Shooting on the cheap

Wanna make some great photos but don’t have or don’t want to spend a lot of money? A few days ago I posted photo of a Hummingbird on my Facebook page I took with a new Nikon D810 and a 85mm 1.8. I received a comment asking me “how much money do you spend on your equipment to get a shot like this?” Others comment from time to time that they’d love to get into photography but don’t have the money. So, I thought how close can I come to some of the shots I get with my Nikon D600 and the D810 with a really cheap used DSLR? Personal challenge begins.

Ebay has about 4500 Nikon D40’s and about 7000 Nikon 18-55’s listed. There are so many listed that the prices are really low. If you search a bit and you bid at the right time, you can get some really nice cheap equipment. I also started thinking about a good “do most everything” lens. A lens that could take some really nice portraits, macros, has some length on it, with really nice bokeh, fast (f/2.8), and cheap. I opted for the Tamron 90mm macro. I’m sure there are other choices that some would consider better, but I went with this to fit my needs. Because the Tamron is a full frame lens, it has an equivalent focal length on the Nikon D40 of 135mm. Shopping was completed with a used Yongnou Strobe and a few other items. Shopping list (all off e-bay):

Nikon D40 (included free 2 gig memory card): $109
Nikon 18-55 $59
Used Tamron 90mm Macro:$209
Used Yongnuo YN-560 flash: $59
Used tripod: $10
Cowboy Studio Triggers: $18
Used Nikon Remote: $2.30
Used Lightstand and Umbrella: $30
Photoshop: $10/Month

Total: $506.30

In contrast, my setup for the Nikon D810 is about $7000+ with lenses, strobes, and just what I normally shoot with. I specifically picked up all of the above items so I could compare some of my favorite types of photography: Macro, Portraits and Long Exposures. I also wanted to limited myself to two lenses for the D40. I shot all photos on Auto White Balance. I tried to use similar focal lengths where I could. Finally, I broke down the cost for each shot and included the shot details. Keep in mind this is not a direct side by side comparison of a Nikon D810 and a Nikon D40. I’m just interested in making really a few great photos with used, old equipment VS a new modern brand new DSLR. Lets get into it. If you want to see a bigger resolution, right click on the photo and select view.

Long Exposures – I adjusted color on the D40 to bring the blue out in the night sky. When I setup long exposures with the D810, the Samyang has a hard stop to infinity. So its easy to focus to infinity. The Nikon 18-55 does not. I had to focus on the Moon or something else far away and was amazed at that the Nikon D40 with the 18-55 did this so easily in the dark. After the D40 was focused to infinity, I set the auto focus switch on the side of the lens to off. Both shot on M mode or manual.
Left photo: Nikon D810, Samyang 14mm f/2.8: F/2.8, ISO200, 20 Seconds
Cam, Lens, Tripod, Photoshop Cost: $3810
Right Photo: Nikon D40, Nikon 18-55 f/3.5-5.6: f/3.5 ISO200, 20 Seconds
Cam, Lens, Tripod, Photoshop Cost: $190

Long Exposures – I added just a bit of noise reduction on the D40 photo in Photoshop. Otherwise the photos are pretty much straight out of the camera. Both shot on M mode or manual.
Left photo: Nikon D810, Samyang 14mm f/2.8: f/3.5, ISO400, 20 Seconds
Cam, Lens, Tripod, Photoshop Cost: $3810
Right Photo: Nikon D40, Nikon 18-55 f/3.5-5.6: f/3.5 ISO400, 20 Seconds
Cam, Lens, Tripod, Photoshop Cost: $190

Macros – These photos look virtually identical to me. I shot both on Aperture Priority at f/10 to increase the depth of field. I adjusted the saturation on the D40 photo a bit because I shot it on the vivid color setting and wanted it to match the color of the D810 a bit more. I also cropped both photos quite a bit to fill the frame with the flower. Of course the D810 did produce a lot more detail when zoomed in very close. However, the D40 photo clarity and detail is pretty impressive.
Left photo: Nikon D810, Tamron f/2.8: f/10, ISO200,  1/500th of a second.
Cam, Lens, Tripod, Photoshop Cost: $3789
Right Photo: Nikon D40, Tamron f/2.8: f/10 ISO200, 1/640th of a second.
Cam, Lens, Tripod, Photoshop Cost: $338

Portrait #1 – I used an Alien Bee B800 (maybe 1/16th power) with the 8″ reflector on a light stand and Pixel King wireless triggers on the D810. I used the Yongnuo YN-560 flash (maybe 1/4th or 1/2 power) with the white shoot through umbrella and the Cowboy Studio wireless triggers on the D40. On the D40 photo I reduced the saturation and adjusted light. On the D810 photo I adjusted contrast and light. I cropped both photos to fill the frame with the model. Both shot on M mode or manual. I shot the D810 photo at 200mm and the D40 at 90mm – 135mm equivalent.
Left photo: Nikon D810, Sigma 70-200 f/2.8: f/2.8, ISO100, 1/160th of a sec
Cam, Lens, umbrella, strobe and wireless triggers, Photoshop Cost:$ 5210
Right Photo: Nikon D40, Tamron 90mm  f/2.8: f/3.2 ISO200, 1/400th of a sec
Cam, Lens, umbrella, strobe and wireless triggers, Photoshop Cost:$ 445

Portraits – Natural Light – I brought both photos into Photoshop and adjusted light, contrast and warmth.
Left photo: Nikon D40, Tamron 90mm f/2.8: f/2.8, ISO200, 1/100th of a sec
Cam, Lens, Photoshop Cost:$ 328
Right Photo: Nikon D810, Nikon 85mm f/1.8: f/1.8, ISO400, 1/800th of a sec
Cam, Lens, Photoshop Cost:$ 3860

Portraits – Natural Light – I brought both photos into Photoshop and adjusted light, contrast and warmth.
Left photo: Nikon D810, Nikon 85mm f/1.8: f/1.8, ISO400, 1/800th of a sec
Cam, Lens, Photoshop Cost:$ 3860
Right Photo: Nikon D40, Tamron 90mm f/2.8: f/2.8, ISO200, 1/100th of a sec
Cam, Lens, Photoshop Cost:$ 328

Landscape/Lightning – I brought both photos into Photoshop, adjusted contrast, reduced noise and adjusted color. But not much – very little. Both are shot with the same focal length with respect to the sensor size. I pre-focused to infinity and turned off auto focus. I shot both at f/22 to slow the shutter which gives me a better chance at capturing the lightning. Both cams were on a tripod and I just kept hitting the shutter button. I took about 75 photos before both cams captured the same bolt.
Left photo: Nikon D810, Tamron 24-70 /2.8: f/22 ISO200 1/10th of a sec
Cam, Lens, Tripod, Photoshop Cost:$ 3910
Right Photo: Nikon D40, Nikon 18-55 f/3.5-5.6: f/22 ISO200 1/15th of a sec
Cam, Lens, Tripod, Photoshop Cost:$ 190

The Hummingbird shot – The only editing I did was some noise reduction on the D40 shot using Photoshop. I shot the D40 photo with a bit more daylight then with the D810 photo.
Left photo: Nikon D810, Nikon 85mm f/1.8: Manual f/6.3, ISO800, 1/250th of a sec
Two strobes, wireless triggers, Cam, Lens, Tripod, remote, Photoshop Cost:$ 4690.00
Right Photo: Nikon D40, Tamron 90mm f/2.8: Manual f/7.1 ISO200, 1/500th of a sec
One strobe, wireless triggers, Cam, Lens, Tripod, remote, Photoshop Cost:$ 423.30

That’s it! What do you think? Is this a commentary on “the camera doesn’t matter?” No, not really. The take away is you can make some amazing photos in most any situation without spending a lot of money – if you stay at ISO400 or below. The D40 becomes really noisy at ISO800 and above. So its not really good for handheld low light photography. Finally, after all this shooting, editing, and looking and photos from both cams I realized its not about the money or equipment, its about getting out. It takes a lot of time to hike, drive setup, etc to take photos. I think that’s where the challenge is. Just getting out and/or finding the time. Hope you guys enjoyed.

Shooting the Milky Way

Hi
I receive lots of messages here and there about shooting the Milky Way (MW) and what my settings are and how I do it. Keep in mind that this is MY shooting style. Other photographers may shoot differently. So…. here ya go.

Location/Where to shoot/When to shoot?
First, get out of the city and away from lights! This is essential. You just cant see or photo the Milky Way near so much light noise. Second, It really depends on the time of year because the MW “rises” and is visible at different spots in the Eastern, Southern and Western sky. Heading out somewhere South and East of any noisy city light is best. You can shoot North (looking south) of any city light, you just have to be hundreds of miles away. Depending on the size, city light noise can be visible in your shot even at 150 to 200 miles (and maybe more) away. I live in the southwest and its pretty easy to get south of the city I live in to grab my shots. Also, shoot when there is little or no Moon. The Moon is so bright and depending on where its at in the sky it can wash out your view of the MW. For more info on finding a dark place to shoot, browse to: http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/ or http://www.darksky.org/night-sky-conservation/36-ida/night-sky-conservation/91-darksky-finder-a-destinations
Another helpful resource/program is Stellarium. This free program will allow you to see where the MW and the Moon is and when both will “rise” by time and location. http://www.stellarium.org/
The best time to shoot the Milky Way is in the summer months (If you’re in North America). Why? The Earth is in a position to see most of the MW. And when it “rises” and you can see it arch from South to North in the Eastern sky (early Summer). I always quote rise because the MW doesn’t really rise, it comes into view as the Earth makes it daily/monthly/yearly rotation around the sun. But you knew this – Right? ;)

Essential Equipment
A camera (DSLR) capable of high ISO capabilities
The best choice will be a full frame DSLR like a Canon 1D/5DMKIII/MKII/6D, a Nikon D4/D3s/D700/D600/D800/D4, etc, and other brands of full frame cameras. Full frame sensor cameras are the best choice for capturing the MW because of their stellar high ISO performance. But the MW would be easily captured as well with a crop sensor (APS-C size) like that of a Nikon D3100/3200/D5100/D5200/D7000/D7100/D90/D300(S), etc, or a Canon T2/T3/T4/T5/40D/50D/60D/7D, etc. As far as other cameras such as point n shoots or mirrorless are concerned, if they have the option to shoot in manual and set the exposure, aperture, and ISO, they should be able to grab something useable. But to be honest, I’m not sure as I don’t own one or used one.
A fast wide angle lens
Because the sky will be so dark, a fast (f/2.8 or faster) aperture lens would be preferable. The wider the view, the better because you will want to grab the biggest part of the sky possible – including the landscape to give the photo perspective. I use a Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens. A wide zoom lens is fine too and with most of those the fastest aperture is f/3.5. You will also want to set your auto focus to OFF and then manually set the lens to the infinity focus setting. I use electrical tape to secure my focus ring so it doesn’t move if I accidentally touch it during the night.
A tripod
A good sturdy tripod is essential as you don’t want the camera moving during a long exposure. You will end up with nothing useful if you try shooting handheld.
A wired or wireless remote – Optional
When I’m out at night, I sometimes shoot startrails and/or timelapses. Some photographers prefer to use a wired intervalometer/remote. This device allows you program and setup an automated continuous cycle of 30 second exposures. This is really handy if you don’t want to stand by your camera for hours hitting the shutter button over and over every 30 seconds. Some of the newer Nikons and Canons (and others) have built in intervalometers. Most DSLR’s have the option to use a IR (wireless) Remote and you might be able to pick one up at a local camera retailer for $20 dollars. However, if you don’t have any of the above, its really not that much work to setup a chair by your camera and just hit the shutter button every 30 seconds. ;) To lighten my load when I’m out shooting the Milky Way, I dont carry a remote of any type. I just hit the shutter. If the tripod is sturdy, its fine.
Example wired timer for Nikon: Amazon
Battery/Memory Card
Get a large memory card. Don’t forget to charge your batteries and maybe bring an extra because you might be shooting for hours. You can always pick up extras for most cameras at a local camera retailer.


How to shoot and settings
These are my settings and what I use. I cant speak to how your particular brand of camera settings are completed with regard to the below.
1. Get your cam on the tripod and lock it to your view (Eastern, Southern sky, etc).
2. Set your camera to manual (M) mode.
3. Set a 30 second exposure time (Shutter Speed). Why 30 seconds? If you shoot any longer you will start to end up with star trails. You will need to experiment here a bit. Occasionally I’ll shoot at slower speeds such as 15 seconds depending on the night sky, surrounding light, etc.
4. Set your lens to its fastest aperture – Mine is f/2.8. If you are using a lens with aperture of something slower than f/2.8 (I.E. f/3.5, F/4) you might have to shoot a bit longer. If this is the case most cameras have a Bulb mode. The shutter will stay open as long as you have your finger on the shutter button or you can use a wired remote. See “A wired or wireless remote” above.
5. If using a zoom lens, set it to its widest point. 18mm, etc. For APS-C size or crop sensor cameras my favorite lens is the Tokina 11-16 f/2.8.
6. Turn off auto focus and set the lens/camera to manual focus and then focus to the infinity mark.
7. Set your ISO to what you want to shoot at. On my Nikon D600, I usually shoot at ISO5000 (Yes 5000).
8. I TURN OFF long exposure noise reduction (NR) in my camera. Why? If you have this turned on, after a 30 second exposure, the camera will take an additional 30 seconds to apply the NR after EACH shot. If I’m out shooting the stars/MW I leave this off so I can quickly switch from shooting the MW to shooting startrails. If I leave NR on, I’ll end up with gaps in my startrail stack when I post process. You can apply NR in post process.
9. If you have the ability (photoshop or similar), shoot in and edit in RAW and not JPG. There is so much image quality you can pull out of a RAW file then a JPG when editing.

About ISO
Every camera is different and you will need to experiment. Because the sky will is so dark, my suggestions for full frame cameras are ISO5000 at 30 seconds and with an aperture of F/2.8. For crop sensors (APS-C size) a setting of ISO3200 or ISO4000 should yield some useful photos. Again, I suggest you experiment, take a few photos and look at the result on your cameras LCD screen. Too Dark? Increase the ISO. Too light or over exposed? Lower the ISO. In addition to the ISO setting, consider shooting longer or slower. I usually start off with a 30 second and adjust ISO and shutter speed to get what I want. If your fastest aperture is F/3.5 or F/4, etc., you will have to compensate with a higher ISO setting or maybe a longer shutter speed (See Bulb above). See your cameras manual for more info.

About Noise Reduction
Shooting at high ISO always results in noisy photos. Earlier I mentioned I shoot with no noise reduction because I like to reduce noise in post process using photoshop or photoshop plugins. If you dont have that ability to edit RAW files, are shooting in JPG and are just shooting the MW, turn the in camera noise reduction on.
Again. This is how I shoot. Other photographers have their way of shooting too. But this is the nice thing about photography, its an art form and you (and I) can shoot any way we wish.
Finally, if you don’t have a camera or don’t want to go through all of the above, just grab some chairs, your loved ones, and go sit and stare at the sky in a quiet remote place. There is so much to enjoy just looking straight up, deep thinking and enjoying the serenity. :)