Monday, April 25, 2016

Spectacular Stars - Utah's Stellar Views

“Are we doing enough to protect our dark skies?”  That’s the audio lead-in used in the video promo for this mini-documentary on KSL-TV. John Hollenhorst (KSL's Science & Nature Specialist) and videographer, Ken Fall followed us (Charli, Teresa, Joe, Michael and I) around this past March in Bryce Canyon National Park at 3:00 AM. It was about 20ºF, and we’re all bundled up, so don't expect a fashion show! But you will see some beautiful Milky Way skies, with stunning western foregrounds; and you'll learn how the park service and some cities like Flagstaff, AZ are working to protect our dark skies from light pollution.

Photographed in Utah's High Uintas Wilderness Area, this is one of the many photos used in this KSL mini documentary. The orange-red glow to the right is light pollution coming from Salt Lake City metro, about 60 miles away. ~ © Royce Bair

Watch it here: Here's the complete transcript and the 5-minute video of the program that aired on April 25th: Dark Skies: 'Half the park is after dark'.


Thursday, April 21, 2016

VIEW Intervalometer: Auto Ramping, Instant Preview, WiFi Remote

VIEW is a smart auto ramping intervalometer that's also a portal to your camera. You can setup and preview time-lapse from the VIEW or your smartphone. My friend, David Shogren, introduced me to this new product last week, and I felt it merited mention in this blog. The auto exposure ramping feature, alone, makes this a valuable accessory for me.

VIEW is a new Kickstarter project by Elijah Parker. As of April 21st, 283 backers have pledged almost $94,000 of its $100,000 funding goal, with 8 days to go until April 29th. Building on the experience and success of Elihah’s original Timelapse+ Intervalometer, the new VIEW intervalometer redefines the category offering a whole new set of features.

Preview your time-lapse - even before it's done! Have you ever been tired of waiting for a time-lapse to complete and packed up early only to discover after hours of processing that it was just becoming good when you stopped?  With the VIEW intervalometer you can see what you're getting, while it's still going.  This means you can end it with confidence knowing you have the results you wanted, or find renewed patience after seeing things are just getting started.

Intelligent Automatic Ramping. This is the clincher for me: The VIEW intervalometer can automatically ramp the exposure by analyzing the exposure value of each image and feeding it through a sophisticated algorithm to deliver perfect results for sunset, sunrise, milky-way or all of the above and more!

Features Already Complete & Working

Planned by the time it ships
  • Interface Refinement
  • Sony Alpha Support
  • Focus Ramping
  • Bulb Ramping
  • ND filter support
  • Motion (NMX) Integration (connect via bluetooth or USB)
  • Long-term time-lapse / scheduling options (e.g., weekdays 9am-5pm)
  • HDR Photography / HDR Time-lapse

VIEW Prototype Product Review: Ron Risman of Timelapse Workshops gives an excellent review of the VIEW, using a prototype model. He has also published a recent Vimeo video showing its auto ramping abilities.

Pledgers of $340 or more will receive the VIEW Intervalometer sometime in August 2016. Like all Kickstarter projects, no monies are actually transferred unless the project meets its minimum funding goal ($100K in this case).

Friday, March 25, 2016

Free Photo Software - Google's Nik Collection

Google's Nik Collection of photography software is now free! Starting March 24, 2016 Google has dropped the price of the Nik Collection, a suite of seven advanced desktop plug-ins, from $149 to nothing. The collection of Analog Efex Pro, Color Efex Pro, Silver Efex Pro, Viveza, HDR Efex Pro, Sharpener Pro and Dfine is now totally free to download. All of the plug-ins work in Photoshop, Lightroom and Aperture. Except for HDR Efex Pro, the plug-ins also work with Adobe Elements 9 through 13. If you purchased the Nik Collection in 2016, you will receive a full refund, which Google will automatically issue back to their customers in the coming days.

Originally valued at $499: Nik is the German company behind popular mobile app Snapseed. Before the company was bought in 2012 by Google, Nik sold the collection for $499. Right after Google acquired Nik it dropped the price of the collection to $149. Now it's free.

Dfine is the Best Noise Reduction Software for High ISO Astro-Landscape Images. Dfine 2.0 is part of the Nik Collection. Back in 2010 you could purchase this plug-in separately from Nik for $199. Even at this price, I often recommended it to other nightscape photographers. I believe it outperforms other noise reduction software products, including the popular DeNoise by Topaz.

Beyond the Details adjustment in ARC: Although powerful noise reduction is available through the Adobe Camera Raw Converter Detail menu (refer to pages 120-124 in my Milky Way NightScapes e-Book), Dfine is a must for the final touch-up work. That's because the night sky often needs additional noise reduction after all the post processing is done. So much contrast is added to the sky to make the Milky Way "pop" that any noise left over from the Detail adjustments is accentuated and must be reduced by Dfine.

I often use Dfine much more on the sky than on the foreground (which is easy to do with Photoshop's selection masks). There are two reasons: 1.) The foreground usually requires much less post processing contrast, so noise is not increased as much as the night sky. 2.) Foregrounds often have details (rocks and plants) that help to hide noise.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Tracking the Stars with Rick Parchen

"Mt. Shuksan Reflection" - Click image to enlarge and see the low-noise quality due to tracking ~ © Rick Parchen

Rick Parchen is one of several astro-landscape photographers who are using star trackers or equatorial tracking mounts to improve the quality of their night sky exposures. Tracking allows one to use longer exposures without producing star trails. Instead of using ultra high ISOs and large apertures to reduce their exposure time, photographers can use a tracker to lengthen the exposure time and use smaller apertures. With a tracker, a photographer is able to align his camera to Polaris, the North Star; and a built in servo motor keeps the camera tracking the stars at the same speed the earth rotates. Editor's Note: Rick was one of the early pioneers in astro-landscape "tracking" photography. This post originally appeared in October 2013. 

The old way: Astro-photographers have been using equatorial mounts for decades to photograph the stars through their telescopes, but early astro-landscape photographers who included a landscape feature in the foreground didn't use these mounts because tracking the stars cause the landscape to blur! The standard solution has been to keep exposures at 30 seconds or less, following the "600 Rule" —requiring very high ISO settings that produced noisy images. (Additionally, equatorial mounts for telescopes were expensive and too bulky to carry into remote areas.)

A new approach: Because of the recent popularity of nightscape photography, newer mount designs, just for cameras, have appeared that are smaller and less expensive. Using these smaller and cheaper trackers, a new breed of astro-landscape photographers are taking a tracked exposure for the sky (referred to as "wide-field astrophotography"), a second exposure for the landscape (without tracking), and then blending the two in post-processing.

In "Mt. Shuksan Reflection", Rick used a SkyTracker camera mount for his sky exposure, then turned it off for the ground exposure. The photo is actually a 3-image composite panorama (three for the sky and three for the ground). Each sky exposure was 3 minutes @ f/4, ISO 800, using a Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens on a Canon 6D, mounted to a SkyTracker. Each ground exposure was 3 minutes @ f/5.6, ISO 400, with the SkyTracker turned off. Lighting of the ground came from a little moonlight (about to set) and supplemented in the foreground with LED's from multiple headlamps, coming from different positions. Initial processing was in Lightroom 5. Sky and ground pano exposures were stitched together in PTGUI, with final processing and the alignment of the sky and ground in Photoshop CS6.

Editor's Note: Another inexpensive and compact tracker is the Polarie Star Tracker from Vixen Optics. And, if you're handy with tools, you can build your own "barn door" tracking platform. (I believe all of these trackers are accurate enough for tracking stars with a normal to wide angle lens, without the need of a spotting scope attachment —which is only necessary if you are using a telephoto lens on your camera.) Both the SkyTracker and the Polarie come with Polar sight holes. The SkyTrack includes a Polar scope for greater alignment accuracy, whereas the Polarie's Polar Axis Scope is a $129 add-on accessory. The instruction manuals for the SkyTracker and the Polarie should help you decide which unit is best for you. The Orion Telescope people produce two inexpensive equatorial mounts that are adaptable for astro-landscape photography. Their manual tabletop model is under $70, and their motorized unit is under $180. (You may wish to throw away their low-quality tripods and attach the units to your regular camera tripod.)

Another view: "Path to Mt. Shuksan" ~ © Rick Pachen

Rick Parchen is a Seattle-based landscape photographer who has an appetite to travel to the world and share the extraordinary view with others. "I started this adventure seven years ago and only find myself more enveloped in chasing light and setting my work apart from others. I'll travel for weeks at a time, research for months, drive thousands of miles, and walk to near exhaustion all for the potential of a perfect image. But my passion goes far beyond just seeking the sights; the real pleasure comes when viewing the art in print and putting it on display for others to enjoy." More of Rick's photography can be seen on his Facebook page, and at his website.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Lighting the historic Enola Gay Hangar

A night photo of the Enola Gay Hangar at the historic Wendover Airfield, Utah. This hangar is 200 x 200 feet, plus offices on the left and right sides. Exposure: f/4.0 • 10 seconds • ISO 1600 • White Balance = 4000º K. (Click image to enlarge)
Last week's NightScapeWalk was supposed to include two free photo walks shooting the Milky Way. We tried, but cloudy conditions prevailed. Light painting the historic Enola Gay Hangar was our backup plan in case of cloudy weather, and on this shoot we were in total control.

During WWII this airfield had over 600 buildings with barracks that housed almost 20,000 servicemen and civilian workers. This 200 x 200 feet hangar was built in 1943 to house and maintain two B-29 Superfortress bombers at a time, one of which (the Enola Gay) went on to drop the first atomic bomb. Although the hangar has deteriorated over time, restoration work has refurbish the west side of the hanger and the side offices.

A cropped enlargement of the top photo shows our airport security man, Ed Nelson, standing at the partially open hangar door with a Grumman HU-16 Albatross in the background. The HU-16 is currently in temporary storage in the hangar. It is an amphibious flying boat, introduced in 1947: 63 ft length. 97 ft wingspan, with two 1,425 hp Wright engines.

Lighting set up for the Enola Gay Hangar - click image to enlarge
Lighting set up for the Enola Gay Hangar is shown above. The L1 key light was an AlienBees B1600 flash unit, using a special Long-Throw (28º) reflector. That flash unit was fired once (at 1/2 power) during the 10-seconds time exposure. The telephoto reflector is not only to increase the efficiency of the flash, but it enabled us to NOT hit the Albatross plane with any stray light. L2 was a Snap-on brand LED Worklight. This lit the Albatross and the inside of the hangar. It's 46 LED's produce 2,000 lumens of light, using only 25 watts! Both the AlienBees flash unit and the Snap-on Worklight were powered by a Vagabond Mini Lithium portable power source. L3, L4 and L5 are Z96 LED Panel Lights that I have demonstrated here many times in the past.

Daytime view inside the hangar: The Grumman HU-16 Albatross looks pretty small inside this huge hangar that was built to house and service two B-29's at the same time.  (The Grumman has a wingspan of 97 ft vs. the 141 ft of the B-29. The amphibious is powered by two 1,425 hp Wright radial engines vs. the B-29's four 2,200 hp Wright radial engines.) You can see the restoration work that has been done to the back one-fifth (west side) of the hangar along with the north and south offices (the north offices are behind the Albatross). Click image to enlarge.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

Milky Way over Fruita Schoolhouse - Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Final image is a blend of two exposures and several post processing steps in Photoshop ~ © Royce Bair

NightScape Exposing and Post Processing Tutorial. Last autumn I photographed the historic, 1896 one-room Fruita schoolhouse in Capitol Reef National Park. Here is a step-by-step tutorial of that process.

A quick overview shows the original camera raw exposure on the left. The second image is with a Photoshop Curves adjustment to the sky. The middle image shows a very long exposure to record foreground detail from starlight. The fourth image is a Photoshop layer blend of the two previous images. The final image shows building perspective adjustments and minor color changes. © Royce Bair (click image to enlarge)

Image #1. Original camera raw exposure with light painting. F/2.8 • 20 seconds • ISO 6400 • 3800ºK White Balance. Two Z96 LED panel lights were used to do stationary light painting (during the 20" exposure) on the schoolhouse —one was about 100 feet away, to the left, and the other was behind the building, shining through a window to simulate a kerosene lantern inside the schoolhouse. Orange filters (3200ºK) over the lights were used to create a warm color balance. Light intensity on the schoolhouse was reduced by a -2 EV (using the dimmer switches on the panel lights). Canon 5D Mark III with Tamron 15-30mm lens @ 15mm.  © Royce Bair

Image #2. The night sky has been selected and a contrast producing S-Curve adjustment has been applied via Photoshop's Curves (using a Curves adjustment layer).  © Royce Bair

Image #3. A second exposure was made only minutes after the first exposure. This exposure is for additional foreground and landscape detail, and is made using only starlight —the panel lights were turned off. The exposure was f/4.0 (for added depth of field) • 785 seconds (with long exposure noise reduction turned on) • ISO 3200 • 3800ºK White Balance. Note star trails in the overexposed sky.  © Royce Bair

Image #4. A blend of the starlight exposure (selecting only the foreground portion) and Image #2. The blend is made using Photoshop layers. © Royce Bair

Image #5. Final image is partially corrected for keystone distortion that comes from aiming a wide angle lens upwards to include more sky in one's composition. Correction is via Photoshop's Edit > Transform > Distort menu. Partial correction causes some cropping of the image. Full correction can produce an architecturally correct image that is not always aesthetically pleasing —which also results in even more cropping to the image. Some additional color correction was added to this final image. More technical details and explanations for shooting, planning, and processing are in my e-Book. © Royce Bair


Thursday, February 18, 2016

My Six Favorite Michael Goh Milky Way Photos

"The Light Within" - Milky Way over the Pinnacles in Australia. This is a 29 image panorama with zodiacal light and front lit by a crescent moon to cast shadows from the front. More information on APOD. This image was also the winner of the PNA 2015 Nightcape Category.~ © Michael Goh (Click on any image to enlarge)
Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for 17 Feb 2016: Yesterday, Michael Goh, had the great honor of being featured in this prestigious NASA photo showcase. However, many have followed "AstroPhotoBear", as he is often called on social media, for over a year now —especially right after he won the Best Astrophoto in the Astrofest 2014 Astrophotography Exhibition, with his "Cosmic Balance" photo, shown below.

"Cosmic Balance" is a panorama of 15 photos (8 top, 7 bottom) at the Pinnacles in Nambung National Park, Western Australia. Moon luminosity was 13% located about 25 to 30 degrees right of the frame (visible in the top right due to the panorama). Images stacked in PTGui, straightening of the Milky Way (vs having an arch) causes the framing with the clouds. Additional post processing in Photoshop to highlight the Milky Way and for noise control. ISO 2000, F2.8 16mm, 15 x 30s exposures. ~ © Michael Goh

My other four favorites all have a central theme. The foregrounds are all illuminated by Michael, while he is standing near the middle of the image, holding a light in his outstretched arm. Many have tried to copy this unique style, but none have come close to pulling it off as well as Michael.

"Distant lands". For landscape astrophotography, light pollution is often seen as a bane. However you can use it for effect. For this image Michael positioned light pollution glow behind him to enhance the scene. ~ © Michael Goh
.                                            “Alone in the Dark” is a 21 image panorama. ~ © Michael Goh                                               .
.                      “The Dying Earth” is a 27 image panorama at salt lake in Western Australia. ~ © Michael Goh                    .
. “Nightmare” is another panorama self portrait image taken at Lake Dumbleyung in Western Australia. ~ © Michael Goh .
Michael Goh and "AstroPhotoBear"

Michael Goh or “Astrophotobear” is primarily a landscape / wide-field astrophotographer. Michael purchased his first DSLR in November 2010 and has been self taught with reading, websites, YouTube and a lot of experimentation.  Through his journey he has also been shooting fauna, flora, liquid macros, off camera flash, macros, and some portraiture.

Michael keeps no photographic secrets. If it is reasonably within his capacity to help others, he will.  He believes that blogging with his techniques and his experiments is one of the better ways of effectively of sharing his knowledge. More of Michael's images can be found on his website.