Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Night Sky - Test Shots

I love night photography, especially astrophotography. A goal I've had for a long while is to get a nice, clean shot of a dark sky (i.e. no moon) that shows off the Milky Way and also has a bit of landscape in the scene to give a visual sea level.

Two weekends ago, I was hunting in the Texas Hill Country in a location that has little light pollution. I took several shots one evening about 2 hours after sunset and about 30 minutes before moonrise (the moon was waning and about 90% full, so if I tried shooting after moonrise, the sky would have been too light).

click to see larger pic

Canon 5D + 24-70mm f/2.8L
30 sec., 24mm, f/2.8, ISO 1600 (and then pushed +1 stop in RAW processing)

And here are two more shots taken at about the same settings as stated above:

click to see larger pics

The greenish light on the trees is from a sodium vapor light on a nearby cabin. The light streak in the photo just above (left) is from a couple of guys on 4-wheelers passing by.

Getting a shot like this is difficult given the limitations of the equipment. Exposure times are limited to 15 to 30 seconds because the goal is to NOT have star trails. With a reasonably wide focal length (24mm in this case), star trails will just start to become noticeable around 25 - 30 seconds exposure time (actually, it depends on the final output of the photo; for web-sized images you could probably go 60 seconds, but my ultimate goal is a nice, largish print: 8x10 or even 11x17).

I shot wide open (f/2.8) at ISO 1600. I found that the resulting exposure is still a little too dark. I pushed the exposure +1 stop during RAW processing, but that increased the digital noise in the file to a point where it greatly degraded image quality. ISO 1600 looked pretty good, but ISO 3200 (effectively) did not. Post-processing noise reduction works well, but it also kills the fine detail (there's an amazing amount of tiny stars visible in the sky, and that's the fine detail I want to see in the final print).

The exposure that worked out best (providing the best-looking sky) from my series of test shots was this: 30 sec., ISO 3200, f/2.8. However, ISO 3200 is not really usable and 30 seconds is just a little too long (star trails).

So, I'm going to have to get a faster lens or a camera that is better at very high ISO :-)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Bastrop State Park

Two months ago, Jeff Kohn and I took a photography trip to Bastrop State Park. I had visited the park earlier this year with my family (see pics) and enjoyed shooting there, particularly in the bracken ferns. I really wanted to go back for more.

Jeff and I had been planning to get together for a serious photo outing for months, but you know how life gets busy and gets in the way of "hobbies" :-) In late September, we finally found a free weekend that didn't have excessive heat or hurricanes and made a one-day trip to the park.

click to enter gallery

I haven't seen any of Jeff's work from Bastrop yet. Maybe this post will get him movin' ;-)

Jeff doing his thing :-)

The weather was fairly nice during our trip. We hiked several miles and scouted around the park in the early afternoon. My heart sank when we arrived at the ferns and found them burned to a brown crisp. The drought conditions earlier in the summer had wiped out most of them. However, it did appear that they were making a comeback. A few bright green ferns stood proud above the crunchy forest floor.

Jeff and I made the best of it. It was good to get outdoors, talk photography, and shoot some. I certainly enjoyed it.

I got a chance to process my photos last weekend. I had shot several series of exposures attempting to capture some difficult backlit forest scenes. TuFuse worked extremely well and produced excellent results straight off. The first two photos in my photo gallery were TuFuse'd blends. I was fortunate that there was no breeze during the exposures and the trees remained perfectly still.

Those first two shots feature an oak tree beside a rock outcrop that Jeff and I became enamored with and photographed extensively. I'm looking forward to seeing his take on the scene.

I really enjoy seeing other people's work from group shoots. It's fascinating to see what different perspectives and ideas come from the same scene at the same time.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Great Photography Stuff Online

I thought I'd mention a few great photography related sites and give you an idea of what I read on an almost daily basis. Hope you can spend some time with some of this content. It's what inspires, teaches, and entertains me.

The Mindful Eye www.tmelive.com

Several years ago, Craig Tanner started the Radiant Vista. As of late last month, it's been split up amongst major Radiant Vista contributors, and Craig's baby is the new "The Mindful Eye" site.

Craig, along with the help of many different contributors, has produced (and will keep producing) damn fine photography content all for free at TME. Content such as the Daily Critique, shooting tutorials, Lightroom tutorials, etc. are there for free. It's like Radiant Vista on steroids.

Check out TME and spend some time with it. Join the community (forum) there and participate in discussions and photo sharing. It's a great place!

Mike's Journal: www.mikesjournal.com

I met Mike and his young son, Eric, last February at a Radiant Vista photography workshop in Death Valley. Mike brought along copies of his most recent journal at the time, and everyone in the workshop was greatly impressed. Mike's Journal features photography from Mike and sometimes also his son, Eric.

But it's not just straight photography. Mike, with the help of another one of his sons, takes the photos and manipulates them into a collection of dream-like art that flows page-to-page wonderfully. Mike writes brief comments and poetry to go along with the imagery, and the text is overlayed on the designs. Some of the photos are just straight photography, but most are transformed into beautiful designs, often with other bits of photos and graphic designs overlayed.

His journals are artisic, fascinating, intelligent, and just fabulous, unique works of art. You can't get that sort of content at your local mega-bookstore.

Check out his latest offering on journal No. 7, Faces of the Dominican. He's actually giving the first 250 copies away for free! I received mine yesterday and both my wife and I enjoyed it. It's "54 pages, poetry art and a short story".

My Blogroll: (see column of links to the right)

I've been collecting links to other people's photography blogs. These are blogs that I read (actually subscribe to via the Google reader) and enjoy. Some are quite different from each other, but the content is usually interesting, educational, and challenging. And that's what I enjoy these days - stuff that grates against my normal mode of thinking and gets my intellectual and creative juices flowing.

It's not a list of my photo buddies, although I personally know many of the blog owners. These are blogs that I feel offer quality content and are worth reading as often as new posts are made. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Updates 3 of 3 - Visions of Big Bend

And finally, I've updated my Visions of Big Bend photography project. I made some significant changes, such as creating new categories and deleting old ones within the main gallery. I've also updated the gallery with photos from my recent trip to the park.

click for project page

I used the new gallery format too. When you view each photo, the sub-gallery, or "series", will show up below in thumbnail size. This should make browsing easier. Enjoy!

Project-wise, I'm still very much into this photo project and will continue to shoot Big Bend National Park indefinitely. I have a planned week-long trip to the park about a year from now, and hopefully I'll get to make another trip next year sometime. So, updates to the project page will be a ways off, but please stay tuned!

Updates 2 of 3 - Main Photo Galleries

I've revised and updated the main photo galleries on my website. This is a change that I've been working on for almost two months now.

The three main galleries are simply portfolios based a general theme:
Nature & Wildlife
Human Element

I reduced the number of photos in each portfolio from about 30 to about 15. I think that approximately 15 photos are plenty enough for a portfolio to give the viewer a satisfying taste of a photographer's work and capabilities.

The theme of each portfolio represents the major aspects of my photography and the type of photographs I desire to make. I do shoot outside these themes of course, but my main focus falls into the natural world and people or elements of humankind in the natural world.

I've also updated the style and format of the single page views, i.e. the individual pages that display each photo in a large size. These pages will contain the full gallery in thumbnails at the bottom. So, when you view each photo, you'll get a sense of where the photo lies within the portfolio, and will be able to jump to a different photo without having to click back to the main index page.

Hope this looks good and works out for you viewers. Let me know! Thanks.

Updates 1 of 3 - Michael Allen

My main photographic pursuit lately has been our boys, of course. I'm a little behind in posting here, but I updated the boys' page with some new photos last week. Click the link below.

click for new pics

13 Months and Counting

The one year anniversary of my blog passed quietly last month. I would have posted more last month, but I've been a little more occupied than usual :-) (I'm really enjoying spending time with my boys.)

I've enjoyed blogging, and will continue to post here. I don't think I've attracted a huge group of readers, but that's okay. My blog helps me communicate with my family and friends my recent photo work and other important news. I think it serves its purpose quite well.

My wife has her own blog too that she started recently. She's not posted anything since before the baby arrived. Taking care of our boys definitely has occupied all of her time. But she definitely has some new stuff to say, I'm sure ;-)

When I started my blog, I posting just about anything. Several months ago, I steered it down a narrower path towards mostly content about photography. That's what I want right now - an outlet to display my photos and also to discuss photography. Oh, and the occasional beer review too ;-)

So, stick around. Post a comment if you'd like (it's the "..Response" link just below this). I'm looking forward to another year here!