Archives for August 2010

An Evening Beneath The Stars

Last night was to be the peak of the Perseid meteor showers. We left our room at 11:00PM and began the half mile trek up the hill behind the hotel in the dark. We crested the hill can dropped down below the top on the other side effectively eliminating the lights behind us and set up in a flat grassy area. I had a two camera bracket mounted to my tripod with two D3S bodies mounted…one with the AF-S 14-24mm @ 14mm and the other with the AF-S 24-70mm @24mm. I wanted to try to capture star trails with meteors flying every which way through them. And while that is exactly what happened as we sat back and enjoyed the show, it was not what translated to the pixels. Not a single meteor showed up on the images. Even though we were away from the city lights the sky was still not the rich black of complete darkness for one thing and I was goofing around trying to outsmart the meteor showers and capture and image I had in my minds eye. While I didn’t get the image I had visualized I did manage to score a couple of great star trails…

I kept watching the Milky Way throughout the night, marveling at it’s expanse across the sky so, just before we packed it in and made our way down the trail I tried a few frames and am quite pleased with my first attempt…

Back in the room, I looked out from the balcony at the night sky and just couldn’t help myself. I set up the tripod with both cameras, changed out the batteries and set the camera to shooting star trails while I got a few winks. My camera kept shooting into the lightening sky as dawn approached and darned if I didn’t finally get one, lone meteor way…off…in…the…distance I added a few of the lighter images to the stack to get the blue sky and the lighter horizon…

So, while I didn’t get the shot of the meteors I had set out for, I did add some new astro images to my files, my husband and I spent several relaxing hours sitting under the stars enjoying the show together and I learned what doesn’t work. I’ll be better prepared next time. This night sky photography is pretty cool…I could get hooked…as if I need more to shoot beyond the sunrise to sunset hours!

Images created with Nikon D3S, AF-S 14-24mm, AF 16mm Fisheye on Lexar Digital Media

Perseid Meteor Shower First Attempt

With the Perseid Meteor Showers in full swing I decided to head towards eastern Oregon to find a dark sky and give it a try. I read up on how to photograph the meteor showers (there are several ways to do it) and decided to add my own tweak to it. Shoot star trails in the directions of the showers and get both. With that in mind, I did succeed by getting two meteors in this star trail photo…

(The two streaks going a different direction than the star trails are the meteors) I learned a lot for tonight’s “big show”…they happen all over the sky and the few that were spectacular were not where my camera was aimed, I think I will set one camera up for meteor showers (shorter exposure time, faster ISO) and focus more on getting the streaks with pin point stars and will set the other camera up to do star trails again with the hope of getting some meteors in the frame too. I like the focal length I used (24mm) but, think I may go wider on the star trail camera for an even bigger arc. Stay tuned tomorrow when I share my results.
Even if I don’t get THE shot, it’s quite spectacular to see these flaming meteors streaking through the sky.

Image created with Nikon D3S, AF-S 24-70mm on Lexar Digital Media

Tech Tuesday…Simple Three Shot Pano

There are times when the scene before me calls for an aspect ration that my camera does not offer. Sometimes the scene has a very wide field of view but I don’t want to include as much sky or foreground as it would take to use an ultra wide lens. Sure I could crop to a pano aspect ratio in the digital darkroom but, that would entail throwing away a lot of data that I paid big bucks for in the first place. I want to keep all the resolution I can so I can make large output from the file. This leaves me with the option of making a pano by shooting three (in this case) frames of the scene with a longer lens. By using a longer lens I am able to control the amount of foreground and sky in the frame and I can shoot as many frames as necessary to get the full sweep from left to right, resulting in an aspect ratio that includes the elements I chose no more, no less…

Here are the steps I use (both in camera and later in the digital darkroom) to make a panoramic image…

-Nikon D3 with an AF-S 24-70mm 2.8 mounted on a tripod with ballhead (Gitzo GT3541LS with Really Right Stuff BH-55), using both the bubble on the tripod as well as Virtual Horizon in the camera, I get the camera leveled. Next I pan through the scene checking exposure values from one side to the next. In this case they were very close (within a half stop) so, I simply selected the desired aperture and left the camera in aperture priority. *If the range of light between frames is greater than a stop but within say 1 1/2 stops I will get the middle value, set my camera to manual and shoot all three frames the same. If the range is greater than a stop or two, I will set the camera to bracket and do an HDR of each frame, combine them using Photomatix and then make a pano in Photoshop CS5. I set the focus manually and overlap the frames giving Photoshop enough information to build a pano from the three frames…

I hold my hand in front of the lens before the first frame to let me know that I have done something that requires additional attention later in the digital darkroom. Then, moving from left to right, I shoot as many frames as needed to get everything I will want in the final image. After the last frame I hold my hand up again and click the shutter to let me know I’m at the end of my pano.

Later, in the digital darkroom, I processed the frames using Nikon Capture NX2 and simply saved the images as shot into tifs. With the three tif images open in Photoshop CS5, I select File> Automate> Photomerge and select the images that I want to stitch. I usually go with the default /auto setting, check Blend images together and click OK. Then I sit back and let Photoshop CS5 do all the heavy lifting of matching details and the exposure to make a seamless pano…

*notice the extreme warping…this is due to the fact that I used a moderately wide lens (34mm). If I had zoomed in more and turned the camera to vertical I would have avoided the distortion…something I filed away and now use my 70-200mm more often.

Next, I crop the file to the aspect ratio that includes everything I want in the frame…

A few finishing touches in Photoshop using NIK plug-ins (Tonal Contrast, Glamour Glow and Brilliance and Warmth) a selective darkening of the right side and a slight boost in overall exposure using Curves and I have the finished image…

It actually took me longer to write this blog than to make the images in the camera and blend them in Photoshop it’s that easy. In fact, when there is more light I will often do a hand held pano and still get a great image in the end.

Image created with Nikon D3X, AF-S 24-70mm on Lexar Digital Media.

Some Enchanted Evening

Or, a happy accident…whichever way you look at it ( I’m sticking with the Enchanted Evening) it’s a pretty cool image…

So, here’s how it came about…
We had just come back from a wonderful dinner with the judges and officials and said our good nights. I wandered up to my room and stepped out on the balcony and saw all the stars in the sky. Still filled with the need to click a few more shots before packing it up to head home I set up my camera on the balcony and set the interval timer to keep shooting until the battery ran out (54 images in all). I used the interval timer method to make the star trails. Over the course of the evening some clouds rolled through and the warm glow on the horizon is the city of Rockford, IL in the distance. When I took a quick glance at the rear lcd the next morning, I saw the clouds and thought it was a bust. It wasn’t until I was editing the images later that I saw the potential of the star trail with the clouds moving through and the light pollution reflecting in the pond (almost as I had composed it that way). It really was an enchanted evening as I climbed into bed filled with the joy of experiencing a new event, having my hard drives filled with great images, meeting new and interesting people and at the generous hospitality of my hosts…JoAnn & Ron. Thanks for an amazing experience!