Exploring Night Photography Lesson 5: Photo Processing

Published:  May 4, 2016
Last Update: None yet

Homework assignment: Star Trails. This was created using StarStax with 150 exposures of ISO 800, f/4, 15 seconds.

Homework assignment: Star Trails. This was created using StarStax with 270 exposures of ISO 800, f/4, 15 seconds. What are those things where the arrows are pointing, and what is the circled constellation?

Last week in lesson 4 the subject was star trails. We continue that theme this week and fill in with some material that you may have learned the hard way.

What settings?

Last week’s assignment was:

  • Weather Permitting, get at least 20 minutes worth of star trails. First determine what the best starting exposure is, then take 20 minutes worth.

I chose to take about 270, 15-second exposures at f/4, ISO 800 for my star trails using an intervalometer trick that I demonstrated in class. That nets over an hours worth of exposures. But how did I come up with those settings?  It was a little bit experience, and a little bit application of the principle taught in the very first homework: namely try and see!  But how did I decide what evening I would try to get star trails?  The weather needed to be right, so the germaine question is:

When will the weather be right for star trails?

Well, we strongly recommend weather.gov. See our article about how to use the information. Indeed, we like it so much, we even created a page with forecasts for places we often find ourselves going.

Weather, check. Settings, check. Now what?

Wait, what about the moon? We need to know when it rises and sets. A full moon washes out a lot of the night sky and makes for unpleasant star trails.  There are many places to determine what the moon situation is like, but I like to use The Photographer’s Ephemeris (either the App, or the online version).

Next we need to review the Stacker’s Checklist both to be sure we have all the gear and that we know what we are doing. Best is to run through it at home. Is it surprising that there are SO MANY steps? Sorry, but they are there to prevent you from making all the mistakes we’ve made.

In class we reviewed our homework (star trails) from the last assignment and discussed hits and misses.  Finally we got to the meat:

Photo Processing

It would be foolish to attempt to describe everything we did in class… especially since we have so many articles here describing how to photo process your shots (and webinars and recordings, too – oh my!)

But we demonstrated three things:

  1. Super simple Panorama creation using “Image Composite Editor” from Microsoft. Yep. You have to have a Windows machine to use it… but it’s free and SUPER simple and more effective than anything we’ve managed to get out of Photoshop or Lightroom.
  2. What Lightroom is good for… cataloging your images. And what it’s NOT good for: complex multi-image editing – for example star trails and image combinations.
  3. The three most powerful and useful elements of Photoshop:
    1.  Layers – This is the real meat of Photoshop together with blend modes which mathematically combine layers.
    2.  Masks – Masks allow you to change the way layers and adjustments get combined by “masking” out some of the changes.
    3.  Adjustments:  Curves – Curves are the best tool to learn since nearly everything you can do with the other tools can be done with curves… and if you get the hang of it, curves are actually easier to understand.

We also demonstrated Adobe Bridge which is a “lighter weight” version of Lightroom – one that doesn’t require any importing. And we spilled the beans that “Adobe Camera Raw” is the guts of Lightroom. And that Lightroom adjustments are really just like what you can do in Photoshop… with some of the magic, and much of the versatility – and also much of the complexity removed.

We also explained why RAW is the way to go, and why RAW is ugly (short reason: the camera does not see the way we do it just records heaps of numbers).

We did not do this in class, but we covered much of the ground:

12 Minute Star Trail using Advanced Stacker PLUS version14D from Steven Christenson on Vimeo.

 

Top Six Questions We Answered About Lightroom

  1.  If I use Lightroom to catalog and organize my images (keywords, etc) am I forever wedded to Lightroom?
    Practically, yes. We used to use Picasa and did our organizing and cataloging there…. unfortunately Picasa was discontinued and Lightroom had no way to import the data. If you stop paying for your Lightroom Cloud edition, you may be stuck as we do not know of a tool that can digest your Lightroom catalog.  SOLUTION: BUY Lightroom, don’t just subscribe. This is not so true about Photoshop, by the way, many tools can import Photoshop files.
  2. Is there anything particularly painful about Lightroom I should beware of?
    Yes. Lots! When your image library gets large, managing images is unwieldy, especially if you want to use multiple computers and multiple storage devices to hold those images.
  3. Is Lightroom good for Night Photography images?  Not particularly. Most of the power of manipulating night images is found in Photoshop (averaging, stacking, compositing). Photoshop can not composite images, for example.
  4. Is Lightroom hard to use? Yes. No. Maybe. We think it is powerful and much easier to use than Photoshop. But there is still lots of learning and ample room to do the wrong thing.
  5. Should I import everything I shoot?
    Yes… and No. The smaller the image library the easier it is to keep organized. Of course if you delete the very images you later want you will have paid a price for your anti-hoarding behavior.  We do believe it is reasonable to throw away .JPGs if you are keeping the RAW files. And those fringe images that you are likely to never use – well you are likely to never need them.
  6. Can I do everything in Photoshop that I can in Lightroom?  Yes, mostly. Photoshop has no image organization tools, but yes, you can make all the adjustments in Photoshop that you can do in Lightroom… only it will be harder to do and may be harder to apply to multiple images at once.

What Are the Top 4 Things to Know About Photoshop?

  1.  Photoshop is the lingua franca of photo editors. Nearly every other tool does not come close in the level of acceptance and use… but that does not mean Photoshop is the best tool. Remember how VHS beat Beta? These days video tape is hardly even used!  Photoshop has been around a long time and has a LOT of baggage. Photoshop is built to do a lot of things way beyond photo editing (scientific analysis, animation, typography to name a few). Because Photoshop has been around so long, the tooling is unnatural .  We started with Paint Shop Pro and found it much, much less confusing.
  2.  Is there an alternative to Photoshop?
    Yes, there is the free Gimp, and many others. Unfortunately as we have noted above, those tools are not as widely used so getting help with them is harder.
  3.  Do you have any suggestions on what I should learn first?
    Why yes, thanks for asking. We have a series of articles on that:  We call the series “The Most Used Image Editing Techniques” and it comes in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.  The one we used the most is the “Simple Astrophotography” Trick to reduce noise.  We also like this trick to select a foreground (it’s used in the video above) and use it a lot.

Homework Assignment

  •  Fire up Photoshop and try to duplicate this image:
Final image with replaced foreground

Final image with replaced foreground

Super big hint… all the file you need and the process to accomplish the task is described in this article: Foreground-o-Matic.

  • Use the same technique on your own image(s) to pick a more interesting foreground image from a “stack” (sequence) of images.

Feel free to comment below if you know the answers to the questions we asked in the first image above. We will reveal the answers in the next article.

Exploring Night Photography 4 – Stars and Star Trails

Published: April 27, 2016
Last Update: None Yet.

 

Listening to the Sky II [B_025555-714c]

Last week, in Lesson 3, we managed to get through all the creative example slides in a marathon overly long meeting.  We also talked about what makes a better camera and lens for night photography – and why “full frame” cameras are better at squelching noise than crop cameras – megapixels being equal. The bottom line is that larger sensors usually have larger sensor area to collect light. The larger area collecting light makes larger sensors produce less noise in comparison to the total light collected. A related, whimsical illustration can be found here.  Yes, rather technical, but some of our students want to know!

Inclement weather means we are stuck to an indoor session, but our photos need processing! We are took a second look at focusing tricks since it is a recurring issue. Indeed, we have covered focus in not one, but two prior articles which we reference here.  One method for focus is the Bahtinov mask. The Bahtinov mask is aimed at astrophotographers, but it works well with a regular camera, too. Our more normal list of focus tricks can be found in this article.

Like many other night photography subjects, we have done extensive writing about creating star trails. It is no wonder then that we are called “StarCircleAcademy”. Rather than try to summarize many years worth of writing it seems wisest to point you to the articles where different star trail discussions have been chronicled.

It all starts Here – A treatise on taking star and star trail shots. After that…

  1. How to combine multiple shots into a star trail is here in this step by step guide.
  2. How do you get a better star trail?  Try this.
  3. Want to do fancy stuff? Try these tricks, or our AdvancedStackerPlus (Photoshop plugin).
  4. Is there more, why of course… but we notice your head is spinning, so we will let it rest for a while.  😉

Last Week’s Homework

  1. Use the light you were given in class to write a message or draw an image in light.
    XNP_3_Marcie XNP_3_tracie XNP_3_Tricia
  2. The moon is full, if you didn’t work out settings for capturing the moon. Something on the order of 1/1000, f/5.6, ISO 4000; or 1/500, f/4.5, ISO 800; or f/9, 1/200s, ISO 400 (latter is best overall as lower ISO means less noise).
  3. Find a way to make a strong white flashlight a different color… several methods were demonstrated in class. Simple examples: colored cellophane (bread wrapper, etc), bounce light off of or shine through colored paper, or even use your hand as a reflector / light bouncer.
  4. Blue “white” LED flashlight can be made warmer using your hand or something in the yellowish range – see above.
  5. Gaffers Tape can be used for all sorts of things, stopping light leaks through the viewfinder (Nikons are notorious for this), making a “snoot” for a light, covering over offendingly bright lights… and even holding stuff together.

This Week’s Assignment

  • Weather Permitting, get at least 20 minutes worth of star trails.  First determine what the best starting exposure is, then take 20 minutes worth.  More is better, though for the reasons we demonstrated in class.
  • Get StarStax or AdvancedStackerPlus for Photoshop and combine those trails. Or do it by hand in Photoshop.

NOTE: If the stars refuse to shine for you, that doesn’t mean you have to do a “star trail”. You can use the same trick to “expand time” nearly any kind of shot.  Like this daylight sunset shot, for example:

Space Time ContinuumThis is not a star trail, but it was a sequence of shots combined using the same trick. You could even, for example, do a series of light painting.

Exploring Night Photography: Lesson 3 – Gear

Two weeks ago in class we covered basics (what is a photograph, using manual settings) Last week we learned a bit about noise, and its primary causes – temperature being the principle problem. And we explored different creative directions under the umbrella of night photography. We also got outside under a half-full moon (first quarter) and shot on campus. And learned a little about the night sky.

This view is southwest. From left to right are Canis Major, Orion and Taurus. The moon is off the top edge.

This view is southwest. From left to right are Canis Major, Orion and Taurus. The moon is off the top edge. The glow in the lower right corner is the glow bracelet on one of the student’s tripods. The sky remains blue due to the moonlight. Settings for this shot are ISO 800, f/2.8, 10 seconds, 20 mm on Canon 5D II.

Now it is time to talk about gear. Fortunately we already wrote a nicely detailed article about gear. Take a look here. We even updated it recently.

Too busy to read the details? That’s a shame, but here is the super quick summary in order of importance:

  1. GOOD tripod.
  2. Night photography friendly lens (wide angle recommended)
  3. Decent camera body with an optical viewfinder. Full frame preferred, but not necessary.
  4. Layered clothing and good shoes, including lightweight gloves (G) – and heavy gloves in cold season.
  5. Sturdy camera bag
  6. Extra batteries and memory cards
  7. An intervalometer (1), and extra batteries (2)
  8. Headlamp (B) and flashlight assortment (C, 3, 6)
  9. Other needful things: clear shower cap (A), lens cloth, hand cloth.

What About Other “Gear”?

MiscGear
Here is what is usually in our bag besides the camera gear.

  • (H) Glow bracelet/stick to mark the camera location (we have just started experimenting with other methods, too, like the LED band (4).
  • Hand warmers (F and 5) and rubber bands (G) for dealing with dew formation
  • Creative lights – bulbs, keychain lights,  and cord (3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9)  Item 7 is a green laser pointer.
  • Insect Repellant  (E)
  • Gaffers Tape – flat black duct tape (L). We don’t take a whole roll though!
  • A smart app that shows the positions of the stars, planets, and bright satellites. Also helps if it shows meteor showers.
  • A smart app that shows the location(s) of sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset.
  • A game or two on the smart phone to pass time.
  • An external battery to keep our smart phone juiced (5) and the appropriate matching cord.

Before We Leave We Also Use the Following

  • A star map (planisphere). On our desktop, we favor Stellarium, but it is a little geeky to use well. On iOS we like Sky Safari, Star Map.
  • Weather prognostication tool
  • Sunrise/set Moonrise/set predictions.

 

Last Week’s Homework

We asked you to pick a creative direction. Here are some shots our students took including “semi transparent” you, moving lights.

XNP_Alex_assignmentsTop: f/4 1/30, 500 ISO, 20mm; Lower photo: f/4,  1/4, 1600 ISO,  20mm. Bottom was from moving the camera body

 

XNP_Tracie_Assignment

XNP_Troy_assignment

 

This Week’s Homework

  1. Use the light you were given in class to write a message or draw an image in light.
  2. The moon is full, if you didn’t work out settings for capturing the moon. Now is another chance. If you did work out the settings, compare them to your last shot when the moon was half-full. Notice anything?
  3. Find a way to make a strong white flashlight a different color. Use the colored light to illuminate your foreground. Your light may have to be really bright to compete with moonlight.
  4. If you are using a “white” LED flashlight, you’ll notice it is significantly cold (blue). Can you think of a way to make it a warmer color?
  5. Is there any “Other Gear” listed above that intrigues you? E.g. what can you use Gaffers Tape for?

Next… Lesson 4.

Exploring Night Photography – Lesson 2

Published: Apr 13, 2016

Last week we covered the beginnings: what is a photograph, manual mode, self timer, and did some experiments. This week we delve into different disciplines of night photography – creative ideas and look at the settings used.

Before we do that, let’s answer those questions we asked:

  1. Mastering the basics: The three components of an exposure are  APERTURE (f/stop),  ISO (sensitivity), and  SPEED (exposure length)
  2. To get a good exposure if you change the (a) APERTURE you must change the (b) ISO or (c) SPEED.
  3. What does “1 stop” (up/down) mean?
    One stop up means twice the exposure length or twice the ISO, or one f/stop larger aperture.
  4. How can you judge the “quality” of a photo without looking at the photo? (This is not a trick question!)
    The histogram! Hopefully you used that when doing your experiments/homework from last week.

 

This week is nearly identical to our free Night Photography 101 webinar. Unfortunately the slideshow doesn’t include settings, but many of the photos do if you click them.  Students will be getting a PDF file that DOES have the exposure information in it.

Creative Ideas

Exposure Tips

  • Use that histogram Display!
  • Do not be afraid to experiment – and even bracket shots like you might in daytime.

Last Week’s Homework

About last week’s homework: If you tried to get a shot showing both the MOON with details and STARS… you failed. With the current cameras, the dynamic range between all but the brightest stars and the dimmest moon is just TOO great to have both except when the moon is eclipsed.

This Week’s Homework

  1.  Check your camera manual and find out how to turn on over exposure (and under exposure) indicators. Canon and Nikon call this a “Highlight Alert” or similar.
  2.  Take a photo that includes stars and force the exposure to “clip” (over expose) the stars but *not* most of the sky.  (Hint adjust the ISO and exposure time to accomplish this task).
  3.  Pick a creative direction illustrated by the photographs above and give it a try. If weather does not work out for you, the simplest creative experiment to try is to point the camera at lights and move the camera while taking an exposure… like this, for example:Leaving on a Jet Plane
    This was accomplished by shooting through a plane window as it was landing. No plane handy? Try this instead.
  4. See if you can work out how to make yourself semi transparent. You may or may not need help.  Hint: You will probably need to use your flash and will need to have not completely dark surroundings.
    Transparent Steven 5285

Next up… Lesson 3.