Useful Tips : Photographing Fireworks and Getting a Result

Happy New Year everyone! This is going to be a quick post about photographing fireworks, and making the best of what you get. It also includes some tips for people who just want to go to bed early.

Tip #1 – Arrive early. In most places, there will be a lot of competition for places to view and photograph the fireworks. If the fireworks are starting “when it gets dark enough”, like the 4th of July in the USA, you want to arrive about 2-3 hours before dark and set up. If it is at midnight, like New Years Eve, you want to be in place at least 3 hours ahead of time, depending on how popular the spot is.

However, if you are photographing from a place you own or rent, you are fine. I like to use my apartment window because #1 – I can set up during the daylight, and #2 – January is cold, and I want to sip my champagne in peace.

Tip #2 – Fireworks are a big light source. This light will bounce around and can create reflections or illuminate things you don’t want seen. If you are shooting through a window, the fireworks can light up your room and cause reflections in the glass. Use a black cloth to eliminate this reflection as much as possible. I like to tape the cloth around the lens and to the glass, if possible. If you don’t have something that is black, use the darkest color available.

Tip #3 – Find your settings early. My go-to is iso200, F/8, 3 seconds. I like 3 second exposures.

Tip #4 – If you can leave your camera, use a self timer. I prefer to use the internal timer when possible (my D800 and D750 both have internal self timers). My older cameras do not. So I set the camera to iso200, F/8, 3 seconds, and set the self timer to start a 35 minute exposure starting at about 11:55 and ending around 12:30. The camera thinks the shutter is being held down and takes back-to-back 3 second exposures, and I get to enjoy the fireworks or sleep. In general, I like my self timers for purposes like this (they also work great with sunsets when you want to photograph them and watch them – this lets you enjoy the event with your significant other). Self timers are also great when you can set things up early, then enjoy some adult beverages which may otherwise prevent you from taking the images.

Tip #5 – If you are trying to take the lazy aproach, be prepared to work with what you get.

Expanding on Tip #5, 2 years ago I set everything up on a self timer, taped a dark cloth to the window, and went to bed. When I woke up, I had about 300 photos, only 100 of which had fireworks. But, the tape I was using didn’t hold, so the 100 fireworks images all looked like this.

Crap.

While it was disappointing, the right half of the image turned out, so there was hope. Since I knew that the D800 has a crazy high resolution, and I can make big prints from even a vertical crop of a horizontal image, I did just that.

This cropping was able to save my image

I like the results. Especially considering the non-ideal situation that caused these to be my only options. I am setting up one of my cameras for the fireworks this year to try to get something similar.

As I write this, there is about 9 hours remaining in the year. I’m going to spend the next few hours getting 3-4 cameras set up and ready, then probably sit down for a relaxing day. Once the cameras are set up, I’ll make a post on Instagram with what the setup looks like.

Happy New Year! And best of luck in 2017.

-Brad

Photographing the Grand Canyon – Matkatamiba Canyon

I was recently fortunate enough to be able to travel down the Colorado river and photograph the Grand Canyon.

One of the lunch stops on this trip was at Matkatamiba Canyon, which is at mile 148, just before the Matkatamiba Rapids. Our goal was to make it up to one of the waterfalls in the slot canyon and photograph it. Due to how this canyon winds around, it can support a lot of photographers at once at most locations.

Upon arrival, we found the entranceway had deeper water than there was in previous years.

This was not off to a good start. We had to cross a neck deep path with camera gear. While I may have been able to make it, some of the shorter members of the group would not, or at least their camera gear would not.

The solution was to use some of the folding tables as a bridge.

Some of the other people in the group decided to climb the rocks and make it over. Being taller, I took the option of holding my camera gear over my head and wading through the creek.

After passing through this creek, there were two waterfalls to climb. While this first one doesn’t look like much, the right side was extremely slippery, and, at least two people fell. One person managed to have their camera call into the water, but, it was an older Canon 1D series, so it was fine after it dried out a bit.

After this waterfall, there was a chest deep section, followed by a waist deep section, followed by another waterfall to climb. I do not have any pictures of this last waterfall, because there were a bunch of people trying to photograph it, and I wanted to get out of their frames as fast as possible.

At this last waterfall, the slot canyon narrows greatly. I was able to take a quick stop about 1/3rd of the way up to take this photo. There was a small pool here where I could take a small break from the climb.

I was now at a point where only a handful of people would try to venture. Once I got to the top of the stream, I took a look around the corner.

This looked quite nice, and very well could have been my shot. I decided to set up and take a few shots while deciding how much further I wanted to go.

As I was debating whether to continue up or turn back, some other members of my group showed up. One of them climbed up and let us know we were about as far as you could go. I decided if I was almost there, I might as well go to the top. So I did.

About the time I got to the top, a few people were ready to leave. The guides then showed up, having taken a goat trail to get there. They helped a few members of my group get out and head up the trail. A few members of my group decided to start to venture back down the creek. I then had it all to myself.

Since I had all of my camera gear, and a great little spot all to myself, I decided not to waste it, and, carefully set up my camera. At the bottom of the area, there is place to put bags down and keep them mostly dry. Here, there was no such spot.

The pink duct tape on the camera serves a few purposes. #1 – Identification – by the first day, everyone knew that Pink Duct Tape was mine. #2 – Dust Protection – the Grand Canyon has very fine dust that gets everywhere. The duct tape helped keep this dust out of the sensitive parts of the camera. #3 – Pink = Professional. My other camera was marked with Star Wars Duct Tape, so I could tell them apart at a distance.

And here, after all of that story, is the final image. It only took about an hour in Photoshop to get to this point.

Matkatamiba Top

The top of Matkatamiba

Until next time
-Brad

Experiments with Time : Seattle Timelapse, What I Learned

Hello Everyone.

This past weekend, I came up with an idea for an experiment with time.  I was sitting in my apartment, watching storms pass by, thinking to myself “it would be really neat to make a timelapse of these passing storms”.  But the storms came and went over two days.  So I began to think about how you could actually capture something that lasts that long.

After thinking about it for a day, I came up with an idea – a full 24 hour timelapse.  Somehow, I would have a camera take photos for 24 hours.

My first thought was to have 24 hours in 24 seconds.  Since I live in the USA and we use 30 frames per second on our TVs, shrinking 60 minutes to 30 frames means 1 frame every 2 minutes.  After thinking about this longer, I decided this was a lot of work for under 30 seconds of video, so I decided to go with 40 frames per hour, or 1 every 90 seconds.  This works out to 960 photos in 24 hours.  I ended up going with 1000 photos over 25 hours as a ‘just in case’ precaution.

After more thoughts, I decided to go from midnight to midnight.

So, with a concept created, I got ready.  I cleared out my memory cards, set up my tripod in my windows, then set up the camera.  I decided to use my D750 because my D800 is testing out a new tripod, and my 24-70 f/2.8 lens.  My initial thoughts were that the D750 would be better because the low light capabilities are better (turned out this didn’t matter) and because the files are smaller (this DID make my life easier).

For the camera setup, I had to shoot through a window.  So, I added my C-PL to the front of the lens to eliminate as much of a reflection as possible, then used masking tape to hold a dark blue hand towel to the window to prevent as much reflections as possible.  The towel was taped to the window, camera, and tripod.  Because I would be asleep and unable to make changes, I selected f/9 and iso400 in Aperture priority mode.  The D750 has a min shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second and a max shutter speed of 30 seconds.  Back of the napkin math said this would probably be fine.  For the metering point, I picked the only white object in the scene — the Space Needle.  This would also allow the auto white balance to correctly handle the transition from night to day.

And so, on March 7th, 2016, I set up my camera with a timer set to start at midnight, and went to bed.

I woke up at around 7:15 and checked the camera.  Oops, battery is running low, glad I looked.  One more battery change at 6pm was required.  The last battery charge lasted from 6pm to 1am and still had about 40% remaining in the morning.

I am very happy with the results of this test.  Due to a limitation of iMovie, each image ended up lasting 0.13 seconds in the final result, and each hour is around 5.3 seconds.

The first mistake I realized I made was when I first looked at the images.  I always shoot in RAW format.  But now, I needed to convert the images to JPEG.  The conversion took 6 hours.  Next time, I’ll either shoot in RAW+JPEG or JPEG only.  The reason I would use RAW+JPEG is because there is a chance some of the images are good enough to become standalone images.

The next change I would make for the next attempt is to have more images.  I find the resulting video to be quite nice, but, I wish it was longer.  I would probably change to 1 image every 60 seconds and potentially try to go for 2 days.  But, this would require more battery changes, potentially 3 overnight, and probably an external power supply.  There is also less time to change a battery during the night, when the exposures can get to 20 or more seconds.  During the day, when the exposures were 1/400th of a second, there is a lot of extra time for a battery swap.

The final change would be in the framing of the image.  I made the mistake of handling the framing after dark on viewfinder that doesn’t cover 100% of the image.

I would also like to make the resulting video better and more professional.  Right now, this is a rough draft video that was produced quickly to see how well it turned out.  Now that I know how it turned out, I’ll spend some more time on the video, which is something I am not very good at.  Because I started with 24 MPix files, I could finalize the video at 4K, but likely will keep it at HD only.

While I certainly wish I could get lucky and predict when a fantastic sunset will happen (as I look out my window tonight, the sunset is nicer than when I ran the test), this is one of those ‘luck’ things, which is difficult to predict 1-2 days in advance.

-M

Cannon Beach, Oregon, at Sunset

For this post, I would like to talk about how I created a photo from Cannon Beach, Oregon, last year.

Before I left on this trip, I read about a new technique that can create interesting patterns in the sky when you stack a series of photos taken about 5-10 seconds apart with fast moving clouds.  (The technique is described on PetaPixel, among other places, and it tend to resurface as a ‘new’ idea every few years)

I wanted to try it.  But the clouds were not moving very quickly and the sun was setting very quickly.

So I thought, since I was on a beach, why not try the same concept, but with waves.  Either way, it was too late to move to a new spot, so my choices were to work with what I had or give up and ensure I walked away with nothing.

I set up my camera and took a series several series of photos.  One particular group of about 20 photos is what I would like to discuss in this post.  Of this group of 20 photos, this was the first:

_DS84282

First Photo!

 

Ok, not too bad.  There’s a lot I really like about this photo, especially in the color of the sky and the sea stacks in shadow.

I opened up the series of photos in Photoshop and stacked them on top of each other with Darken as the blend mode.  Darken, like Lighten, are really nice for working with this kind of scene.  In the earlier part of this post I linked to an article which talked about using ‘Lighten’ as your blend mode for clouds.  I have found that Lighten works best for lighter objects, and Darken works best for darker objects.  This is all subjective and mostly about what you like best or what just works best for you.

However, 20 photos was a bit too many.  So I turned layers on and off until only about 6 remained.  These 6 felt right, so I performed a merge visible on all but the bottom layer and set this new layer to ‘darken’.

_DS84282-Edit2_in_progress

Oops, I left a little too much of the transparency on. That just won’t work right.  (See the Sun for what I mean)

_DS84282-Edit2_in_progress2

Ahh better.  I’ve masked out the area where the sun sits in the image.  This means that the bottom layer’s sun is now showing through.

What is left do do on this photo?  2 major things.  In Photoshop, I want to create a mask for the Oranges.  I feel like this color is just not where I want it to be.  So I’ll create a quick mask and adjust the Hue to make it a little more orange, and also underexpose the area a little to bring the brightness down.

Next, I’ll do the opposite for the waves.  I feel like they need to be made brighter, as well as have their colors saturated a bit more.

Finish it all up with a sharpening layer and we have:

_DS84282-Edit

After this image had been published, I noticed that the orange in the waves that I so liked was actually due to me forgetting to turn off the transparency of the layer.  Once that was turned down, we get:

_DS84282-Edit2

Now we are nearly at our completed image.  I am really liking where this image is going.

There is still an issue with this image that I would like to correct.  Do you see the area between the sea and the sky?  There is a small color halo.  This is an easy fix.  We create a new Darken layer and using the paintbrush tool, we sample a nearby color and paint our way across the image.  The result is a subtle change, but, it eliminates the annoying halo.

_DS84282-Edit2-2

And there it is, the finished image.  By stacking images, we can make a relatively calm ocean look like a much more active ocean.

-M

Photographing Hummingbirds in the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Costa Rica

Hello everyone.  Today, I’m going to write about photographing hummingbirds in Costa Rica.

About a year ago, I had the opportunity to take a work trip to Central America to help bring our San Jose team up to speed.  I extended my trip by a few days so I would have some time to see parts of the country.

One of the places I was able to visit was the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which is about 2 hours outside of San Jose.  Among other things at this location is a Hummingbird Garden.  This only the second time I’ve had the opportunity to photograph hummingbirds.

Lots of Hummingbird Pictures

Screenshot of my Lightroom Catalog of the Hummingbird Gardens

These birds move quickly, much quicker than my autofocus was happy with.

Sometimes, I’d catch one just about right.

Hey, I got one!

Hyperactive bird drinking a sugar mix

Although the background is really uninteresting.

However, I would frequently end up with the birds out of focus.

Why yes, I was trying to get the feeder in focus and the bird out of focus

Sometimes, the birds would move out of frame giving me a fantastic photo of the feeder.

Invisible Hummingbirds

A picture of a feeder with invisible Hummingbirds

I even ended up with a silhouette.  I still like this photo, even if it is not my favorite from the day.

Eventually, my luck began to change and I started getting photos with birds that were both in focus and out of the shadows.

2 Hummingbirds at a Feeder

This one came out nice

This photo in particular was just sitting on my drive.  I didn’t realize I had it until I started to prepare photos for this post.

I also caught this colorful fellow.

Purple Hummingbird

Purple Hummingbird

Then, I managed to capture my favorite.

My favorite photo from the day

My favorite photo from the day

This one is really nice.  It has 3 birds, but the 2 on the left are looking at each other.  One of them is a bit out of focus, but that’s fine, you can tell what it is.  The one bird is in perfect focus.  This was a really lucky shot.

Now that I have my favorite, it is time to start to work on it.  I shoot my photos in RAW, which means capturing the photo is really only the beginning.  Generally, there’s at least 30 more minutes of work behind every photo that gets shared.

For this photo, I decided that the best part was on the left, and I decided to crop it to a vertical.

After cropping, it was time to get the colors balanced the way I wanted, turn up the saturation, and balance the brightness to my liking.

The result is this:

La Paz Hummingbirds

Final version of Hummingbirds Picture

And there it is, my finalized version of the photo.  I did turn up the saturation a little.  This was an item I debated for a while, but in the end, I’m happy with how it turned out.

-M

Photographing around Finland – Ahvenlampi

During my summer trip to Finland, I decided to spend my last full day driving around Lapland.

I started the day in Rovaniemi and ended up driving north to Ivalo, which is about an hour from the border with Norway.  It was more driving than I had intended, but, the scenery was just so nice I kept going and lost track of time.  The sun also did not set during my time in Lapland, which made me completely lose track of time.

On my drive back, I took a detour and went east across the middle of Lapland.

I ran across this fantastic hill area in the middle of the country which had a very still lake named Ahvenlampi.  It is near Pyha-Lustro National Park.

Ahvenlampi.  Not pictured:  swarms of mosquitoes.

I absolutely love when you have still lakes with perfect reflections.  What I didn’t love was all of the mosquitoes that were everywhere.

The light on this particular day was strange.  I was forced to shoot this photo at iso1000 in order to get the shutter speed fast enough to avoid shake and maintain the Depth of Field I wanted (f/7.1).  Thankfully the D800 has really good high iso performance, and I knew this already from a previous trip (this goes back to my previous post on always testing out your gear in a known environment before a trip).

The lens I was using, the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8, does not have VR.

In retrospect, I should have used a tripod.

No matter, the photo turned out exactly as I’d hoped.  I may end up making a black and white version of this photo at some point.  Right now, I have what is essentially a green and white photo.  A friend of mine would tell me that what I have here is already a black and white, I just haven’t realized it yet.  This is probably true, but I think the green adds something and while a black and white version will likely be quite nice, it will be nice in a different way.  Perhaps it will be a topic for a future post :).

-M