Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Long-Distance Light Painting

A March Milky Way over Agathla Peak, Arizona - light painted from a distance of almost one mile ~ © Royce Bair
Long-Distance Light Painting usually requires the use of a spotlight. These lights use parabolic shaped reflectors to throw a narrow, concentrated beam of light over great distances. Because the beam is so narrow, the light must be keep moving, with overlapping brush-like strokes ("painting") during the camera exposure, otherwise the illumination of the distant object will be uneven.

Lights for light painting: #3, 4, 6, and 8 are spotlights — ranging from 1-million candlepower (#8) to 18-million candlepower (#3). This large spotlight was used to light paint Agathla Peak. Taken from page 77 of my ebook, "Milky Way NightScapes". (Click to enlarge.)
NOTE: a complete list of Light Painting Tutorials can be found here on this blog (scroll down to see all of them).

Angle of Light: In order to achieve a three-dimensional effect for your distant feature, the light painting is best done from a somewhat perpendicular angle to the camera. Flat, uninteresting lighting happens when one paints from behind or close to the camera.

The Glare Factor: Powerful spotlights are so intense that they will light up any dust or moisture in the air and cause it to reflect back into the eyes of the one doing the light painting —so much that they can barely see the distant feature they are painting. When this happens, communication and feedback with the person at the camera position is essential in order to produce effective and even light painting. Over long distances, this communication is usually done best with hand-held two-way radios, equipped with VOX or voice-activated control.

Calculating the Exposure: Top NightScape photographers usually try to do their light paint during the exposure for the sky, or a single exposure that includes incorporates both the sky and the lighted foreground feature. This requires that the light intensity match the brightness of the sky. If the exposure for the sky lasts 30 seconds (i.e., f/2.8, 30 seconds @ ISO 4000), then the light painting time must be adjusted to match that exposure. If distances are short, and the intensity of the light is high, light painting time may be only 5 to 10 seconds. With longer distances, the light painting time may often need to be increased to the full 30 seconds.

In the case of the Agathla Peak photo, a 24mm lens was used, requiring a shorter sky exposure (under 15 seconds, in order to prevent star trailing). Because of the nearly 1-mile distance and the shortness of the exposure (13 seconds), the intensity of the light source had to be increased to the use of a huge, 18-million candlepower spotlight.

One can get closer to the foreground feature to reduce the need for a more powerful light source, but not too close. If you get too close to your feature, the portions closest to the light may burn out (too light), and the portions furthest away may be too dark in your light painting. By keeping your lighting distance about four times greater than the size of your feature, you reduce the light falloff ratio. (In this Agathla Peak setup, the 1,500-ft. feature required that I be about 6,000 feet away —I chose a modest compromise of 5,000 feet.)

One Exposure or Multiple? Even if one wants to produce the NightScape photo in just one exposure (hey, it's a pride thing), multiple takes or exposures will often be preferred in order to increase one's chances for success. Blending the foreground portion of several exposures (via Photoshop layers) will enable you to even out your lighting, especially as distances increase and the glare factor escalates.

When light painting long-distance features, it's important to take several exposures. The foreground portions can later be blended together in post and improve the evenness of your lighting. Taken from page 104 of my ebook, "Milky Way NightScapes". (Click to enlarge.)
Stay in One Place: In order to blend foreground portions later in post processing, you must remain in one place —otherwise your image portions will not register or align. Since sky conditions are also constantly changing, you'll also improve your chances for a successful image by staying put and not moving your camera or tripod. This will allow you to pick and choose the best skies to blend with the best foreground exposures.

Staying in one place will increase your chances for a successful image combination of sky and foreground. Taken from page 105 of my ebook, "Milky Way NightScapes". (Click to enlarge.)
The final image combined the best sky (with light pollution from the town of Kayenta removed) with a foreground blend of the three best peak light paintings. Exposure for each image was 13 seconds (f/2.0, ISO 4000), using a 24mm lens on a Canon 5D Mark III. Light painting was for the full 13 seconds exposure. Taken from page 106 of my "Milky Way NightScapes" ebook. (Click to enlarge.)

Monday, November 16, 2015

Tribute to Paris

Taken during the "Blue Hour" twilight ~ © Royce Bair
Our hearts and prayers go out for the people of France!

I took this photo last Fall during a workshop I was co-teaching called, “3 Nights in Paris”. The Fontaine du Trocadéro is in the foreground. Taken with a Canon 5D Mk3 and a 24mm Canon lens (f/8, 1-sec, ISO 100).

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Utah West Desert Photo Walk

Part of last night's group "riding" our abandon, graffiti-painted school bus (Robin, Sandy, Audie, Brannon, Heike, Paul and Brian) ~ © Royce Bair
Free NightScape Photo Event: Last night was another one of the free NightScape Photowalk events that I'm trying to do across the country. Although last night's event was limited to just 10 people, other NightScapeWalks venues have had room for up to 100 participants.

Location: This old, abandon bus is located about 50 miles west of Salt Lake City, just off exit 70 of I-80, near the ghost town of Delle, Utah. In this map, you'll see the bus located about 900 feet southeast of the gas station.

Sunset shots: We arrived about an hour before sunset, in order to get our bearings, and took several daytime photos...

Blue Hour: Our main purpose was to do night photography. To maximize our time, we did "Blue Hour" photography during the end of the Civil Twilight period. In order to extend this narrow, 20-minute window (it's really not an "hour"), into 30 minutes of shooting time, we first shot from the west side of the bus, looking east; and, then switched to the east side of the bus, looking west. Lights inside and outside the bus had to be adjusted in their intensity as the twilight dimmed.

Milky Way: By 6:45 PM the Astronomical Dusk had arrived, and the stars were really starting to pop. Although the brightest portion of the Milky Way, the central bulge, has rotated below the horizon at this season of the year, there is still a lot of Milky Way to see, especially the Great Rift or the Dark River, as the ancients used to call it. Once again, the inside lights had to be dimmed even further, to match the intensity of the starlight. We did not use any outside lighting, as we already had plenty of light pollution coming from the gas station, about 900 feet (274 m.).

"Photo Walkers" choose their angle for aligning the old bus with the Milky Way. The lights in the bus have been dimmed to match the starlight, and the colorful gels have been removed. The only outside light is coming from two sodium vapor street lamps, located about 900 feet to the right, at the Delle gas station (which is also giving the orange-red glow in the right side of the sky) ~ © Royce Bair
Post processing contrast added to the sky, and a darker exposure of the bus was blended (via a Photoshop layer) into the image. This photo was actually taken a week earlier during a scouting trip ~ © Royce Bair
You can see more photos from the participants of this photo walk by going to this Meetup page.

An invitation: I invite photographers everywhere to suggest future photo walk venues (these are free events) by tagging your favorite astro-landscapes with the hashtag: #NightScapeWalk — on InstagramFacebook or Google+. Please include the location of your NightScape and any other interesting background information in your photo description. To qualify, locations should be within 50 miles (80 km) or 90 minutes drive time (which ever is less) from a major city or metropolitan area (over 100,000 population). You can also suggest a location on my NightScape Meetup page.

Future NightScapeWalk venues I'm considering for January and February 2016 are some unique desert locations near Tucson, AZ and San Diego, CA. I welcome your suggestions for March. By April, my private workshop season begins, and I'll have less time for these free events.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Private Night Photography Workshops by Royce Bair

A light painted Broken Arch in Arches National Park ~ © Royce Bair
Private Night Photography Lessons in the Field. During this past year, I started offering private, one-on-one night photography workshops, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Private instruction allows greater flexibility for teaching and offers many additional opportunities for my clients! We can sometimes do as much photography in two nights than you can do in a group situation during three or four nights. Of course, we can also do as much daytime photography as you want (depending on how much sleep you require). The cost is only a little more than a group workshop, but it can actually be equal to or less expensive, when you invite a friend or two to share the costs (maximum of four photographers allowed in a private group). Let me illustrate...

Day rate: I charge $1,000 for the first day of instruction and $800 for each additional day (some photographers book just one day). Weather* days are $300. Here's a typical fee cost illustration for two, three and four photographers:

  First Day/night ................... $1,000.00
  Second Day/night (a Weather* day)..    300.00
  Third Day/night ...................    800.00
    Total fee cost .................. $2,100.00
    Cost per photographer (when 2)... $1,050.00
    (Cost per photographer, when 3).. $  700.00    
    (Cost per photographer, when 4).. $  525.00    

Definitions: A "Day/night" of photography includes up to 8 hours of my time in guiding and teaching. At least three (3) of those hours will be doing starry night photography. The daytime instruction can be in the field or in the classroom (i.e. image post processing). A tag-along spouse or friend, without a camera, is not considered a "photographer".

*Weather Days: In virtually every group workshop I've ever conducted, there are nights where we have so much cloud cover that few stars can be seen or photographed. Although we always try to make good use of the night with "Blue Hour" photography and demonstrating light painting techniques, this is not what you really paid in advance for. When this happens in my private workshops, we just call it a night and rest up for better nights. If I cannot give you at least three (3) hours of starry night photography, I will either prorate you for the time we are able to shoot or charge you a flat $300 fee to cover my expenses for that day.

Travel Expenses: You will cover your own travel expenses for transportation, lodging and meals.

Locations for private workshop lessons can be any place in the world! Any workshop location within 350 miles of my residence includes my travel expenses in the first day rate fee. Examples of workshops that are within this 350-mile radius: Arches National Park, Grand Teton N.P., Yellowstone N.P., Zion N.P., Bryce Canyon N.P., Capitol Reef N.P., Canyonlands N.P. and Grand Staircase-Escalante N.M.

You will also cover my travel expenses for any workshop that is greater than 350 miles from my residence in Salt Lake City, Utah. I will cover my own lodging and meals. For distances greater than 350 miles, you will be charged the following travel expenses, in addition to my day rates:

   351-800 miles (car travel one way): $0.95 per mile*
   Over 800 miles: Actual airfare charges + actual
         car rental fees (we can share this vehicle).
*Example: One of my favorite places in eastern California are the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine. From this area, you can also visit Mono Lake and the ancient Bristlecone Pines. Google says it's 582 miles from Salt Lake City to Lone Pine —that's 232 miles over my free base distance of 350 miles. At 95 cents per mile, that would be a travel expense of $220. As for your own travel expenses, you would want to fly into Las Vegas and rent a car for driving to Lone Pine (232 miles).

Reserving your date: I charge a $300 deposit to reserve a date. You can reserve up to a six days at a time. There is a deposit fee of $300 for each day you wish to reserve. This one deposit covers all the photographers in your group. I am happy to help you with your travel arrangements and hotel recommendations.

CALL: 801-558-2701 to make your reservations, or EMAIL me at royce.bair[AT]gmail[DOT]com (to prevent spam email, I ask you to substitute the "[AT]" with the "@" symbol and the "[DOT]" with the "." character).

Final payment: I request the balance of my fees (and any travel expenses) 60 days prior to the starting day of your private workshop.

Cancellations: You can cancel or change your reservation up to 60 days prior to your reserved date(s) and receive a full refund (less credit card processing fees). Cancellations made less than 60 days prior to the workshop will receive a refund on any fees paid, less the $300 deposit for each day you had reserved —unless another photographer wishes to take your place.

Refunds: If, after completing at least one of your reserved workshop days, it is decided that you no longer need one or more of your additional reserved days, you will be refunded all but the $300 deposit for those unused days (less credit card processing fees). Travel expenses cannot be refunded.

Recommendations: Read what others have said about my workshops.

Available dates for 2015 and 2016: At the moment, I have the following dates available (best for starry night photography). Any one or more of these days can be reserved:

  • October 7-17, 2105 ~ completed: @ Mono Lake, CA
  • November 6-14, 2015 ~ completed: "Old Barns" Workshop
  • December 7-15, 2015 ~ Dec 4-5 Reserved by "Lee"
  • January 2016 ~ free NightScapeWalk (to be announced)
  • February 2016 ~ free NightScapeWalk (to be announced)
  • March 7-12, 2016
  • April 4-9, 2016 ~ April 4-6 Reserved by "Nancy"
  • May 2-10, 2016 ~ excluding Sunday, May 8  ~ May 5-7 Reserved by "Glenn"
  • May 30 - June 8, 2016 ~ excluding Sunday, June 5
  • June 29 - July 8, 2016 ~ excluding Sunday, July 3 ~ June 29 - July 2 Reserved by "Mike"
  • July 29-30, 2016  ~ Reserved by "Claus"
  • August 1-6, 2016  ~ Aug 4-6 Reserved by "Janet"
  • August 29 - Sept 3, 2016  ~ Aug 29 - Sept 1 Reserved by "John"
  • September 26 - Oct 5, 2016 ~ excluding Sunday, Oct 2
  • October 25-29, 2016
  • October 31 - Nov. 4, 2016
  • November 25-26, 2016
  • November 28 - Dec. 3, 2016
Note: The above dates are optimum, or nights with little or no moon interference. You can schedule periods a few days earlier or later than this, but you may lose some night shooting hours due to moon interference. If you are interested in other dates, let me know, and I'll tell you the amount of "Star shooting time" available for those nights, in the location that you wish to photograph.

GROUP Workshops: I also do paid group workshops. Past and future workshops are listed on my NightScape Meetup site. Check out my FREE NightScape PhotoWalks.

2017 Workshop Schedule: So far, I have the following group workshop (8 spots) scheduled:
      •  Grand Teton with "Solar Eclipse" ~ August 21-24 (more details to come)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

NightScape Photo Walks

Milky Way rising over Silver Lake near Brighton, Utah ~ © Royce Bair (click to enlarge).
Reddish glow on the left is light pollution from Park City, and on the right is from Heber City.
NightScape Photo Walks: I've been doing free, local astro-landscape photo walks near the Salt Lake City, Utah metro area for the past few years, like the above location, which is only 11 miles (18 km) from the edge of the city, and this recent photowalk in Utah's west desert. We've had as many as 100 people participate in these free events, and the response has been incredibly positive and rewarding.

This Dark Sky Finder map shows that Brighton, UT (the middle purple marker) is only 15 miles from the
inner city lights of Salt Lake City, UT. Brighton and nearby Silver Lake are still in a fairly light polluted
Bortle Scale Class 6 (orange color). However, the rising Milky Way in the eastern sky (to the right)
lies across darker regions (yellow, green, blue and gray with Bortle Scale Classes 5 through 2).
Acceptable Astro-Landscapes in a light-polluted environment: Even though the site is affected by light pollution from the nearby city, and is in a Bortle Scale Class 6, acceptable images of the Milky Way sky were still obtainable because the camera was pointed away from the largest source of light pollution and towards a region having darker skies (Bortle Scale Class 5 through 2).

NightScape Photo Walks near your city. I'm looking to do free photo walks in other areas around the world. Like our Salt Lake City event, the location needs to be conveniently close to a major city, yet far enough away to provide reasonably good photography of the starry night sky. You can check to see if your favorite area meets this criteria by referring to this Dark Sky Finder map of the United States. Your location should have a Bortle Scale Class 5 (yellow) or lower. Use this Dark Site Finder map for all other locations in the world.

An invitation: I invite photographers everywhere to suggest future photo walk venues by tagging your favorite astro-landscapes with the hashtag: #NightScapeWalk (capitalization is not required) — on InstagramFacebook or Google+. Please include the location of your NightScape and any other interesting background information in your photo description. To qualify, locations should be within 50 miles (80 km) or 90 minutes drive time (which ever is less) from a major city or metropolitan area (over 100,000 population). You can also suggest a location on my NightScape Meetup page.

Showcasing your images: From time-to-time, I will feature some of the best images on my @RoyceBairPhoto Instagram account, complete with credits and links to the photographer. The featured images will also appear on my Facebook fan page. These suggested locations may also become venues for future NightScape Photo Walks that I will organize and provide free to the public.

Paid Workshops: I also do paid group workshops. Past and future workshops are listed on my NightScape Meetup site. Private workshops of 1-4 people are also available.

Finding Darkness

These Easter Island look-a-likes are in the southwestern United Stakes. They are sandstone hoodoos in the
Devil's Garden area in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah.  Light painted from
behind for accent and separation. This is one of the darkest regions in the USA (a Bortle-1).
The stars were so brilliant! One exposure with a Canon 5D Mark III, using a
Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 lens • f/2.8 • 20 sec • ISO 8000 ~ © Royce Bair
"Finding Darkness" is a new quest I have to help others locate and photograph some of the darkest "NightScape" skies in the world.

An invitation: I invite photographers everywhere to join me on this pursuit by tagging your darkest astro-landscapes with the hashtag: #FindingDarkness — on Instagram, Facebook or Google+.

Please include the location of your favorite dark sky NightScapes and any other interesting background information in your photo description. To qualify, locations should be on a Bortle Scale of Class 3 or lower. You can check to see if your favorite area meets this criteria by referring to this Dark Sky Finder map of the United States. Bortle Scale Class 3 areas are in blue, Class 2 areas are in gray, and Class 1 areas are in dark gray. Use this Dark Site Finder map for all other locations in the world.

Showcasing your images: From time-to-time, I will feature some of the best images on my @RoyceBairPhoto Instagram account, complete with credits and links to the photographer. The featured images will also appear on my Facebook fan page.

Not-so-dark areas. Not everyone has the opportunity to visit "Truly Dark Areas" within a Bortle Class 1 or 2 Scale. Most of us live in and around light polluted metropolitan areas. Yet, even in these circumstances, there are often nearby regions that one can do acceptable starry night photography. Please help me find acceptable NightScape Photo Walk locations in your locale.

Bristlecone Pine and Milky Way from Bristlecone Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park
(This is a Bortle Scale Class 1 area)  ~ © Royce Bair

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Using Drones For Lighting NightScapes

"Shark Fin" ocean landscape lit with a light source suspended in the sky by a DJI quad copter. A 45-second
exposure using a Canon 5D Mark II. Image processed in Adobe Camera Raw. ~ © Russell Preston Brown
Theory: Small aerial drones can be used not only to carry cameras but light-weight LED lights to illuminate foreground objects from above and behind. For about two years, I've toyed with the idea of using small drones to enhance my NightScape photographs. When the Park Service placed a ban on drones within U.S. national parks about a year ago, I put a hold on this idea. Then, I saw this photo two days ago (on by Russell Brown, and my interest was reignited. There are many other areas besides national parks were this technique can be used.

On Russell's Facebook page he wrote, "Aaron Grimes and I worked together last night to capture this version of our light painting at Shark Fin. We shot this with a Canon 5D Mark II. Who knew that there was a curfew at this beach after 10:00pm. The local ranger politely asked us to leave. The light at the top of the Shark Fin was actually the headlights from the ranger's car [see above image]. Perfect timing..."

Russell's cropped and enhanced version on his Instagram account ~ © Russell Preston Brown
This is not the first time Brown has used his small drone to do lighting from an aerial platform. The following photo was taken about a year ago in the California desert:

"Alien Encounter" - DJI copter holding a bright light in the sky ~ © Russell Preston Brown
"Dr. Brown"
Russell Brown is the Senior Creative Director at Adobe Systems Incorporated as well as an Emmy Award-winning instructor. His ability to bring together the world of design and software development is a perfect match for Adobe products. Brown shows users how to work – and play – with Adobe software.  His in-depth design knowledge and zany presentation style has won him a regular following among beginning, intermediate, and advanced users alike.

You can find many of Russell's tutorials at, including this video on Drone Flying Tips.