Did some experimentation with extreme focus and the bokah it gives. Also some fun pictures from my folks yard. Pictures taken Easter Sunday at my folks place in North Central Colorado.
February 3rd 2017 was a cold, brisk morning in Larkspur. We had a good fog all night and the temperature went down to 15 degrees in the morning. I started my daily journey toward the megalopolis while dawn was just unfolding and I felt the urge to turn around to grab my camera. It was beautiful out!
So, I turned around and went back home and grabbed the camera. Along the first 5 miles of my route I stopped many times and took some photos. I then was treated to an elk herd that was in plain view so I stopped and watched them for a while.
A fun start to my drive to work! As always these photos are previews, click on the photo for a larger version.
This year has been a lot of fun watching meteorite showers, and Perseids 2016 did not disappoint. I was able to watch the skies a week prior to the peak on the east side of the Collegiate Peaks near Buena Vista, then again the night before, during and after the peak of the Perseids (peaked Aug 11, 2016).
The Perseids are created by the dust trail from comet Swift Tuttle as our orbit intersects with its debris each year. This year was a special “outburst” year thanks to our cosmic friend Jupiter whose gravity altered the course of some debris last year; making way for a more dusty intercept on this year’s orbit for Earth!
In Colorado about a week before the peak, the days were socked in with clouds and some rain, but after midnight the clouds cleared out and provided a wonderful display of the stars and Milky Way over the Collegiate Peaks from the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area south of Buena Vista Colorado. Although I didn’t capture it as it was left of my field of view, I saw a massive fireball which I can only assume was a Perseids meteorite! Several other meteorites I witnessed that night were likely Perseids.
I took this picture with Sony Alpha A7RII with Rokinon 14mm f2.8 prime lens. Manual focus was set to infinity, f2.8 and exposure was 8 seconds at ISO 12800, obviously on a tripod. I have found that opening the exposure over 8 seconds leaves a blur/trail with stars that I do not like, so I had to adjust the ISO to absorb more light. I made some minor adjustments in Lightroom.
I thought this was a fun shot, it was a video capture of the stars including Milky Way using the A7RII Star Trails app. This is a fun little app but I have not explored it deeply yet to discover if there are many creative uses for it other than the obvious. A couple of satellites are also present streaking across the sky over each 8 second exposure.
Fast forward a little under a week, to the days around the peak of Perseids 2016. Each of the nights here where I live near Larkspur Colorado it was cloudy and stormy before and after dusk. But luckily each night all the storms moved off east and the skies cleared up in time for the moon to set and give great dark skies for viewing this “outburst” year.
I set up in my front yard pointing towards the south/western sky which is the largest portal I have through my trees. I was able to witness many Perseids shooters and caught a couple in my field of view.
In the above photo, I took the 3 shots before and after the meteorite and stacked them in Photoshop. A brief summary of the process that I’m still only beginning to use
- Open all the photos as layers in Photoshop
- Select all layers and then use the alignment feature of the stack
- Create a Smart Object
- Use the Smart Object / Stack Mode function and Median setting to combine all the light of the photos into a single picture
This is the first time I played with this workflow and will be exploring it further to fine tune the results, but i’m quite impressed of what Photoshop can do merging the light of several photographs; remember I only like to take up to 8 second exposures of the stars, so this gave me almost a minute worth of light. I think that too many pictures will confuse the auto-alignment feature of Photoshop, I tried another experiment with 12 photos and the results looked horrible. I have to play with this more (if you have any suggestions here, would love to hear from you in the comments!)
I caught another amazing meteorite and did a digital crop to show the spectacular colors of Perseids meteorites! This was the largest shooter I saw the eve prior to the peak.
Then came the peak, which again was forecast to be up to double of other years! I set my alarm each hour after dark and went outside to witness the show, but it was very cloudy and even had a thunderstorm to our south. I was getting bummed as by 12:30 we were still socked in with clouds! At the 1:20 alarm, however, the sky was crystal clear; amazing what can happen in less than an hour here in the Colorado foothills! The sky stayed clear until dawn, when it got cloudy again. Perfect timing, mother nature!
I typically count meteorites in two categories (that’s all I can keep track of that late in the night); one is total number and the second (I use my hands for this one) is for “large” meteorites. Large ones are definitely not all fireballs, and is definitely subjective, but I like to remember how many ones I see that make me go “cool” or “wow”. Here is the play-by-play I posted to facebook for each 30 minutes I was watching…
- First 30 minutes, 54 shooters, 13 were large and several fireballs. Finally cleared up after a cloudy evening.
- Next 30. Count now at 83, with 29 being large, the last two were fireballs. This half hour has had more larger ones per capita…
- Next 30. 122. 39.
- Next 30. 159. 51.
- Next 30. 189. 66.
- Last 30 minutes. 231. 87.
Given that I live in a forest and have a limited window into the night’s sky, I think this is an amazing number, one of the best I’ve seen in the many many showers I’ve watched! I caught about 50 of these on my camera, which is definitely the most I’ve ever caught, but due to the wide angle (14mm, Rokinon f2.8 prime lens) most were really small and overall uninteresting. I did catch some spectacular fireballs in the field of view; but missed most which is par for the course.
The night after the peak I was exhausted, so I missed setting the alarm reminding me to get up in the early morning hours. I did go out about 4:30 and saw a burst of about 15 in 15 minutes, 2 of which were “large” on my subjective scale…which surprised me on the morning after the peak! My cell phone app states that the shower’s window is July 17th through August 24th, so there are surely many more nights to experience this year!
It has been a busy summer so far, lots of family activities and work projects have called for long hours. On the fourth of July we headed to my folks house near Red Feather Lakes Colorado for some needed R&R; and for my daughter and mom to finish a 4-H project, her very ambitious quilt! I took the camera and was able to catch timelapse video and some interesting pictures. The video is forthcoming, but here are some of my favorite stills. As always, images can be clicked for a larger perspective!
Their house had three outside lights and each day there were a variety of moths hanging out on the side of the house. I’ve never seen thing large of a variety in one spot before.
Didn’t rain too much, but this storm put off a great rainbow!
Tooks some photos of the quilting process. Many will go on Daphne’s presentation and in her record book.
My son, my dad, and I took a drive up to Deadman Fire Watch Tower / lookout.
When asked for volunteers for this year’s Castle View JV Track season; I wanted to try out my new camera and learn how to take sports pictures so I did it; I was going to be at all the meets already. I have never taken track pictures before and was excited for the challenge. In summary, I found that taking pictures up close and personal is the style I like.
For archival purposes, here are the pictures that made it to the coach’s blog. Going back and looking at them I feel I did get better technique and quality as the year progressed, so I’m happy with the experience and look forward to doing more in the future!
- Castle View High School Home Meet
- Highlands Ranch High School Meet
- Castle View High School Home Meet #2
- Thunder Ridge High School Meet
- Thunder Ridge High School Meet #2
- JV Championships
- Freshman Sophomore Championships
- 6th Grade Hexathlon (not quite a JV High School Meet, but Elementary School track)
This is the first time I’ve seen several Taurids due to the moon’s phase, and I was able to catch a couple. The Taurids occur as we pass through the debris path left by comet Encke. Last night I was observing mainly the Northern Taurids. The clouds weren’t too bad but a couple of times it did cloud over during the night. I didn’t see any of the big fireballs (like my partner Erin and her friend did a couple nights ago) but I may have captured one on the camera. The fireballs occur because this debris trail has many pebble sized meteors, rather than the typical grain sized dust that we see shooting stars form from. The shooters I saw were very slow moving, though, which was really cool! No tails on the ones I saw this morning.
Next up, Leonids peak next week, November 17th and 18th!!! Always one of the best showers of the year, and the moon will be just in a crescent so it should be worth staying up for!
Canon Digital EOS Rebel T2i. EF-S 10-22mm @ 10mm. F3.5. 8 seconds. 3200 ISO. I started off with 1600 but after seeing several shooters I realized I needed to absorb more light-the noise due to high ISO setting isn’t too bad.
Man I just love the sound of that (the Blood Moon), kinda gothic and fitting around fall as Halloween approaches! During this orbit, the full eclipse was at a nice time where most folks could enjoy it; which is awesome because everyone should enjoy these celestial events, IMHO! My kids finally got to see it due to the early time. Here is the blood red super moon!
Assuming no cloud cover and available where I live, I always watch these eclipse events and usually pull the camera out and photograph them. In the recent past events I noted having trouble dialing in the setting for photographing the event, especially getting the blood red part in focus and alternatively the bright partial moon in focus. My goal this time, other than enjoying the entire event, was to dial in the settings and process so next time I can focus on some more creative elements of photography and not so much of the technical stuff.
Because I tend to forget stuff that I don’t use often, I figured I’d document my findings which would at least serve me for future events. As a bonus, hopefully this is helpful to others that want to photograph these type of events and maybe haven’t known how to do it. Finally, I’m hoping that someone with much more experience and skills than I could also chime in and provide some suggestions for my next attempt!
A couple of quick tips I use whenever doing low-light photography:
Tripod. I most always use a tripod in low light. I configure such that I don’t have to bend over or position myself around the legs, simple ergonomics! I put the “V” on the legs spread so I’m in the middle of it (hmmm…); and extend the height so I don’t have to bend over or stand on my tip-toes. You need the tripod as you can’t hold the camera still enough to capture the low light and stay in focus.
Focus. This is still one of the harder parts for me because focusing all the way out with the camera lens is never going to give sharp focus. Focus depends on the temperature and other environmental factors. I tend to use auto-focus if I have a light source far away, and then I turn off auto-focus and fine tune from there using my eye in the viewfinder, and then taking pictures and reviewing the zoomed digital screen. Many times I don’t have a big enough bright source so it is just trial and error.
Image Stabilization. Turn that bad-boy off. There is a slight vibration when in use that will give you less focus. Image Stabilization isn’t needed for tripod work so it always gets turned off.
Remote trigger. This is a wired remote that allows me to trigger the shutter (and lock it, if doing time lapse) without touching the camera or tripod setup. I recommend these so you don’t have to touch the camera when taking the picture at all; which more often than not causes some blur in my photos. This has a really small adapter so do this in the light (cell phone flashlight apps are good for this).
Now to the camera’s configuration. With low-light situations, especially a lunar eclipse which lacks light by definition, you want to capture as much light as possible, in the shortest amount of time possible. A problem is we’re on a moving object (yes, the earth is rotating) and so open exposure will result in blurred photos if open too long. My rule of thumb for stars (when shooting meteorites) is 8 seconds max. When shooting severe weather (clouds and such) in low light it is about 4 seconds max. For the moon in crisp focus since there is tremendous detail, I’m shooting for the smallest exposure possible. Below is a picture when the exposure is too long, notice the stars starting to trail and the moon being blurry.
I always shoot in Manual Mode. Note that this mode isn’t available only just DSLRs, my daughter’s trusty (and inexpensive) point and shoot Canon also has a manual mode and tripod mount and can take great low-light photos! There are three standard adjustments that all are interrelated that I work with (note these are my layman definitions, for more scientific and precise information, you should check out other sources):
a) Shutter speed governs how long is the shutter open and letting light in.
b) Aperture or f-stop is how big does the shutter open up, letting in more (or less) light while the shutter is open.
c) ISO is how fast the “film speed” is, which in DSLR terms how quickly the light is absorbed onto the photograph.
d) This is not configurable, but the lens speed is how much light your lens can let through quickly, or how expensive is your glass. Rule of thumb, the more expensive, the quicker!
Because I have too many hobbies I’m limited to what I can spend, so a fast (expensive) lens is not an option for me at this time, so I get a slow lens and have to work with the other configurable factors. A faster lens will let more light in by default allowing more optimal camera configurations.
Back to my goal, I need to let in as much light as possible in the shortest amount of time, so I typically go with the lowest f-stop setting my lens allows and I adjust the exposure and ISO.
Because I want to let the earth move as little as possible while the shutter is open, my goal is as fast shutter speed as possible.
Because I want crisp and sharp pictures, I need to balance with the lowest ISO setting possible (higher ISO absorbs more light which is great, but also absorbs noise “pixelating” your picture). Here is a pretty noisy photo taking with a very high ISO (3200), you can see the graininess in the moon. Are those dots around the moon stars or noise? I believe stars but noise looks basically the same!
There are really two phases to the moon eclipse, when it is partially eclipsed with the sun’s reflected light and our shadow on the surface; and when it is fully eclipsed and very dim. As the moon is entering/exiting the eclipsed state, I often want to get the blood red part in focus but also the bright reflective part in focus too.
I was able to dial it in last night such that I could make one adjustment and capture both of my goals as it was entering/exiting the eclipsed phase. I am using a Canon EOS T2i with Canon 70-300mm 1:4-5.6 lens. My f-stop was 5.6 at 300mm and my ISO was mainly 800 or 1600. I would switch between 1/4 second for the blood red perspective and 1/1000 second (or even faster as it got less eclipsed) for the bright perspective. Simply switching the shutter speed back and forth I was able to capture both perspectives of the eclipse!
What a fun night, and wonderful celestial event! Next up, October 8, 2015 the Draconids meteorite shower, and then October 21-22 is the Orionids! Can’t wait!
I love lightning!
I love to look at the photos–this is a shortcut to my favorite posts so I don’t have to search. As always, you can click on any image on this site for a much larger version.