Shooting the Moon

Earlier this week we were treated to very clear weather and a full lunar eclipse. Even from Houston, aka light pollution central, the moon was highly visible and quite beautiful.

I shot the moon with a borrowed 400mm lens (f/5.6 max. aperture) and a cheap Tamron 1.4x converter. The combination made for a slow f/8, and I also stopped down one (f/11 effective) in attempts to sharpen things up a bit.



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I used to own a 400mm lens many years ago, and I’d forgotten how difficult it can be to shoot long. Every bit of disturbance around the camera caused a visible vibration in the viewfinder. Using live view at 10x made the issue very apparent. A cold front had blown through, and the winds were making it impossible to get the camera and lens completely stable.

The other issue with eclipses, and I’d experienced this before when shooting one many years ago, is that the moon gets very dark towards totality. A normal full moon in clear skies is nearly as bright as full daylight. But a moon mostly covered in the Earth’s shadow is 5 – 6 stops of light less. That’s really challenging when shooting at f/11 :-)

Big Bend Workshop News (Oct. ’14)

It’s on! This event is officially scheduled and accepting students. I have a room block and a conference room booked.

I’ve sent an announcement out to my email list and now have several folks signed up. Please see the workshop details page (click here!) for more information.

I’ve lowered my price a bit and made some slight changes in how the event will operate. The workshop details page has all the information and fine details.



Please contact me if you are interested or have questions. I hope to see you in Big Bend!

Choosing a Lens for Astro/Land-photography

I came across a good article by Ian Norman this morning about selecting a lens for capturing the Milky Way and stars in one, static image. This is exactly the type of photography that I enjoy and practice.

Here is the link:
petapixel.com/2014/01/29/picking-great-lens-milky-way-photography/

It’s lengthy and full of technical details. It’s definitely worth reading. Thanks to Ian for putting this out there.

He ultimately concludes that a 24mm f/1.4 lens is optimum on a full frame 35mm sensor. I agree with that.

Fun With Focal Lengths

Here’s a fun series of the same scene shot with different lenses.



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Top Shot:
Canon 5D mark 3
Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
30 seconds, f/2.5, ISO3200

Middle Shot:
Canon 5D mark 3
Sigma 50mm f/1.4
30 seconds, f/2.5, ISO3200

Bottom Shot:
Canon 5D mark 3
Canon 100mm f/2.8L macro IS
25 seconds, f/2.8, ISO6400

PS#9: Cemetery at Night

This image was taken in the Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery a few weeks ago and just prior to the start of my workshop. At this time of year, the Milky Way rises about 3:30~4am. Marti and I got up really early to catch this event.



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Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
Filter: none
Shutter Speed: 25 sec.
Aperture: f/2
Focal Length: 24mm
ISO: 3200
Camera mounted on tripod

The skies were clear and the moon had set the evening prior. We started long enough before dawn that the skies were still very dark. Sunrise was at about 7:20am, so we had until about 6:00am before the sky started to lighten up.

The Milky Way was in a different position and orientation than I’m used to seeing. The bands of the galaxy were horizontal and positioned over the eastern horizon. I’m used to shooting in late summer and the fall when the bands are oriented more vertically and towards the southern or southwestern horizon.

This particular orientation (late Feb.) made a great landscape composition with the bands of the galaxy paralleling the horizon. I chose a spot in the cemetery that featured multiple crosses. Since the Milky Way had just risen, it laid nicely right over the crosses.

Feb. 2012 Workshop Done!

My Feb. 2012 Big Bend Photo Workshop has completed with great success. My co-teacher (Marti Jeffers) and I had a great time and have come home with many great memories and experiences to share.



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The morning before the workshop started, Marti and I woke up at 4am and drove to the cemetery near the Terlingua Ghost Town. The skies were clear and dark, and the Milky Way had just risen above the eastern horizon. These two photos were from that morning.



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I have tons of photos to sort through and process. I will be sharing these with you soon. I just need to finish unpacking and catch up on my sleep :-)

PS#4: Perry School Ruins

This image was taken in the Terlingua Ghost Town on my recent trip to the Big Bend area. My photo-buddy, Wes, and I spent several hours in the dark shooting the ghost town one evening after dinner.



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Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
Shutter Speed: 25 sec.
Aperture: f/2.0
ISO: 3200
Camera mounted on tripod

The approach to this scene was straightforward and simple: front of building + Milky May. I took a couple of test shots to find my composition (trial-and-error camera placement) and determine how the ambient light was hitting the building. The light from the neighboring structures (the ghost town is still inhabited) was faintly illuminating the old school.

Wes and I decided that it needed more light, and that it would also benefit from some internal light. We both took several exposures, each with a different light painting scheme.

My first exposure was with only ambient light and no light painting. I then took several where I light painted the exterior of the building from different locations and different patterns.

I actually had to light paint twice in each shot because Wes was shooting at the same Ev but at 60 seconds (about twice as long as my exposure). We’d trip our shutters at the same time, I’d then paint a little at first, then paint some more after my shutter closed and Wes’ shutter was still open.

The shots with light in the interior of the building were tricky (mainly because the flooring was in bad shape and we had to carefully negotiate our way through on half-rotten floor joists in the dark). Between the two of us, we had enough small LED lights (covered with #204 orange gel filters) to place them inside the building to shine through four window openings and the doorway. The lights were left in position and turned on during the exposures. It took many tries and different light positions, but it finally worked.

I combined three different exposures in Photoshop to get the final result you see here. We actually spent so long working this scene that the Milky Way shifted significantly. I used the sky from my first photo (the ambient shot), the light-painted building exterior from one of the subsequent shots, and also the last shot with the interior lighting.

PS#2: Dugout Wells at Night

This image was taken on my recent trip to Big Bend on the night before my workshop began. This location is at Dugout Wells, a lush, green spot in the open desert.



Windmill and Milky Way
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Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
Shutter Speed: 25 sec.
Aperture: f/2.0
ISO: 3200
Camera mounted on tripod

Before leaving for Big Bend, I spent some time thinking about the area and locations to shoot the night sky after sunset. I was familiar with the Dugout Wells area, and I remembered the working windmill there. Silhouetting the windmill against the stars and Milky Way was my only objective with this photo.

On location, I decided to take a wide angle shot to capture a lot of the sky and also some of the horizon. The windmill is small but still a prominent feature in the frame, and Nugent Mountain also appears and adds some interest to the horizon.

This is a location that I returned to with the workshop participants a few night later.

PS#1: Night in the Ghost Town

Note: I’m going to start a new series of blog posts that I’m calling, Picture Stories. This will hopefully give me some inspiration to post more frequently on my blog as well as increase my shooting activity. My friend and fellow photographer, Bob Clark, maintains a blog and basically does just that; he tells stories. And good ones too :-)

This image was taken on my recent photography workshop based in Big Bend. It is just a snapshot taken during the workshop.



Perry School in Ghost Town
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Shooting Specs:
Camera: Canon 5DII
Lens: Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
Shutter Speed: 25 sec.
Aperture: f/2.0
ISO: 3200
Camera positioned on ground

This photo above was taken as a quick test shot to see how the ambient light was registering on the building and determine if any light painting was needed. I wanted the light on the building to balance with the night sky, and I used it to help teach and demonstrate proper exposure to my workshop participants.

This is the old Perry School in the Terlingua Ghost Town (the ghost town is a few miles west of Big Bend National Park). The ghost town has few lights, but still the artificial illumination from distant structures does register on long exposures.

I simply laid my camera on the ground and fired off a shot. During the 25 second exposure, two things happened. The first was that a car drove by on a nearby road, and the light from its headlights blew out a spot on the left side of the photo. The second accident was that two workshop participants walked up to the building while their LED headlamps were turned to red mode.

The resulting photo was a happy accident. I really like it. The lighting is a bit freaky and the tilt of the camera adds some tension and drama, as if the photographer dropped his/her camera and ran off after seeing a ghost or something horrible.

So, in honor of the recent Halloween holiday, I’m posting this photo as the first in my PS series :-)

Trying New Methods: Astro/Landscapes

I spent this past weekend in the Texas hill country hunting. There was a quarter moon and fairly clear skies at night. The good parts of the Milky Way are below the horizon this time of year, but a healthy band of stars can still be seen.

Despite the moon and the time of year, I tried my usual astro/landscapes and also some new approaches.



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Tree by Moonlight High Lonesome Ranch, San Saba County, Texas
Canon 5DII with 24mm f/1.4L II. Shot at: f/2.0, 25 sec., ISO 3200. Moonlight (from the left) and LED light-painting.

The above photo and the one just below are simple shots much like I’ve done in the past. They both have a main subject that dominates the foreground. The focus is set on the main subject, so the sky and stars are just slightly out of focus (that’s not apparent in these web-sized images, but it shows up on a print).

I’m continuing experimenting with light-painting using a LED flashlight with an orange gel filter. The effect of the painting is subtle; it fills in and creates a little bit of detail in the shadow areas.

Shooting while a moon was up was new to me for this type of shooting. Since it was only a quarter moon, the light didn’t overpower the scene and a lot of stars showed up in the photos. But the moonlight illuminated the main subjects nicely and also made the skies a lighter shade of blue as compared to moonless night shots.



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Front Gate High Lonesome Ranch, San Saba County, Texas
Canon 5DII with 24mm f/1.4L II. Shot at f/2.8, 30 sec., ISO 3200. Moonlight (from the left) and LED light-painting.

Now here is where I’m attempting to progress this type of work. I used focal lengths longer than 24mm and shutter speeds longer than recommended for freezing the stars.



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Moonlit Branches High Lonesome Ranch, San Saba County, Texas
Canon 5DII with Sigma 50mm f/1.4. Shot at f/2.0, 25 sec., ISO 3200.

This shot (above) looks up into the tree from the first photo in this post. It is meant to be a simple silhouette of crooked, bare branches, but the moonlight and also light from the LED flashlight help pop some detail out of the shadows. The branches are fairly close to the camera, and the focus is set to the middle of the tree. Combined with the longer focal length and wide aperture, the stars make a nice out of focus background.

Now here’s the interesting thing: this was a 25 second exposure. If you were to shoot the stars, in focus, with 50mm, then you would need about a 10-15 second exposure to not have noticeable star trails.

Since the stars are out of focus here, the trails are not noticeable despite the long 25 sec. exposure.



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Ranch Gate San Saba County, Texas
Canon 5DII with 100mm f/2.8L IS macro. Shot at f/2.8, 30 sec., ISO 3200. Moonlight and LED light-painting.

This shot (above) pushes it even more. This is at 30 seconds and 100mm.

You can see that the out of focus blobs are larger and slightly oblong. This was facing due east, so apparent movement of the stars is higher than if you were facing north. This obviously shows a bit of trailing, but since the stars are not sharply focused, the end effect is quite nice, IMO.



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Branches High Lonesome Ranch, San Saba County, Texas
Canon 5DII with 100mm f/2.8L IS macro. Shot at f/2.8, 30 sec., ISO 3200.

This photo (above) was taken facing north. The out of focus stars are slightly oblong on the outer edges of the frame, but not as noticeable as the previous photo.

Also, this photo was taken very early in the morning after the moon had set, hence the darker skies (as compared to the other photos). It was also taken at f/2.8, the maximum aperture of that lens, so it’s about a stop darker than my usual exposure. I should have pushed the ISO to 6400 for this one.