Monday, September 17, 2012

James Neeley: Capturing a Glimpse of the Divine

"Starry Night" near Arco, Idaho ~ © James Neeley
James Neeley likes all types of night photography including cityscapes, light painting, fireworks, and stars; however, high ISO Milky Way photography is foremost on his list. "I love the natural world. Add to that the fact that there are 100 billion stars in our galaxy and 100 billion galaxies out there, photographing just a small part of this amazing universe we live in gives me a glimpse of the divine."

"San Francisco Nights" ~ © James Neeley

 James is a serious-amateur photographer who lives in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and supports his family as a physician. He is best known to many for his HDR landscape photography and his Mountain High Workshops.

"Light Show" - Light painting Delicate Arch during the "Blue Hour" ~ © James Neeley
Neeley enjoys light painting some of his night landscapes. In the above photo, he found it a real balancing act between the ambient light which was decreasing rapidly and the artificial light he and the members of his photo group brought. Fortunately, one of the participants brought a powerful light which became affectionately known as "Big Bertha" and had enough output to light the arch against the twilight sky. (Note: this exact product seem to no longer be available, however a similar 18 million candle power, rechargable halogen spotlight is made by Cyclops.)

High ISO Milky Way Photography is a passion for James. "I [had] done some long exposure astrophotography with a dedicated, cooled CCD camera through a telescope. When the Nikon D3/D700 came out with the ability to shoot fairly low noise pictures at 6400 ISO, I jumped at the chance to try capturing the Milky Way."

However, the latest and the greatest isn't always the best for this style of night work. Neeley still prefers the Nikon D3s camera. "In my opinion this camera has the best high ISO performance, even just edging out the [new] D4."

"Going Deep" - Arches National Park ~ © James Neely
 One of the biggest challenges he faces is ambient light or light pollution. "When you shoot at ISO 6400, f2.8, for 30 sec. even the darkest sites show some ambient light. Only the true 'dark sites' have the quality of sky to not show much extraneous light."

Unprocessed version of "Going Deep" (compare with above image) ~ © James Neeley
Image Enhancing: James doesn't do anything special except Photoshop CS6 for processing. The above photo is an unprocessed image. Processing consisted only of increasing the contrast of the sky (which also darkens the sky and intensifies the color) and increasing the brightness of the foreground just a bit.

Noise Reduction: Here's some advice from James: "A low noise full frame sensor is important. The critical camera setting is to turn on long exposure noise reduction. The camera will then take a dark frame following the exposure for the same time as the exposure itself and then subtract the images to greatly reduce the noise and hot pixels.

Remember, I'm not only shooting a long exposure but high ISO (6400 or 12800). If you want a real shock turn off long exposure noise reduction and shoot a 30 sec. exposure at ISO 6400 in a dark room at a blank wall. Your camera, or any camera for that matter will show multiple hot pixels. For this type of photography you must use long exposure noise reduction or take a dark frame and do the subtraction later on in post."

For additional post-production noise reduction, James likes Neat Image.

More of James Neeley's photography is available at his blog and his Flickr photostream.


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