Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Low Level Landscape Lighting Tutorial

Low Level Landscape Lighting (LLL) illumination levels compared with light from the stars and the moon. Click to enlarge. Photography by Royce Bair at Chimney Rock, Capitol Reef Nat'l Park, Utah. is a new public service website that Wayne Pinkston and I have created to educated photographers of the benefits of this less evasive and low-polluting form of artificial lighting for starry night landscape photography.

A quick illustration of how LLL lighting compares with traditional hand-held light painting, using a focused flashlight. Click to enlarge. Graphics by Royce Bair

We hope you'll visit the website, look at this style of NightScape photography, compare, and see where your night photography might benefit from using these low level lighting techniques.

Traditional light painting is convenient and portable, but produces much higher light pollution and is very inconsistent compared to LLL lighting. Click to enlarge. Graphics by Royce Bair

Equipment resources for LLL lighting are also given near the end of the webpage. Neither Wayne or I are financially benefiting from this public service website.

Please help us spread the word about this website. Why? At least two USA national parks have banned light painting in commercial photo workshops, and we have heard rumors of more bans coming in other parks. Of course, some of you may say that artificial lighting has no reason to be in the parks in the first place. And yes, there are plenty of beautiful techniques for producing wide-field astro-landscape photographs that do not use artificial light. Still, we believe there are benefits to using responsible, LLL lighting.

1) A single 25 sec exposure @ f/2.8, ISO 6400. 2) A 100 sec exposure to increase foreground detail, blended (via Photoshop layers) with the previous exposure of the sky. This is the “natural” method preferred by many, but because starlight comes from overhead and all around, it is like photographing with an overcast day (very flat, with little character). 3) A single exposure @ f/2.8, 25 sec, ISO 6400, with LLL lighting strategically placed. Click to enlarge. Photography by Royce Bair at Chimney Rock, Capitol Reef Nat'l Park, Utah.

Why artificial lighting is sometimes helpful: Compare the above photos. Photo number 2 is the "natural" double exposure blending method for enhancing foreground recognition. We believe there are artistic and foreground recognition benefits to #3.

Please note that #2 could have been done using low angle moonlight (to give an effect similar to #3), but the star and moonlight exposures would have been many hours apart, and there are only 2 days a month where the angle is even somewhat correct at this location. Mixing a twilight exposure would have been a fairly worthless option here because we are facing southeast and a northwestern twilight would have also given flat lighting.

Another reason for allowing responsible LLL lighting in the national parks is that it is much less invasive than the headlamps use to help photographers or stargazers get safely to their night viewing destinations. Compare these two images, below, as proof:

Typical headlamp illumination can be 20-40 times brighter than LLL lighting. Click to enlarge. Photography by Royce Bair at Sunset Arch, Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat'l Monument

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Night Photography Restrictions in Arches National Park

An April Milk Way rises behind Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah - foreground illuminated by Low Level Landscape (LLL) lighting.  This very dim, filtered light panel was set up on a tripod down in the bowl. It was dimmed down until it matches starlight. You cannot even see it until your eyes dark-adapt. The dim light was left on for about an hour, while over 30 visitors from several nations were able to take similar photos, even though they were not part of my workshop group. (EXIF: Canon 5DM3, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, 13 sec, f/2.0, ISO 5000) © Royce Bair

Will All Night Photography Be Banned in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks? Beginning this year, no light painting will be allowed to take place within Arches and Canyonlands by commercial photo workshop groups; and starting in 2018, it is very possible that no night photography will be allowed by participants of these photo workshops within the two parks. Currently, this ruling applies only to Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) permit holders and their photography workshop groups. It does not (yet) apply to private individuals and amateur photographers.
16. Light painting – Light painting activities are not authorized under this authorization. Light painting, or light drawing, is a photographic technique in which exposures are made by moving a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph, either to illuminate a subject or to shine a point of light directly at the camera, or by moving the camera itself during exposure. [APPENDIX SPECIAL PARK CONDITIONS - ARCHES NATIONAL PARK & CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK - Still Photography Instruction
Earlier this month, all night photography had been banned within the two parks for CUA permit holders and their photo workshop groups. However, after numerous protests from operators, who already had scheduled workshops in place, Concessions Management Specialist, Michael Hill, lifted the ban for the current 2017 season, but not the ban on light painting. In an email to all Still Photography Instruction CUA permit holders, Michael wrote on January 5, 2017:
Some folks have voiced no concern about the change, while a few others stated that all they do is night photography and that change would be devastating. ...For 2017 we will continue to allow night use in the Still Photography Instruction CUA for Canyonlands and Arches, as we have done in the past. Light painting, however has been an issue with our park nighttime visitors, and we still feel that does not have a commercial place in the park. …For 2018 I am open for dialogue if that night use will continue. Feel free to email me your comments.
Balance Rock stands only a few hundred feet from a busy park road. It is a very difficult formation to photograph at night because of all the car headlights that rake across it. However, at about about 2:00am on some Spring mornings, the traffic does diminish and one can capture the Milky Way rising above the horizon. (EXIF: Canon 5DM3, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, 13 sec, f/2.0, ISO 5000, using LLL lighting.) © Royce Bair

Could a future ban affect ALL photographers? It is not clear if a possible ban on all night photography will begin in 2018 just for Still Photography Instruction CUA permit holders, or if this ban will be for all photographers. Currently, Guided Interpretive Day Hiking within the two parks is already restricted to daylight and twilight hours:
36. Area Use – This authorization is applicable only for the use of the area, term, and conditions designated herein. The area(s) authorized for use under this authorization must be left in substantially the same condition as it was prior to the activities authorized herein. Only 2wd roads are authorized for use.
**Approved use starts 1/2 hours before sunrise and ends 1/2 hours after sunset. This does not include travel time.**
Increasing Park Visitation and undesirable activities in the park. Michael Hill, explained park managements reasons for the changes in the same email letter to CUA permit holders:
Managing the parks here are complex, and have ever changing issues to manage.
If you have followed the news you would understand the explosive use of this area has changed a lot in and out side of the parks here. Technology as well has impacted how we manage the parks. In those 8 years we have gone from 24 to 260 CUAs. Our park visitation has increased to where we need to change how we manage the visitors, as well as commercial services. 
It is our mandate to balance protecting the park resource and providing the enjoyment for park visitors. We have to balance the commercial use of a park in regards to services that are appropriate and/or necessary, in regards to the above statement. Commercial use in a park is a privilege.  
Regarding night photography instruction, you don't need Arches to teach night photography. Teaching night photography can be accomplished in many areas outside of the National Parks here.
Regarding light painting in Arches National Park. We have determined that as not a desired activity in the park when, we have visitors (not photographers) complain about it, and some of those visitors just leave the park as they don't know what is going on. 
Are Additional Night Photography Bans Coming? As park visitation increases in all the national parks, we may expect to see similar bans on night photography in other parks. Fox News recently reported that Utah's Zion National Park is now experiencing too many visitors, even in the winter off-season.

Is "Light Painting" Getting a Bad Rap?
That depends on how one defines "light Painting." If it is defined the way park regulations are written above as, "...moving a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph," then maybe it deserves the bad publicity. Usually, these lights are powerful flashlights, headlamps or even spotlights that are being waved around natural formations to illuminate them. The lights are so bright, they can only be left on for a few seconds during the long camera time exposure that is necessary to record the starry night sky. The on and off flashing of these bright lights is ruining to one's night vision, and is very annoying to visitors (especially non-photographers) who are there to enjoy the night sky at a unique dark sky location. Most of these lights also have a very bluish color rendition, which also adversely effects night vision. Remember, many of the national parks have been promoting the slogan, "Half the park is after dark," and most of these nocturnal visitors are coming to see the stars, not your light painting!

The better way to light: More responsible photographers are beginning to use stationary, Low Level Landscape lighting (LLL). These very dim, filtered light panel care set up on a tripods and dimmed down until they matches starlight. They are so dim one cannot even see their effect until ones eyes dark-adapt.

"Headlamp Intrusion" at Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park. The top photo shows headlamp intrusion from a hiker about 100 yards behind me, through the trees and brush. The bottom photo has the same LLL (low level landscape) lighting as the top photo, but did not have the headlamp intrusion from behind. This should give one an idea of how dim and subtle LLL lighting is. Because this type of lighting is on for the whole astronomical exposure, it must match or be just slightly brighter than the intensity of starlight! In the top photo, the hiker's headlamp was only on for a few seconds of the whole 25-second time exposure, yet its estimated 150 lumens brightness (even from 300 feet away) completely overpowers my LLL lighting. (EXIF: Canon 5DM3, Tokina 15-30mm @ 15mm, 25 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400) © Royce Bair

Share and share alike. In the top image, I was never able to get a decent photo because a bus tour of about 30 foreign photographers came and they would not shut off their headlamps and flashlights, even for 30 seconds. They wanted it all to themselves. “You Americans think you own the national parks,” said the tour leader. I checked the next day, and the park had no record of a permit for them. In the bottom photo (2 years later), dozens of photographers shared my lighting set up and even my shooting position. One of those was a talented photographer from India, Manish Mamtani.

"Arch over an Arch" - Mesa Arch, Canyonlands Nattional Park, Utah. “This is a Milky Way panorama created by stacking and stitching about 56 images. I wanted to take this shot at Mesa Arch in Utah [for over] 4 years, and finally this year I was successful. I ran into Royce Bair …and he had set up some lights to light the foreground,” says Manish. © Manish Mamtani

Continuing the Discussion...
To see what others are saying about the light painting restrictions and the possibility of a complete ban on all night photography, beginning in 2018, check out this post on Ben Coffman's Facebook page.

Fellow photo workshop instructor, Brad Goldpaint, had this to say in that Facebook post, after a lengthy telephone conversation with park Concessions Management Specialist, Michael Hill...

Mike mentioned the issues he’s been facing in the park(s): Too many crowds/busses, too many CUAs, not enough staff, and too many complaints from nighttime photographic activity. He mentioned a number of examples which led to this abrupt change. A couple of these examples stood out to me that I’m sure some of you can relate to:

  1. “Someone set up a tent under a popular arch, put a light inside of it, and then turned on three other flashlights in the area. A visitor approached the scene, thought there was a search and rescue underway, and decided to leave the area. We’ve had people sleeping under the arches, hiking off trail, vandalism, and it’s getting to the point where we have no way of controlling the massive amount of crowds.” Mike has a lot of experience and history with Arches. He told me back in the 80’s he could ride a bike throughout the entire park during a full moon and not see a single headlight throughout the entire night. Nowadays, he gets more and more complaints about people in the park at night, “doing things they shouldn’t be doing.” I couldn’t help but mention ‘the CUA holders I know are actually the ones who are protecting, teaching, and leading by example to help keep a close eye on what transpires at night. If you remove the CUA holders, then it really is free reign on the park.’
  2. “Some things have gotten so bad I’ve had my sanitation crew threaten to quit. We have busloads of visitors coming from the other side of the ocean who have never used a pit toilet. Therefore, visitors and my crew have to pick up human feces. We’re actually installing visual diagrams to show visitors how to use pit toilets in hopes of preventing this issue from continuing to happen.”   
  3. “We’ve had busses follow night photography workshops around and we don’t have the staff to keep them out of the area so the students can enjoy. The instructor will complain, but I don’t have the staff to control the massive amount of people.”
  4. “We were actually going to get rid of the entire ‘Still Photography CUA,’ but I fought to keep it. I did my best in trying to limit use during times we cannot monitor the park.”

Listening to Mike, I began to understand the issues he and the park are facing. It’s not what I wanted to hear, nor was this unexpected change handled in a reasonable manner, but something has to give and change is inevitable. Remember, “Commercial use in a park is a privilege and no one is guaranteed a CUA the following year.” 

I’m happy to see we are allowed to teach an additional year in Arches & Canyonlands, but I believe it is critical for all current and future CUA holders to voice their opinions and ideas to formulate a sustainable solution for all parties affected so future generations can enjoy similar experiences we’ve been fortunate enough to have. As Mike H. said in his latest email, "For 2018 I am open for dialogue if that night use will continue. Feel free to email me your comments. I look forward to receiving them."

Followup: After I had a chance to discuss these issues with Brad, we both agree that Mike is in a tough situation and trying to do whatever he can to alleviate the problems of night use in the park. The problem, we believe, is park administration is blaming it on the “good guys.”

If only the CUA holders are banned from doing night photography in the parks, who is going to be there to report the non-permitted tour bus groups that lurk the parks at night?

Despite this, no light painting in Arches and Canyonlands is a restriction we can live with, if it will help reduce tension and heighten the dark sky experience for all visitors to these two parks.

Teaching Night Photography Ethics:
In an effort to educate the public on proper night photography ethics and Low Level Lighting (LLL) techniques, I have scheduled an entertaining and educational mini-seminar for March 14, 2014, called “Creating Natural NightScape Photographs.” This free event is sponsored by Adobe Systems, and will include socializing at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan, Utah.

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Private Night Photography Workshops by Royce Bair

A light painted Broken Arch in Arches National Park ~ © Royce Bair
Private Night Photography Lessons in the Field. During this past year, I started offering private, one-on-one night photography workshops, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Private instruction allows greater flexibility for teaching and offers many additional opportunities for my clients! We can sometimes do as much photography in two nights than you can do in a group situation during three or four nights. Of course, we can also do as much daytime photography as you want (depending on how much sleep you require). The cost is only a little more than a group workshop, but it can actually be equal to or less expensive, when you invite a friend or two to share the costs (maximum of four photographers allowed in a private group). Let me illustrate...

Day rate: I charge $1,200 for the first day of instruction and $950 for each additional day (some photographers book just one day). "Weather" days are $500. Here's a typical fee cost EXAMPLE for two, three and four photographers:

  First Day/night ................... $1,200.00
  Second Day/night (a Weather day)...    500.00
  Third Day/night ...................    950.00
    Total fee cost .................. $2,650.00
    Cost per photographer (when 2)... $1,325.00
    (Cost per photographer, when 3).. $  883.33    
    (Cost per photographer, when 4).. $  662.50    

Definitions: A "Day/night" of photography includes up to 8 hours of my time in guiding and teaching. At least three (3) of those hours will be doing starry night photography. The daytime instruction can be in the field or in the classroom (i.e. image post processing). A tag-along spouse or friend, without a camera, is not considered a "photographer".

Weather Days: In virtually every group workshop I've ever conducted, there are nights where we have so much cloud cover that few stars can be seen or photographed. Although we always try to make good use of the night with "Blue Hour" photography and demonstrating light painting techniques, this is not what you really paid in advance for. When this happens in my private workshops, we just call it a night and rest up for better nights. If I cannot give you at least three (3) hours of starry night photography, I will either prorate you for the time we are able to shoot or charge you a flat $500 fee to cover my expenses for that day.

Travel Expenses: You will cover your own travel expenses for transportation, lodging and meals.

Locations for private workshop lessons can be any place in the world! Any workshop location within 350 miles of my residence includes my travel expenses in the first day rate fee. Examples of workshops that are within this 350-mile radius: Arches National Park, Grand Teton N.P., Yellowstone N.P., Zion N.P., Bryce Canyon N.P., Capitol Reef N.P., Canyonlands N.P. and Grand Staircase-Escalante N.M.

You will also cover my travel expenses for any workshop that is greater than 350 miles from my residence in Salt Lake City, Utah. I will cover my own lodging and meals. For distances greater than 350 miles, you will be charged the following travel expenses, in addition to my day rates:

   351-800 miles (car travel one way): $0.95 per mile*
   Over 800 miles: Actual airfare charges + actual
         car rental fees (we can share this vehicle).
*Example: One of my favorite places in eastern California are the Alabama Hills, near Lone Pine. From this area, you can also visit Mono Lake and the ancient Bristlecone Pines. Google says it's 582 miles from Salt Lake City to Lone Pine —that's 232 miles over my free base distance of 350 miles. At 95 cents per mile, that would be a travel expense of $220. As for your own travel expenses, you would want to fly into Las Vegas and rent a car for driving to Lone Pine (232 miles).

Reserving your date: I charge a $300 deposit to reserve a date. You can reserve up to a six days at a time. There is a deposit fee of $300 for each day you wish to reserve. This one deposit covers all the photographers in your group. I am happy to help you with your travel arrangements and hotel recommendations.

CALL: 801-558-2701 to make your reservations, or EMAIL me at royce.bair[AT]gmail[DOT]com (to prevent spam email, I ask you to substitute the "[AT]" with the "@" symbol and the "[DOT]" with the "." character).

Final payment: I request the balance of my fees (and any travel expenses) 90 days prior to the starting day of your private workshop.

Cancellations and Refunds: You can cancel and receive a full refund (less credit card fees), up to 90 days prior to the event. If you cancel between 60 and 89 days prior to the event, I will refund all but $100.00 of the fees you have paid. If you cancel between 30 and 59 days prior to the event, I will refund 50% of your fees, unless we can find a replacement attendee to take your place. If you cancel less than 30 days prior to the event, none of your fees will refunded, unless we can find a replacement attendee to take your place. The workshop participant acknowledges that if Royce Bair cancels this event, all fees paid will be refunded. Other than this refund, no guarantee or warranty is given or implied.

Eliminating days from your scheduled event: If, after completing at least two of your reserved workshop days, it is decided that you no longer need one or more of your additional reserved days, you will be refunded up to $450.00 for each of those unused days (less credit card processing fees). Travel expenses cannot be refunded.

Recommendations: Read what others have said about my workshops.

Available dates for 2017: At the moment, I have the following dates available (best for starry night photography). Any one or more of these days can be reserved:

  • February 22-25 ~ personal NightScape time
  • Feb. 27 - Mar. 2  ~ personal NightScape time
  • March 23-25 ~ personal NightScape time
  • March 27-30 ~ personal NightScape time
  • April 24-29 ~ personal NightScape time
  • May 16-20 ~ Reserved by "John" and "J.K." (FULL)
  • May 22-26 ~ Reserved for a private workshop (FULL)
  • June 19 ~ personal NightScape time
  • June 20-23 ~ Reserved by "Nancy" and friends (FULL)
  • June 26-27 ~ Reserved by "Teresa" and friends (FULL)
  • July 18-22 ~ Reserved for a private workshop (FULL)
  • July 24-26  (only available if it takes place near Jackson, WY)
  • August 17-19 (only available if it takes place near Jackson, WY)
  • August 21-23 ~ Reserved for a private workshop (FULL)
  • September 18-21 ~ Grand Canyon Milky Way/Rafting Workshop (FULL)
  • October 16-21
Note: The above dates are optimum, or nights with little or no moon interference. You can schedule periods a few days earlier or later than this, but you may lose some night shooting hours due to moon interference. If you are interested in other dates, let me know, and I'll tell you the amount of "Star shooting time" available for those nights, in the location that you wish to photograph.

GROUP Workshops: I also do paid group workshops. Past and future workshops are listed on my NightScape Meetup site. Check out my FREE NightScape PhotoWalks.

NOTE: Royce Bair is President of The Stock Solution, Inc., a Utah corporation, an Authorized Permittee of the National Park Service. "NightScapes," "Into the Night Photography" and "NightScape Photography" are all social media names used by Royce Bair and The Stock Solution, Inc.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Omni-directional Light Painting with Mini LED Camp Lanterns

Lighting the underneath side of natural arches like Mesa Arch (Canyonlands Nat'l Park, Utah) is the perfect application for omni-directional mini LED camp lanterns. © Royce Bair
Wayne Pinkston photographed the Milky Way with this cottonwood tree at the bottom of a sandstone pothole, during a workshop I was conducting in Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat'l Monument. Once again, I used an omni-directional mini LED camp lantern, placed near the bottom of this 60 feet (18 m.) deep pothole. (Wayne has a new version of this photo, you may like even better.) See the pre-dusk lighting preparations, below. © Wayne Pinkston
Preparing a string of tied-together mini LED camp lanterns and lowering them into the 60 feet (18 m.) deep pothole, just before dusk. The last few feet of orange nylon rope is traded for transparent monofilament (the kind used for fishing) and tied to a large rock, and placed behind the photographers so it cannot be seen in our photos. Photographers then prepare to shoot during the "blue hour" twilight. Once this is done, two of the three lights are turned off, as only one is need for full Astronomical Dusk photography with the stars. Click photos to enlarge. Photos by Eugene Louie and Royce Bair

Camp lanterns cast light in all directions (omni-directional, or almost 360 degrees). They are one of the three types of lights I discuss and demonstrate in my Milky Way NightScapes eBook. The other two are LED panel lights and spotlights. Spotlights have very narrow beams with high intensity, and must be kept moving during the camera exposure process. Panel lights and camp lantern lights are wide-angle coverage lights that can be stationary during the camera's exposure.

Problems with most LED camp lanterns. There are two major problems I have with most LED camp lanterns when using them for NightScape style photography: 1.) Most LED lights are too cold or bluish. To make them usable, I usually have to wrap an orange conversion filter around the lantern. Without the filter, their output is typically between 5600º Kelvin (a little bluer than daylight) to 8000º Kelvin (very blue). This does not match the camera White Balance I like to use for starry night photography, which is between 3800º to 4400º Kelvin. By the way, scientists have also proven that the bluish LED lights cause more eye fatigue—something to consider if you plan to do a lot of night reading in your tent.  2.) Most LED lanterns are too bright. When you are working with high ISO's between 3200 and 6400, you do not need a lot of light to exposure your foreground features. (Wayne Pinkston and I like to call this Low Level Landscape Lighting or LLL. In most cases, we are only trying to match the brightness of the stars.) Most LED camp lanterns only have two brightness settings. Even at the lower setting, I typically have to wrap several layers of translucent, white cloth around the lantern in order to make these older lanterns dim enough for NightScape style photography.

Sunset Arch, in Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat'l Monument was lit underneath with two older style mini LED camp lanterns that had to be filtered to 3200º K and wrapped with several layers of white, translucent fabric in order to dim their bright light output. © Royce Bair
The "Shane Cabin" near Kelly, Wyoming (used in the 1953 movie, "Shane") was also lit inside with three older style mini LED camp lanterns that had to be filtered to 3200º K and wrapped with several layers of white, translucent fabric in order to dim their bright light output. © Royce Bair 

LED Camp Lanterns Compared 2011 - 2016: 1.) GE Chromalit 3D lantern, circa 2011. 300 lumens output, powered by eight D-cell batteries (very heavy), but could last for up to 200 hours in its low setting. All of the following are considered "mini" lanterns, except for #6, which is a "micro" lantern.  2.) Life Gear Glow lantern, circa 2012, white (very blue) and red LEDs, 25 lumens.  3.) CREE XLamp Warm White LED Camping Lantern, circa 2013. Output 110 lumens on high. The low setting is capable of 48 hours run time, using 3 AA batteries. It's light usually warm enough to not require filtration, but even at low power it often required several layers of white fabric to dim it enough for starry night photography.  4.) Ozark Trail LED Lantern, circa 2014. This original Walmart product produced 50 lumens on high (the current model produces 75 lumens). Its 25 lumens low setting allowed it to run for 28 hours on 3 AA batteries. It is show here with an orange conversion filter that I’ve wrapped around it. Even with it’s low setting, the lantern usually requires 2 to 4 layers of white fabric for dimming. This lamp was used in the top photo of Mesa Arch—hung from a 20-40 feet of rope until the underneath glow of the arch look right.  5.) Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern, 2015. (See full description below.)  6.) Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Lantern, 2016. (See full description below.) Click image to enlarge.

My two favorite LED camp lanterns. Recently, I have begun to use some of the newer miniature camp lantern lights that have been appearing on the market. Two of my favorites are both made by the incredibly innovative Goal Zero, the "Power-Anything-Anywhere" company. These preferences are the Lighthouse Mini Lantern and the recently introduced Lighthouse Micro USB Rechargeable Lantern.

Goal Zero Lighthouse Mini Lantern: The key features for photographers are its warm, 3500ºK light output and its infinite number of dimmable selections. Although it will put out a bright 210 lumens, it can be dimmed to about 7 lumens! You can also choose to operate only one side of the lantern (180 degree coverage), or choose to use both sides of the lantern (360 degrees). With these options, and the dimmer, the battery can last from 4 to 500+ hours (about 26 days)! The powerful (3000 mAh) and rechargeable Li-ion battery (via a built-in USB cord) is also capable of recharging your mobile phone or a GoPro camera via a USB outlet. Four power indicator lights let you know the charge status of its replaceable battery. Watch this video for more unique engineering features. View the complete PDF user guide. Price: $59.99 - ORDER direct from Goal Zero

Click image to ENLARGE

Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro USB Rechargeable Lantern: The key photography features for this lantern are similar to the mini — a warm, 3800ºK light output that is completely dimmable. It's maximum brightness is 150 lumens and it can be dimmed to about 7 lumens! You can choose to operate only two of it's four LEDs or all four, and infinitely dim them. The Li-ion battery can last from 7 to 170 hours, depending on the number of LEDs you choose and how much you decide to dim them. Although the battery is not replaceable (like the mini) it can be recharged hundreds of times via a built-in USB charging tip (that folds inside when not in use). Four  blue indicator lights let you know the charge status of the battery. The lantern is also waterproof, with an IPX7 rating. Although the Micro is not as versatile as the Mini, its benefits include lower price and a remarkably small size. View the complete PDF user guide. Price: $19.99 - ORDER direct from Goal Zero

(You can also order the Lighthouse Micro Flash model, which includes a built-in flashlight, for only $5 more.)

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Planning for Monthly Milky Way Movement

This alignment of the Milky Way over the Grand Tetons, from the Snake River Overlook, required me to wait until mid-September.
I waited until mid-September so the Milk Way would align with the Grand Teton peak, which faces almost due West from the Snake River Overlook. Although the bright core of the Milky Way is just below the horizon, “The Great Rift” (where the MW splits and forms the “Sea of Darkness”) rises dramatically over the Tetons. It was taken with my Canon 5D Mark III, using a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 @ f/2 • 13 sec • ISO 6400 for the sky. I blended the sky exposure with a second exposure for the foreground @ f/2.8 for 240 sec • ISO 3200 (using the camera’s “Long Exposure Noise Reduction” function).

Planning your Milky Way alignment: I was required to wait until September in order to align the Milky Way with the Tetons. Although the core of the Milky Way moves nightly from East to West at about 15º per hour, the seasonal movement adds another 30º per month —moving the MW almost 150 degrees to the West, going from April to September. You can forecast your alignment using apps like Photopills and SkyGuide.

Click image to enlarge
In the above chart I’ve taken six Milky Way images from the Sky Guide app, all captured at 2:00am on the same day of each month (the time and date I ended up taking the top photo) and pasted them into one composite photo to illustrate the monthly movement of the Milky Way; and, I’ve added a real silhouette of the Teton Range on the West side to show the actual perspective from the Snake River Overlook. Using this illustration, it's easy to see how the seasons not only affect the westerly move of the Milky Way, but the height the Central Bulge, as it rises above or sinks below the horizon.

Behind the Scenes... Finding Ansel Adams' Tripod Holes: Compare my NightScape photo with Ansel Adams’ famous 1941 “Tetons and the Snake River”. Both images were taken from the same vista (now called the Snake River Overlook), but new tree growth now blocks much of the classic “S” curve from the Snake River:

Tree Trimming Needed? Despite all my planning and the impact of the Milky Way, my photo lacks the beautiful snow pack that disappears from the mountains by August. But even more noticeable is the growth of the trees that has occurred since Adams took his photograph in 1941. This new grow has obscured much of the Snake River.

Some Grand Teton park visitors have wondered if the park should trim these trees similar to what is being done in Yosemite. Under Yosemite’s “Scenic Vista Management Plan” young trees are being removed that block the historic views that John Muir and Ansel Adams rhapsodized about when they first saw Yosemite in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. What’s your opinion?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

My Computer Workflow and Backup System

Why I think Backblaze is the best cloud backup solution for digital photography files: Because photographers are often producing hundreds of large image files every week, they need an online backup service that provides them with inexpensive, unlimited backup storage. Most competing cloud services claim they provide “unlimited” backup, but this isn’t always true. Compare Backblaze with the competition.

Boards under the MacBook & display pedestal
are to lift it to the proper viewing height.
My Computer Setup: I'm currently using a 13" Apple MacBook Pro. Instead of a spinning internal hard drive, I've opted for a 500GB flash drive. Since it has no moving parts, it’s extremely fast, but it fills up quickly. I only keep my software applications and my most current image files on this drive. On the road, I connect to the compact 2TB Seagate external USB 3.0 drive you see to the left of the MacBook. This serves as my away-from-the-office backup. In the office, the computer is connected to the 27" Thunderbolt display, a keyboard/mouse, the Drobo to the left of the display, and the ioSafe to the right. Let me explain the purpose of these two backup drives...

Drobo 4-bay array
Your 1st line of protection: In my opinion, it’s a good idea to have your own in house data backup system. All my image files are archived on my external, Drobo 4-bay storage array. The Drobo technology is very reliable. It is my first line of data protection. Although I’ve had many hard drives fail, I’ve never lost any data on the Drobo since I purchased it eight years ago. This is a "self-healing" system that goes beyond the typical RAID array. Drobo has several disc array size solutions, starting at under $300 (hard drives not included).

ioSafe Solo G3
Fire & waterproof
Your 2nd line of protection should be a backup that is off-premise. This is to protect your digital data against physical file damage (such as fire and water) and theft (of your computer or external hard drive). Cloud storage, like the Backblaze Online Backup, is a perfect offline solution. Yes, you can backup to another external hard drive, and rotate these to an offsite location, but it is inconvenient, and not routinely executed by those that try it. Until recently, my only second line of data protection has been my ioSafe Solo G3 (which I still continue to use, even though I also have the Backblaze cloud backup). Using the ioSafe is similar to an offsite solution because it is fireproof and waterproof; and you can anchor (bolt it) to your desk, so it’s less apt to “walk” away. The 2TB ioSafe Solo G3 is under $300, and the 4TB ioSafe Solo G3 is only $100 more.

Inevitable Digital Data Loss: There are really only two kinds of computer users: those that have lost their data, and those that are going to lose their data! It’s amazing that with virtually 100% of the world’s photos and movies now digital, fewer than 10% of people are backing up their computers; and eventually all of these digital items will vaporize. The median hard drive life is about six years (one-half are expected to die during this period). Data can be sometimes be recovered from a failed drive, but recovery can cost as much as $3,000. Systematic backups are a much better solution.

Recovering Cloud Data from many online backup services can be a long process, if you lose a hard drive. Downloading several hundred gigabytes (or several terabytes) of data can take several days or even weeks. Luckily, Backblaze has faster recovery solutions that other services don’t offer:
  • Web Browser — For free. You select the files/folders you want to restore using your web browser to download the files. This is good for small amounts of data, typically 1GB or less as the web browser itself is prone to timeouts and errors.
  • Backblaze Downloader — For free. You select the files/folders you want to restore using your web browser and then download and use the Backblaze Downloader to stream and checkpoint the data download. This is similar to apps like iTunes and Netflix in how data is downloaded. Be aware that larger amounts of data will consume lots of network bandwidth and will take time.
  • USB Flash Drive — For $99, you select up to 110 GB of files/folders you want to restore and get your files on 128 GB USB flash drive. Backblaze will send it to you next day express (within the US) so you get your data fast and you get to keep the drive.
  • USB External Hard Drive — For $189, you select up to 3,500,000 MB of files/folders you want to restore and get your files on an external USB hard drive large enough to hold your data, up to a 4 TB drive. Once prepared, Backblaze will send it to you next day express, and you get to keep the drive. There’s no extra charge for the next day shipping and if next day shipping is not available, Backblaze will use the fastest means available to them via FedEx. NOTE: If you have more data than that, you will need to order additional USB Hard Drive restores. Each drive you order is $189. If you have multiple computers that you need to restore from, you will need to order one drive for each separate restore.

How Backblaze works: I’ve used Carbonite for several years, but I find Backblaze to be uniquely better is these ways:
  • Truly unlimited cloud backup - unlimited data, unlimited file size, unlimited file types, unlimited number of external drives, and unlimited bandwidth — all for $5 per month.
  • Backs up all your data. Unlike other services, there is no need to pick folders and files. Backblaze is the only cloud backup solution that backs up all your photos, movies, music and documents automatically.
  • Your Data is Safe. All your files are encrypted before being transmitted. You can use a personal encryption key for additional security.  Backblaze’s native code does not use Java (Java is responsible for 91% of security attacks).
  • Fast and seamless backups. Backblaze works in the background, and typically uses less than 1% of your computer’s processing power.
  • Inexpensive. Only $5 a month, or $50 a year.
  • 15-day free trial - without having to give out your credit card information!
Inside Backblaze's data center and their custom built data storage "pods"
Geeky stuff: If you like understanding how things work, you'll enjoy reading how the employees at Backblaze designed their own data storage ''pods'' — with a complete list of parts, just in case you'd like to build your own 135-TB storage pod for a mere $7,384! That was actually pod version 2.0, and three years ago. They are now putting pod version 4.0 (each holds 180-TB) into their data center which is now storing 100 petabytes of customer data — that's 100,000 terabytes, or 1/4th as much data as Facebook stores today for its 1+ billion users.

This year, Backblaze beat out Facebook as one of the fastest growing technology companies.
Fast Growth. Although it took Backblaze 2.5 years to get from 0 to 10 petabytes, it only took the past 3.5 years to get from 10 petabytes to 100 petabytes. From 2009 through 2013 they've grown revenue 917%. That was good enough for 128th place in the 2014 Deloitte Technology Fast 500™ in the United States — just beating out Facebook in the 129th spot.

Employee Perks. Backblaze is one of a very few companies that offers unlimited vacation time for their employees. At Backblaze, all of their employees know what they need to do. They prioritize their work, keep others informed of what’s going on and get their jobs done. When they need to take a morning off to run an errand or pick up a sick child at school or just to sleep in, they do it. There’s no need to negotiate with a boss as to whether you were on vacation, taking comp time or sick time or whatever.

As an employer, Backblaze does not have to keep track of vacation time or sick time. Their sick policy is simple, if you’re sick, stay home. They do not have to keep track of things such as “Billy taking 2.75 hours of sick time on Thursday.” Nor do they have to worry about how many hours of vacation "Zach" has accrued.

To date, no one has abused Backblaze’s vacation policy or lack of one. If anything, they have had to occasionally remind people to take a few days off. Employees watch out for each other since they are all dependent on each other for Backblaze to succeed. Besides, they all want to work with well-rested, happy people, not grumps who haven’t taken a day off in years.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Photographing Meteor Showers by Thomas O'Brien

Double Arch in Arches National Park during the Perseid Meteor Shower ~ © Thomas O'Brien

2014 Meteor Reel from Thomas O'Brien. A collection of time-lapse shots from the past seven years of meteor showers. Please watch in HD —you can see more meteors. The footage was shot during the Perseid, Geminid and Leonid Meteor showers. (All footage shot and edited by Thomas O'Brien and is available in 4K resolution. Check here for additional credits, contacts, equipment, and software used in this production.)

Written by guest pro, Thomas O'Brien: Photographing a meteor shower is more like photographing a time-lapse than traditional still photos. You can never anticipate where or when a meteor is going to streak across the sky. In order to catch them you have to set up and take as many photos as you can throughout the night with a wide angle lens on the camera. If you leave the camera in the same position you can use the resulting images for a short time-lapse clip in addition to the still images you can capture.

On May 24, 2014 and through Memorial Day weekend, we are about to pass through a brand new comet tail.  Not much is known about this meteor shower, but we do know the debris was created by a comet passing through this area of space in the 1800s. The best viewing will be in the Northern Hemisphere (Southern Canada and the continental US). As with all meteor showers it could be a dud or it could be great. The meteors will be radiating from the north in the constellation Camelopardalis and should be visible all night in the northern hemisphere.

  1. Find a location that is far away from the light pollution of major cities and towns. You can use this handy website to see at a glance where the dark skies are.  Use this site as a general guide, and keep in mind that there are things like oil rigs and mining operations that don't show up on these maps.
  2. Get set up as fast as you can, the more time your shutter is open and taking photos the more chances you have of capturing a meteor.
  3. Use a good sturdy tripod in order to get a sharp photo of a meteors.
  4. Focus to infinity. This can be somewhat tricky in the dark, so a good way is to pre-focus the lens when the sun is up and tape the focus ring with gaffer's or duct tape so it won't move while you are moving around and setting up shots. You can also focus on the moon (if present) or a bright star, or use your camera's live-view function. Obtaining accurate infinity focus is critical.
  5. You will need a wired cable release (just a simple cord with a locking shutter release button). Set your camera to the widest aperture the lens will allow, and the highest ISO that you are comfortable shooting with and an exposure that gives the best results for the location, light, and phase of the moon.  A good starting point is f/2.8, ISO 2000 and 15-25 seconds. If you have an f/1.4 lens, that's even better as it will allow you to shoot with a lower ISO and have a less noisy photo. As soon as you have a good exposure you can put your camera on continuous drive mode (where you press the button down and it takes photos until you release) then lock the button down on the cable release.
  6. Use your fastest f-stop (the lower the f-stop number the better) and widest angle lens you have.  You are looking for a lens that is at least f/2.8 and preferably an f/1.4 lens. The lower the aperture the more light will get let into the camera.  You will capture about double the meteors with a lens that opens to f/1.4 when compared a f2.8 lens.
  7. Have an adequate power supply (a battery grip on your camera with dual batteries) or direct DC power connector to an external battery pack. You are aiming for shooting all night long with very few or no breaks in shooting (remember the goal here is to keep the shutter open and taking pictures as much as possible while you are out there). The best meteors are generally just before sunrise so try to make sure your camera is taking images all night. In a pinch, it's fine to use a single battery with a replacement that you can quickly swap.
  8. Position the camera facing anywhere from the Northwest to the Northeast will give you the best results. I have found that positioning the camera slightly away from the radiant point of the meteor shower results in longer meteors since they are not coming straight at the camera. The position of this radiant will make for some incredible time-lapse footage spinning around the north star.
  9. A large capacity and relatively fast memory card for your camera. You want to try to get a card that will hold an entire night's shooting and also has a fast enough write speed so your camera can empty the cache and continue to take images without having to pause. If you have to stop to change cards you may miss a giant fireball meteor. I usually shoot with 64 Gb compact flash cards and have found that you can generally get through most of a night even in the winter with one of these cards.
  10. Composition - after all the techy stuff, you still want to make a compelling image. Choose a foreground element, such as as stand of trees, a rock formation, or mountains. Something to anchor the photo and give it a great look rather than just a shot of the stars and meteors alone in sky. At the same time, you want to include as much sky as possible, and this why we recommend the widest possible lens.
Now, get out there and capture some meteor showers!

An O'Brien "selfie"
Thomas O’Brien grew up in Stowe Vermont. He started exploring the woods and mountains at an early age he picked up a camera and began to document his adventures around the age of 15.  After focusing on the arts in high school he moved out to Utah and attended the University of Utah where he earned a Bachelors of Arts in Photography.  While attending school in Utah he also was a member of the first US Snowboard Team and raced on the World Cup from 1993 – 1999 with a number of podium finishes and was ranked 13th in the world for combined racing disciplines.  While attending school in Utah, Thomas was a co-founder of Volume Video magazine, it was the first video magazine that documented the changes in the ski industry from 1990-2006. He helped produce 14 issues of the video magazine working on motion graphics, video editing, website and print ads.  

After graduating from the University of Utah, Thomas immediately dove into the photography industry working at The Stock Solution in Salt Lake City where he sold stock photography then branched out into archiving, scanning, retouching and then fine art printing and art reproduction at Bair Art Editions.  In 2001 he moved to Aspen Colorado to continue with a focus on fine art printing to become the Director of Digital Arts Aspen, a high end digital studio, classroom and fine art printing studio.   While Working at Digital Arts he met Lynn Goldsmith and began working as her Studiomanager shortly after, where he did scanning, celebrity retouching, archiving, book layout, fine art printing, studio portraits and event photography.  

Thomas has called Aspen Colorado his home for the past ten years.  He currently works as a  freelance photographer, consultant and photo instructor (both private and group workshops).  For the past year he has been focusing on a series of fine art landscapes and exploring new techniques to capture extremely high resolution panoramic images and photos of the night sky.  Near the end of 2013 and early 2014 Thomas re-focused on capturing video and time-lapse photography, after having taken four years off from shooting video and motion.

More of O'Brien's photography and stock footage are available at his website

Additional Meteor Shower Photography Resources:
Yuri Beletsky's Geminid meteor shower photography
David Kingham's "Snowy Range Perseids" photography
David Kingham's "Nightscape" eBook (David has one of the best how-to sections on capturing meteor showers that I've ever seen —highly recommended for the serious night photographer)