10 Basic Tips to Improve Your Night Photography.

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.

Riding through the Heavens
Nikon D850 – Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.5, 15 seconds, Single Exposure

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.

IMG_7957

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.

 

Room With A Skylight View
Stacked and Blended – Nikon D850, Sigma 24mm 1.4 Art – Foreground ISO 64, F/2.2, 20 min – Sky ISO 8000, F/2.2, 8 seconds X 51 images stacked. 

 

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.

school stack comp

Night Classes
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm 2.8 Art, ISO 6400, F/3.2, 15 seconds X 24 images stacked

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.

Hi ISO 3200 vs Low ISO 100

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.

Delicate Arch Pano May2018
Made from 81 light frames – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8 Art, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 20 seconds. 

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.

Companies whose products I use and support- 

Sigma Lenses

Robus Tripods

Moab Fine Art Papers

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.

Estonia – Jan 2020

Tallinn City Views
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 14mm, ISO 200, F/3.5, 1/80th second

In the Fall of 2018 I traveled to Iceland with a friend and we explored the southern part of the island. While we were at one of the waterfalls a young lady asked me if I would take her picture in front of the falls. I took a few of her, we chatted for a little while and then parted ways. Later that evening while back at our house in Iceland I decided to scroll through Instagram to get ideas for our next days shoot. As I was scrolling I saw the image I took of the young lady. I commented on the photo letting her know I was the one who took the image. @Sunshinetravelr and I connected and I began following her travels. Towards the end of Jan 2019 she began posting all these amazing images of this old Medieval town. It had beautiful cobblestone streets, quaint alleyways and side streets as well as an “Old Town”  I asked her where she was and where all the people were.  She told me, “Tallinn, Estonia”. This place was unlike any place I had ever seen before and I knew I had to go see this place for myself.

Tallinn View
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 28mm, ISO 31, F/9, 52 seconds

Because she was posting images that did not have any or many people in them I knew this was the same time I would like to go. Low Season when tourism numbers are scarce. I kept searching online and reading more and more about Tallinn and it just kept sounding more and more interesting to me so in June 2019 I asked a friend if he wanted to go with me and we booked our trip for Jan 2020. We ended up going for 8 days and that gave us plenty of time to see all the things we wanted to see. We did a little traveling outside the city as well to some old ruins, waterfalls and we did a day trip to Helsinki Finland.

Tallinn Towers
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 52mm, ISO 64, F/11, 15 seconds

The “Old Town” part of Tallinn is an old walled city. Tallinn is the best preserved medieval city in Northern Europe. It boasts Gothic Spires, winding cobblestone streets and amazing architecture. The 13th century city is so well preserved that it became an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The City of Tallinn celebrated its 800th year in 2019.  From Wikipedia – Tallinn, first mentioned in 1219, received city rights in 1248, but the earliest human settlements date back 5,000 years. The first recorded claim over the land was laid by Denmark in 1219, after a successful raid of Lyndanisse led by king Valdemar II, followed by a period of alternating Scandinavian and Teutonic rulers. Due to its strategic location, the city became a major trade hub, especially from the 14th to the 16th century, when it grew in importance as part of the Hanseatic League.

Viru Gates
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 32mm, ISO 31, F/11, 20 minutes

The Viru Gates were part of the 14th century defense system. The gates are now a historical landmark and are the entrance to one of the busiest streets in Tallinn. You can’t see anyone here in this image even though there were hundreds of people. I used a super long exposure to make the people disappear.

House of Blackheads
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 42mm, ISO 31, F/10, 1.6 seconds

“House of Blackheads” – The name doesn’t sound to great but this is really what it is… Tallinn is pretty well known for it’s doors. In fact their doors on their buildings are so old and unique that there are people who make projects out of photographing/painting each one. This is probably the most famous.
The following is from Wikipedia – House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads, in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a former headquarters of the Brotherhood of Blackheads. Historically this was a professional association of ship owners, merchants and foreigners dating from the 14th century. They were active in Livonia (present-day Estonia and Latvia) but fled to Germany during the Soviet occupation of the Baltic States in 1940. The House of the Blackheads was visited by several Russian Emperors including Peter I, Paul I and Alexander I who also became honorable members the Brotherhood.
The building was acquired by this organization in 1517. In 1597 it was renovated under supervision of the architect Arent Passer. The façade was rebuilt in the style of Renaissance architecture from the Low Countries. The painted doors date from the 1640s. A Maure, a symbol of Saint Maurice, the patron saint of the Brotherhood, appears both carved in wood and sculpted in stone above the door.
The House of the Brotherhood of Black Heads today comprises three separate buildings, and has four halls and several other rooms which are used for a variety of events.[2] The White Hall was built in 1531-32, but was remodelled during reconstruction work between 1909 and 1911.[3] St. Olaf’s Guild Hall, whose interior architecture comes from the early 15th century, was purchased by the Blackheads in 1919 and was remodeled between 1919 and 1922.

Town Square Tree
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 24mm, ISO 200, F/8, 1/30th second
Sunset in the Town Square
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 17mm, ISO 200, F/8, 1/250th second

The town square is the most popular part of Tallinn. Each year it hosts a massive Christmas market (google it for amazing images). We arrived after Christmas and missed the market but the tree was still up. I’m not sure when the tree is taken down or who is responsible for that task. Being there at the end of January and seeing the tree still up with no lights was a little odd to me. Nonetheless, we enjoyed it just the same. If you look at the small puddle in the street on the top image you will see that that is where I took the 2nd image from. Just getting down lower with a wide angle lens allowed me to capture this beautiful reflection of the sunset. There are many streets that lead to and from the town square so it’s easy to find compelling compositions for photography.

Window to the Past
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 35mm, ISO 64, F/13, 1/100th second
Cathedral Towers
Nikon D850, Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 Sport at 85mm, ISO 64, F/6.3, 1/1000th second

On the second to last day of our trip the clouds broke and allowed some nice blue sky to come through. We took full advantage and explored the city with our big cameras. Yes, there were some days we only took our phones because of the rain. On the day we visited Helsinki, Finland it was a downpour so we decided not to worry about lugging the big cameras and only took our phones..Even then, we didn’t take too many images because of the weather.  These views from the Hellemann Tower were sure a fun experience. Again you can see there were just not many people here and we used this to our advantage to take our time with our tripods and set up good shots without having to worry about people getting in our way. It’s a 14th century, 3 story tower that offers amazing views of Tallinn’s medieval defenses.  It was used as a prison and a weapons store. Now it simply attracts tourists and houses art galleries.

Welcome Home
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 14mm, ISO 31, F/6.3, 1/25th second

Depending on which way you’re walking, this massive door leads you to or from Short Leg Street.  I have not been able to find any history on this door but my guess would be that this is a newer version of an original that was built in the 15th century. This small walkway along these steps is what connected upper town and lower town hundreds of years ago when tensions were tight between the 2 towns. The rich merchants of the lower town and the nobleman and knights of the upper town both wanted to obtain more power. This door is probably 10ft tall, 4-6 inches thick and very heavy. Now that I think about it, I wish I would have taken some images of the iron hinges.

Take Me Back in Time
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 14mm, ISO 31, F/7.1, 1/160th second

The previous image with the door is the walk way that leads to the stairs in this image. I simply stepped back through this archway to snap this shot showing the stairs and cobblestone street. This is a walking only street as it’s too narrow for cars.

Painter in the Alleyway
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 82mm, ISO 64, F/13, 30 seconds

This guy was painting the scene you see here and selling the small art works. I did not see anyone buy from him while we were there. This cobblestone street leads you into Upper Town before walking down the small passage to Lower Town.

Cobblestone Cafe
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 18mm, ISO 64, F/16, 10 seconds

My favorite time to shoot was very early in the morning when the locals were walking to work before the sun came up. The yellow building you see here is Cafe Maiasmokk. It’s the oldest operating cafe in Estonia, let alone Tallinn. It’s been in the same location since 1864. It was just beginning to show when I was shooting this image. The building also has museum about the history and uses of marzipan.

Quiet Mornings in Tallinn
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 105mm, ISO 64, F/13, 13 seconds

Simply turning around from the previous image provided me with this view. Empty streets, storefronts and beautiful soft pre sunrise light. Veta is an Estonian clothing brand that began in 1994 and they opened their 5th store in Tallinn in 2011. While the brand may not be new by Estonian standards, it’s in a beautiful old building that dates back to the 15th or 16th century and has quickly became an “instagramable” hot spot.

Porsche Graffiti
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 52mm, ISO 64, F/8, 3 seconds

While out walking around one evening we came across this dirty Porsche parked next to an old wall with lots of graffiti. I don’t know what it all says and I think the not knowing makes the image a bit more striking to me. Seeing it and photographing it in color was nice but the black and white is what really spoke to me.

Monk's Alley
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 32mm, ISO 64, F/9, 3 seconds

St. Catherine’s Passage – formerly known as the Monk’s Alley, winds its way from Vene Street past the southern end of the Dominican monastery to Müürivahe Street. St Catherine’s church, from which the alley took its name, is thought to have been built here more than 700 years ago. The southern side of the alley is lined with predominantly 15th-17th century residences. The alley as a whole retains its medieval atmosphere. It was last restored in 1995. This was one of the places I really wanted to photograph. To get this shot, timing was crucial. Evening light, shops closed for the day and no one walking through the passage. It didn’t take long to get the shot, I simply waited until the business (red door on the right) closed for the night. There were people walking through from time to time and I did shoot some of those as well but the emptiness of this old passage was the feeling I was going for. I may also try it in black and white to remove the warm tones from the lights.

Path to Church
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 24mm, ISO 64, F/11, 30 seconds
Nevsky Begger
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 20mm, ISO 100, F/13, 1/100th second
Uptown in Oldtown
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 35mm, ISO 64, F/8, 0.8 seconds

The above 3 images show the Alexandar Nevsky Cathedral. I have heard a lot of mixed feelings about this place and while some people love it, some people feel it’s out of place and doesn’t belong here. Neither of these opinions are for me to decide. To me it was a very unique building with amazing architechture that was Soviet inspired. It was built between 1894-1900 while Estonia was still part of the Russian Empire.  From Wikipedia – The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is Tallinn’s largest and grandest orthodox cupola cathedral. It is dedicated to Saint Alexander Nevsky who in 1242 won the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus, in the territorial waters of present-day Estonia.  One rainy day we went inside to get out of the rain for a little bit and much to our amazement we heard a young man reading from scripture. It was more of a chant than reading and it sounded amazing. If any of you have heard this, you will know what I am talking about. Pictures were not allowed inside.  The second image you see above, black and white, is one I felt compelled to take. As we walked out of the cathedral there was a lady who appeared to be homeless standing at the bottom of the steps. It didn’t seem like she was begging and I am not sure what to really make of why she was there. As I walked away and turned around I saw this image. It hit me like a brick. With the woman at the bottom of the empty stairs and no one around it created an emotion inside of me. Partly because I did not know why she was there and partly because she completed the image and finished telling the story.

Ungru Lossi
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 52mm, ISO 64, F/7.1, 1/50th second

We did have a rental car and we only used it one day.  I had done a little searching online to find things outside of Tallinn that may be of some interest and unique that those who just visited Tallinn would not see. From Baltic Coastal Hiking – The ruins of the Ungru manor used to represent one of the most impressive Neo-Baroque buildings in Estonia, although it never was really finished. Its sophisticated footprint and the numerous baroque volute ornaments on its gables are characteristic for the castle. Interesting to know: The Ungru Manor was an almost exact copy of the Merseburg castle in Germany. After World War II the manor fell into the hands of Soviet troops, in 1968 the chief of the airport decided to use the ruins of the manor to fill in the holes in the runway. About one third of the manor was torn down, fortunately the rest was preserved until today.

I’ll be honest, it was the unique features and remoteness that made me want to see this. This image was shot on a flat grey overcast day so I decided to use some creative processing to create an older more appealing image that appears to date back to it’s time.

Rail Museum
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 22mm, ISO 200, F/4.5, 1/40th second

Haapsalu, Estonia is home to the Railway and Communications museum. It was built from 1903-1905. Just to my right are some old train cars. I felt the design of the building with its bright colors was a better picture. This covered area is 648 feet long and where passengers would have waited to board the trains. Passenger trains continued running until September of 1995.

Jagala Wide
Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art at 24mm, ISO 31, F/16, 30 seconds
Jagala Falls
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 16mm, ISO 31, F/10, 15 seconds

Jagala Jogi River was simply a waterfall I wanted to see. It’s located east of Tallinn about 15 min and we arrived when it was almost dark. There are 2 access points, one on each side of the falls and we make the most of our time and shot from both locations. As you can see from the 2nd image the water was shallow and not covering the entire rock face. We could have walked across if we wanted to get wet.  The waterfall is roughly 24ft high and 150 wide making it the widest natural waterfall in Estonia.

1760
Nikon D850, Sigma 14-24mm Art at 14mm, ISO 200, F/7.1, 1/8th second

Driving on the highway through Taebla you will see Lääne-Nigula Church. The building was built in 1760 and restored in 1816, the steeple dates back to 1882. The height of the church is 156ft of which the spire is 81 ft tall.
There is an old cemetery around the church filled with old crosses and headstones. This was not a planned find. We were simply driving and saw this huge spire from the road and decided to turn in and see what it was.  I loved the old green door.

Olde Hansa
Nikon D850, Sigma 70-200mm 2.8 Sport at 200mm, ISO 200, F/5.6, 1/25th second

The medieval restaurant Olde Hansa is the home of a rich merchant, whose guests enjoy delicious, authentic Hansa-era meals and drinks, true period music and always friendly service.  Our waitress was a very fun, outgoing lady who played her part well.  All of the dishes on the menu, including many wild game delicacies, are cooked using 15th century recipes and methods. Medieval musicians sat high above us in the corner of the room and played their music. This image was shot from our apartment as 2 ladies walked around the corner shops.

All in all I took over 3000 images while I was there. I simply had to pick the ones I felt worked well and were to the point.  If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you will see more from the trip as I get them edited. I sure appreciate the time you took to read and look at the images. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to ask.

A huge thank you to the following companies who support my work and products I use on my photography adventures.

Sigma Lenses

Nitecore Lights

Robus Tripods

Moab Fine Art Papers

Englewood Camera

All images are available as Fine Art Prints, Canvas, Metals or Acrylics. I will be adding them to my website soon. If you wish to obtain one of these please contact me directly.

Darren White Photography Website

Please feel free to use the comment box below to connect with me. I always love hearing your thoughts and opinions.

 

Sigma fp review with images

 

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.

Pros-

  • 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
  • Solid Build
  • Designed to be fully customizable

Cons-

  • 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

 

Sigma fp c43900

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.

IMG_3640

 

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!

Sunrise Path
Chatfield Sunrise, Sigma fp, Sigma 14-24mm at 23mm 

 

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.

Denver 5001
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 6, f/16, 500 seconds

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.

Cold Morning at Nymph
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 6, F/5, 60 seconds. 

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.

Moraine Valley
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 100, F/10, 1/160th 

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.

Coco
Sigma fp, Sigma 14-24mm, ISO 100, F/2.8, 1/800th second handheld. 

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!

_SDI0151
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 100, F/2.8, 1/125th second handheld 
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.

 

 

Chatfield Snow
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 100, F/5.6, 1/500th second

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.

Foggy Creek

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.

HDR
Sigma fp, 14-24mm, ISO 200, F/5, 1/400th second – top image is in camera HDR, bottom image is a single image. 

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.

_SDI0528
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 1600, F/5.6, 1/80th second handheld 

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.

Inside the Bank
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 3200, F/2.8, 1/250th second handheld 

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.

Ride To Church
Sigma fp, Sigma 14-24mm, ISO 100, F/7.1, 1/200th second handheld 

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.

Midnight Rest
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 400, F/5, 4 seconds

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.

Wheelhousing
Sigma fp, Sigma 45mm, ISO 32, F/4.5, 40 seconds
Big Wheels
Sigma fp, Sigma 45, ISO 32, F/9, 100 seconds
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.
Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 1.44.51 PM
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!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blogs.  I am always happy to answer any questions you may have. Please feel free to drop me a line by filling out the form below.  I am going to include a bunch of links fo you to check out if you’re so inclined. Thanks again

Sigma fp Camera

Sigma 45mm Lens

Sigma 14-24mm L Mount ART

Robus Tripods

RRS BH55 Ball Head

2020 Night Photography Workshops

Bandon, Oregon Workshop Feb 2020

 

Night Photography All Year long!

I know so many people who put their cameras away around the end of September when the Milky Way Core dips back below the horizon. Around mid Feb to early March they bring them back out again when the Milky Way core rises up over the horizon in the early hours of the morning right before sunrise. This year on Feb 2nd the core was up and able to be photographed only a few min before the light of dawn came and washed all the stars away.. Was I out there to see and photograph it, yes. For me, personally, it’s very exciting to see that Milky Way core for the first time in a new year. It signals 8 months of great shooting ahead. Do I put my camera away in September when the core dips below the horizon? No! I photograph the night sky all year-long. I love the night sky. Often the cold, Winter nights are some of the clearest and darkest. Here in Colorado where we have very dry air it makes visibility that much better.

I have put together a series of images that span all of 2018 of the night sky. I do night photography all year-long and while this blog post wont include a shot I just recently took, you will see it next year when I do my review of 2019. It was a shot I had wanted for a long time and I was finally able to make happen.

Let’s take a look at some night images in order month by month. I will include the times taken and the dates so you can note the changes you see in the sky as we progress through the year.

January

Orion Over Loveland Pass
Orion Over Loveland Ski Area – Nikon D810, Sigma 24-105mm @24mm, F/4, 1600 ISO, 10 seconds

Orion over Loveland Ski area in Colorado. Orion is a winter constellation and one of the most easily recognizable in the southern sky. Light fall off from cars and the resort area helped to light up the side of the mountain.  January 14, 2018. 7:45pm

February

11mile
11 Mile – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4 Art, ISO 6400, F/2, 13 seconds

Eleven Mile Reservoir is becoming a more popular spot for night photographers. It offers nice dark skies for how close it is to Colorado Springs and it also has a very flat horizon. This means that because there are not mountains or tall trees in the way, it’s easy to see the Milky Way Core very early when it rises in February.  The Milky Way is very low on the horizon and makes it very easy to do panoramas between Feb and June. Feb 16th, 2018. 5:51am

March

Smokey Valley Milky Way
Smokey Valley Milky Way – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, ISO 3200, F/2.2, 15 seconds

Late Feb and March are my favorite times to do panoramas of the Milky Way while the galactic core is rising up in the south. This image was shot in Kansas just before sunrise and covers a full 180 degrees from North to South looking due East. March 16th, 2018. 5:52am

Big Dipper over Abandoned House
Big Dipper over Abandoned Home – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.5, 10 seconds

The Big Dipper is a constellation we can photograph all year-long here in the Northern Hemisphere. I liked how it was looking over this old, abandoned home in Kansas. I used a Sigma 20mm to try to frame the house and Big Dipper as a tight crop when I probably would have been better off using the Sigma 14mm 1.8 and given myself a little more breathing room up top.  March 17th 2018. 4:31am

April

Delicate Skies Over Moab
Delicate Skies Over Moab – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8 Art, ISO 5000, F/2.2, 20 seconds

By April we now have quite a bit of time to photograph the Milky Way Core before sunrise. 2-3 hours at least which makes it nice so that you don’t feel rushed. In Feb we have just a few minutes which can make it frustrating if anything goes wrong. April is the beginning of warmer weather for most of us and makes for some enjoyable nights under the skies compared to the sub freezing temps of Jan and Feb. We use Low Level Lighting to illuminate the arch during our Night Photography Workshops April 18th, 2018. 3:15am

Rocky Mountain Sky Candy
Rocky Mountain Sky Candy – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 20 seconds

Rocky Mountain National Park is a photographer’s dream. There is so much to shoot both day and night. Critical timing, moon phases and weather all play a factor in getting a shot like this. If you want to photograph the Milky Way over Longs Peak as seen here, planning is key.  After watching the weather, checking the moon phases and my own personal schedule I knew I had one night to shoot this. I called a couple of friends and they were in. We began our hike at midnight to arrive at this viewpoint in time to get set up and do some test shots before the Milky Way was in position. It was cold out, but still a fun night I will remember for the rest of my life. April 22nd, 2018. 3:35am

May

Dark Horse Over Windows with labels
Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm 1.4, ISO 10,000, F/2, 10 seconds
Milky Way Ride1
Nikon D810, Sky – Sigma 50mm 1.4, Foreground 11 min Sigma 20mm 1.4, F/2.5, ISO 64

One of the things we like to do during our workshops is to give a tour of the night sky. Mike uses his laser pointer to point out all the celestial objects in the sky. Here I have labeled a lot of them. It’s interesting to me that the Lagoon Nebula is 600 trillion miles across. Let that sink in for a while! We here on Earth are a very rare moment in time. The fact that humans even exist is a miracle in and of itself. It’s also amazing that we can capture such beauty of the sky with our tiny little cameras and sensors or film. Enjoy the moment cause as they say, “we’re here for a good time, not a long time”  May 14th, 2018. 12:42am

Dead Horse Dreams
Dead Horse Dreams – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, ISO 6400, F/2, 25 seconds

From Dead Horse Point State Park in Moab, Utah we were able to see, from the right side of the Milky Way, Antares, Jupiter and Spica.  May 19th, 2018. 3:28am

June

Mesas Comp
Foreground – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 64, F/13, 1/100th second – Sky – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 8000, F/2.5, 10 seconds

Wanting to see a bit more of the lower portion of the Milky Way, I decided to drive from Denver down to New Mexico for a night. My efforts paid off with beautiful clear skies with warm weather. Photographing the Milky Way in the summer is a treat because it’s shorts and tee-shirt weather most all night long. The issue with the warmer weather is that your sensor will heat up faster and produce more noise. Winter is actually better for night photography because the cooler temps keep the sensor cooler and produce less noise. When I arrived at this old church (still in use 2 times a year) I knew I wanted the best image possible. I used PhotoPills to map exactly where the Milky Way was going to come up. I then positioned my camera and shot for the church during sunset at ISO 64.  I then waited until 11pm when the Milky Way was in position and shot 21 back to back shots at ISO 8000 of the sky so I could stack them for noise reduction and blend them with the low ISO church image.  June 4th, 2018. 11:10pm

Old Timer
Old Timer – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.5, 10 seconds

Another trip to Kansas to shoot the Milky Way with my friend Jim and his daughter Annie. Jim knew this where this old combine was just sitting in a field. He obtained permission from the property owner so that we could have an evening to shoot he Milky Way. I actually didn’t mind the clouds on both ends of the Milky Way. June 15th, 2018. 11:15pm

July

Crater Lake Twisty Tree
Crater Lake Twisty Tree – Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 15 seconds

During a 6 week road trip through the Northwest my travels took me to Crater Lake National Park. Actually it was all part of the plan. I wasn’t sure what day I would get here so I really lucked out on this part. The faint clouds you see here on the horizon are actually front of the smoke from the California and southern Oregon wildfires that were burning.  I only shot 1 night at Crater lake and I am thankful that was all I planned. The next few days you couldn’t even see the lake for all the smoke in the sky. I managed to keep at least 1 day ahead of the smoke during my travels in the Northwest. July 19th, 2018. 2:26am

Pacific Nights
Pacific Nights – Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 13 seconds

One of those rare summer nights when you’re sitting on the couch at 5pm watching the weather and the weatherman tells you to expect clear skies along the coast all night long. Needless to say I wasn’t on the couch for much longer.. I looked outside and sure enough it was crystal clear (normally the marine layer comes in and clouds everything over). I grabbed my gear and made a plan. There were 3 spots I wanted to shoot this night.. Cannon Beach, Happy Camp and Pacific City. Pacific City would be the last stop of the night and I knew I would just meet up with my dad for coffee after this location. I shot the other 2 locations with some clouds and as I got further south the clouds were totally gone. I arrived here about 3am and was totally blown away with how clear it was. I took several shots of slightly different compositions and ended up liking this one the best. Some of them had reflections in the wet sand of the stars. I must have been here for 3 hours just watching and the Milky Way leaned into Haystack Rock and faded away as the daylight came. July 11th, 2018. 5:16am

August

Mountianous Majesty
Purple Mountain Majesty – Mountain – Nikon D810, Sigma 24mm 1.4, ISO 64, F/2.5, 30 min – Sky – Nikon D810, Sigma 50mm 1.4, F/2, ISO 8000, 6 seconds x 20 images.

Finishing up our road trip with an amazing shoot with another friend, Jann, up at Mount Rainier. We had planned this shot several months in advance and being on the very end of our trip I was tired. This was my only chance in August to shoot. I had to make it count. As always I arrived early, scouted, found a good spot and patiently waited. We shot birds, flowers and the mountain before the sun went down. Knowing I had to make this the best it could be I shot a 30 min exposure for the mountain just as it got dark. This allowed me to get the best possible quality. I then waited for the Milky way to get into position and shot 20 images back to back for noise reduction. August 7th, 2018 12:15am

September

Untitled1
Nikon D810, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.2, 15 seconds. 

September takes us to the beginning of when we start to see Andromeda high in the night sky. It’s also the time when photographing the North end of the Milky Way is much better. Here I am standing in front of Double Arch in Arches National Park while the Milky Way leans over the arch. In this image is Cygnus the Swan, Denab, Andromeda and Cassiopeia as well as the Elephant trunk nebula. By stacking the images of the sky for noise reduction I was able to bring out some of the pink nebula colors that are natural but not seen with the naked eye. You wont see me in many pictures. I am standing here using my Nitecore MH 25 Night Blade light to illuminate the arch. September 12th, 2018. 3:52am

October

Darren at Twin Lakes in the Moonlight
Twin Lakes in the Moonlight – Nikon D810, Sigma 24mm 1.4, ISO 1600, F/2.8, 15 seconds

Sometimes I go out, just to go out and shoot. I’d rather spend my nights under the stars than in a bar. I knew the moon would be coming up and that it would be almost full but that didn’t stop me. I got into night photography by photographing at night when the moon was full. I was amazed at how bright the images were and that they looked like daylight. For those who are just starting out with night photography I highly recommend doing a few shoots at night with a full moon to help get comfortable with not only setting up your camera but also getting the correct exposure. Here you can just barely see the faint stars of the Milky Way over the top of the Mountains. I am standing out in the field again with my Nitecore light on its lowest setting (didn’t do me any good this time) my mistake. I loved the calm pond water which made for a gorgeous reflection. October 19th, 2018. 9:01pm

November

November Lights
November Lights –  Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm 1.8, F/2.2, ISO 6400, 25 seconds

While the Milky Way is visible all year-long, this is probably the section that is most left out or forgotten altogether. This is looking East right after sunset in early November. It has Taurus, Starfish cluster, Perseus, Polaris, Double Cluster and Denab. One thing I love about Balanced Rock in Arches National Park is that it offers 360 degree views all year long.  November 1, 2018. 9:09pm

December

Horse Rides
Horse Rides – Nikon D850, Sigma 20mm 1.4, ISO 6400, F/2.5, 5 seconds

Here in Colorado the winter temps get pretty cold in December. That wont stop me from getting out and grabbing a few shots on a clear night. Especially when there is a comet in the sky. That was the case this night when Comet 46p was to make a great appearance. We arrived at this location first before moving into position for the comet which would appear a few hours later. Looking to the west here, Vega steals the spotlight with its bright blue color directly over the old stagecoach. We used Low Level Lighting (think about what your cell phone puts off from its screen) to light the side of the building and a Nitecore LA30 light for the inside of the porch. I really like this location because of the way the Milky Way leans over the mountain and the old building. December 7th, 2018, 6:51pm

Comet 46P over Stagecoach
Comet 46p – Nikon D850, Sigma 14mm for the building, Sigma 85mm for the comet

It was sure exciting to see Comet 46p on my last night shoot of 2018 but I have to admit I would have really loved to see a big tail on this one! I guess there isn’t anything I could do about that.  We used some Low Level Lighting and small tea lights to light the outside and inside of this old building. I used a Sigma 14mm for the foreground and the Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens for the comet and stars. I blended the 2 together just to make the comet a bit bigger than it would have been with the 14mm. I am now looking forward to more night sky events in 2019. December 7th, 2018. 9:29pm

 

Shooting the night sky all year is sure fun and could be seen as a project for some of you to help you get out and shoot more if you need the motivation. While many of you also live in cities or light polluted areas there are often places only a couple of hours away that will give you good viewing of the sky. I like to use Dark Site Finder to help me figure out where I can go and get the best viewing of the night sky. I also like using apps like PhotoPills during the day to plan my shoots at night.

Shooting in the winter months can be challenging for sure. If you are going after the Milky Way core then you are either getting up really early or staying up all night long and that can sure wear a person down after a few days.. Here in Colorado the weather has been super cold at night which can make it hard to be away from your car for an extended period of time. I recommend lots of warm clothes, especially for your hands and feet. Over the last several weeks I have been out shooting and never had less than 5 layers on my top, and 3 layers on my legs. When your fingers get so cold that you can’t press the shutter button on your camera, you know it’s time to get warmed up. It sure is fun though when you get home and see the images you captured.

Be sure to check out Sigma Lenses for all your photography needs

I recommend Nitecore Lights for all your illumination needs.

All prints are available for purchase either directly from me or via my website Darren White Photography

As always, thanks for taking the time to read the blog and I hope you will leave me a message or questions if you have them. I will reply to all comments I get.

 

So Far in 2019…………

I know we are only into the new year by just over a month but I thought it would be fun to share some of my work so far this year. I have been trying to make the most of my free time by getting out and shooting. As a full-time photographer it can be pretty easy to just sit in the house and edit and catch up on social media. While those are parts of the process, the process I really enjoy is being outside and capturing the images. I wont share all my new images, just the parts that will put it all together.

In early January I hosted my annual “Oregon Coast Winter Workshop” in Yachats, Oregon. Our group all had Oceanfront rooms at the amazing Overleaf Lodge and Spa

We were truly blessed with good weather. The few days before the workshop was rainy and right after the workshop the rain came back. We just happened to time it so that the 4 days during the workshop were in between storms.  Needless to say this made the workshop students happy as well as myself. My friend, Chuck Rasco of Chuck Rasco Photography always comes along on these trips with me. After the workshop was over we spent the next 5 days on the southern Oregon Coast between Bandon and Brookings. We had a good and bad weather in both places. Having lived in Oregon most my life, I felt right at home walking along the beaches in the rain. We did some crazy hikes too.

Scale
Seal Rock Sunset, Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105

On Saturday night of the workshop I took the group down to the Seal Rock area near Newport, Oregon. Once we parked the cars I could see the clouds in the sky and I had a feeling that the sunset was going to be epic.  I decided to grab just my camera and one lens, my workhorse, Sigma 24-105mm Art to use for some snapshots while helping the students. Right on cue, the sky just began to explode with color. Everyone was going crazy trying to find the best comps. Moving around and making sure they were not in each other’s way, the group really worked well together. Gary Kochel planned a big northwest trip around the workshop and I think it’s easy to say that he was extremely impressed with Oregon. Here is Gary getting an epic shot from his own vantage point.

Moving down the coast after the workshop, we headed directly to Brookings and had plans to stay in Bandon on the way back up. My friend Chuck and his wife Cathy had never really explored the Samuel Boardman State Park area of Oregon. I felt as a good host, I should show them around properly. That means with a few steep hikes that lead to incredible views.

Natural Bridges
Natural Bridges, Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105

The first hike was at Natural Bridges. It’s a pretty common spot for good reason, the views are amazing. Not everyone can get down to see the views from here just because it’s pretty steep. This view isn’t too bad to get to but once you go further, down to the red arrow, it gets much steeper. So steep that there is a 50ft section where you need to repel down the hill with a rope…Once we were set up at the red arrow the views were just as good.

Pacific Views
Pacific Views, Nikon D850, Sigma 14mm 1.8 Art

It was right here when I realized that Chuck wasn’t too keen on heights. The Sigma 14mm 1.8 Art makes this little path look wider than it actually is. Chuck was standing almost right next to me on my right and my left tripod leg is actually off the path, down a little ways being held up by a rock. The top of the arch that we are on is maybe 4ft across. That doesn’t leave much room for error when packing up your gear and turning around to head back up the trail.

Cliffside Views
Cliffside Views, Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105, Haida 10 stop ND Filter

It’s fun to shoot the same scene with various lenses. You simply get different results. This was shot from the same place, tripod in the same spot, as the last image but with a Sigma 24-105mm Art at 52mm for 67 seconds with a Haida 10 stop ND Filter

Sunset Storm at Face Rock
Sunset Storm at Face Rock, Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105 Art

After powering though a few days of pouring rain in Brookings and filling up on the best breakfasts ever (we ate here 3 days in a row) Mattie’s Pancake House we made our way up the coast to Bandon. Bandon is not an open book by any means. I have been visiting Bandon now for over 10 years, maybe longer and the weather is always interesting. After getting checked into our hotel and picking up some provisions for the evening the rain started. It was windy, blowing sideways and I was thinking that our chance for a sunset was out the window…literally. As it got closer to sunset the rain let up, the sky started to break up with a few holes in the clouds. We made our way across the street to the beach in amazement that our timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The wind was still kicking pretty good so I decided to put the tripod away and shoot handheld with the Sigma 24-105. The OS on this lens is incredible. We were down on the beach for about 2 hours until sunset was finally over. There were no chance of shooting stars that night so we called it a night and began walking back to our hotel… I kid you not, just as we got back to the hotel it started pouring again.

Super Blood Wolf Moon
Super Blood Wolf Moon, Nikon D850, Sigma 20mm 1.4 & Sigma 85mm 1.4

Months ago, I planned a shoot with a friend who was interested in shooting the Blood, Super Wolf Moon on the night of the 20th of January. We used PhotoPills to plan the shoot and know where exactly the moon was going to be at what time when it was eclipsed.  Since I was just getting home from 10 days in Oregon, I didn’t want to travel too far from home. South Valley Park is right behind my house and because we are looking away from Denver the sky is a little darker.  Using these rocks as a foreground subject, we set up, shot the foreground and then waited for the moon to turn red. Because it’s impossible to capture the moon and the foreground all in one shot with the proper exposure, I used 2 shots for this image. The Moon is in the exact location it was when I shot the foreground. I used the Sigma 20mm for the foreground and the 85mm for the moon. A quick blend in Photoshop to bring the two together was all it took to create this image as I saw it with my own eyes.

Since being home from Oregon, I have been jumping all over Colorado searching for fun and interesting photos. If you have been following me for any amount of time, you will know that I am really intrigued by the smaller towns on the Eastern Plains of the state. On a trip out near Matheson, Colorado with my friend, Tony Lazzari we found this beautiful old seed mill.

Manaville Seed
Manaville Seed, Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art

The light was just coming up over the horizon hitting the metal siding. There were just enough clouds in the sky to make good use of my Haida 10 stop ND Filter and create this really long exposure of 2 minutes. I was able to get the camera low enough so that I was looking up, by doing this I was able to include much more of the sky.

Schoolhouse Spins
Schoolhouse Spins, Nikon D850, Sigma 14mm 1.8 Art

This old one room schoolhouse sits out in the middle of nowhere. In fact I have only seen a couple pictures of it online. It’s 150 miles from my house. While Bob Coorsen and I were setting up, a truck pulled up and asked where we were from. We told him and then he proceeded to tell us how his grandfather and father both attended school here back in the day. I have searched high and low and I can’t find any information on this school. The mad did say that a few years back he was going to buy it and put a new roof on it but something fell through and he never was able to make the purchase. The school is maybe 15 ft wide by 40 ft long. It’s really small. I used a Nitecore LA30 to illuminate the inside of the school. The image is a blend of 2 shots. keeping the camera in the exact same position I did one long exposure for the star trails and then a short exposure for the points of light stars. I simply used a blending mode in Photoshop and changed the opacity to blend the long exposure with the short exposure so that you can see both in the sky. I masked out the foreground so that only the long exposure for the school shows. This allows me to keep image quality at it’s best.

Train Station Tuesday
Train Station Tuesdays, Nikon D850, Sigma 14mm 1.8 Art

I don’t venture down into the city too often. After some good snow and a warming up it’s easy to find puddles to shoot unique perspectives. It has been a while since I visited Union Station and I remember that the concrete wasn’t level. This means that pools of water form. With no wind it makes it easy to get some fun shots. Here I had the camera sitting on the ground behind held up by my L-Bracket. Using a Sigma 14mm lens really let me get quite a bit in the shot even though I was so close. The lens is really only an inch or 2 off the ground from the water.

Morning Mass in the fog
Morning Mass in the fog, Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art

Weather, in my opinion, is the most important factor in photography. It can be a make it or break it kind of thing. It can also give you images you never imagined you would get. Thus being the case here. My plan was to shoot this old church (1913) with the Milky Way rising up in front of it. The way it faces, I would need to shoot it from the backside. I arrived here early afternoon, met with the guy who owns the farm next to it. He was leaving for the day and I told him I would probably be out there shooting all night and that if he saw some lights, not to be alarmed, it would just be me. About 10pm I started shooting. I was doing star trails, shooting Orion, the Big dipper and getting pretty excited for the Milky Way that was going to be coming up around 5am. At 2am I hopped back in my Jeep to warm up and grab a quick nap. When I woke up at 4am I could not see any stars….I was puzzled..I turned my lights on and it was solid fog. I thought to myself, “well, hopefully it will go away in time”.  That was not the case. The fog began to freeze on everything (hoar frost). I soon realized that not only was I not going to shoot the Milky Way, I also wasn’t going to get a sunrise. About 6am it was light enough to get back out and shoot what I could. I actually really enjoyed the fog and the beautiful atmosphere it created. Living in Oregon I saw fog all the time. Since moving to Colorado almost 6 years ago, I rarely see it here…

Corn Stalk Tree Fog Color
Foggy Tree, Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art

I could have shot scenes like this all day long. If you follow me on either Facebook or Instagram you can see more of these foggy moody images in the near future. They are a nice change of pace from my normal stuff. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed shooting them.

Iced
Iced, Nikon D850, Sigma 24-105mm Art

Last but not least…Boulder Canyon Falls recently opened back up to the public after being closed off. I am not sure what the reason was or for how long it was closed. I do know that in the 6 years I have lived in Colorado, I had not been to it. Odd because it’s only 31 miles from my house. Tony Lazzari and I decided to go check it out…The falls were half-frozen when we were there and I was able to find some intimate scenes like this that showed both the flowing water and the frozen water. Because the falls are in a canyon, the sun rarely hits on them directly this time of year. Getting a good exposure was very easy due to the flat lighting. The mist from the falls had frozen on the ground but being the cautious person I am, I decided to not get too close and chance falling in. I used my Sigma 24-105mm Art lens at 95mm to get closer to the falls and compose the shot. A shutter speed of only 1/4 second shows both movement and detail in the water while keeping the ice razor-sharp.

This brings all of you up to date on what’s been going on over the last 45 days… I am really trying to get out more, shoot more and just enjoy nature in all aspects that I can. Tonight a friend and I are headed out to find clear dark skies and possibly old abandoned buildings to shoot the stars over.  Give me a follow on social media, leave a comment about this blog as I would love to  hear from you.

What’s next?  I don’t have any set plans for the rest of this month. I’ll just keep and eye out on the weather and go where it takes me. Next month I will be spending 2 nights/3 days at the Apache Point Observatory in New Mexico. I am very excited about this and thankful for the opportunity to see the night sky from a different vantage point. I am getting ideas on how and what I want to shoot while I am there and if the weather is good then I will be sharing those images with you as well as doing a separate blog post.

Send me blog post ideas if you have something specific you’d like to hear my thoughts on or a photographic process you’d like to see.

In April we will start our Night Photography Workshops for the 2019 season. We’d love to have you join us. This year we are adding Yellowstone to our list of events and we only have 1 spot left on that workshop.

Night Sky Panorama Photography

Delicate Arch Pano May2018
Nikon D810, Sigma 14mm ART, F/2.2, 20 seconds, ISO 6400

This will be a 3 part series on Night Sky Panoramas, Stacking and then ending with Stacked Panoramas for ultimate image quality. In this post I want to talk mostly about the fundamentals of shooting a night sky panorama.  Over the last 5 years I have worked with many people to help them bring their night photography to the next level and beyond. Once people learn the basics of night photography (focus and exposure in the dark) they often want to take it one step further and try a panorama. This is pretty exciting because it allows you to do a couple significant things. 1. Create larger file sizes – having a larger file size will reduce the appearance of visible noise in your image. Think of it like this, If you have a 35mm negative and try to enlarge it to a 40×60 inch print chances are it’s not gonna look the best. If you have an 8×10 sheet of film and enlarge it to a 40×60, it’s gonna look pretty dang good simply because you don’t have to enlarge it too much. Does that make sense?  Same goes for digital. If you have a 12mp camera (4000×3000 pixels) and you want to make a print that’s 40×30 you essentially have to cut your 300 dpi resolution down to 100dpi to get a print that size. If you have a 46mp camera(8256×5504 pixels) and want to make the same size print you can do so with 2x the resolution at 206dpi. A native print size from 46 mp is 18×27 at 300 dpi, from 12 mp is 10×13 inches. Creating a panorama with a file size of 18000×6000 with let you print a a 20×60 inch print with no loss of resolution. That’s crazy and fun!  I currently have a 39×117 print hanging up over my couch in our living room. It’s the larges print I have ever done. It’s made up of 7 vertical images stitched in Photoshop creating a 24089×7379 file that prints 25×80 inches at 300dpi. That being said, it would easily print 50×160 without any loss of detail.  “Colorado Winter Wonderland”

Colorado Winter Wonderland
Nikon D810, Sigma 24-105mm @ 105mm, ISO 64, F/10, 1/200th sec – 7 vertical images

 

What does it take to create a good night sky panorama and what are important processes I need to keep in mind?

Camera Settings – When shooting panoramas it’s good to choose a specific color temp for your white balance. I really like something close to 3800K. This not only keeps the color in my images consistent but it also gives the sky a nice dark blue tone like it should have. Color Space should be set to Adobe RGB. Always shoot on RAW, turn off noise reduction for both the High ISO and Long Exposure.

  1. Once you’re in the field and set up in front of your scene, turn off all lights and let your eyes adjust to the darkness. In about 15 min you will be blown away at how much you can see. Unless you’re in Goblin Valley State Park in Utah, then you still wont see anything because it’s so dark!
  2. Look around, get familiar with the scene. Know where you want your panorama to begin and end. This is very important because you want to make sure you overshoot your corners and sides to allow for cropping when stitched together.
  3. Now that your eyes are adjusted you can turn your camera off, lens cap off and look through your viewfinder. Loosen your camera on your ball head and do a quick pan through to make sure the lens you have decided to use will include all the sky and the land that you want in your final image. This is crucial. For example, if you have a 20mm lens on and you notice that the top of the Milky Way is right at the top of the frame then chances are that you will want a wider lens or you may need to shoot 2 rows of images to make sure you include everything and a little extra.
  4. Take your test shot. Make sure you have your focus and exposure dialed in and your camera is level. Your tripod does not have to be level to have your camera level. This is something I see people struggle with all the time. You don’t want to spend all your time trying to perfectly level your tripod on uneven ground when all you need is your camera to be level. Most cameras have an internal level now which makes it very easy to create level images every single time! Almost no excuse for a tilted image anymore. The camera only needs to be level horizontally, not vertically. If the camera is level in each position of the panorama with the horizon you will not have any issues stitching your images together.
  5. Take a black frame. This will indicate the beginning of the sequence. You can do this with either your hand in front of the lens, lens cap on or just run your shutter speed down to about 1/10th second and snap one and then take it back up to your desired shutter speed for the pano.
  6. Remember you are aiming for 40% overlap. Take your first shot, turn the camera off, look though the viewfinder and move the camera accordingly. Turn the camera back on and shoot. I always start my panos on the left side…not sure why but that’s how I do it. So I take the right edge of the frame and move the camera until it’s just to the left of center. Level camera, tighten tripod and repeat. Do this until you have shot past what you want on the end of your pano.
  7. Take another black frame to indicate the end of the sequence. I have found this to be extremely helpful in eliminating trouble when processing. It’s a fool proof way to make sure you don’t include all your test shots into your stitching and have it come out not right.

img_2270.jpg

 

If you are working with a pano head on your tripod and don’t want to have to rely on looking through the viewfinder after each shot then I suggest you take note of how wide your field of view is for any particular lens. This chart below will help you so that all you need to do is shoot, move camera and shoot again. If you are using a 18mm lens on a full frame camera and your field of view is 100 degrees then you would simply need to move your camera 60 degrees to get a 40% overlap.

Angle-of-View-from-BandH

Below you will see an image I shot a couple years ago. I used my Sigma 85mm 1.4 lens to try and do a multiple row pano. As you can see I failed epically. There is no way I could make a straight image from this and keep all the content on the sides and top or bottom. This is a prime example of what NOT to do.

Tilted Pano

This image on the other hand is a prime example of what your pano should look like when you stitch it together. These collages are to give you a better visual understanding of not only overlap but also how level the images should be. As you can see, I have left enough room on the top, bottom and sides to allow for cropping. I used my Sigma 20mm to make sure I captured everything I needed.

Turret Collage

Final Cropped and Edited

Tpanny

If you have any questions please let them in the comments below and I will answer them for you as soon as possible.

Improve Your Landscape Photos With These Simple Tips.

When I started landscape photography back in 1988-89 I didn’t really know what I was doing but I knew I liked taking pictures, I liked seeing the images printed and I liked doing the printing.

Almost (99%) of what I know today is self-taught/trial and error and trust me…more error than I would care to admit. The people I shoot with can attest to my mishaps, mistakes and poor judgement in the field when shooting on my own and that’s what makes going out with friends fun.

Over the years I have picked up a few tips and trick along the way that have really improved my being able to capture good images in the camera. When I was younger, think 10/11 years old I would hold up my hands with my thumbs touching and fingers pointing up to isolate a scene that I thought looked nice. By doing so I could get rid of the elements that did not compliment the scene and while I did not know this at the time it has helped me to “see” better. People say that artists have an “eye” for things. This simply means that we see the beauty in something that others see as mundane, chaotic or ugly. By picking out certain little things from a bigger picture and composing so that only the good or beauty shows through our images.

I get asked all the time by people around the world who want to know the exif data of my images. While this question is very vague in terms of the desired outcome of an image, I gladly share. I will explain this a little more later on.

I have put together a little list things you need to help take a great landscape photograph.

  • DSLR Camera – Mirrorless Hi Res Camera
  • Sturdy Tripod
  • Great Lenses – This really applies if you are printing your work
  • Patience
  • Good Light
  • Good Composition
  • Good Exposure

Today’s cameras really aren’t the issues behind bad images. Most of the newer cameras take great pictures and it doesn’t matter if it’s a crop sensor or a full frame, they all do a good job. The bigger issues lie with the rest of the list as I will explain.

Having a sturdy tripod may sound like common sense to most people but everyone defines “sturdy” as something different. I live in a very realistic world when talking and teaching photography. Companies I consider to have sturdy, solid tripods are Induro (that’s what I use) Really Right Stuff and Feisol. Ninety percent of all the photographers I know use one of these three brands… A few I know use Gtizo but not many. There is value when purchasing a tripod and in all honestly I see no need to spend upwards of $1000 for a tripod when you can get the same quality and sturdiness from a different brand.. I personally feel that $500 will get you and awesome tripod that will work wonders for your landscape photography. I don’t see any need to pay more. Chances are if your tripod has thin legs or comes in a fancy color, it’s safe to say that it’s not the best choice for doing landscape work. Investing in a sturdy tripod is the first step to getting good sharp images. One question I do get asked is this, “What if my lens has VR, IS or OS” all of which are intended to prevent blur from handholding your camera. This is all fine and dandy until you forget to turn it on or have it on but need a shutter speed that’s slower than what the lens will work with. Too many times I have just went out shooting casually and forgot to turn it on only to get home and find a bunch of blurry images..and no matter how long you keep a blurry image, it will never get any sharper. That’s a fact you can take to your grave.

What could be more critical to your work as a photographer than the glass the light passes though before it hits your sensor. If you are using a kit lens that came with your camera I highly recommend you purchase a different lens…  I used a 18-70 kit lens on my Nikon D70 for 2 years before I purchased a different lens and I can’t tell you happy I was even way back then. Lenses have come a long way since the days of 6mp cameras and with the High Res cameras we have today we NEED lenses that will give us the full resolution that our cameras can provide. Many of you know that I am a Sigma lens ambassador and have been officially for a couple of years. My first Sigma Art lens I purchased was when I got my D810 in 2015, it was the 24-105 F4 and I was blown away. After my first outing with the lens and getting the images back on the computer screen I thought someone had performed Lasik on me. I could not believe all the detail I was seeing. Images were razor-sharp and looked stunning… I don’t put my name with a company that I don’t believe in 100%. There is good reason why all my lenses are Sigma now. While I can’t recommend the Sigma 24-105 enough, the point of this is to ditch the kit lens, get something with an F4 or faster, if the zoom range is too wide like 18-300 then forget about that too. Be willing to spend a little money for a good lens.  You will thank yourself every time you go out shooting.

Now you have your camera, lens and tripod and you’re ready to go make some great images. This next time is by far my weakness when it comes to shooting great landscapes. Patience. I have never been a patient person, I don’t like to wait, I am an only child, I get bored easy but for great photographs we wait, and wait patiently for good light. Several years ago I flew into Flagstaff, AZ picked up my rental car and took off for Grand Falls (google it) I had been dying to see this place in person and knowing it was a long bumpy gravel road I gave myself lots of time to get there by sunset in case I got lost, had a flat tire ect… Well everything went perfect and I arrived there about 5 hours before sunset. It’s hot, I was in the middle of nowhere and in those 5 hours I only saw one other car and 2 naked people (that’s a whole other story) but dammit, I was there and I wasn’t going to miss the sunset. I came all the way for this one shot! So I waited, waited, waited, walked around, found a dog…found the naked people who owned the dog, did some more hiking and then finally….Little Colorado Sunset

Light is very crucial to landscape photography. Light creates depth, shadows, contrast and can be the difference between a good image and a fantastic image.

dayshot

These images were taken roughly 3 hours apart from each other and I think it’s safe to say that the top image is more appealing to most people. Just by having better light I was able to take the viewers focus away from the ugly brown pool of water and put more attention on the falls and the sky. Would you agree? As landscape photographers we have the ability to turn and ugly scene into something beautiful with just the right light.

Here are some various types of lighting I like to look for when shooting. The first is often during sunrise or sunset when the light is right on the horizon. This will allow to you get a naturally soft glow effect by placing the sun just out of the frame so that the light naturally bleeds in from the side.

Natural bleeding light

In the image above I am looking south, the sun is just ready to set and the light is all from just placing the sun outside my frame. This creates a naturally soft light on the scene you’re shooting.

I also like direct or isolated light. This is often times harder to find depending on the conditions. The image below was taken about an hour before sunset. The sun was setting behind me and because of the cloud cover behind me it was only allowing the sunlight to hit the front of this cloud as well as the small portion of the mountain. I liked how it kept the rest of the image dark. This adds a great deal of depth in the clouds as it goes from light to dark.

Isolated light direct light

Backlighting can be fun as well. It can make for nice silhouettes or light fringing around an object. In this example I was driving around Acadia National Park in Maine one early morning and these deer were in the shadow of some big trees while the sun was hitting the bushes behind them. This made for a nice backdrop for the deer. Had this scene been full shadow or full sun the outcome would have been totally different.

Backlight

Composition and composing can be one of the most difficult aspects of landscape photography. I have heard almost every photographer I know say, “I just can’t get my composition right”, at one point or another. Composition is a very mental part of this and we all go through some challenging times trying to find good compositions. Good compositions in landscape photography come from finding a good scene with a nice sky and a nice foreground. Don’t just point your camera up at the sunset sky with a tree in it and click the picture…Well, you can do that if you want but if you have a great sky that makes you want to photograph it, put a nice foreground in it to hold the viewer’s attention longer.  Some key elements to think about when composing an image-

  • Create visual interest – include foreground
  • Rule of 3rds
  • 50/50 reflections
  • diagonal Lines/Leading lines
  • Simplify/Negative Space

Leading Lines in the foreground

Creating visual interest, using a foreground and finding leading lines can usually all be combined into one. This image of Pemaquid Point Lighthouse in Maine does just that.. I have created interests throughout the image with the use of a big foreground with highly textured rock as leading lines that take your eye right up to the lighthouse. This image also uses the rule of 3rds as I have placed my subject in the upper left 3rd of the frame.

Clouds Water Offset

This is a non reflection shot that has what I like to call an X-Factor Comp to it. If you look at the water that is going down to the left and the cloud going up to the right, those combined make the / part of the X. The water coming over the rock in the lower right and the ridge line behind the tree in the upper left make the \ to form an X. This is a pretty common composition in landscape photography and one that’s worth paying attention to when you’re composing  your shot. Even if you don’t see the X you should see the clouds and the water mimic each other in reverse. It can also work with clouds and reflection shots as seen below.

Leading Lines X factor

Framing your subject when you can is important to keep the viewer’s attention in the image longer than usual. By framing your scene it doesn’t give the viewer’s eye an easy out, they have to want to look away. There are many ways to frame an image. Here are some examples.

Framing Example 1

The waterfall has been framed by the trees below, to the side and above. This keeps the eye moving around the image. The low fog helps as well by keeping the bright spots up top toned down.

Framing Example 2

Something as simple as the sun can be easily framed by an opening between 2 trees that are holding hands…..err branches.

Tunnel View

Naturally occurring frames like this cave entrance is a beautiful natural frame to the ocean landscape outside.

Balance

The 50/50 split works best in my opinion for reflection images. This is one time it’s ok to break the rule of 3rds rule.

Last but not least is exposure. Generally speaking if your image looks good to you on the back of your camera it’s not the best it can be. Using your histogram is the scientific way determine a good exposure. Even with today’s high-end cameras I still feel it’s important to expose to the right. This means taking your exposure as far as you can go to the right before you start to blow out your highlights. This helps to ensure better shadow detail, colors and tones and less noise in your image. An underexposed image will have more noise than a properly exposed image.. I am not talking about proper exposure based on your camera meter but proper exposure based on your histogram. They are 2 totally different things. This is really important if you are going to print your work. Anytime you shoot an image that’s underexposed and then try to bring up the shadows in post processing you create noise. Some cameras handle this better than others but it still happens.. By exposing to the right and getting more light in those shadow areas you will end up with a cleaner final image.

Exposed to the right

The image above is one of my RAW files with the histogram showing the data I collected. You may think this looks like crap and you are correct. By shooting this far to the right I was able to collect all the data I need to properly process the image. Nothing in this image is blown out and no shadows are clipped. Are you looking at the sky and thinking this is a total wash? Where are the details in the clouds or the water for that matter? Well, by bringing your exposures DOWN in your RAW converter you will get a much better image than if you are always pushing them UP.  By bringing them down we are simply darkening the info we already have. If you are pushing them up, you are trying to create data in pixels that were not properly exposed to begin with.

Tidal Cleansing RAW edit

As you can see, the colors, tones, shadows, and highlights are all in check here and this is only with the adjustments I made using the RAW converter. I haven’t even finished processing it yet. You will see that image a bit later on.

If you’re new to Exposing to the right, take a few shots like this the next time you’re out and work on processing them to see what you think. It works for every scene. The key is to watch your histogram and only expose just until you see a very tiny portion of the image blown out, like a cloud highlight. If you are shooting with an older camera the benefit will be much more noticeable.

Focus and Live View – I highly recommend that if you are using a tripod and taking the time to set up a great shot that you also take the time to use Live View and focus manually. I know this may sound silly since our cameras are amazing autofocus machines but it’s true. If you have spent the money on a great camera and great lens then why not make sure you get everything out of them you can. Even if your eyes are bad this will still work..  Set your camera on live view, zoom in to where you want to focus with the LCD zoom, not the lens zoom, then manually focus until the image is as sharp as it can be. If your eyes are bad use reading glasses or whatever helps you see up close. You can also use a loupe too to place right on the LCD to help you see better.

Things to keep in mind

  • Always shoot in RAW format
  • Always shoot in Adobe RGB color space
  • Use the lowest ISO possible/Native ISO
  • Use a sturdy tripod
  • Be willing to spend a some money on good lenses
  • Take your time – Wait for the right light
  • Include a foreground – give the viewer a sense of being there
  • Expose to the right – Collect more data to work with
  • Use Live View to focus manually
  • Leave no trace

 

Thank you for visiting. If you have any questions or comments please free to send them my way and I will respond in a timely manner.