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.
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.
I love hearing your feedback, questions or comments so please feel free to use the contact box below.
Links to products used in the making of these images.
As I look back on 2018 after having a full week to reflect, it’s hard for me to really put into words what 2018 meant to me. I was blessed to travel to Paris with my family in March and spend my daughter’s 11th birthday at Disneyland Paris. During the Summer I traveled through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Utah, and all over Colorado. During the Fall I went to Iceland for 8 days with some friends. 2018 was simply filled with so many enjoyable moments and memories that there is really no way to put it all up here in a single blog post. I asked my Facebook followers Facebook Fan Page if they would rather have me post my 10 best images or my favorite image from each month. They chose to have me do 1 from each month. While social media can be annoying sometimes, I still respect what my followers say and value their opinions.
I hope you enjoy these images as much as I did creating them. With each image you will find camera exif data and a description of each one. Please note that while I am doing a lot more composite imaging these days for fun, I picked images that were either single exposures or focal length composites of real scenes. Each of the images I have picked to share with you are real images that you could see with your own eyes…Not, just something I came up with in my head. I know there are a lot of people who are inspired by other photographers so I wanted to make sure I only shared images that you can create yourself, should you choose.
Chatfield Lake State Park is only a couple of miles from my home and more times than not, it’s my “go to” spot when I just need to get a quick photography fix. We had a pretty good cold snap and the lake froze completely. As Colorado weather would have it, the next few days were very warm and the ice started to break up due to winds and water movement. These big ice chunks were layering themselves along the shoreline. When I arrived at this part of the lake I was happy to find some nice pieces that made for a good foreground. Getting the camera down low with a nice 20mm Sigma wide-angle lens let me take it all in and still capture the great sunset in the sky.
Roxborough State Park is another park that I am fairly close to. I love to shoot these slanted rock formations at various times of the year. I would rather be outside than sitting in my house. After a few hours of heavy snow I decided to go take a drive and see what I could find. I loved the soft trees against the jagged rocks that were fading away in the distance. Temps were in the single digits and the wind was blowing fairly good. I used my Sigma 24-105 Art lens at 90mm to bring this scene in closer and fill the frame.
Bogue, Kansas, Population 136
This was my 2nd of 3 trips to Kansas in 2018 and both the 1st and 2nd were much more pleasurable than the 3rd. I am a huge fan of the small towns across America that didn’t make it. I find the people who live in these towns to be very kind and gracious. They tend to like to talk about the history of the town and what happened. This old building on the corner was a small shop of some kind, possibly a car garage shop. As we were walking by I noticed the sun coming up on my right. I thought it would be neat if I could get the sun coming up through the tree. It wasn’t till I got home I realized I had also captured the reflection of the old grain silo in the front window. The Sigma 14mm 1.8 Art lens allowed me to get close to my subject and still capture all that I wanted in my scene without any extras.
Rocky Mountain National Park, Milky Way Over Longs Peak was sure a sight to see. I had just got home from a workshop in Moab and I called up a couple of friends to see if they wanted to do a midnight hike in the snow and freezing temps to this spot that overlooks Longs Peak. They agreed and we made some final plans and off we went. Hiking the 1 mile up here is fairly easy in the summer but not so much when the trail is mostly ice and you’re going uphill. We allowed extra time that we knew we would need. In hindsight the uphill wasn’t so bad compared to coming back down. One friend slipped and almost went over the edge. We were able to get him up to safety and past the sketchy part of the trail. There are only about 45 days of the year that this image is possible when the Milky Way is right over Longs Peak. If you take into consideration things like work schedules, weather, and moonlight, realistically for most people this view is only seen for about 7 days total. I’ve seen this shot without any snow and I have seen it shot one time right after a big fresh snow…This image takes advantage of a setting moon which creates the shadow under Longs Peak. I used a Tiffen Double Fog Filter at the time of capture to enhance the stars in the image.
This image is a combo of a blend and stack where I simply used 2 focal lengths and exposure times. Both images capture with the Sigma Corporation of America 24-105 Art Lens.
Sky – 15 exposures, ISO 10,000, F4, 15 seconds each at 28mm stacked to reduce noise.
Mountain – 1 single 16 min exposure at 42mm, ISO 100, F4,
This big, beautiful old tree lines up perfectly with the Milky Way in April and May. It’s one of the places we love to take our workshop students who enjoy the tree as much as we do. Moab is known for having some of the darkest skies in the USA and it’s one of the reasons we love teaching there. Depending on exactly where you stand to shoot this tree it can take on many different looks. Having the Milky Way as a backdrop isn’t bad though!
Yellowstone National Park
My daughter and I did a 3500 mile road trip from Colorado up to Yellowstone and then back down into Kansas. We enjoyed all the sights, animals and even visited the geographic center of the USA (more my bucket list item than hers). During the day we would explore and see the attractions but at night it was my time to do my thing. Seeing these thermal pools in the day was great and I am glad I got to experience it with her. At night when all the people returned to their hotels, I could get out and shoot. Very peaceful at night with a faint bubbling sound of the thermal pools. I really enjoyed shooting this image as our nearest neighbor, Andromeda, rose up behind the trees. It was a beautiful night in a beautiful park.
Hug Point, Oregon
Heavy mist and fog can do amazing and crazy things to the visual surroundings you see. The fog was laying on the beach like a first time tourist to the tropics. It just wouldn’t go away. The Sun was getting lower and lower and everything was this odd grey/silver color when all the sudden everything lit up. I looked to my left and saw there was a small break in the fog that the sun was coming through. It was more like the sun was shining through a thin layer of fog, not really a break. I scrambled around and found this composition and began shooting. The light lasted a couple of minutes and was gone. Having lived on the Oregon Coast for many years, I really feel that this image summarizes what the Oregon Coast is all about. Hazy, Foggy, some sun, damp and yet extremely refreshing.
Mount Rainier National Park
Finally able to check this off my bucket list and it feels good but I know I’ll be back to see it again. We were on the tail end of our 6 week journey through the Pacific Northwest. Many months earlier I had made plans with a friend to come up and shoot this scene with them. We were treated to a wonderful sunset before it got dark and the stars came out. We picked this location based on where the Milky Way would be as we knew we wanted to get it over the mountain. It was stunning!
This image uses 2 focal lengths to create a more natural (to what your eye sees) scene. The mountain was shot at 24mm and the sky at 50mm The human eye sees at roughly 50mm.
Depending on where you are in Iceland, one of the biggest challenges can be shooting so that you don’t get other people in your shot. In the southern region there are more people simply because it’s closer to the capital, Reykjavik. Here at Gullfoss waterfall this was sure the case. Probably at least 1000 people here while we were here. What you can see here is all of them on both sides of me and up on the trail leading down to the falls. I loved the way the water was flowing over the falls and then the mist would shoot straight up along the rock walls into the air. I like to challenge myself when not so perfect situations present themselves. This was one of those times.
Our trip to Iceland spanned the last week of September into the first week of October. The first image I picked for October was a nice sunset with some wave action along the beach. After thinking about it for a while I realized it didn’t show the true Icelandic landscape. I wanted something that showed the more rugged side of the country as well as the changing weather. This image was shot near Snaefellsjokull National Park on the far west side of the island. As we rounded the corner of the road I knew I wanted to shoot this scene. I love the golden tones of the grasses and land while the snow-capped peaks rise up above. The waterfall looks like it’s coming out of nowhere and the little farm in the lower right corner really puts this into perspective. One thing we noticed while driving around is that a lot of farms/homesteads were built near the bases of waterfalls so they could have fresh water. Yes, there are that many waterfalls in Iceland! They are everywhere.
Moab, Utah may not be known for it fall colors but if you look in the right places you will find some nice groves of Cottonwood trees. I had just finished up a workshop and had some free time when I started hiking down this little muddy creek/canyon. The water was very still and made a beautiful reflection against the blue sky. Sitting here simply enjoying this moment was priceless. I’ll always remember these trees and look forward to my next visit when I can shoot them in another way!
At the end of the year, Comet 46p graced us with its presence. It wasn’t an epic comet with a big long tail like others before it, it was just a nice green dot in the sky letting us know we are not alone. At only 3/4 of a mile across and 7.2 million miles from Earth, it’s amazing that it shows up this bright. This comet is ONLY 3 laps around a track wide. That’s not very big in the grand scheme of things when you think that Jupiter could hold 1300 Earths. What a great experience for those who go to see Comet 46p to finish of the year. This image was taken behind an old stagecoach building in rural Colorado on Dec 7th, 2018.
2019 should be a year of just as much fun. I have a lot planned this year and tomorrow I am starting the year off right with a trip to the Oregon Coast. I look forward to catching up with everyone soon and please feel free to contact me directly using the form below.
As a night photography workshop instructor over the last 5 years I have seen a lot with our students. I have seen very happy students and I have seen, at times, very upset students. 99% of the time, if they are upset, it’s because they don’t know their gear well enough to work with it in the dark. This is not a bad thing, it’s just part of the learning experience.
I am writing this today to help ease some of that frustration. I am writing this to help ease some anxiety you may have because you want to get into night photography but at the same time you are scared you don’t have the correct gear.
Today I am going to tell you exactly what you need. That’s it…I run a no BS approach to photography. I wont sugar coat things, I wont say they are OK if they are not. Why accept somethings that’s OK only to get home and find out that it’s not. Unacceptable.
YOU ONLY NEED 3 things, 2 really, to begin your quest as a night photographer.
Digital Camera with at least an F/4 lens.
Tripod – Med sized to full size will work fine
Remote cord – Optional
Surprised? I thought so. Let me explain
Camera and Lens – This is where you will adjust your settings and capture your images. You don’t need a 40 or 50mp camera to get good night images. You simply need a camera. Any camera that can expose for 30 seconds will do the trick as long as your lens is F4 or faster, this means that it could be a 2.8, 1.8 or 1.4 lens. If you are just starting out and don’t want to spend a lot of money get an F4 or 2.8 as they will work just fine to capture images. I use an F4 lens for some of my work and have no issues. I also use a 1.4 sometimes.
Tripod – This is what holds your camera steady while your shutter is open. I suggest a tripod that does not have toothpicks for legs… Really, you think your camera will hold still on toothpick legs, it wont! If you do have a tripod that has very thin legs then I would simply suggest that you do not extend them and shoot with the legs fully collapsed and close to the ground to hold the camera as steady as possible.
Remote Cord – Optional – Why optional? Because your camera has a shutter button that you can, believe it or not, press down with your finger or thumb if you like. Seriously, it works, try it. If your camera is on a stead tripod and the tripod is tightened down so that the camera does not move then yes, it’s ok to use your finger to press the shutter. I personally like the remote cords that connect directly to your camera and not the wireless ones. Why? I have never seen anyone have issues with a remote cord that connects directly to the camera. I see people all the time fuss about because their shutters are not going off because they can’t get their wireless remotes to work. I have also seen a lot of people who try to program their intervalometers on their remote cords even when they have a camera that can do exactly what they are trying to do. If the camera can do it, let it do it. Unless you have a very specific need and need to take a long series of images that are over 30 seconds each you do not need an intervalometer. You can simply set your camera to any exposure time 30 seconds or less and press the shutter on the remote cord or camera and it will take the image. If you need to take a series of back to back shots just change the setting on your camera to continuous mode and press and lock the remote cord button. It will now take as many images as you like until your memory card is full or you release the shutter.
You need a digital camera that will allow for exposures up to 30 seconds long.
You need a tripod to hold your camera steady
You need a remote cord if you wish to take back to back images for a series.
DO NOT get caught up in the gear game. You simply don’t need that much stuff. So now you’re looking around your room thinking, hmm, I have a camera, I have a tripod and he said I really don’t need a remote cord so I think I’ll go see if I can take some pictures of the night sky or even a city skyline at night.
Pro Tip – Set your camera on Manual mode, change your ISO to 6400, set your lens to the widest it will go, ie, 2.8, 4 or 1.4, set your shutter speed(exposure time) to 30 seconds and shoot. These are starter settings. If the image is too bright then you can cut your exposure time or ISO down. For information on how to focus in the dark please visit our website at www.nightphotographyworkshop.com