Today Kaleb hits the ten month old mark. Woohoo!!!
A few months back, a professional decorator from Belgium requested permission to use one of my images for a project he was working on. He stated his client fell in love with it, and that they needed a high resolution copy. After exchanging emails a few times, I supplied the image.
Weeks went by, just enough time for the exchange to be forgotten when all of a sudden I saw his name, and a few attachments show up in my inbox. When I viewed the quick shots he took with his phone, I was floored. Well, rather than go on yapping about it, see for yourself.
Thank you Tom Van Honste for your gracious friendship, and support.
I think it’s kind of funny how we count the age of an infant in days, weeks, and months. Perhaps we use a different standard because they bring so much to our lives, and the changes they go through as they grow are noticeable almost to the hour. What ever the reason, here I am, counting Kaleb’s fourth month.
This image epitomizes an evening with Kaleb, where he has exhausted mom to the point of passing out while he lay wide awake. While they were quietly relaxing on the bed, I naturally couldn’t resist playing with his ABC blocks and setting up a quick shot. I really wanted to spell out ‘mommy’ but I was short one M, and the W looked out of place upside down. I had to act fast because each firing of the flash startled Kaleb, making him flinch. Fortunately he’s starting to get used to the flash, and the camera. Yup, he’s a ham already…
It takes a lot for an Android photo editing app to grab my attention for longer than a few seconds. Mainly because they don’t have a feature set that is very friendly, or because the presets are static and boring.
Pixlr Express is the exception. While exploring the presets, I was delighted to find you can fade the opacity of the effects, similar to using layers in photoshop. It even has undo and redo buttons for those instances where you were too quick to hit the apply button.
The image above was chosen from my phone gallery, I wanted to add some texture to it to spice it up a bit.
If all you want is to make standard tonal adjustments, you’ll find the tools snappy and responsive, even my dying first generation DroidX is able to handle these tasks.
When it comes to using overlays though, my poor phone hit the brakes hard, and as it struggled with the more advanced tools the back of the phone started heating up a bit. Despite that beating my phone took, it kept chugging along like the little engine that could.
If you like manipulating images and all you have is your smart phone, this is definitely the app for you. Watch out though, before you know it, time will slip past you and you’ll find yourself late for work, or worse…in the dog house for not getting those troublesome chores done.
Downtown San Diego Skyline
Every so often my curiosity pokes at me until I have do something about it. The other day I was in one of those moods. The singular thought of creating an HDR panorama kept rising to the top. I’ve made panoramas (but only a handful) and I’m no stranger to HDRs, so why not combining the two. I have seen other photo artists use this technique with stunning results. I even read a couple of how-to articles some time ago, but all that my mind retained were some fuzzy concepts. In essence, I was going to wing it, which happens to be the funnest aspect of photography for me. Where to achieve this goal was easily decided.
The view across the bay from Coronado Island offers a beautiful array of the skyscrapers in San Diego, and the reflections off the water make the view perfect for a romantic evening on the beach. A twenty-five minute drive makes Coronado very accessible too.
The sky was looking a bit on the blah side, a blanket of low clouds with very little definition glowed orange from the lights of the city. I figured once I arrived and got everything set up, the sky would change.
Setting up the tripod turned out to be a tedious experience. The legs were jammed up with dried sea salt and sand from the last trip to the beach, making it a chore to just extend the legs. Once that was done, making sure it was level in the dark on a slope was yet another trick, even with the build in bubble levels.
Having your tripod head completely level is an absolute must, if it is off, you may have a horizon that dips, curves, or slopes, an issue that will cause your head to explode if your software cannot rectify it.
Everything was locked down so it was time to mounted the camera, and take some preliminary test shots. For me, this serves a couple of functions. I can check the histogram to check and adjust my exposures, and I can also make any tweaks to the over all composition before I get to the real shooting. When shooting night scenes such as this, the high part of the histogram should be about a third to half way on the left side of the graph for a correct exposure.
Final Camera Settings
The camera settings used are detailed below:
- ISO – 400
- Focal length – 17mm
- Aperature – f11
- Shutter speed brackets – 2.5, 5, and 10 seconds per frame
- Number of frames – 5
When it was time to post process my collection of bracketed images, I tried two different techniques. The first method was to stitched the five frames together for each exposure set, and then process the exposures as an HDR image. The stitching process went fine, however I hit a stumbling block when I got the combining the images. HDR Efex reported that at least two of the images had different dimensions, and closed when confirming the message.
I then tried using Photoshop to process the images, and still no luck, I got a similar error. I think what happened was Photoshop stitched blended each exposure set with slight variations. Being the stubborn sort I am, I tried resizing the images to matching dimensions and viola, HDR Efex was happy, but I was not. The resulting tone mapped image was blurry, because the pixels didn’t line up correctly. It was time to abandon the stitch first method.
The second technique was to process each exposure frame set into an HDR image. This meant creating 5 HDRs that would later be stitched. So I imported the middle frame (because it had the brightest areas) into HDR Efex, and worked off the Default preset.
I made only global adjustments at this stage. Local adjustments would be made after stitching. When I was satisfied with the results, I saved the settings as a preset, and applied the peset to the remaining exposure sets.
The results after stitching the pano was better than I expected. This made final touchup, and local adjustments a breeze.
The image above is the what I came up with on my late night jaunt to Coronado. I’m thinking of doing a series of these at different times of the day, and year, to capture the various ‘moods’ of the city skyline. Hmmmm, sounds like a fun long term project…
You may be surprised to know you don’t need a lot of gear to get started. Really, you could get by with just a camera that has the ability to keep the shutter open for 30 seconds or has a bulb mode, and a tripod.
The Bare Minimum
However, most photographers I know are also gearheads, and I am no different. So here is a rundown of the tools I normally take on a night shoot.
Canon 5D Mark II – This is my goto do everything camera, I love the full frame sensor, and capable noise free images it produces.
For lenses, I use only the 17-40mm F4 and the 15mm F2.8 fish-eye lens. My preference is to get the widest swatch of sky I can in the frame, while collecting as much light as possible so shoot with the aperture wide open, and both of these lenses have very wide angles, and exceptional sharpness.
One of the most important tools I use is a timer shutter release, which allows me to set the release the shutter without putting hands on the camera and thereby reducing the risk of blurry images due to camera shake. The various camera manufactures make their own proprietary shutter releases, and are quite pricey, the Canon brand goes for $135.00 on Amazon. I use an alternative that functions just as well as the named brand, but only paid $15.99 from Link Delight. The only issue I have with it is the lack of a power button, my work around is to flip the battery upside down when the unit is not in use.
A good sturdy tripod is also important for night work. While you could prop up your camera using whatever you have on hand, nothing beats a quality set of sticks that can be weighed down for extra stability.
This is the minimum gear that I take with me. Depending on your own personal tastes and style, you may want to bring a flashlight for finding your way in the dark, painting foreground elements or to assist in focusing, a speedlight, glow sticks, or anything your imagination can dream up to make your images. Bring a snack, water, and extra clothing for those long cold nights to keep yourself refreshed and warm. Gloves and hand warmers are excellent to keep in your kit too.
The image below was taken using my 7D, at F5.6 and 30 second exposure. I used the flash light function on my phone to paint the bush in the foreground. That night, I was hanging out with my friend, and talented photographer Tina Chapman. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.
Useful Android Apps
When planning to photograph the night sky, there are a few things you should consider, aside from finding a place that is relatively free from light pollution. For example, where is the moon going to be, how full is it, and what time does it rise and set. My primary apps of choice to help me predict the moon’s behavior are LunaSolCal Mobile and LunaSolCal Widgets, which is available for free on Google Play.
The widget app has multiple configurations, and can present rise/set info of both the sun and moon, as well as the astronomical, nautical, and civil times for twilight. When you tap the widget, the mobile app is launched, presenting you with more information, as well as a date, and time tool to help you predict the sun and moon’s movements.
If you’re like me, the last thing you want to do is calculate exposures while you’re out in the middle of nowhere taking pictures. Fortunately, there was a photographer out there that made an Exposure Calculator that is straightforward and easy to use. You simply input the current exposure, and set the desired settings you plan to use and the calculator will output the equivalent time.
For instance, lets say my current settings for a test exposure is 20 seconds at F/5.6, ISO 6400. My target ISO is 100, and I decide to keep my aperture at F5.6. The calculator gives me an exposure time of 20 minutes. I can quickly adjust my target settings to get the equivalent time I need.
Another handy feature is the +/- EV adjustment, which will take into account the use of an ND filter.
There is one last app to recommend that I use quite often. In fact, I love playing around with this app because it is packed with so much information it’s hard to put down. If you’re an astronomy buff, and do not have this app, you’re missing out. When doing star trail images, knowing where Polaris is in the night sky can be important. Star Chart does this by using the phone’s accelerometer, and GPS sensors to help you line up the view on screen to the position of Polaris (or any constellation you specify) in the night sky.
I have used, and tested dozens of apps to assist me in my photography. If you know of any apps that you think may be useful to photography, please feel free to comment and recommend them.
I apologize to iPhone users, I cannot recommend apps that I have no experience using, and not having an iPhone limits my ability to do so. You’re user experiences and recommendations would be greatly appreciated, your comments are also welcome.
The next part in this series will cover the nuts and bolts to planning and shooting star fields in depth.
Our goal was to enter an abandoned building none of us photographed before, we found our virgin territory in the form of an infirmary. The treasures that awaited us were exactly what we were looking for…peeled paint, great light, and tattered relics.