Robus Tripods and Night Photography

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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In review – things to look for when purchasing a tripod for night photography

  • short or no center column
  • proper height
  • 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

 

Sigma 85mm 1.4 Art – Not Just For Portraits

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A couple weeks ago as I was getting ready to walk out the door and head to Moab, Utah for our 2nd sold out Night Photography Workshop of the year I heard a knock on my door and to my surprise he was delivering my new Sigma 85mm 1.4 Art lens.

I was happy to say the least. I opened my camera bag, made room for the beast and off to Moab, Utah I went. As soon as I finished with the workshop in Moab I headed north on a mini vacation with my daughter as we road tripped through Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska. I used the lens frequently when I felt it was the right focal length. I am not a portrait photographer by any means so I had other uses for this lens. Lucky for me I was able to make all of my ideas work because I took my time and did not rush myself in the field.

Without further ado I would like to share with you some real world images that were taken with the 85mm lens at various settings and using various techniques which I will describe when needed… Each of these images are for the most part unedited. I did resize them a bit smaller to fit the blog better.

Dillion Reservoir near Breckenridge, Colorado – This was the first image I took with the lens. En Route to Moab this made a good first stop to stretch the legs. The sun was setting and I had time to get my tripod set up and wait for the water to calm a little bit. All the images in this blog were taken using a Nikon D810 and Sigma 85mm 1.4 Art Lens. The settings for this image are as follows: ISO 64, 1.6 seconds, F9

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I had arrived in Moab, Utah and was checking out some new to me areas. I liked the early morning light hitting the canyon walls and figured this would be a good time to test out the shallow DOF… I was about 15 ft away when I shot this image and you can see that even at 1.8 it did a good job of isolating the front of my Jeep. Keeping it in tack sharp focus while allowing the rest of the scene to go soft.

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I was actually shooting the landscape behind the rock when I saw this little lizard crawl out and onto the rock to check out my new lens…I figured why not snap a picture of him.

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Shooting the layers of land from Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah. When shooting at a distance where nothing is directly in front of you, 6.3 f stop works well and keeps everything in check. The furthest hills may be a tad soft and in my opinion that is just fine..All the layers up front are good and sharp.

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During our workshops we like to include either sunsets or sunrises into our in field training to maximize shooting time for our students. This image was taken from the Lasal Mountain Overlook in Arches National Park as a small storm was blowing past us during sunset.

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Great DOF and razor sharp at 2.8.. I was about 4 feet away when I took this image. One of our students was making some adjustments on his camera.

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While the 85mm doesn’t have OS, IS or VR, I still find it very easy to shoot handheld in daylight hours.  Maybe because I have always shot big SLR cameras. This is an image just south of Devils Tower in Wyoming and when I crossed the bridge and looked over, I knew I had to stop and snap a few pics.

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One of the biggest reasons I wanted an 85mm lens is to create massive size panos. This image is made up of 7 vertical images to create a 179mb file which is 5x larger than each of the single images that come from my D810. If needed this image could be printed almost 20ft wide and 6t tall. Also when doing this it allows  you to crop if you need to or see another image within the image you want to use.

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Another reason for doing panos is to create a much higher res file… Below is a full 100% crop and you can see how sharp this is even at 100%.

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Night Photography is where I really plan on using this lens the most. By using the 85mm focal length and this lens in particular with its sharpness I can now create extremely high res, highly detailed images of the Milky Way. Using advanced Noise Reduction techniques and reinforcing the points of light not only creates a much cleaner image but also brings out some colors you would not normally see.

Made from 10 images by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.4.0.

And last but surely not least…The most time consuming and most effort put into an image. 48 images total (8×6) to create an even larger file with a subject. 6 back to back images in 8 different camera positions. Each group of 6 first stacked to create one noiseless file. Each of the 8 noiseless files then stitched to create the entire scene. Shot at 6400 ISO as orig RAW imags. This file now has the noise of a 1600 ISO file when printed at full size..which is huge… When doing smaller prints the noise level will be around that of a 400 ISO file simply because of the massive file size. Think 16×20 contact print for those of you who are familiar with film.  Shots like this are time consuming both in the field and back in the digital darkroom. I don’t recommend doing something like this when shooting in a large group or you time in the digital darkroom could be increased exponentially due to any kind of light that would get into one or more of your shots during your sequence of exposures. < That will be for another blog all on it’s own.. For now let’s just take a deep breath and try to fully realize the crazy amount of detail you can get in your images with the Sigma 85mm 1.4 Art lens.

Made from 6 images by Starry Landscape Stacker 1.4.0.

While I did not use it for any portraits or any people images, I am told it’s an award winning lens for that too…and I believe it. For me personally, it will be used to create massive panos, highly detailed images of the night sky and crazy shallow DOF images when needed… Also when possible I will use it just to create a wider angle of view..

I can stitch 2 85mm images together to create a 42mm wide shot, 3 images can create a 28mm wide image and 5 images can create an image that is as wide as a 17mm image yet all of these will have much larger file sizes and be able to print cleaner and larger than any single image.

I do plan on sharing more images from this lens as time goes on and I use it more. I think things are going to get pretty exciting.

Please feel free to leave a comment or message. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have!

New Luminar from Macphun

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Luminar from Macphun is here! 

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

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

  • Simple
  • Responsive
  • Fast
  • No Crashing
  • Effective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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