The Best Headlamp for Photographers

April 9th, 2016

As many of you know, I’ve been doing night photography almost exclusively for the past year and a half.  This has entailed a lot of time, money and testing of lights to properly light my subjects and create the effect I want, but being out in the middle of the night also requires good lighting for hiking in the dark.  In the past 2 years I’ve tried 3 models of Black Diamond headlamps, 2 models of Petzl headlamps, and a variety of other types of lights. I recently discovered a headlamp that is a clear winner over all the others.

A few personal beliefs:  1)  Red lights for night work are over-rated.  They do, in fact, impact the digital image, and 2) they are just a really poor light.  3)  I believe 200 lumens is the minimum power for safe route-finding in the dark.

Meet the Nitecore HC 30, 1000 lumens coupled with the longest-lasting batteries currently available and the lightest headgear package.  This ingenious design has every desirable characteristic for photography:

  1.  Infinitely dimmable down to 1%!  The most difficult property to find in night photography lights is a source that will go dim enough for long exposures.
  2.  Incredible run time!  My old Black Diamond 200 lumen lamp lasted about 4.5 hours on one set of 4 AA batteries.  This often necessitated a new set of batteries each night.  I could never go more than 2 nights on a set.  The manufacturer-claimed run time on the HC 30 at 210 lumens is over 7 hours and 1 hour at 1000 lumens.  In my first test of it at 1000 lumens it ran nearly 2 hours.
  3.  Incredible engineering.  The glass and reflector are so precision engineered and manufactured that there is near-perfect light dispersion; there are no hot spots or “shadows”.
  4. Design:  The design of the attachment device to the headwear allows for quick, easy detachment in case you need it to be free-standing for lighting a subject.
  5. Price!  Priced below $80 makes this a steal.

The only negative I have with this lamp is it’s Kelvin tempertature.  At 6200-7000 Kelvin it’s far too white for direct use in night photography.  Since most of my night work is in the desert southwest, I find I can aim it at a rock source that will reflect light to where I want it and that will temper the Kelvin down to about 4000.  Problem solved.  A better fix would be if Nightcore would offer an optional glass lens that would produce a lower Kelvin light.

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The Entire NIK Software Collection is now available Free!

March 26th, 2016

Seriously!  No tricks.  I use NIK all the time.  It’s sharpeners, noise reduction and B&W conversions are the best in the industry.  Here is the download link:  http://www.mirrorlessrumors.com/the-full-nik-software-collection-is-now-available-for-free/

 

 

 

San Juan River 3 Day Float Trip and Photography Workshop!

March 14th, 2016
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The Bird Shaman Archaeoastronomy Panel

February 19th, 2016

This panel is in Anasazi Ridge near St. George, Utah.  It is a summer solstice marker.  The light castings come through a hole at the top of the cliff behind the rock panel.  The hole was clearly chiseled by humans.

At 8:37 AM on the summer solstice a spear of light appears in the left hand of the large bird shaman figure in the lower left:

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At 8:45 AM this spear disappears and re-appears in the left hand of the shaman figure immediately above. This spear of light then disappears:

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Twelve minutes later the spear of light re-appears in the right hand of the of the large bird shaman figure in the lower left. This spear disappears three minutes later:

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Next, a light form begins to appear in the bottom center of the rock and slowly grows to resemble a snake. The snake moves up the rock until it envelops the time spiral in the center of the rock. It then disappears and the sequence is finished at 9:35 AM:

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ISO Invariance

October 26th, 2015

I just read an article on ISO invariance.  This is a concept that applies primarily to Fuji and Nikon shooters.  It apparently doesn’t work on Sony or Canon units.

The concept is that if you shoot night scenes at a low ISO, say 100 or 200, and then bring up the exposure level in Photoshop, the results will be the same as if you had shot the image at, say, 1600 or 3200.  Why is this a benefit?  Because you can be selective about which areas you brighten.  Areas that don’t need much brightening will be much more noise free.  I’m looking forward to trying this out!

Here is a comparison of a Nikon to a Canon shot at high and low ISO:

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Here is a list of the results of many volunteers testing their own cameras:

Cameras that are ISO Invariant

  • Sony A7RII (Much better highlight detail from shooting at base and brightening later, but lose a a slight amount of shadow detail.  I might even dare say that noise is handled JUST A TINY TINY bit BETTER on the brightened picture than on the high-ISO shot.)
  • Fuji XT1 (This is my personal camera.  I switched from Nikon to Fuji.  It’s probably the most iso-less camera out of all those that I tested.)
  • Fuji X100
  • Fuji XE1
  • Nikon D810 (Relying on data from DPReview.  The Sony A7R uses the same sensor, so I would ASSUME that it is as well.)
  • Nikon D750 (Only did one test with this, but appears to be entirely ISO invariant.  Would like to test more)
  • Nikon D7100 (Tested only at base vs ISO 800, but the noise pattern is identical)
  • Nikon D5500 (I did not personally test this one.  Relying on data from DPReview)
  • Pentax K5 (At ISO 800 vs base ISO, you can’t tell any difference.  Very high ISOs not tested)

Cameras that are Somewhat ISO Invariant

  • Olympus OMD-EM1 (Tough call.  Detail and contrast are definitely lost when brightening in post, but noise appears to be reduced quite a bit on the brightened image.  I’d like to do more testing.)
  • Olympus OMD-EM5 II (Difference is indistinguishable when zoomed out, but when you zoom in, the higher ISO photo is VERY VERY slightly better in terms of noise and contrast.  The 40mp mode brings the contest even closer.)
  • Sony A7S (I was interested to see this one.  The noise pattern on the brightened image is close to the high ISO shot.  However, the brightened image lost a SURPRISING amount of contrast).
  • Sony Nex 7 (This one is really close to being ISO invariant.  The noise is about the same, but contrast is lost on the brightened image.  Very close to being ISO-less.)

Cameras that are NOT ISO Invariant

  • Canon 5D Mark III (Not even CLOSE!  Nick Page tested this one for us and it looks really bad when you shoot low and brighten later.)
  • Canon 6D (Not even close, and the camera did a horrible job of selecting the white balance in the under-exposed shot.)
  • Canon 70D and Canon 60D (Not too bad, but it’s still much better to shoot at the higher ISO.  Horrible white balance in the underexposed shot.)
  • Canon 7D (Not nearly as bad as the 5DIII, and you can’t tell the difference with the naked eye at ISO1600, but when you zoom in it’s obvious that the higher ISO shot is cleaner.  White balance not good in the underexposed photo.)

More Details on the 2016 Alaska Bears and Birds Photography Workshop

October 25th, 2015

Here is all the info on the June Alaska Bears ‘n Birds trip.

It’s 5 days, 4 nights, based at the Silver Salmon Lodge on the border of Lake Clark National Park (in the general vicinity of Kodiak Island). Participants need be in Anchorage ready to depart for the lodge via bush plane by 9:00 AM on June 10. We’ll arrive at the lodge around 10, get settled, orientation and head into the field before lunch at 1.

All meals and lodging are included; does not include tips for guides or staff, or for alchoholic beverages. Lodging will be bedrooms in the main lodge or private cabins. All cabins have bathrooms with running water and electricity; some have kitchens. Space for 4 people. They drive us around in ATVs with carts so six can fit in one cart.

Days are spent shooting before breakfast; breakfast is at 8, sunrise is about 4:30 a.m. – we usually meet at 6:30 based on regulations from the park to give the bears some time to have on their own without gawking tourists. Then back out to find bears before lunch at 1. Afternoon light gets bright so there is some downtime for editing, napping, instruction, relaxing, etc. Group heads back out between 3 & 4 until dinner at 7. Then back out to shoot after dinner until about 9 or 10 to catch that nice evening light. Sunset is about midnight. We depart for Anchorage on the 14th. Departure time depends on the tide schedule.

Other options for activities include boat ride to Duck/Puffin Island where I have seen puffins, common muerres, oyster catchers, sea otter, and lots of waterfalls on the boat ride. Fishing is popular if there are fish but we might be a little early for that. Relaxing on the deck is always popular. There is a short hike up to a lake.

Every time Dawn has been there it seems like there isn’t enough time to photograph the bears. This may feel different for a landscape photographer. She usually sees about a dozen bears at various times but it is a big place and can take some time to find where they are. In June we would see them mating, clamming, eating in the sedge meadows and maybe strutting their new cubs of the year. She has also seen eagles on the beach, and there are some beautiful scenics with Mt Iliamna and Mt Redoubt (volcanos).

The cost is $4900 per person. 50% non-refundable deposit required at time of registration. We suggest you consider purchasing trip insurance through Allianz. Deadline for registration is December 1.

Regarding Bird photography (from the NPS Lake Clark website): The wide variety of habitats found in the park allows for an abundance of bird species. One hundred and ninety species have been confirmed sighted in the area, and six others have unconfirmed sightings. The once endangered Peregrine falcon nests along the Tuxedni Bay coastline. The foothill/lakes region to the west of the Chigmit Range, and the Chulitna Flats adjacent to Lake Clark are important feeding and nesting grounds which host a varied array of migratory and native birds. Among the types of birds a visitor might see are waterfowl, shorebirds, raptors, falcons, owls, songbirds, grouse, and ptarmigan.

 

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A New Venue for the Annual Crested Butte Wildflower Photography Workshop!

October 25th, 2015

I’ll probably still call my late-July Colorado Wildflower workshop my Crested Butte Wildflower Photography Workshop, but beginning this year it will be held in Ouray, Colorado.  Crested Butte may have the title of the Wildflower Capital of Colorado, but that area doesn’t hold a candle to the high-altitude basins above Ouray.  We’ll be doing some serious four-wheeling to get to them, but the payback is huge.  Here are some images from the new locations:

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Lighting up the Milky Way in Arches National Park!

October 25th, 2015

I was back at Delicate Arch recently in Arches National Park.  After a session of night photography I took a moment to stand under the arch for this image.  Although it appears I’m using a headlamp I’m actually holding a fairly powerful spotlight next to my head.

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Tips for Night Photography

October 2nd, 2015

With my annual Moab to Cedar Mesa to Monument Valley night photography workshop coming up, here are some tips for my attendees (sold out).

TIPS FOR NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY

EQUIPMENT

  1. Camera: Not all cameras are great for night photography. I’ve had particular problems with the Canon Rebel T3i. If you have this camera you might want to consider renter a better, more recent model.
  2. Lens: You will want what is considered an ultra wide lens for most shots, something in the range of a 14-14. You may also want the next step up, something in the 24-70 range. What’s more important is the F rating of the lens. A lens in the f-1.4 – 2.8 range is best. Anything above a f4 is not suitable for night photography.
  3. Tripod: A rock-solid tripod is a necessity. If you’re using a tripod with a plastic head you may want to consider renting a better unit. If you are attending one of my workshops and think you may need a better tripod, check with me to see if I have a loaner available.
  4. Cable release or remote: A cable release or remote can help alleviate the issue of a not-so-rock-solid tripod.
  5. Filters: Remove and filters from you lens.

COMPOSITION

In night photography it’s fairly important to set a composition you like and stick with it throughout the shooting sequence of that particular location. This is because the biggest challenge in night photography is getting the focus properly set. Once the focus is set you can switch, say, from horizontal to vertical with no problem IF you can do so without touching/changing the zoom setting, but if you change the zoom setting you will need to reset the focus. If you are in the habit of frequently moving your tripod rather than adjusting the camera on the tripod head you will also have problems.

Setting the Focus: There are 2 methods of setting the focus:

  1. I will light a piece of the land-form that we are shooting. You will need to know how to move your camera’s focus point to focus on what I am lighting. With your camera on auto-focus, hold the shutter button half way down and let the camera auto-focus. Then, turn of the auto-focus. You are now ready to shoot.
  2. I often find it easier to manually focus. This is particularly easy on most Canon cameras because of their superior clarity of the LCD in low light situations.
  3. It’s important to check your focus after the first shot. Do this by using the LCD magnification button on the back of your camera. Blow the image up 2 to 4 clicks and make certain everything is in focus. If not, SPEAK UP and I’ll re-light the formation.

SETTINGS

Rule of 500: I will explain the Rule of 500 in the cause of general information so you will be knowledgeable about it, but please understand that I rarely use it.

This equation is used to determine the length of time of your exposure. It’s pretty simple:

500 divided by the Focal Length you are shooting at = Max exposure time.

If you’re shooting at 14mm, 500 divided by 14 = 36 seconds exposure

There are many if, ands and buts about this equation:

  1. It assumes an f2.8 lens at an ISO of 1600
  2. The results vary camera by camera, sensor by sensor.
  3. It’s widely stated, “Your camera may work better using 400, 450 or 600”.
  4. If your camera has a cropped sensor you will need to multiply the focal length that the lens is reading by your camera’s crop factor, either 1.5 or 1.6. So, a Nikon with a cropped sensor with an f2.8 lens set at 14mm, 14 x 1.5 = 19.6   500 divided by 19.6 = 25 seconds rather than 36 seconds.
  5. Even the quality/glass/brand of your lens can matter.

Still with me?

Now, let me tell you how I actually do it in the field. No matter what camera and lens you are using, start with these settings;

ISO 1600*     Manual Mode     30 seconds     Lens wide open (lowest f-stop number)

*Unless you have one of the very high-end cameras, say a Nikon D4s, you will need to become comfortable with a higher than normal level of noise and grain. You can correct for this with de-noise software, but at the expense of lost detail.

Start shooting at these settings and check your results. If the image is too dark you will need to go to a higher ISO. If it’s too bright you can go to a lower ISO to reduce noise/grain, or shorten the exposure to get more pin-point stars. It’s not practical to go to a longer exposure than 30 seconds. Thirty seconds is the longest you can go without getting noticeably ovaled stars.

A Caution: During the day we often have problems seeing the image on the LCD screen because the sun is so bright. The opposite problem happens with night shooting. The image on the LCD may look great, but when you load it into your computer it’s very dark, maybe even black. You will want the image on your screen at night to be very bright.

 

 

 

Night Photography in Monument Valley, Cedar Mesa and Moab

September 2nd, 2015

There is only 1 space left for the October 9-12 night photography workshop.  Come learn shooting methods and processing techniques for creating stunning images of desert southwest landscapes and night skies.  These workshops are scheduled to coincide with new moons to aid in optimizing images of the Milky Way.

We’ll start in Moab’s 2 national parks, Canyonlands and Arches shooting iconic and lesser known sites such as Delicate Arch and Double Arch.  Long past are the days of light painting as now I carry in an array of lighting equipment that produces warm steady light and eliminates the haphazard and inconsistent results that light painting produces.  The lights are staged to either eliminate shadows or create shadows that are quite different from images produced with light painting from the same position as the camera is shooting from.

After 2 nights in Moab we’ll move south to Cedar Mesa with its densest collection of Anasazi artifacts and ruins in the desert southwest.  On Cedar Mesa we’ll hike into ruins where I’ll stage lighting both inside and outside the dwellings to produce images with light coming from the windows and doors as if some is home!  The final night we’ll spend with Navajo guide Ray Begay in the Monument Valley back country shooting arches and formations not accessible to the public without special permits or Navajo Guides.

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