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.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Omni-directional Light Painting by Shayne Shaw

"Golden Turret" - Light painted Turret Arch, in Arches National Park ~ © Shayne Shaw
Sony A7R with a Bower 14mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8, 20 sec, ISO 6400. Stationary light-painted with
one F&V Z96 LED light panel on the outside and one CREE XLamp on the inside of the arch.
In several recent posts I've talked about the benefits of stationary light painting and using omni-directional lights like the GE Chromalit and the Life Gear mini LED lanterns to cast light in all directions. These are great for lighting the interiors of old buildings and inside natural arches. The best omni-directional lights typically have LED bulbs, so they are very cold or blue in their white balance rendering. Until now, I've had to resort to using gels or filters taped over the lights. Shayne Shaw has discovered a warmer and compact LED light that solves this problem. He is using the CREE XLamp Warm White LED Camping Lantern (CREE 40426 - 110 Lumens). It's small in size (5" x 2" x 2.5", uses 3 AA batteries (Alkaline Duracell batteries are included), and has long battery life: 24 hours on High, 48 hours on Low, 55 hours on Flashing mode.

Shayne Shaw has been on two of my NightScape workshops, but has gone on to produce his own night works, with some going way beyond what I have taught him. I'll let Shayne tell how his Turret Arch image was created:

"This image had been planned out for a couple of months. Because of excessive clouds, an attempt to shoot Turret arch and the North and South Windows arches earlier in summer was unsuccessful. For my return visit a couple of months later I had envisioned getting a unique angle of Turret arch with a nice glow on the underside of the arch.  I knew exactly which lights I wanted to use and where I wanted to locate them. I knew I could use a Cree LED lantern set on the low setting to get the glow under the arch and the F&V Z96 LED light panel with the amber filter plate to light up the face of the arch. To my disappointment though, when I opened my bag with all my lights I noticed that I had left the amber filter plate to the Z-96 light at home, (about 4 hours away). I was really hoping to get the nice warm glow the plate adds to the white LED light.  Grudgingly, I decided to shoot the shot as planned, anyway.  To my delight, when I took a look at the first shot to see how the composition and lighting were turning out, I noticed how using the whiter light on the brown colored face of the rock actually helped make the warm glow of the arch stand out even more —making a much more dramatic shot than it would have been had I used the amber filter on the Z96!"

Here are two other night images Shayne shot, using the CREE XLamp on the inside of old buildings, with the Z-96 light panels to light the outside:

"Cisco House" ~ © Shayne Shaw • Sony A7R with a Bower 14mm f/2.8 @ f/2.8, 20 sec, ISO 6400.
Stationary light-painted with one F&V Z96 LED light panel on the outside (without amber filter to keep
outside of house looking white) and one CREE XLamp set in the doorway between two rooms of the house.
"Park City mining house" ~ © Shayne Shaw • Nikon D7000 with a Tokina 11-17mm at 11mm, f/2.8, ISO 1600.
Eighty 30-sec exposures blended together using Waguila Star trail stacker in Photoshop. Two CREE XLamps
were set in two different rooms of the house. An F&V Z96 light panel was used on the outside with the
amber filter to get a warm brown look from the aging wood of the house.
Shayne Shaw owns an industrial electrical design company called Redrock Electrical Design. He  also has a photography company called Beyond Infinity Photography specializing in commercial/industrial architectural photography and landscapes (www.beyondinfinityphoto.com). Shayne likes night photography because of the extra challenges shooting at night creates, but mostly because he likes how shooting almost anything at night can add intrigue, mysticism, and a special beauty that shooting in the daylight just can’t match. “You know you really nailed it when people ask 'Is this Real?',” says Shayne.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Hand-held Blue Hour Photography

Morning "Blue Hour" in Varenna, Italy - taken from a rocking boat on Lake Como ~ © Royce Bair
Canon 5D Mark III, EF24-70mm f/2.8L @ 28mm, f/2.8, 1/60 second, ISO 3200 (click to enlarge)
The Blue Hour is a period when the sun is between 4º and 6º degrees below the horizon. This period rarely lasts more than about 20-40 minutes (not an hour), depending on where you are in the world and the time of the year. This special twilight period happens both in the morning, before the sun rises, and after the sun sets. There are several apps that can calculate this period for you. My favorite is the BlueHourSite, where you can get the info for free (they also have an app for your smartphone). The special quality of the BH allows you to get the look of a night photo, but still have enough ambient light to see some shadow detail, like in the above photo I took two weeks ago in Italy. If your exposure is done correctly, street and building lights glow warmly against the dark blue sky, without blowing out, like they do in a late night scene.

Regular Blue Hour Shooting Recipe: Most Blue Hour photograph is done using a tripod and a medium-length time exposure. A typical recipe is to set your ISO to 100, and your White Balance to "Daylight", or about 5000ºK to 5500ºK (this helps to accentuate the bluish color of the sky and give the artificial lights a warmer, contrasting color. Use the Aperture Priority shooting mode, and set your aperture to a medium f-stop, i.e. f/8. Use your exposure compensate wheel to underexpose your image at a -1/3 to -2/3 stop Exposure Value (remember, you're trying to achieve a "night-time" look, so you have to fool your in-camera exposure meter a little). Let your camera pick the shutter speed. A typical shutter speed will come in at 2 to 15 seconds, depending on whether you are at the beginning or at the end of the Blue Hour. This formula works well for most landscape type subjects like the one below, or this Eiffel Tower photo:

Notre Dame Cathedral during the evening Blue Hour (camera mounted to a tripod) ~ © Royce Bair
Canon 5D Mark III, EF24-70mm f/2.8L @ 35mm, f/8, 10 seconds, ISO 100
But, what happens when you cannot use a tripod, like in the top photo, or when your subject is moving, like in this street scene I shot in Paris last month?

Rainy Night in Paris Street Scene (hand-held) ~ © Royce Bair (click to enlarge)
Canon 5D Mark III, EF24-70mm f/2.8L @ 68mm, f/2.8, 1/160 second, ISO 3200
Here's my Hand Held Recipe for Blue Hour Photography:
  1. White Balance: If you're shooting landscapes or cityscapes, like the top photo, stick with Daylight White Balance. If you're shooting street scenes, like the one above, set to Auto White Balance. Various light sources can be pretty bizarre —auto will help to average things out.
  2. Use the Aperture Priority shooting mode (experienced shooters may want to use the Manual Mode listed below).
  3. Shoot at your fastest (widest) aperture, i.e. f/2.8.
  4. In street scenes, use a wide angle lens where possible, and move in close to your subjects. Although wide angle lenses can distort, they can also produce greater perspective drama when you move in close to your subjects, or to a secondary foreground subject that draws attention to your main subject. Wide angle lenses also have greater depth of focus than normal or telephoto lenses.
  5. Higher ISO's. Use an ISO that is high enough to give you a relatively fast shutter. Shutter speed is the key to sharpness.* Try to achieve a shutter speed that is at least twice the focal length of your lens. For instance, if you are using a 24mm lens, a shutter speed of two times 24 (48) is a minimum. The nearest shutter speed to 48 is 60, or 1/60 of a second. A shutter speed of 1/125 would be even better (I can easily hold my camera steady at 1/60 when I concentrate, but not when I'm excited). A shutter speed of 1/125 will also help to stop the action of your subjects. So, 2X the focal length of your lens is the minimum, 4X is the preference.
  6. Use a lens with image stabilization, where possible. IS will often allow you to get hand-held shots at speeds that are one to two shutter speeds below what you can shoot without IS. This is especially helpful with normal and medium telephoto lenses. Keep in mind that IS will minimize hand-held camera shake, but it will have no effect on your subject's movement. If you are shooting people in the Blue Hour, you'll often need a shutter speed of 1/125 second or above.
*High ISO's and wide-open apertures (the smallest f-stop numbers) allow you to produce the highest shutter speeds. You may have been told that high ISO's are too noisy (gritty), and that wide-open apertures are the poorest setting for optical sharpness and depth of focus. Both are partly true. However, a fast shutter speed will allow something in your photo to be sharp (wherever you have your focus set). If you stop down your aperture and use a slower shutter speed, more will be in focus, but it will probably be blurry due to camera shake or subject movement. Raise your ISO and use a wider aperture in order to get the faster shutter speeds. High ISO noise can be corrected with software. There is no software fix for blurred images due to camera or subject movement!

Manual Exposure Mode: All of the combinations below will give you the same exposure. Use them as a starting point. The exposures combinations given are for midway through the Blue Hour (adjust your shutter speed or ISO as the Blue Hour progresses):
  • 100 ISO - f/8 - 4 seconds
  • 100 ISO - f/5.6 - 2 seconds
  • 100 ISO - f/4 - 1 second
  • 100 ISO - f/2.8 - 1/2 second
  • 200 ISO - f/2.8 - 1/4 second
  • 400 ISO - f/2.8 - 1/8 second
  • 800 ISO - f/2.8 - 1/15 second
  • 1600 ISO - f/2.8 - 1/30 second
  • 3200 ISO - f/2.8 - 1/60 second
  • 6400 ISO - f/2.8 - 1/125 second
Don't be afraid to use the higher ISO's. ISO's of 1600 to 6400 can produce remarkably low noise images with today's modern, APS-C and full-frame digital sensors (used in almost all DSLR's), especially with the latest software, i.e. Adobe Camera Raw (the noise reduction engine within Lightroom and as a plug-in for Photoshop) combined with Google/NIK's Dfine 2 for additional noise reduction.

A wide aperture (f/2.2) and a high ISO (1600) allowed me to shoot this spontaneous street action
(without a tripod) during a "Two Nights in Paris" workshop with Drake Busath, where I was the
guest instructor. Although the Depth of Focus at f2.2 (even with a wide angle lens) is limited,
what is in focus is tack sharp due to the fast, 1/250 second shutter speed.
This Paris street scene was shot after the BH, but it shows the effective use of a fast wide angle lens
and a high ISO of 1600. Shooting at f/2.2 with this 24mm lens (Canon EF24mm f/1.4L II) gives me
much more Depth of Focus than I'd get with a normal or medium telephoto lens. © Royce Bair
ENLARGED from above image: Wide angle lenses have great DOF, and modern digital sensors,
coupled with good noise reduction software allow one to use much higher ISO's than
our old film cameras or earlier digital cameras (click to enlarge). © Royce Bair

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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Paris at Night

A "blue hour" time exposure of the Eiffel Tower behind the fountains at the Trocadero Gardens ~ © Royce Bair
I just returned from three weeks in Europe, where I worked with Drake Busath as his guest instructor. This section of Drake's Italy Workshops & Village Tours included a week in the Loire Valley and Two Nights in Paris. Although Paris is too light polluted to do a starry night sky photo, I was looking forward to doing some Blue Hour shots, especially since this term originated in France.

The Blue Hour comes from a French expression (l'heure bleue), which refers to twilight, the period each morning and evening where there is neither full daylight nor complete darkness. The time is considered special because of the quality of the light at this time period.

In the above shot, we were about 20 minutes away from the best Blue Hour period, when the fountains (the Fontaine de Varsovie) and the 20 big water cannons started up. They stay on for about ten minutes, so were still about 10 minutes away from the peak of the Blue Hour when I took this shot —and they would not go on again until after the Blue Hour. Before the BH, the scene is too flat, and after the BH, the blackness of the night is too contrasty to see foreground detail or any color in the sky.

Although the timing on the above scene was not perfect, I was able to use a steep Photoshop "S" curve (in a"Curves" adjustment layer) to help simulate a more perfect Blue Hour. This curve also included clipping of the highlights on the right side of the histogram.

The original scene on the left was too flat because we were still about 10 minutes away from the best
Blue Hour period. By adding a steep "S" curve adjustment (that included some highlight clipping on the right
side of the histogram), I was able to obtain a more perfect Blue Hour image. ~ © Royce Bair (click to enlarge)
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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Light Pollution in Arches N.P.

A mid-September Milky Way slices through a light-painted Delicate Arch, Arches N.P. ~ © Royce Bair
Last week, I was in Arches National Park teaching a "NightScape" workshop. We had a great time, and the conditions couldn't have been more perfect. This wonderful national park has been luring me here for over thirty years. I just can't get enough of the unique sandstone sculptures —and its obvious with the increased automobile traffic and the growth of the nearby town of Moab, that many others feel the same way. It not surprising that the calm and secluded experiences I had three decades ago can no longer be enjoyed —we must learn to share theses geological wonders with many others, both day and night.

Lights from passing automobiles now makes it quite difficult to photography Balanced Rock at night, because it is so close to the main park road. Although Delicate Arch is about a mile and a half from the nearest road, light pollution from the nearby town of Moab, less than 12 miles away, now makes a considerable impact on the night sky behind the arch (compare the photo below, with the one above).

The night sky BEFORE darkening (in Photoshop) the area under arch. The town of Moab is 12 miles
away, just behind the center of the arch. ~ © Royce Bair

The first time I came to photographed Delicate Arch, thirty years ago, there were only a half-dozen people surrounding the arch at sunset. Last week (and each time I've gone in the past few years) there have been over 100 people! Night photographers should still not be too concerned though, as the crowds quickly disperse after sunset. Other than myself and my workshop participants, no more than two or three stay longer than two hours after sunset, and none more than three or four hours.

The "sunset" crowd behind me at Delicate Arch last week... ~ © Royce Bair
...and the crowd in front of me at Delicate Arch. Usually, less than two or three people hang around
for the stars to appear, so night photographers are left with few distractions other than increasing
light pollution from distant cars, air traffic in the sky, and the town of Moab, Utah. ~ © Royce Bair
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Friday, September 12, 2014

Gateway to Wall Street by Wayne Pinkston

"Gateway" to Wall Street, on the Navajo Loop Trail, in Bryce Canyon N.P. ~ © John Wayne Pinkston
Canon 6D, 15mm Sigma fisheye f/2.8, 30 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 6400 — with light painting
"Seeking the Light", descending into Wall Street, Navajo Loop Trail, in Bryce Canyon N.P. ~ © John Wayne Pinkston
Canon 6D, 15mm Sigma fisheye f/2.8, 30 sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 6400 — with light painting (click to enlarge)
John Wayne Pinkston, or "Wayne", as he is known by his friends, recently made these photos in the early morning hours (about 2:00 AM) on August 30th, during a solo hike down Bryce Canyon's narrow "Wall Street", on the Navajo Loop Trail. Wayne had just finished one of my NightScape workshops in Bryce, and was anxious to put some of his knowledge to work.

Tools and Equipment: Wayne had already come prepared with several of the lights I recommend, along with some of his own improvisations. The "Gateway" arch was lighted from behind with an F&V Z96 LED Panel Light (with warming filter), and the canyon walls were lit with reflected light from a hand held Harbor Freight, Luminar Work, quartz halogen spotlight. To control stray light from his spotlight, Wayne used a rolled up plastic dinner placemat as a snoot! Even with the dimmer control at the Z96's lowest setting, the LED light was too bright coming through the arched tunnel, and Wayne again had to improvise.

"Subway napkins work really well. I had a pocket full of them. I wrapped two or three napkins around the light because it was too bright, and that worked well," quipped Wayne.

For "Seeking the Light", Wayne used two F&V Z96 LED's and a Chromo Inc. LED CI-160 (another dimmable panel light) spaced along the trail. All had their warming filters and diffusion attached, but he had to use an additional theatrical gel sheet on the CI-160 to make it match the two Z96's. (Editor's Note: a larger version of the CI-160, with 216 LED lights is also available: Chromo Inc. LED CI-216.)

The Process: In both photos, Wayne used camera White Balance settings of 3500º - 3600º K, respectively. This allowed him to more closely match his light painted earthly subjects, and give him a cooler night sky. He also used the WB Shift function in the Menu settings —selecting Blue +2 and Magenta +2, in an attempt to get the sky bluer rather than cyan.

The images were processed in Adobe Photoshop CS6. The adjustments were limited. In Adobe Camera RAW, Wayne increased contrast and performed noise reduction.  In Photoshop,
he selected the sky and canyon walls separately in the Adjustment Layers, and adjusted the contrast for each. He also slightly decreased the saturation of the walls, and slightly increased the saturation of the sky.

Challenges: In "Seeking the Light", Wayne's main challenge was getting uniform lighting on the walls. "I placed the three lights on the ground pointing straight upwards at approximately 20 yard intervals. I found that I had to do a lot of experimenting and adjusting to get them just right. Some lights had to be angled due to outcroppings of rocks. After about a half hour of playing with the lights, I felt they were adequate, and took a number of photos at different angles."

Satisfaction: "My motivation and inspiration for this type of photo came from viewing other photos online, [i.e. Cyclop Arch].  I was attracted to the perspective of looking straight up and viewing the Milky Way, because these give me the most sense of space and depth as well as your relationship to the towering walls. The viewpoint makes me feel small, and somehow makes the stars feel closer. It was my feeling that the fisheye lens was essential for the perspective."

"I was excited when I got under the camera (the screen was pointed down), and saw the images, realizing the set-up would succeed to some degree. Since I had not tried this before at night, I felt like a kid in elementary school that just got promoted!"

By profession, Wayne Pinkston is a Radiologist. Photography and radiology share many of the same principles as far as image capture, processing, and display.

"I look at images all day at work and then go on vacation and take more images. I became interested in photography in college, and that likely influenced me becoming interested in radiolgy. I had a long break from photography while my kids were growing up and rekindled the interest in the 1990's when we were able to travel to national parks as a family."

More of Wayne's photography can be seen at his website, Lightcrafter.