How to Photo the Aug 21st Total Solar Eclipse

Note: I originally wrote this for the Lens Rentals Blog and can be found here: https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2017/07/guide-to-photographing-the-solar-eclipse-on-august-21st-2017/

On August 21st, 2017, a solar eclipse will be happening throughout the United States, which has created a lot of excitement and questions from our readers and customers. As a result, I wanted to put together a small guide on how to properly and safely photograph this incredibly rare event. Let’s get out and photograph the first full solar eclipse in the United States since 1991! But before you run out and point your expensive DSLR directly at that big ball of fire we orbit, maybe we should talk about safety, what’s happening, and gather some equipment first. Cool?

Ok, so what’s happening? On Aug 21st, 2017 the sun will disappear behind the moon totally eclipsing the sun. This will effectively cast some degree of twilight across the United States and especially in the path of totality. The path is about 70 miles wide and extends in a straight line from South Carolina to Oregon. The last time the United States saw a coast to coast total eclipse was in 1918. The eclipse duration is about 2.5 plus hours long with totality lasting up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds in some locations. What’s really exciting about this is you will be able to view the suns corona with the naked eye during totality. This time around the United States is the only country that will be able to view this eclipse in its entirety.

The eclipse starts and ends at different times depending on your location. Wanna know more? Space.com has an excellent guide including eclipse start/end location time charts.

Safety

WARNING: Permanent eye damage will occur if viewing the sun either directly, through binoculars, through a telescope, or through the view finder of your camera. Never view the sun directly without solar viewing glasses.

The first and MOST important item in your bag should be eclipse viewing glasses. It’s paramount that you protect your eyes at all times when looking at the sun. They are cheap and you can get a ten pack for about 15 bucks on Amazon. I’ve used these for years and have never had a problem. Finally, don’t forget other items to make your adventure more enjoyable like a small chair, umbrella, sunscreen, water, snacks and a hat.

Location of Eclipse

Your success of eclipse will depend on your location within the United States. While the eclipse will be seen throughout the entire United States, the best viewing spot of the eclipse occurs through Salem, Oregon down through Charleston, South Carolina. Use the map below as a reference guide, and if you’re able to increase your magnitude, take the extra effort to make it happen.

As for your location during the setup process, it’s entirely up to you. Do you want to grab 10 good shots of the eclipse progression and then stack them on an underexposed base image to give your final image a good composition and perspective? If so, then get out and grab a shot of a pleasant landscape that fits the eclipse location and elevation. If you do want to stack, remember this eclipse is happening mid-day. So stacking the eclipse low on the horizon of a base image won’t make much sense. If not, then just shoot anywhere you can get the full effect of the eclipse and then put together a cool collage of the progression.

Partial Eclipse Stack of the Moon Moving in Front of the Sun.

What Equipment Will I Need for My Camera?

WARNING: Do not photograph the sun without a solar filter on your lens. Using a long zoom lens and pointing your camera at the sun for extended periods can overheat the interior. This will result in an expensive repair or unrepairable equipment damage.

Solar Filters Solar filters affixed to the end of your lens block 99% of the suns light from entering into your telescope or camera. You cannot take a usable photo without a solar filter. The two most popular type of solar filters are aluminized polyester and black polymer (both plastic). Both are excellent choices for the eclipse photographer on a budget, come in multiple sizes to fit your lens, and are about 20 dollars. I prefer a telescope glass solar filter for its better optical performance. It’s about three times the cost but worth it, as we all remember what Roger says about putting a cheap filter in front of your expensive glass.

Some telescope filters are tricky to fit. I measured the diameter of my lens and then ordered a glass solar telescope filter with a diameter a bit larger to secure in place.

So what about neutral density (ND) filters and what’s the difference between those and a solar filter? Depending on what optical density (how dark the filter is) you choose, ND filters only block 10%, 20%, etc of the suns light. That is not nearly enough to protect your camera or capture a usable photo. Sure, you can stack about 5 to 8 ND filters to achieve the 99% block of incoming light, but now you’ve given up most of the optical quality of your lens resulting in blurry and unusable photos. This is where a solar filter comes in. A single solar filter blocks 99% of the suns light while maintaining sharpness and clarity.

Camera

I’ll be using a Nikon D810 and a Nikon D750. However, a full frame (FF) camera vs a crop sensor doesn’t matter too much. Of course, a full frame sensor is going to generally yield a better image quality, but we will be shooting at long focal lengths, and the added focal distance when using a crop sensor can be advantageous. The added dynamic range of a full frame sensor isn’t entirely important because this is, for the most part, a two color photo. Black background and the color of the sun. Also, ISO performance is not a factor here since all cameras, for the most part, perform really well at ISO 200.

Lens

Ok, this is the most important part. You need a good long piece of glass to photo the sun – at least 400mm plus. If I had my choice, I’d use a Nikon 800mm f/5.6E FL ED AF-S VR. But I don’t have that and it’s $15,000. So, I’ll be using a Sigma 50-500 f/5.6-f/6.3 and then cropping it a bit. In the past, I’ve used a Nikon 18-200mm with a 2x teleconverter that proved to be pretty good. If you’ve chosen to use a crop sensor, remember to multiply your focal range by your crop (usually 1.6) to get a representation of your true focal range. To wrap up, no matter what camera you are using, find a good long FF 400mm (or longer) lens. When photographing the sun, fast lenses (f/2.8, etc) won’t buy you much except faster shutter speeds.

Tripod

You can photograph this event without a tripod. But I wouldn’t recommend it.
Why? You will be shooting at 400mm or more. Even if you have an image stabilized lens there is still a chance for soft focus if you are shooting handheld. Also, during the shoot, the sun and moon will be moving. You will constantly need to adjust your cam to compensate for the movement, so a tripod will come in handy to make minor adjustments. Additionally, your arms and shoulders won’t get tired holding up all that equipment for the duration of the eclipse.

Camera Settings

Ok, so what settings should you start out with? All cameras will be different and your filter choice will affect this too. However, most will expose nicely at around f/7.1, 1/160th of a second shutter speed, and an ISO of about 100 – or close to that. It’s a good place to start and you can make adjustments from there. If you do need to make any changes, start with your shutter speed and then ISO adjustments. You really should use an aperture of f/6.3, f/7.1 or f/8 because a shallow depth of field is unnecessary here, and lenses generally yield sharper images at these f-stops. And remember you will be making constant changes to your settings as the moon moves in front of the sun. In fact, as the full eclipse happens you may have to lower your shutter speed and raise your ISO to compensate for the lower light coming from the full eclipse – so be ready. For those 2 minutes and 40 seconds, you should be standing in front of your camera and ready to make adjustments to your settings. Ultimately, you should end up with 200 plus photos during that time period. Its digital, take a photo every 2 to 5 seconds and adjust.

Remember to turn off Auto ISO and shoot in RAW to take advantage of the shadow and highlight adjustments in your favorite RAW editor.

Finally, autofocus once and then turn off the autofocus on your lens. Why? You may miss a shot if your camera can’t AF on the sun during the shoot. Get on site early, focus and then turn off AF.

Settings for Eclipse Totality

Now we get into the tricky and risky part. Experts at NASA and Space.com say it is safe to view the full totality of the eclipse without solar glasses. Equally, once totality is happening you will have to remove the solar filter and you might have to quickly adjust your camera settings for totality. Just in case, be ready to do this and know exactly how to quickly adjust your ISO and Shutter Speed. However, your camera settings should be about the same. Consider this; A solar filter blocks 99% of the suns light and the moon will be blocking 99 to 100% of the suns light during totality. So, you may even have to lower your shutter speed a bit and raise your ISO a bit during totality.

Quick Ref – Settings

  • Use a Tripod
  • AF off after you focus once
  • ISO 100 to 200
  • Shutter Speed 1/125 to 1/200th of a sec
  • Aperture f/6.3 to f/8
  • Auto white balance or if you have the option: 4000 to 5000 K

Partial eclipse in Oct of 2014. Settings: 1/125, f/6.3, ISO200 Glass telescope filter.

Final Thoughts

Practice. Practice. Practice. This is important. A few weeks prior, you should get out and practice photographing the sun then go home, edit and if need be, adjust your settings, etc. Experiment a bit and see what might be best for you and your equipment. What’s cool is, you can do this in your backyard every day until you feel confident enough that when Aug 21st arrives you will capture this event like a pro. And most important, take your friends and family and have fun.

Handmade in New Mexico

Photography in the desert…..

I recently had the pleasure of working with a few of New Mexico’s best local artists. I met up with Model Chow and makeup artist, Jacqueline Chavez. We hung out, talked, and finalized our plans for the shoot while Jacqueline did her magic on Chow. Previously, Chow had met with jeweler Lauren Tobey of Meltdown Studio to grab a few pieces of her beautifully hand crafted jewelry for us to use in a desert photo shoot. When Jacqueline completed Chows’s makeup, we loaded up and took an hour and a half drive west of Albuquerque, NM to take in the desert skies, the views and maybe a bit of adventure.

Lauren Tobey Jewelry
Meltdown Studio
Makeup by Jacqueline
Model Chow

See more of my work as a photographer here and here

Perseids Meteor Shower!

The Perseids Meteor shower is here and will peak on the early morning of Aug 13th, 2015. What is it? Every year from around the third week of July until the third week of August the Earth crosses the orbital path of the Comet Swift-Tuttle. As debris from the comet hits the Earths atmosphere we see meteors. Pretty cool huh?

Anyway, lets get into shooting the meteors and what I do to capture them.

Location/Where to shoot?
Get out of the city and away from lights! Head out somewhere East and a bit North of any noisy city light. The city light will obscure some or most of the meteors and you don’t want any light noise in your shots as you will be shooting to the North, South, and East. For more info on finding a dark place to shoot, browse to: http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/
The meteors originate from the radiant of the Constellation Perseus and travel through the entire night sky. I use two cameras with ultra wide 14mm lenses and orient them landscape mode. I position one directly high Northeast and the other high Southeast. You can expect to see 50 to 100 meteors and hour.


The above was taken on manual (M mode) at f/2.8, ISO2000, 13 seconds. I shot it RAW so I applied some light and contrast in Photoshop.

Essential Equipment
If you want to photograph the Meteor shower you will need the following:
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 shower because of their excellent high ISO performance. But the show 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 (Like the Sony A7 series or any of the recent Fuji’s) 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 awesome.
A fast wide angle lens – Because of the dark sky, a fast (f/2.8 or faster) aperture lens would be preferable. The wider the view, the better. I’ll be using a 14mm lens. A wide zoom is fine too, but with most of those the fastest aperture is f/3.5 so you will have to compensate with longer exposures and/or higher ISO. 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 – 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 or meteors, I dont carry a remote of any type. I just hit the shutter. If the tripod is sturdy, its fine.
Large Capacity Memory Card – You might end up shooting for a couple of hours or more. So you will want a large SD Card or CF card to store hundreds of photos. I shoot in RAW mode, so I use 64 gigabytes of memory.
Battery – 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’ll be using. 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 (Northeastern sky, etc). Once you set your view, leave your camera and tripod in place. A lot of pro photographers stack their captures (10-15 at a time) and rotate each photo in Photoshop to match the stars as they move. If you see a photo with 12, 15 or more meteors, this is a stack and not a single shot. You just wont see 12 or more meteors in 30 seconds. David Kingham has an EXCELLENT video on how to stack photos: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u7JVwSX1iAg
2. Set your camera to manual (M) mode.
3. On the morning of Aug 13 there will be no moon, so start out with a setting of 30 seconds exposure time (Shutter speed).
4. Set your lens to its fastest aperture – Mine is f/2.8.
5. If using a zoom lens, set it to its widest point. 18mm, etc.
6. Turn off autofocus and set the lens to the infinity mark. Trick: If you dont know where infinity is, (DURING THE DAY) go outside and focus on something hundreds of feet away. Now, turn off autofocus and THEN very carefully tape (electrical tape, etc) your focus ring in place on your lens so it doesn’t get bumped/moved at night. You will not be able to autofocus at night.
7. Set your ISO. I’ll start out at ISO1600. I’ll take a few test shots and look at the exposure to see if its light enough. If a bit dark, I’ll bump my ISO to 2000 and keep going higher if needed. Ultimately I want to see stars and a bit of the landscape in my shot.
8. TURN OFF long exposure noise reduction (NR) in your 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 and you might miss a meteor. You can apply NR in post process.

About ISO
Every camera is different and you will need to 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 or lower the shutter time to 20 seconds, 15 seconds, etc. If your fastest aperture is F/3.5 or F/4, etc., you will have to compensate with a higher ISO setting or keep the shutter open longer. For the really bright comets, ISO 200 or 400 will work just fine. For the barely visible comets, ISO 2000 or higher will be needed.

Finally. If you don’t have a camera or want to go through all of the above – just grab some chairs, your loved ones and go just sit and stare at the sky. Hopefully the weather will cooperate and we’ll have a clear sky to look at. Have fun.

Albuquerque Comic Con 2015

This year Comic Con grew so much, they moved from a hotel to the Albuquerque Convention Center. Comic Con began in 1970 when a collection of comic, movie, and science fiction fans came together to put on the first comic book convention in southern California. Annual conventions can now be found all over the USA and abroad. Along with comic book professionals, you might film and media stars, illustrators, actors, and artists. Like most comic-book conventions, the Albuquerque Comic-Con features a large floorspace for exhibitors. I was surprised by how big the event was and now understand why is spans three days. Three floors of the Convention Center was being used by exhibitors and the fans. And the best part of the convention is always THE FANS and mostly why I went in the first place. Check out Albuquerque Comic Con at their FB page or their website:

FB: Comic Con Website: Comic Con

The Badlands Pt. II

Some friends and I made another trip into the amazing Bisti or De-Na-Zin badlands in Northwest New Mexico. We backpacked in and spend the first night exploring the area. We had planned on taking more photos the second night but that was cancelled due to a good rain that stopped in making the entire place really wet and muddy. I’ll go back again soon. Aside from that, I put together my first time lapse and included it below. Its OK, but I’ll need to revisit my process in making the time lapse and joining the scenes, etc.

The area that includes the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness was once a riverine delta that lay just to the west of the shore of an ancient sea, the Western Interior Seaway, which covered much of New Mexico 70 million years ago. The motion of water through and around the ancient river built up layers of sediment. Swamps and the occasional pond bordering the stream left behind large buildups of organic material, in the form of what became beds of lignite. At some point, a volcano deposited a large amount of ash, and the river moved the ash from its original locations. As the water slowly receded, prehistoric animals survived on the lush foliage that grew along the many riverbanks. When the water disappeared it left behind a 1,400-foot (430 m) layer of jumbled sandstone, mudstone, shale, and coal that lay undisturbed for fifty million years. Sandstone layers were deposited above the ash and remains of the delta. The ancient sedimentary deposits were uplifted with the rest of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 25 million years ago. Six thousand years ago the last ice age receded, and the waters of the melting glaciers helped expose fossils and petrified wood, and eroded the rock into the hoodoos now visible. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bisti/De-Na-Zin_Wilderness

 

2014 NM State Fair

The New Mexico State Fair has been around for about 76 years. For a good portion of those years its been held at the New Mexico State Fair grounds, now called Expo NM, in Albuquerque. There is so much to see and do, spending the day walking around taking it all in might not be enough. Some of the biggest attractions are the Midway Carnival, many exhibitors, food, arts, music, livestock and competitions. See http://exponm.com/ for more info.

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. 🙂

Ballooning in February

Albuquerque is the home and birthplace of hot air ballooning and October is the month for the biggest Hot Air Balloon event in the world. However, when February rolls around, a smaller event called the Friends and Lovers Balloon Rally is held and this year about 100 balloons participated. This rally is put together by the Albuquerque Aerostat Ascension Association (AAAA). The event has Valentine’s Day theme and is open to the public but is really produced to raise money for charity and to recognize the hard work that the balloon crew members/volunteers do for the sport. Many thanks to Mike (The Pilot) for the ride. More reading:

http://www.hotairballooning.org/

http://www.balloonfiesta.com/

http://www.visitalbuquerque.org/