Friday, November 17, 2017

Sequator is a PC Star Stacking App Alternative to Starry Landscape Stacker

"Bonsai Rock Under The Stars" is a 5-image stack with Sequator to reduce noise in the sky  ~ © Michael Ver Sprill‎ (this is a cropped version - original can be seen on the NightScaper Facebook group)

Sequator is a free Windows / PC software which can track stars on multiple images, align stars and stack them. According to Michael Ver Sprill, it is the first PC software he has found that favorably compares to Starry Landscape Stacker for the Mac!

“I typically use my iMac for editing stacked images and a program called Starry Landscape Stacker which really helps reduce noise and maintain sharpness. However it is for Apple computers only until I came across SEQUATOR. This program is very similar to SLS. The results were practically identical and this seems to be a great alternative for PC users,” says Mike.

“This program is very similar to SLS. The results were practically identical and this seems to be a great alternative for PC users.”

Video Tutorial: Mike has put together a YouTube tutorial that will help you properly install and use Sequator.

Sequator vs. Fitswork: Ralf Rohner has done a nice job comparing Sequator with Fitswork, another popular Windows based star stacking program. He highly recommends Sequator to process an untracked image sequence. "On Windows, it is by far the easiest to use and fastest stacking software for nightscapes and produces very good results. Even beginners can immediately produce excellent results. There are no excuses anymore for noisy single shot nightsapes," says Ralf.

Ralf found Sequator “...really easy to use and it took me less than 5 minutes to produce the result, while my normal workflow in Fitswork takes about 3 hours to arrive at the same stage…The only point where I disagree Mike, is that for better sharpness and less no burned highlights, I recommend to use HDR instead of Auto Brightness.”

For a more detailed comparison, refer to Ralf's Flickr post ~ © Ralf Rohner

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Notes from the Stars

Click image to enlarge

Notes from the Stars is a new hardcover book, written by ten award-winning world-class night landscape photographers, each teaching us about what they do best. This is a KickStarter project that should be totally crowdfunded by December 10th, with a January 2018 delivery date. The minimum pledge to get this "dream team" book is $50. Pledge here to get your copy.

FUNDING UPDATE: On November 30th, This KickStarter project reached it's $25,000 funding goal, and is now totally funded!

There are many books and tutorials that teach nightscape photography techniques. However, no photographer can master every facet of nightscape photography, so readers are often left with useful but standard procedures and perhaps a taste of the author's own take on all those techniques. In Notes from the Stars, each subject is covered from a personal perspective by an expert and acclaimed nightscape photographer - an authority and inspiration to many in the topic they chose to write about.

Here are the 10 authors and their topics:
Yuri Beletsky: Capturing the Airglow
Mark Gee: The Art of Nightscape Timelapses
Brad Goldpaint: Photographing the Milky Way with Moonlight
Mikko Lagerstedt: Vision of Depth (elevating nightscape photography to the level of fine art)
Babak Tafreshi: Deep-sky single-shot nightscapes
Jack Fusco: Photographing the Northern Lights
Mike Taylor: Exposure blend nightscapes
Wally Pacholka: Capturing National Parks at Night
Paul Wilson: High Resolution Nightscape Panoramas
Rogelio Bernal Andreo: Meteor showers and abstract nightscapes.

Rogelio Andreo is the creator of this KickStarter project, and has successfully funded two other books in the past, Deep Sky Colors, The Book and Hawaii Nights.

A note from Royce: I was offered one of the authorship positions in this book (to write about my expertise on low level landscape lighting), but the deadline for the manuscript came at a time when I had several other projects in the works, so I had to decline. I'm really looking forward to getting a copy of this book and expanding my expertise in other areas. One can never have enough nightscape knowledge!

Special eBook DISCOUNT: If you help fund the "Notes from the Stars", you can get
a $5.00 discount when you purchase my MilkyWay NightScapes eBook!
Just enter the discount code TWAN at checkout.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tools to Help You Photograph the August 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse

The great American Solar Eclipse will pass across 12 of the United States on August 21 at the speed of about 2,000 mph! PhotoPills recently published a 116-page eclipse guide on their website. In it, you’ll learn how to turn your eclipse photo ideas into real photos—from planning the eclipse with the new PhotoPills Eclipse tool, to the gear and camera settings you need.

Photog Adventures has also produced a YouTube video tutorial on how to use the PhotoPills Eclipse update to plan for the 2017 Solar Eclipse!

If you are not able to travel to one of the areas of eclipse totality, here's a website that will show you what the solar eclipse will look like in your area—just type in your Zip Code!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Creating Natural NightScape Photographs

Creating Natural NightScape Photographs is a free 90-minute seminar I presented with the help of some of my friends, Ralf Rohner, Manish Mamtani, Eric Benedetti and Clarence Spencer. It was given on March 14, 2017 in the West Jordan, Utah Viridian Special Events Center before a group of 240 people. The tips in this tutorial will expand the knowledge you've gained from my Milky Way NightScapes eBook. For the best experience, go full screen and change the video settings to the highest quality. You can also share this YouTube video, using this link:

Our thanks to Adobe Systems for their generous sponsorship for this free event.

5 Ways to Produce More Even Artificial Lighting was discussed, but the main presentation was about techniques to Reduce NightScape Noise, increase image resolution and quality.

One of five ways to produce more even and natural NightScape lighting is to increase the lighting distance in order to reduce light fall-off. Four other techniques are presented in the seminar.

Most of the seminar was about using these 6 techniques to decrease digital noise and increase NightScape image quality and resolution.

MULTIPLE IMAGE STITCHING: Instead of shooting ONE wide angle image (24mm on left), you can use a 50mm lens (with the camera in the vertical position) and shoot several overlapping images to create a simple panorama that can be cropped into an image that looks like the 24mm image, but now has about twice as many pixels, greater detail, and less noise.

Enlarged detail from the above two images. Even though the 24mm image was a stack of 8 exposures (which greatly reduced its noise), the 7-stitch image on the right has much more detail and resolution. See the next two images below to see how "exposure stacking" reduces noise. Click image to enlarge for detail.

EXPOSURE STACKING is another method of reducing digital noise and improving image quality. Instead of taking just one exposure of a night scene, you can increase your ISO by 33% to 100% and take many shorter exposures and then combine or "stack" these exposures together into one final image —using Photoshop or a variety of free or inexpensive stacking apps. Click image to enlarge for detail.

Exposure stacking not only reduces noise, but allows you to use shorter exposure times, producing sharper stars and revealing smaller stars that were obscured by noise! Click image to enlarge for detail.

Guest presenters, Eric Benedetti and Clarence Spencer finished the seminar with additional information about tracking and astro modification options for your camera's digital sensor.

Resources, Products and Software mentioned in this seminar presentation:

Star Stacking Resources:
Starry Landscape Stacker app (Mac) used by Royce & Manish Mamtani
Fitswork (Windows) app use by Ralf Rohner
Photoshop tutorial for stacking
Sequator is a new PC software (not mentioned in the video) that compares very favorably with Starry Landscape Stacker

Star Trackers:
Sky-Watcher Star Adventure used by Eric Benedetti
Vixon Polarie Star Tracker used by Royce
iOptron SkyTracker - most popular & least expense
Low Level Landscape Lighting organization
Astro camera modification by Spencer Camera

Royce's "Milky Way NightScapes" eBook
Photog Adventures - produced & edited the video of this presentation

Future Video Tutorials: This seminar is a spring-board for the future production of many short and highly concentrated video tutorials on specific topics, i.e. exposure stacking, tracking, multiple image panoramas and advanced lighting techniques. Each 10-minute video will move along quickly, with plenty of detailed and illustrated information on that topic. Your feedback and suggestions are appreciated in the comments below...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

PhotoPills now available for Android

PhotoPills goes Android! The best selling iOS app for planning photo shoots with the Sun, Moon and Milky Way is now available for Android!

“Hey Royce! - I just wanted to tell you that after 1 year of hard work, we've just released the [Android] Beta version for PhotoPills,” - Rafael Pons, The Bard, at PhotoPills.

Rafael had confided in me about a year ago that they were working on this, and I’m so excited for them! Keep in mind that this is a beta, unreleased app, and it may be unstable. Android users are finally going to experience what only iPhone and iPad users have enjoyed for several years now. This is one AMAZING app (and I’m not getting any renumeration for recommending this).

At $9.99, this may seem a little expensive for an Android app, but this is the same price that iOS users have been paying for years. The app is very versatile and has so much depth, you'll be amazed at all the things it can do. Unlike most apps out there that provide very little instruction, PhotoPills provides a complete library of user helps, including video tutorials for every function.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Minature USB Rechargeable Camp Lantern

The Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro USB Rechargeable Lantern is the perfect lantern for campers, backpackers and starry night photographers. Photography by Royce Bair and Arup Malakar

Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro USB Rechargeable Lantern: The smallest member of the Lighthouse family packs a big punch, with a maximum brightness of 150 lumens! USB rechargeable (in less than 3.5 hours), dimmable and the perfect companion for the weight-conscious adventurer. It's less than 3.7 inches high (93mm) and weighs only 2.4 oz (68g). The lantern is weatherproof and waterproof, with an IPX7 rating. The Li-ion battery can last from 7 to 170 hours, depending on the number of LEDs you choose and how much you decide to dim them. The battery can be recharged hundreds of times via a built-in USB charging tip (that folds inside when not in use). It also can be recharged via the Goal Zero Nomad Solar Panels. Four blue indicator lights let you know the charge status of the battery. For starry NightScape style photographers, the key photography features for this lantern are a warm, 3800ºK light output and that it is completely dimmable down to only 7 lumens —so you can do Low Level Lighting with your Milky Way skies! You can choose to operate only two of it's four LEDs or all four, and infinitely dim them. View the complete PDF user guide.

Price: $19.99ORDER direct from Goal Zero

FREE SHIPPING Alert: Receive Free Shipping for a limited time only on orders of $49+ at Goal Zero. Offer Valid 3/27/17 12AM MT - 3/29/17 11:59PM MT.

You can also order the Lighthouse Micro Flash model, which includes a built-in flashlight, for only $5 more.

The Lighthouse Micro Flash model includes a built-in flashlight for only $5 more ($24.99)

Both models work as a powerful, portable lantern.

Unlike most LED lanterns, the Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Lantern produces a warmer, more natural light (3800º Kelvin rating) that is easier on your eyes for reading inside your tent —causing much less eye strain and glare than typical, more bluish LED lights (many are in the 8000º to 10000º Kelvin rating). This also makes the light more useful for night photography.

Because the Lighthouse Micro is dimmable down to only 7 lumens, it also makes a great omni-directional light for doing selfies with the starry night sky. You can learn how from the Milky Way NightScapes eBook. Photographed with a Canon 5D Mk3, using a Tamron 15-30mm @ 15mm, f/2.8, 15 sec, ISO 6400. Photo by Royce Bair

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Artificial Lighting Banned in Grand Teton

The Thomas A. Moulton Barn illuminated with Low Level Lighting at about 2:00am, in order to align it with a mid-July Milky Way. The lights are left on during the full 25-seconds exposure, and were dimmed to output less light than a Quarter Phase Moon. In fact, the light is so dim it takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to see the effect on the barn —until then, you have to rely on the greater sensitivity of your camera to see what is happening. At the time, I did not know that artificial lighting was not allowed in the park! © Royce Bair

Night photography that uses artificial lighting is not allowed in Grand Teton National Park. This policy applies to all Grand Teton National Park visitors, including commercial operators.  Any operator found using artificial lighting outside of a headlamp for walking safety and red lights inherent on camera equipment may be subject to a written citation.

The ban on artificial lighting is not new. This policy has been around for many years. The park’s compendium language states, "The Superintendent has determined that prohibiting the use of such devices is necessary for the protection of wildlife." This restriction, in section 2.2(e), is found on page 19 of the 38-page Grand Teton National Park Superintendent's Compendium.

Since most of us don't take the time to fully read such lengthy documents, it's not surprising that I've overlooked this restriction in years past. However, during this year's CUA application process for a photo workshop permit, this restriction was brought to my attention. Instead of taking the normal few weeks to get a permit, it took several months. In the end, I and all other commercial operators are being made aware of this ban on artificial lighting. (I know of about a dozen photo workshop operators in the park who show artificially lit Teton features on their websites. This change may come as a surprise to many photographers!)

Both of these photos of the John Mouton Barn and homestead were taken in June and illuminated with Low Level Lighting. At the time, I did not know that artificial lighting was not allowed in the park! Click images to enlarge. © Royce Bair 

Alternatives to artificial lighting in Grand Teton: The Moulton Barns are popular and historic man-made structures in the park. They and the Chapel of the Transfiguration are the only features I've ever lit within the park. There are over a dozen other natural park features that I regularly photograph at night without the use of any artificial light, so this restriction will have little impact on my NightScape style photo workshops within the Tetons!

Even the man-made structures can easily be photographed without artificial light, using additional longer exposures for the foreground and blending those exposures with the sky exposure(s).

Manish Mamtani took this photo of the Thomas A. Moulton Barn without the use of any artificial lighting. © Manish Mamtani

Teton wildlife and artificial lighting: Section 2.2(e) of the Superintendent's Compendium states, "Viewing of wildlife with any type of artificial light is prohibited in the park and the parkway. This prohibition conforms to Wyoming State Law (W.S. 23-3-306). The Superintendent has determined that prohibiting the use of such devices is necessary for the protection of wildlife."

A closer look at section W.S. 23-3-306 of the Wyoming State Law reveals that it prohibits the... “Use of aircraft, automobiles, motorized and snow vehicles and artificial light for hunting or fishing…” and that “(b) No person shall take any wildlife with the aid of or by using any artificial light or lighting device...”

This law is all about the use of artificial light to take (kill) wildlife. The state restriction is only against the hunting and taking of wildlife via the use of artificial light and motorized vehicles. I would have to have a firearm and dead animals in my possession to be in violation of the state law.

So, does the park Superintendent's ban on the use of any artificial light (other than the use of headlamps to get safely to our night photo locations) within the park help protect the wildlife and eliminate the disturbance of their natural habits? That's certainly debatable, especially compared to the havoc automobile headlights have within the park. And, Low Level Landscape Lighting is about 40 times less powerful than most headlamps.

Still, I believe we should be grateful that all night photography was not banned from the Tetons. This restriction on artificial lighting is only a minor inconvenience compared to not being able to photograph the stars over such a magnificent setting!