ship for free to anywhere in the USA. Contact me directly if you’re interested. The reason for selling is that I have another lens that covers the 20mm and I simply don’t need it anymore.
Over the last 2 weeks I had the chance, thanks to Sigma, to get my hands on the “Worlds smallest, full frame camera” . The Sigma fp. It’s about the same size as your smartphone but a little thicker. They had to make it deeper to put all the crazy bells and whistles inside. While this camera is, in my opinion, designed as a video/cine camera it also works amazingly well as a still photographers camera.
This is the very first mirrorless camera I have ever shot with. I admit I was a little nervous at first but it was much easier than I thought.
Super Low ISO’s down to 6!
Very small and lightweight – Epic travel camera
Super Easy to use
Fantastic image quality up to 3200 ISO
Some lenses are smaller and lighter than their DSLR equivalents
Files are fast and easy to work with
24mp Full Frame
60-500 seconds in camera for the lower expansion ISO’s
Designed to be fully customizable
No flip screen on back of camera
Really small camera for those with bigger hands – a grip would solve this
Color noise in underexposed images.
Image Stabilization only available in jpg modes
HDR only in jpg modes
IS and HDR can not be used at same time
I had the chance to use this camera here in Colorado as well as on a trip to Kansas to photograph the largest running locomotive, Union Pacific’s Big Boy 4014. I shot in some extremely cold temps but nothing that would be considered warm. The weather was very cold over the last couple weeks which made me worry about the battery life. I was surprised to see the battery last as long as it did. I did not count image to see how many I got off one charge but I can say for me that having 2 or 3 batteries would be enough to last me all day shooting. This was nice to see since the camera does not have an EVF or eye piece. Everything is done right from the back of the camera in live view.
The info on the back of the camera is well laid out and easy to read. One thing I really love about this camera is that the histogram is one of the display options on the screen. Having the histogram and the level on the same screen was great for me. I teach people that the histogram is the scientific proof of how much data you are or are not collecting in your image. Being able to see the histogram and how it changes based on your ISO, Shutter Speed and Fstop was really nice. I didn’t have to take a shot, look at it and then adjust. I could just dial up the histogram so that my exposure was correct every time!
I’ll be very honest here, the real reason I wanted to try this camera was because of the ISO going down to 6. Yes, 6 ISO. I don’t think there is another camera out there that has an ISO that low. This meant that I could shoot long exposures in the daylight, I did not need any filters and the image quality would be amazing. What I did not know at the time was that the lower ISOs – Below 100 – had longer shutter speeds available to them as well. At ISO 6 you can shoot for 500 seconds, that’s crazy!!! It totally makes sense though. Why would any camera company give you the option to shoot at an ISO that low and then limit your shutter speed to 30 seconds…So I had to try this for myself. I went into Denver where I knew I could see the skyline and hopefully get a nice sunrise. I arrived before it was light so I could take full advantage of the super low ISO and the super long shutter speed.
I fell in love. As someone who loves the lower ISO’s and longer shutter speeds, I was in heaven. I had to try more…so I did… in the snow and some very cold temps.
My goal on this morning was to shoot Dream Lake under a partial moon and shoot sunrise as well. When we got up to Dream Lake the wind was blowing at least 100mph. Those of you who have been there know it’s like a wind tunnel at times. This particular morning was nothing less than brutal. I stood on the ice as the wind pushed me around like an ice skater. I knew there was no way I was going to set up a little camera on a tripod and expect to get any kind of decent shot. We decided to head back down to Nymph Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park where we were partly protected by the wind. It was still very cold out! Once again I cranked the ISO down to 6 and used a 60 second shutter speed to completely smooth out the clouds. I liked how the clouds formed the same shape as the tree line. Yes, there are some trees moving because of the wind but the details on the face of the rock, Hallett Peak, are amazing.
After leaving Nymph Lake I headed into the meadow where I captured this stream in front of the mountains with a wave cloud over it. The light was nice and the camera handled the highlights and shadows without fail.
On a walk with my dog, I decided to try and see how well the focus points worked. This is the one things that is touch activated on the back of the screen. If I were to press down and focus, then I could simply touch the back of the screen where I wanted it to focus and it would bring up all the points where I could change it to. In this image I was able to move the focus all the way over to my dog’s eye. My dog doesn’t like to look at the camera so a side profile is the best I’m gonna get!
Anytime I get some new camera equipment the first thing I do is test it out on my daughter. She hates having her picture taken. I think I have ruined her. Knowing the fine details of hair, eyebrows and eyelashes I knew she would be the perfect subject so that I could get a great idea of how well the new Bayer sensor was going to perform. I took the shot, zoomed in and was blown away with the details. The ISOs from 100 down to 6 are very smooth and creamy but retain a lot of fine details.
Whenever it snows, I always go over to the lake near my home. The Fall colors were over for the most part but a tiny bit were hanging on. It was snowing when I shot this and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized I had actually photographed a deer walking in the snow in this image. I did not see the deer when I pressed the shutter. I loved the intimate details in the image from the background all they way to the front of the image where the snow is falling and actually out of focus because it’s so close.
Later in the afternoon I ventured over to this little stream/waterfall and found these bubbles floating down from the bridge. It was fairly bright out but with this camera I wasn’t worried…I just cranked it down to ISO 6, F/22 and shot for 2 seconds. That was enough time to allow the bubbles to move and create a sense of motion.
This past weekend I headed to Kansas to photograph the “Big Boy 4014” Locomotive that was touring across the USA as part of the 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad’s Completion.. I thought this could be once in a lifetime opportunity to see it in action. When I arrived in Kansas I found this old church next to a museum and thought this would be a perfect place to test out the HDR feature in the camera. I set it to shoot + and – 2 along with a normal image and then combine them all. The top image is the HDR image and the bottom image is a single image metered the best I could get with the white conditions. Because the HDR is only able to be used in Jpg mode it doesn’t have the latitude for post processing as a DNG file. With the DNG file I was able to recover a lot of details in the shadow area without any issues with noise at 64 ISO.
In Wallace, Kansas is “The Bank” it’s an old bank that has been converted on the inside to a coffee shop/antique shop. I met the owner and enjoyed a cup of hot coffee on this cold morning while I snapped some shots on the inside at higher ISOs. I had nice soft light coming in the window on the left and it really made the image look very natural. I was extremely happy with how ISO 1600 was working.
I loved all these old farm and tractor signs hanging behind the antique cash register. I thought they would make a good case for a higher ISO. Generally with higher ISO’s they tend to lose color as the ISO gets higher. I felt this one came out very natural based on the lighting inside the shop. The greens, reds, yellows and blues all came across nicely. Even upon close review ISO 3200 is really nice and very usable. Just for kicks I ran this image through Topaz DeNoise and it came out super clean in the areas that did have a little extra noise. That being said. I would print images shot at ISO 3200 out of the Sigma fp.
A fun image for sure with a wide angle lens. When I saw this little cart on the train tracks I knew I wanted to shoot it with the church. My reason for this was to see how well the camera would balance the white of the snow and church with the yellow of the cart. As you can see here it did a great job. The yellow stayed very natural and the white stayed white without greying out. I feel this Bayer sensor in the fp was a great choice.
Big Boy arrives in Sharon Springs, Kansas for an overnight maintenance stop. When I arrived in the afternoon there were still quite a few people around the train. That wasn’t my idea of an image I wanted to capture. I checked into my hotel about 5pm and at 1:30am I got up and went to down to the station to find myself alone with this beast. I talked to the police officer who was “on guard” and he was really nice telling me I could get a close as I wanted to do photography. I told him the moon was going to be rising soon and that I wanted a shot of the moon over the train but he didn’t seem to care too much. From 1:30am – 3am I had the whole place to myself. I shot many image at lots of angles. This gentleman shows up and we talk for a while and then we go our separate ways to do more photography. I really wanted the moon rising over the train so I stepped back to include the tracks in the foreground and I noticed him down a ways shooting his own images. I normally don’t include people in my images but I felt he added a great sense of scale compared to the locomotive.
In review, this camera was an absolute joy to work with. It takes crazy sharp images and allows the photographer to use super long shutter speeds without the need for a cable release or using the bulb setting. I was reviewing this camera as a backup, travel camera and it fits the bill perfectly. For still photography this camera has most everything you need and it can be fully customized as well. I see a lot of people picking this camera up to take on longer trips when packing a 44lb camera bag isn’t going to work well. I know as I get older I am always looking at ways to downsize my gear and what I take on each trip. I found a lot more positives to this camera than I did negatives. One of the positives is that some of the lenses for this camera (L-Mount) are smaller than their DSLR Counterparts. As you can see below, the Nikon lens is almost a pound heavier than the Leica L mount. The L mount is also smaller. So if weight is really an issue for you in your travel and adventures, I would highly recommend you taking a good hard look at this camera. Because it’s such a small camera you can also get away with a smaller tripod too.
Now in all fairness let’s talk about some of the things I would like to see improved in the next version or a firmware update.
Articulating screen on the back of the camera. This is something I would have loved to have since the camera is so small. I mentioned this to Sigma and they agree and said that many other photographers had mentioned the same thing. The camera is so small that doing reflection shots at ground level seems like an obvious thing to do. Without the screen being able to tip up means you need to get down to ground level too.
I did notice some color noise in underexposed images when I tried to boost the shadows on ISO’s over 400. I am guessing this is to be expected, I’d just like to see a bit less.
IS and HDR only work in jpg mode. I think IS should work in RAW or DNG mode too. If you have a lens that has IS on it then this is not an issue for you. I am only talking about the electronic IS in the camera.
The 3 issues above are not deal breakers for me in anyway. I would never base my decision to purchase a camera on the fact that HDR or IS don’t work with RAW files. As long as you expose your images properly the color noise should not be an issue. Having the screen be able to flip out would be super nice but I could be happy with the camera without it.
When I am testing out a camera the main things I look for are image quality, ease of use. I shoot all my images in Manual so I adjust the settings myself. Being able to do this easy is a key for me. The Sigma fp made it super simple. They even have a quick select button that, when pressed, it brings up 8 of your basic settings like ISO, File type, Metering, WB and aspect ratio. F stop is controlled by the dial on the top right of the camera or the lens itself as with the 45mm. The shutter speed is controlled by the dial on the back right side of the camera. These can be changed to your liking as well.
I would be thrilled to take this on a longer trip with me overseas where I am walking around cities and doing some night photography. Using a smaller travel tripod would be perfect with this camera and I would not need to sacrifice image quality.
I look forward to using this camera again in the near future!
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There is no doubt about it, you have to have a tripod when shooting at night.. None of us can handhold the camera for 1 second or longer. If you can, please show me! We teach about 10 night photography workshops a year and see all kinds of tripods. Big heavy ones, little ones that look like toothpicks and some medium sized ones. In all honestly, some people are very new to night photography and their little tripod does well for them when they are traveling and working in daylight conditions.
After finishing up our May workshops I knew it was time for me to get a new set of tripod legs. I wanted light weight yet solid. twist grips on the legs, something that wasn’t too tall and wouldn’t break the bank.
I am not sure where, but I saw an ad for Robus Tripods and at the time thought they looked like a good fit for my shooting style. I didn’t think much of it until it was time to upgrade my tripod legs. I did a bit more research and didn’t find them on any social media sites. Instagram only has a few #Robustripod tags so I decided to reach out to the company and see about the possibility of working together. I did not need their biggest, most expensive tripod. Just something that worked great and and fit my needs. I ended up getting the Robus RC Vantage Series 3 5558
When I think about tripods, I think about how they will work at night. Generally, when shooting sunrise, sunset or during the day the exposures are not that long and therefore it’s not as crucial to have a really solid tripod as it is to have one at night. Often times our exposures are anywhere from 10 seconds to an hour or more. This really gives a lot of time for things to happen. Wind is a big issue with night photography and needs to be taken into consideration when shooting the night sky. If you’re shooting and winds are gusting it’s pretty natural for you to want to grab your tripod and hold it down. This works well if you are already holding it before the exposure starts and you hold it all the way through the shot. If you feel wind and grab your tripod during the exposure there is a good chance that your image wont be as sharp as you like. After having shot in the wind quite a bit over the last week I have realized that this tripod works pretty well even in gusty winds. That makes me a pretty happy camper.
When stability is key so that your images are as sharp as possible you want to keep your camera as close to the tripod base as possible. This means you don’t want your center column extended very far if at all. I recommend purchasing a tripod that has a short column or no column at all. The Robus does not have a center column but can be purchased separately if you really want one. I, personally, like the fact that my camera is extra solid on the tripod because I don’t have a center column. When choosing a tripod size be sure to not use the center column height to help you determine if the tripod is right for you. I would suggesting going off the base height and then figure in the ballhead height and the distance from the base of your camera to the eyepiece.
Design and functionality are also important. You don’t want to be out in the dark fiddling around with your tripod while your friends are all shooting already. You want to keep things simple and easy to use. I love the design of the legs and how they extend out to get the camera even more solid. You simply pull the silver lock out and then you can move the legs freely to the desired width. I also love the twist locks for the leg extensions. In the past I have owned tripods that that had clamp locks and I found they jammed too easy and were a pain to clean. The twist locks make for simple extension and retraction in just a second or 2.
I like and sometimes need to get my tripod into odd positions to get a shot. This is where I really like Robus’ decision to make this tripod without a center column as well as make the legs go out almost flat. For both landscapes and nightscapes this is a real benefit.
Having a larger base at the top with the legs on the outside make the tripod very easy for me to hang my camera bag on the oversized hook in between the legs. On my last tripod the legs were mounted under the base and my Mindshift 36L did not fit. Why do I hang my almost 40lb camera bag under my tripod when I am shooting? Added stability. By doing this it does 2 things.. It keeps my gear all in one place and it adds a whole other level of solidness that you can’t get by doing anything else. This allows me to shoot in really windy conditions without worry. I know my images are gonna be razor sharp no matter how long I am shooting. Because I can spread the legs nice and wide, I can put the bag on the hook and even if the wind moves the bag a little I still don’t have to worry about the camera moving during the exposure.
Your tripod should fit in or on your camera bag to help keep your hands free during hiking. Trying to carry your gear in your hands isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Too many chances to have something happen and the gear get’s broke or damaged. At the same time you don’t want to put a huge tripod on your little camera pack. They should fit each other well and it should wear well when you’re hiking or walking. I did several hikes in Utah over the last couple months and found that I didn’t even know the tripod was on my back. It fit really well. Balance was good and it’s easy on easy off.
You may notice the white tape on the legs and ask what that’s for. It’s glow in the dark tape so that I can see where my tripod is in the dark without having to turn on lights. Even if you only shoot at night occasionally, I highly recommend it. You can get it on Amazon. I checked all of my local hardware stores and no one had it.
In review – things to look for when purchasing a tripod for night photography
short or no center column
legs that extend wide
legs on the outside of the base, not under it
Hook to hang your bag for added stability
Twist lock leg sections
Carbon Fiber – Weight
Had Robus and I not been able to work something out, I would have still purchased this tripod and I would have been thankful that I did. I like to keep a $500 budget for my tripods and this one fits right into that amount without going over.
Robus is owned by B&H Photo and the Gradus Group
Thank you for taking the time to give this a read. I appreciate it and look forward to more blog posts in the near future.
Links where you can read more about the products and my work
That went fast. It seems like just yesterday we were finishing up our last Night Photography workshop of 2018. Getting home taking a break and making final plans for the 2019 season and now it’s here. I was in Moab, Utah last week kicking off the first workshop of the season. I had a great group of students who were passionate about learning all they could about night photography.
It’s possible that this may be the last year we are allowed to use Low Level Lighting to illuminate our foregrounds. The Parks are proposing a change to this rule that will ban all forms of artificial lighting except when moving from one location to the other. I don’t want to start a discussion about that on my blog, I am simply stating what I have heard and seen in emails from the Parks.
Low Level Lighting is one of the things we love to teach so that our students can go out after the workshop and do it on their own in their own hometowns or when they travel.
If the ban does come into effect for the 2020 season we do have a plan. Another aspect of our classroom training during the workshop is Planning and Scouting. We teach you how to plan your shot based on what you want to accomplish. Next year is when we will be putting into practice what we have been teaching and using ourselves for years. We don’t want our students going home with great skies and black foregrounds. We want nicely lit foregrounds to go with our wonderful skies. This is something we will plan for before setting the dates for 2020.
The above image does not use any Low Level Lighting. All the light you see is natural. These are techniques we teach so that you can make the most from any shooting situation. Just because the skies are dark and there may not be any moonlight does not mean you can’t get great images. It just takes a little more time in the field shooting but the results are well worth the effort. Do you think this image would look as good if the entire foreground was just dark?
Corona Arch is a fairly popular spot but because it’s outside the National Parks near Moab, it sees much fewer people at night than other places like Delicate Arch. On this particular night we took our group up during a time when we had good moonlight. We timed it so that we could hike up in the moonlight, get set up and then the moon would set and the skies would get dark. I shot this image just as we arrived and our students were getting set up to help show what kind of illumination you can get from the moon. Once your eyes adjust in the moonlight it’s actually pretty easy to see and only minimal light should be used for safety reasons. This really allows us to have our senses be in tune with what is around us and it causes our hearing to be more sensitive as well.
What is the absolute most crucial part of Night Photography? Yes, it’s focusing (right after safety) and how to properly focus in the dark. It doesn’t do you any good to go out in perfect conditions only to come home with blurry images. To the untrained eye it may be hard to see if your images are in focus or not just by looking at the back of the LCD on your camera. We teach you how to properly focus in the dark so that you get sharp images every time. There are a lot of things you can fix with Photoshop but an out of focus image isn’t one of them!
Part of our classroom training focuses on Noise Reduction, it’s actually a fairly big part of the classroom training because, let’s be honest, who wants to go out and shoot awesome scenes at night only to end up with grainy and noisy images….Not me! While I can’t take all the credit for figuring out some of the techniques we teach, I can say I do a lot of trial and error work to find the best and most efficient ways to do them. If you look on the right side of the image above you will see what looks like confetti sprinkled on the image. Now, look at the left side and you wont see it. You may be asking yourself, “how long did it take him to remove all that with the clone took or healing brush?” The answer, about 5 seconds max and I did not use either one of those tools… We want the fun of photography to be out in the field, in nature, photographing the scenes you love without having to worry about spending countless hours cleaning up your images once you are home. We show you how to do this and in fact it’s so easy you’ll probably be mad at us because we don’t take longer to explain the process…trust me when I say the process is only 5 mouse clicks from start to finish!
Mike and I love our workshop groups. Many of the students take multiple workshops with us in various locations as we expand our locations over time. Before we even released our 2019 Yellowstone workshop we had 3 students who were on a workshop in Moab sign up.
I am home now till the end of April when I head back to Moab for 2 weeks to help teach 5 back to back workshops. We have filled 59 of 60 spots and have 1 spot left on our May 9-13th Night Photography Workshop
We also have some openings in June as well as August and September. These months make it a bit easier on the body since the Milky Way is up right after sunset. We sure hope you will consider joining us under the starry skies.
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Links to products used in the making of these images.
I know so many people who put their cameras away around the end of September when the Milky Way Core dips back below the horizon. Around mid Feb to early March they bring them back out again when the Milky Way core rises up over the horizon in the early hours of the morning right before sunrise. This year on Feb 2nd the core was up and able to be photographed only a few min before the light of dawn came and washed all the stars away.. Was I out there to see and photograph it, yes. For me, personally, it’s very exciting to see that Milky Way core for the first time in a new year. It signals 8 months of great shooting ahead. Do I put my camera away in September when the core dips below the horizon? No! I photograph the night sky all year-long. I love the night sky. Often the cold, Winter nights are some of the clearest and darkest. Here in Colorado where we have very dry air it makes visibility that much better.
I have put together a series of images that span all of 2018 of the night sky. I do night photography all year-long and while this blog post wont include a shot I just recently took, you will see it next year when I do my review of 2019. It was a shot I had wanted for a long time and I was finally able to make happen.
Let’s take a look at some night images in order month by month. I will include the times taken and the dates so you can note the changes you see in the sky as we progress through the year.
Orion over Loveland Ski area in Colorado. Orion is a winter constellation and one of the most easily recognizable in the southern sky. Light fall off from cars and the resort area helped to light up the side of the mountain. January 14, 2018. 7:45pm
Eleven Mile Reservoir is becoming a more popular spot for night photographers. It offers nice dark skies for how close it is to Colorado Springs and it also has a very flat horizon. This means that because there are not mountains or tall trees in the way, it’s easy to see the Milky Way Core very early when it rises in February. The Milky Way is very low on the horizon and makes it very easy to do panoramas between Feb and June. Feb 16th, 2018. 5:51am
Late Feb and March are my favorite times to do panoramas of the Milky Way while the galactic core is rising up in the south. This image was shot in Kansas just before sunrise and covers a full 180 degrees from North to South looking due East. March 16th, 2018. 5:52am
The Big Dipper is a constellation we can photograph all year-long here in the Northern Hemisphere. I liked how it was looking over this old, abandoned home in Kansas. I used a Sigma 20mm to try to frame the house and Big Dipper as a tight crop when I probably would have been better off using the Sigma 14mm 1.8 and given myself a little more breathing room up top. March 17th 2018. 4:31am
By April we now have quite a bit of time to photograph the Milky Way Core before sunrise. 2-3 hours at least which makes it nice so that you don’t feel rushed. In Feb we have just a few minutes which can make it frustrating if anything goes wrong. April is the beginning of warmer weather for most of us and makes for some enjoyable nights under the skies compared to the sub freezing temps of Jan and Feb. We use Low Level Lighting to illuminate the arch during our Night Photography Workshops April 18th, 2018. 3:15am
Rocky Mountain National Park is a photographer’s dream. There is so much to shoot both day and night. Critical timing, moon phases and weather all play a factor in getting a shot like this. If you want to photograph the Milky Way over Longs Peak as seen here, planning is key. After watching the weather, checking the moon phases and my own personal schedule I knew I had one night to shoot this. I called a couple of friends and they were in. We began our hike at midnight to arrive at this viewpoint in time to get set up and do some test shots before the Milky Way was in position. It was cold out, but still a fun night I will remember for the rest of my life. April 22nd, 2018. 3:35am
One of the things we like to do during our workshops is to give a tour of the night sky. Mike uses his laser pointer to point out all the celestial objects in the sky. Here I have labeled a lot of them. It’s interesting to me that the Lagoon Nebula is 600 trillion miles across. Let that sink in for a while! We here on Earth are a very rare moment in time. The fact that humans even exist is a miracle in and of itself. It’s also amazing that we can capture such beauty of the sky with our tiny little cameras and sensors or film. Enjoy the moment cause as they say, “we’re here for a good time, not a long time” May 14th, 2018. 12:42am
From Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah we were able to see, from the right side of the Milky Way, Antares, Jupiter and Spica. May 19th, 2018. 3:28am
Wanting to see a bit more of the lower portion of the Milky Way, I decided to drive from Denver down to New Mexico for a night. My efforts paid off with beautiful clear skies with warm weather. Photographing the Milky Way in the summer is a treat because it’s shorts and tee-shirt weather most all night long. The issue with the warmer weather is that your sensor will heat up faster and produce more noise. Winter is actually better for night photography because the cooler temps keep the sensor cooler and produce less noise. When I arrived at this old church (still in use 2 times a year) I knew I wanted the best image possible. I used PhotoPills to map exactly where the Milky Way was going to come up. I then positioned my camera and shot for the church during sunset at ISO 64. I then waited until 11pm when the Milky Way was in position and shot 21 back to back shots at ISO 8000 of the sky so I could stack them for noise reduction and blend them with the low ISO church image. June 4th, 2018. 11:10pm
Another trip to Kansas to shoot the Milky Way with my friend Jim and his daughter Annie. Jim knew this where this old combine was just sitting in a field. He obtained permission from the property owner so that we could have an evening to shoot he Milky Way. I actually didn’t mind the clouds on both ends of the Milky Way. June 15th, 2018. 11:15pm
During a 6 week road trip through the Northwest my travels took me to Crater Lake National Park. Actually it was all part of the plan. I wasn’t sure what day I would get here so I really lucked out on this part. The faint clouds you see here on the horizon are actually front of the smoke from the California and southern Oregon wildfires that were burning. I only shot 1 night at Crater lake and I am thankful that was all I planned. The next few days you couldn’t even see the lake for all the smoke in the sky. I managed to keep at least 1 day ahead of the smoke during my travels in the Northwest. July 19th, 2018. 2:26am
One of those rare summer nights when you’re sitting on the couch at 5pm watching the weather and the weatherman tells you to expect clear skies along the coast all night long. Needless to say I wasn’t on the couch for much longer.. I looked outside and sure enough it was crystal clear (normally the marine layer comes in and clouds everything over). I grabbed my gear and made a plan. There were 3 spots I wanted to shoot this night.. Cannon Beach, Happy Camp and Pacific City. Pacific City would be the last stop of the night and I knew I would just meet up with my dad for coffee after this location. I shot the other 2 locations with some clouds and as I got further south the clouds were totally gone. I arrived here about 3am and was totally blown away with how clear it was. I took several shots of slightly different compositions and ended up liking this one the best. Some of them had reflections in the wet sand of the stars. I must have been here for 3 hours just watching and the Milky Way leaned into Haystack Rock and faded away as the daylight came. July 11th, 2018. 5:16am
Finishing up our road trip with an amazing shoot with another friend, Jann, up at Mount Rainier. We had planned this shot several months in advance and being on the very end of our trip I was tired. This was my only chance in August to shoot. I had to make it count. As always I arrived early, scouted, found a good spot and patiently waited. We shot birds, flowers and the mountain before the sun went down. Knowing I had to make this the best it could be I shot a 30 min exposure for the mountain just as it got dark. This allowed me to get the best possible quality. I then waited for the Milky way to get into position and shot 20 images back to back for noise reduction. August 7th, 2018 12:15am
September takes us to the beginning of when we start to see Andromeda high in the night sky. It’s also the time when photographing the North end of the Milky Way is much better. Here I am standing in front of Double Arch in Arches National Park while the Milky Way leans over the arch. In this image is Cygnus the Swan, Denab, Andromeda and Cassiopeia as well as the Elephant trunk nebula. By stacking the images of the sky for noise reduction I was able to bring out some of the pink nebula colors that are natural but not seen with the naked eye. You wont see me in many pictures. I am standing here using my Nitecore MH 25 Night Blade light to illuminate the arch. September 12th, 2018. 3:52am
Sometimes I go out, just to go out and shoot. I’d rather spend my nights under the stars than in a bar. I knew the moon would be coming up and that it would be almost full but that didn’t stop me. I got into night photography by photographing at night when the moon was full. I was amazed at how bright the images were and that they looked like daylight. For those who are just starting out with night photography I highly recommend doing a few shoots at night with a full moon to help get comfortable with not only setting up your camera but also getting the correct exposure. Here you can just barely see the faint stars of the Milky Way over the top of the Mountains. I am standing out in the field again with my Nitecore light on its lowest setting (didn’t do me any good this time) my mistake. I loved the calm pond water which made for a gorgeous reflection. October 19th, 2018. 9:01pm
While the Milky Way is visible all year-long, this is probably the section that is most left out or forgotten altogether. This is looking East right after sunset in early November. It has Taurus, Starfish cluster, Perseus, Polaris, Double Cluster and Denab. One thing I love about Balanced Rock in Arches National Park is that it offers 360 degree views all year long. November 1, 2018. 9:09pm
Here in Colorado the winter temps get pretty cold in December. That wont stop me from getting out and grabbing a few shots on a clear night. Especially when there is a comet in the sky. That was the case this night when Comet 46p was to make a great appearance. We arrived at this location first before moving into position for the comet which would appear a few hours later. Looking to the west here, Vega steals the spotlight with its bright blue color directly over the old stagecoach. We used Low Level Lighting (think about what your cell phone puts off from its screen) to light the side of the building and a Nitecore LA30 light for the inside of the porch. I really like this location because of the way the Milky Way leans over the mountain and the old building. December 7th, 2018, 6:51pm
It was sure exciting to see Comet 46p on my last night shoot of 2018 but I have to admit I would have really loved to see a big tail on this one! I guess there isn’t anything I could do about that. We used some Low Level Lighting and small tea lights to light the outside and inside of this old building. I used a Sigma 14mm for the foreground and the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens for the comet and stars. I blended the 2 together just to make the comet a bit bigger than it would have been with the 14mm. I am now looking forward to more night sky events in 2019. December 7th, 2018. 9:29pm
Shooting the night sky all year is sure fun and could be seen as a project for some of you to help you get out and shoot more if you need the motivation. While many of you also live in cities or light polluted areas there are often places only a couple of hours away that will give you good viewing of the sky. I like to use Dark Site Finder to help me figure out where I can go and get the best viewing of the night sky. I also like using apps like PhotoPills during the day to plan my shoots at night.
Shooting in the winter months can be challenging for sure. If you are going after the Milky Way core then you are either getting up really early or staying up all night long and that can sure wear a person down after a few days.. Here in Colorado the weather has been super cold at night which can make it hard to be away from your car for an extended period of time. I recommend lots of warm clothes, especially for your hands and feet. Over the last several weeks I have been out shooting and never had less than 5 layers on my top, and 3 layers on my legs. When your fingers get so cold that you can’t press the shutter button on your camera, you know it’s time to get warmed up. It sure is fun though when you get home and see the images you captured.
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