Wednesday, January 28, 2015

'Capturing the Night' by Greg Gibbs

"Beam Me Up" is a single 30-second exposure "selfie", using a low power head torch on a string to
spin around the photographer.  Canon 5D Mark II, 14mm, f/2.8, ISO 3200 ~ © Greg Gibbs
Greg Gibbs describes himself as an Australian based hobbyist photographer, who has a passion for capturing the beauty of the night sky.

"I'm not sure I have a particular style of night photography that is easily definable," says Greg. "If I do [have a style], it is constantly changing, depending on the mood I am in, or what I want to achieve in a particular image."

"The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy" is a 16 image panorama (25-second exposures). The road sign is only a
couple minutes drive from where Greg used to live. The sign was lit during one of his exposures with the light
from his mobile phone screen.  Canon 5D Mark II, 20mm lens, f/2.8, ISO 6400 ~ © Greg Gibbs (click to enlarge)
Early History: Ever since Greg witnessed Halley's Comet at the age of seven he has had a background interest in astronomy.  Growing up, he enjoyed seeing things like lunar eclipses, meteor showers, and other bright comets.  But, it wasn't until he purchased his first DSLR camera in 2010 that he discovered a passion for photographing the night sky.

"I was playing around with the camera one night and I thought to myself, 'what would happen if I just went outside and held the shutter button down for a long time?  Could I capture a couple of stars on camera?'  The resulting image whilst completely out of focus and riddled with noise, blew my mind so much that I started devouring as much information about astrophotography as I could, and I have been hooked ever since," says Gibbs.

"For The Past, Present and Future Explorers" is a 9-image panorama of 30-second exposures. South is at the top of
frame, the middle of the image is directly overhead and the bottom of the image is North.  (It was while Greg was
processing these images that he heard of the passing of Neil Armstrong so the title for this came from thinking
about all his achievements.) Canon 5D Mark II, 14mm lens, f/2.8, ISO 3200 ~ © Greg Gibbs
Keeping it simple: Although Greg enjoys experimenting with telescope based astrophotography, his real passion is doing what started it all —using nothing more than a camera and normal tripod to capture the beauty of the night sky that surrounds us all.

I certainly like to keep things as simple and real as possible.  With the exception of things like panoramas and star trails, I really like the challenge of capturing as many of my images in a single exposure where ever I can.  Out of necessity, I might occasionally exposure blend or focus stack, but that is about as far as I go.

"Field Of Dreams" is a 6-image panorama of 10-second exposures.  A diffusion filter was used in front of the lens
at the time of shooting to highlight the brighter stars.  "A lot of people think this is a daytime shot of the crop and
windmill, blended with a star shot, but this was taken at about 1:00 AM and a 70% illuminated Moon is lighting
up the foreground," says Greg.  Canon 5D Mark II, 50mm lens, f/3.5, ISO 1600 ~ © Greg Gibbs (click to enlarge)
Equipment and software: Gibb's most valuable equipment is actually his astrophotography telescope equipment and he doesn't even want to think about how much that has cost him!  For most fixed tripod night sky-scapes, he feels wide angles lenses with fast aperture lenses are very important.  His favorite pieces of equipment are are also his two main lenses — the Samyang (which also goes by the brands of Rokinon, Pro Optic, and Bower) 14mm f/2.8 and 24mm f/1.4.  Coupled to his two cameras (Canon 6D and 5D MkII) they are hard to beat for image quality.

"I must be getting close to the only person in the world who has not yet got a smart phone, so I am still firmly computer based at this stage," quips Greg.  "I use Google Maps, Stellarium, and The Photographers Ephemeris extensively for location scouting and image planning.  I have a whole host of weather prediction sites that I use to check conditions; and being just a little bit obsessed with chasing Aurora Australis from mainland Australia, I always keep an eye on a number of aurora forecast websites."

"Midnight Rainbow" is a 9-image panorama of 30-second exposures.
Canon 5D Mark II, 14mm, f/2.8, ISO 3200 ~ © Greg Gibbs (click to enlarge)
Challenges: Greg feels lucky to live in Australia where really dark skies are readily found, but this often involves long drives, and fuel is not cheap.  Coupled with the fact that he has a regular day job on top of this hobby —having enough spare time to actually travel and photograph locations at night is one of his biggest challenges.

Another challenge he has is finding good locations.  Greg prides himself on trying to find the best composition, but some locations just don't work with night sky images.  "I have found myself doing a lot more time lapse imaging lately, with the view to releasing something, hopefully, early this year; and that has been a really challenging project, with steep learning curves.  I take my hat off to the people doing night sky time lapses full time," reports Gibbs.

"Lookout" is an 8-image panorama of 30-second exposures, taken at Mt. Buffalo National Park.  Greg feels this
is the most amazing night he has yet to spend under the stars. "I had caught a few faint displays on camera before
but this was the first time I had ever seen the southern lights or Aurora Australis dancing in the sky with my own
eyes.  This panorama was originally only intended as a behind the scenes look for the multitude of other images
I took on the night, hence why you can see another camera in the hut and my car in the carpark, but when I
stitched the images together I fell in love with the result and it went on to win the David Malin Award
(Australia's largest astrophotography competition) in 2013 for best wide field image."
Canon 5D Mark II, 14mm, f/2.8, ISO 3200 ~ © Greg Gibbs (click to enlarge)
Self-portrait
Satisfaction: "It means the world to me that so many people seem to like what I do, says Greg.  "If through my images I can inspire just one person to look up with a greater appreciation of the night sky, then I would be completely satisfied.  I'm certainly not in it for fame or fortune, and any money I do make from my hobby goes straight back into doing it.  As a hobbyist, I am only out to please myself when it comes to photography.  I am only out taking images at all hours of the night, because I love taking images at all hours of the night."

Greg hopes that through his hobby of photographing the night sky he can inspire others to get away from artificial lights and just look up at the night sky. Halley’s Comet will return to our skies in 2061. If you're in Australia that year, keep an eye out for an 82 year old man standing next to a camera on a tripod with a huge smile on his face!

Greg Gibbs is a 35 year old resident of southern New South Wales, Australia.  He's a horticulturalist by day and hobbyist landscape astrophotographer by night.  More of Greg's photography can be found on his website, his Facebook page, Google+, or on 500px.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Milky Way NightScapes eBook Preview

The Milky Way over Lower Yellowstone Falls is the cover on Royce Bair's new "Milky Way NightScapes" eBook.
My new ebook, "Milky Way NightScapes" will be out in March 2015 for $19.99, but you can reserve a pre-publication copy for the discounted price of $14.99, just by sending me an email (RoyceBairPhoto@gmail.com) with your name and Zip Code (or country name). Sometime in March, you will be sent a discount code, along with a link to where you can purchase and download the PDF.

Because my NightScapes have been widely published for three decades, many have copied my style. Although I'm not the first person to have ever used that label to describe my style of night photography, I was one of the first to use it extensively for starry night skies, with a landscape feature that has been enhanced by extra starlight, moonlight, or artificial light. Unlike other ebooks on night photography, Milky Way NightScapes concentrates almost exclusively on photographing starry night skies as points of light. There is only one page on star trails, and no instruction on how to photograph the moon, meteor showers, or other night sky features. This is book is very narrow-minded, and I think many will appreciate that.

The book is divided into four chapters (about 140 pages): 1. Planning and Scouting, 2. Shooting NightScapes, 3. Lighting the Foreground (using starlight, moonlight, and artificial light), and 4. Post Processing. Here are some sample pages (Copyright Royce Bair 2015, All Rights Reserved):









Pre-publication Discount: To reserve a pre-publication copy for the discounted price of $14.99, just send me an email (RoyceBairPhoto@gmail.com) with your name and Zip Code (or country name). Sometime in March, you will be sent a discount code, along with a link to where you can purchase and download the PDF.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Urban Nightscapes by Sergio Garcia Rill



What if one could see the Milky Way behind a big city skyline? What if the lights of the city didn’t interfere with the view of the starry night sky? That was the thought astro-landscape photographer Sergio Garcia Rill had when he decided to create his latest time lapse video, “Urban Nightscapes Texas.”

Sergio had been shooting astro-nightscapes for a few years, and because of light pollution he had to travel hours from the city to be able to see and photograph the night sky. “But I wanted to make a combination of what it might be to see the night sky from within the city and my Urban Nightscapes series was born,” Rill wrote in his blog.

Sergio makes it clear, the images and video he’s produced are mockup views. “The stars in the video have been added through digital manipulation and the sky doesn’t look that way inside the city due to the light pollution.” I did my best effort to try to simulate the sky as it would have looked without light pollution…I’m aware that these kind of shots are (at least at the moment) impossible to do in camera.”

Rill admits that the process was not simple or quick, but at the moment he feels that going into the technical details on how he did it will only change the focus from the actual video to the process of achieving the video. He does reveal that he used Nikon D600 and D750 cameras for both the foregrounds and backgrounds, and various lenses including, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8, Nikon 35mm f/1.8, Bower 14mm f/2.8 and Bower 24mm f/1.4. Sergio used Lightroom, Photoshop and LRTimeLapse for doing his processing.

Challenges: “Although the biggest challenge was the processing of the images, finding the right locations that could represent each city and a good angle for aligning the night sky was the second most challenging and time consuming task,” reports Sergio. The images for the city foregrounds were taken around Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio Texas. The skies were taken at various locations in the United States (but mostly Texas).

Satisfaction: “I guess the most satisfaction I get is when I get asked what camera I used, or where did I go to shoot —because people believe there might be a place where the sky looks like this inside the city or that I have a special camera that would allow me to take these shots. While I'm not trying to fool anyone (and I do try to clarify that in the video description), those questions make me realize I made a good job and the resulting video looks ‘real’.”

Sergio Garcia Rill currently lives in Houston, Texas. Sergio is planning on doing a series of videos like this for other mayor cities, based on his availability to travel to new cities. Currently, his sights are set on his hometown of Mexico City.  More of Sergio's photography can be seen at  his website.


Monday, December 1, 2014

Best Online or Cloud Backup Service


Why I think Backblaze is the best cloud backup solution for digital photography files: Because photographers are often producing hundreds of large image files every week, they need an online backup service that provides them with inexpensive, unlimited backup storage. Most competing cloud services claim they provide “unlimited” backup, but this isn’t always true. Compare Backblaze with the competition. (My thanks to Ron Larsen for tell me about Backblaze while at our March 2014 Monument Valley workshop.)

Drobo 4-bay array
Your 1st line of protection: In my opinion, it’s a good idea to have your own inhouse data backup system. I have a 500GB flash drive in my Macbook Pro. Since it has no moving parts, it’s extremely fast, but it fills up quickly. I only keep my software applications and my most current files on this drive. All my image files are archived on my external, Drobo 4-bay storage array. The Drobo technology is very reliable. It is my first line of data protection. Although I’ve had many hard drives fail, I’ve never lost any data on the Drobo since I purchased it six years ago. Drobo has several disc array size solutions, starting at about $340 (hard drives not included).

ioSafe Solo G3
Fire & waterproof
Your 2nd line of protection should be a backup that is off-premise. This is to protect your digital data against physical file damage (such as fire and water) and theft (of your computer or external hard drive). Cloud storage is a perfect offline solution. Yes, you can backup to another external hard drive, and rotate these to an offsite location, but it is inconvenient, and not routinely executed by those that try it. Until recently, my second line of data protection has been my ioSafe Solo G3 (which is almost full). Using the ioSafe is similar to an offsite solution because it is fireproof and waterproof; and you can anchor (bolt it) to your desk, so it’s less apt to “walk” away. The 2TB ioSafe Solo G3 is about $350, and 3TB ioSafe Solo G3 is only about $30 more.

Inevitable Digital Data Loss: There are really only two kinds of computer users: those that have lost their data, and those that are going to lose their data! It’s amazing that with virtually 100% of the world’s photos and movies now digital, fewer than 10% of people are backing up their computers; and eventually all of these digital items will vaporize. The median hard drive life is about six years (one-half are expected to die during this period). Data can be sometimes be recovered from a failed drive, but recovery can cost as much as $3,000. Systematic backups are a much better solution.

Recovering Cloud Data from many online backup services can be a long process, if you lose a hard drive. Downloading several hundred gigabytes (or several terabytes) of data can take several days or even weeks. Luckily, Backblaze has faster recovery solutions that other services don’t offer:
  • Web Browser — For free. You select the files/folders you want to restore using your web browser to download the files. This is good for small amounts of data, typically 1GB or less as the web browser itself is prone to timeouts and errors.
  • Backblaze Downloader — For free. You select the files/folders you want to restore using your web browser and then download and use the Backblaze Downloader to stream and checkpoint the data download. This is similar to apps like iTunes and Netflix in how data is downloaded. Be aware that larger amounts of data will consume lots of network bandwidth and will take time.
  • USB Flash Drive — For $99, you select up to 110 GB of files/folders you want to restore and get your files on 128 GB USB flash drive. Backblaze will send it to you next day express (within the US) so you get your data fast and you get to keep the drive.
  • USB External Hard Drive — For $189, you select up to 3,500,000 MB of files/folders you want to restore and get your files on an external USB hard drive large enough to hold your data, up to a 4 TB drive. Once prepared, Backblaze will send it to you next day express, and you get to keep the drive. There’s no extra charge for the next day shipping and if next day shipping is not available, Backblaze will use the fastest means available to them via FedEx. NOTE: If you have more data than that, you will need to order additional USB Hard Drive restores. Each drive you order is $189. If you have multiple computers that you need to restore from, you will need to order one drive for each separate restore.

How Backblaze works: I’ve used Carbonite for several years, but I find Backblaze to be uniquely better is these ways:
  • Truly unlimited cloud backup - unlimited data, unlimited file size, unlimited file types, unlimited number of external drives, and unlimited bandwidth — all for $5 per month.
  • Backs up all your data. Unlike other services, there is no need to pick folders and files. Backblaze is the only cloud backup solution that backs up all your photos, movies, music and documents automatically.
  • Your Data is Safe. All your files are encrypted before being transmitted. You can use a personal encryption key for additional security.  Backblaze’s native code does not use Java (Java is responsible for 91% of security attacks).
  • Fast and seamless backups. Backblaze works in the background, and typically uses less than 1% of your computer’s processing power.
  • Inexpensive. Only $5 a month, or $50 a year.
  • 15-day free trial - without having to give out your credit card information!
Inside Backblaze's data center and their custom built data storage "pods"
Geeky stuff: If you like understanding how things work, you'll enjoy reading how the employees at Backblaze designed their own data storage ''pods'' — with a complete list of parts, just in case you'd like to build your own 135-TB storage pod for a mere $7,384! That was actually pod version 2.0, and three years ago. They are now putting pod version 4.0 (each holds 180-TB) into their data center which is now storing 100 petabytes of customer data — that's 100,000 terabytes, or 1/4th as much data as Facebook stores today for its 1+ billion users.

This year, Backblaze beat out Facebook as one of the fastest growing technology companies.
Fast Growth. Although it took Backblaze 2.5 years to get from 0 to 10 petabytes, it only took the past 3.5 years to get from 10 petabytes to 100 petabytes. From 2009 through 2013 they've grown revenue 917%. That was good enough for 128th place in the 2014 Deloitte Technology Fast 500™ in the United States — just beating out Facebook in the 129th spot.

Employee Perks. Backblaze is one of a very few companies that offers unlimited vacation time for their employees. At Backblaze, all of their employees know what they need to do. They prioritize their work, keep others informed of what’s going on and get their jobs done. When they need to take a morning off to run an errand or pick up a sick child at school or just to sleep in, they do it. There’s no need to negotiate with a boss as to whether you were on vacation, taking comp time or sick time or whatever.

As an employer, Backblaze does not have to keep track of vacation time or sick time. Their sick policy is simple, if you’re sick, stay home. They do not have to keep track of things such as “Billy taking 2.75 hours of sick time on Thursday.” Nor do they have to worry about how many hours of vacation "Zach" has accrued.

To date, no one has abused Backblaze’s vacation policy or lack of one. If anything, they have had to occasionally remind people to take a few days off. Employees watch out for each other since they are all dependent on each other for Backblaze to succeed. Besides, they all want to work with well-rested, happy people, not grumps who haven’t taken a day off in years.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Get PhotoPills for 50% Off - TODAY Only

Get the PhotoPills App for 50% Off - ONE Day Only: 11/28/2014
The PhotoPills app: I think PhotoPills is a great app for night photography, moonscapes, starscapes, time lapse, and daytime landscape photography.  I think it has the edge over The Photographer's Ephemeris. At 50% off the regular price of $9.99, it's worth taking a plunge. Although I like Sky Guide best for Milky Way planning, PhotoPill's 2D Map-Centric Planner has some amazing features. For more complete information, check out PhotoPills' online video tutorials and see for yourself.

PhotoPills is available through the iTunes Store TODAY ONLY for the reduced price of $4.99 . It has a 4+ rating on the current (1.2.2) version.


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Inside Double Arch

Ultra wide angle view of Milky Way stars through a light painted Double Arch, Arches N.P. ~ © Royce Bair 2014
Daylight view of our children
inside Double Arch, circa 1983
Three Decades Inside Double Arch: Although my family lives in Salt Lake City, Arches National Park was our vacation playground when my kids were growing up, and Double Arch was their favorite place to play. It's only natural that when I started to experiment with night photography and light painting in the early 1980's that Arches NP would be my canvas of choice.

In my early years of magazine and commercial photography, I wanted a graphic way to show clients that I could bring the studio (and its lighting) on location —providing ultimate control. If I could artistically light some of the world's natural features at night, it would indicate that I could do something similar for my client's needs.

Building that early portfolio was a family affair. My sons accompanied me the during the daylight planning and positioning of lights, as well as helping to firing strobes at night. They clicked the camera's shutter for me at my radio commands, carried equipment up and down rocky trails, and rarely complained that their hands were cold, or that it was past their bedtime.

Blue Hour to Starry Nights: In those early years, film provided considerable limitations for night photography. ISO 400 color film had grain similar to the look of today's ISO 3200 digital noise. It was impossible in those days to photograph the stars as points of light —film just was not fast enough, so one had to be content with star trails or twilight photography during the blue hour.

Nautical Twilight w/light painting
N. Twilight inside Double Arch
Calculating light painting exposure in the early 1980's was also extremely difficult as there was no instantaneous image feedback from an LCD in those days of film! Lighting exposure had to be calculated mathematically with flash guide numbers and distance. And, because most of my exposures were 10 minutes long, starting at the end of the Blue Hour (about 50 minutes after sunset), I was only able to take one photograph a night. There was no chance for the bracketing of exposures or trying different angles or compositions. Color transparency film had a narrow latitude of only one-half of an exposure stop, so one had to be extremely accurate.

A light-painted view from outside Double Arch,
taken at twilight, during the Blue Hour
Digital vs. Film:  Digital photography has much more latitude and the advances in digital imaging sensors has allowed for amazingly results, even at ISO's of 6400 and above —enabling one to shoot deeper into the night, use short exposure times to capture the stars as points of light, rather than streaking star trails. These greater digital sensor capabilities have also eliminated the need for high-powered studio lights. With today's higher ISO's one can now use small, battery powered LED lights to do what once required me to employ a group of "Sherpa" sons to help carry the powerful studio lighting into the mountains! Today, one of my adult sons, Chris, continues to assist me on my Arches workshops.

Join me April 21-24 for our Arches Workshop


Monday, November 10, 2014

Free Milky Way NightScapes Photography Lectures - MultiCity Tour

In January 2015, I begin my multi-city tour of free Milky Way NightScape photography lectures. If your camera club or photo organization would like me to give a free NightScape presentation in your area, contact me: RoyceBairPhoto@gmail.com. In every city, these free seminars have boasted local club attendance, and most fill up in 48 hours or less (example in San Francisco).

"Starry Night at Devil's Garden" (Metate Arch), Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument ~ © Royce Bair
What I Cover: These free NightScape presentations are about how to photograph starry night landscapes. Many of my photos are shot as one exposure with very little digital manipulation. My digital slide presentations are loaded with lots of technical, how-to information, such as: planning when and where to shoot the Milky Way, forecasting, finding dark skies, calculating star alignment, choosing the right lens, exposure calculation, noise reduction techniques, light painting, and exposure blending. Many people, who come to my free lectures, are able to go out and capture very acceptable starry NightScapes without ever needing to take a paid workshop.

My presentations last about one hour, plus 15-30 minutes for Q&A's, but can easily be extended at the club's request. My only compensation is that some in attendance may wish to attend one of my paid workshops or do an online purchase of my Milky Way NightScapes ebook (available January 2015). I rarely spend more than two minutes talking about my workshops or ebook.

2015 Workshop Schedule: All of my workshops next year are being produced and co-sponsored by IMAGE10 Photography Workshops. Click on the dates for more details about each workshop:
Milky Way over the John Moulton Barn, Grand Teton National Park, with light painting ~ © Royce Bair
Milky Way over Zion's "Little Tree", Zion National Park, with light painting ~ © Royce Bair

RoyalCanvas is currently doing 16x20 canvas printing, starting at under $25.