During a recent Craig McCord Night Photography workshop at the Flying W Ranch in the Kansas Flint Hills , I brought along a newly acquired Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 full frame fish eye lens. The workshop was to focus on night photography and I was reluctant to put into play the Rokinon fish eye, not yet having explored its potential. My focus was properly on the workshop attendees. However, the next morning I decided I would run it through a few paces with some test shots.
Wow, the tack sharp image quality blew me away. I already owned the Rokinon 24mm f/1/4 and the 14mm f/2.8, both of which are fine manual lens and are high performers in photographing
the night sky. Already I could see this new 12mm fish eye lens would be a great addition to my night shooting tool chest. The lens is totally manual, but the manual focus is not a problem and in most cases you seem to have infinite depth of field. There is very little field curvature issues and coma aberration is almost non-existent, a huge consideration in astrophotography.
Price?? Well, that is another plus. You can pick this jewel up for around $400 or less through B&H Photo. You can probably get it even cheaper through Greentoe Name Your Price. This is a far cry from say the Canon 11-24mm L for about $2800.
Filters: Like most fisheye lenses, you can’t really use filters without some rather expensive adapters and special filters. I don’t really see this as an issue however because of how and when one employes this lens.
I could go on but I will leave it at highly recommending this as an addition to your equipment bag, especially if you like a little astrophotography.
Went to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City several nights back. Thought I would try to capture something with the Christmas lights for a card. Spent some time with a fellow photographer checking out a few possible locations for a nice sunset over the Plaza. Unfortunately, the previously predicted 24% sky cover did not materialize. Such conditions could have provided the elements for a really nice sunset. But a cloudless sky is all we ultimately had to work with. After chalking it up to little more than a scouting mission, we grabbed a few shots and my fellow photographer friend decided he should call it a night. I too figured I would capture a few more and head home. As I walked a few blocks I noticed another photographer at a corner deeply involved in his work. As I approached I saw he was photographing through a clear crystal ball. I introduced myself and listened as he explained what he was doing and he then graciously offered me the opportunity the try a few shots through what was like a giant raindrop. Of course the image appeared upside down but that would easily be corrected in post processing. It was different and certainly produced a unique image for this year’s Christmas card.
Merry Christmas to all my photography fans and friends
Back during a September evening the forecast for the night sky was clear for the Kansas City area. So I thought I’d head out to the Flint Hills on the Kansas side to a place called Teter’s Rock for some night photography. The Flint Hills encompasses a region in eastern Kansas and north-central Oklahoma. It features a band of rolling hills and grasslands with wide open skies. A place where in the spring you might see storms developing 50 miles away. In this area you can easily escape the light pollution of the city in search of a dark sky for star photography. While the dark skies are great for night photography, you have to really search for something to effectively use as s an interesting foreground element. Enter Teter Rock.
Teters Rock is a group of stones standing as a tribute to a man, James Teter, who owned the land where a small community developed around some oil fields. Of course the community is long gone and all that remains are these standing rocks on some high ground that represented what was originally intended as a guidepost for homesteaders searching for the nearby Cottonwood River. The original stones are long gone but the current day monolith was erected as a tribute to James Teter, while most any other sign of the former community is long gone. Teter Rock now offers a great foreground object to include in a composition while photographing the night skies of Kansas.
Arriving on site, I began to evaluate the area for possible compositions. The sun was just about to set so I caught a few quick shots of the setting sun through the openings of the rocks comprising the Teter monument. I then explored positions facing north to determine where to best set up to place the rock in relation to the North Star, which would be the center of rotation of my star trails. My initial objective was to plan for a length of time to take multiple exposures to later stack together to show the resulting star trails over Teter Rock. There are always small things to consider on the horizon, such as a flashing strobe on a distant tower, glow from a small town in the distance, should I position my camera closer to the ground for a lower perspective, and other considerations. The camera I had available to me this night was my Canon 5DSR. This camera is a great choice for landscapes because of its high pixel count, allowing for very detailed images. However, because of the higher pixel count it does not perform as well at high ISO settings often associated with night photography. But it is the only camera I had available at the time so I chose to use it to actually test its performance in these conditions.
When taking star trail images you won’t necessarily need to higher ISO’s such as 3200 or 6400. In fact I will often start out around f/4, ISO 400, 4min on a dark night without a moon. I might take a couple of test shots to fine tune my exposure. With desired exposure and composition determined, I set the intervalometer for no more than 4 min exposures and fire it off , sit back in my rag chair and enjoy a beverage and snacks, and just let it go. I had allowed for only a 1 sec interval between exposures and used a total of about 60 exposures to create the star trail shot above.
The crescent moon, which provided a small amount of ambient light, began to get low on the horizon as the night wore on. The brightest portion of the Milky Way, easily identified by its proximity to the constellation Sagittarius, was still about 15-20 degrees above the horizon. I could now reposition and try a few Milky Way shots above Teter Rock. Now this is when I really expected to run into problems with noise in my images because of having to increase my ISO. Using a Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 lens my strategy was to stay as low as possible on the ISO to mitigate the
noise and rely on the speed of the lens to capture the needed light. I knew that by using my 24mm and applying the 500 rule ( 500 / focal length of lens = max exposure time)I should keep my exposure time to no longer than about 20 seconds to render the stars as points of light in the image. Nonetheless, I decided to push the exposure to 30 seconds considering I kept my ISO at 1600 in lieu of the 3200 or 6400 I might have otherwise chosen using my Canon 5D Mark III.
All things considered, the images I came away with were quite acceptable after post processing, and to my surprise the noise was very manageable. You can see, however in the 100% magnification of the Milky Way image of why you should be mindful of your exposure time when your objective is to capture stars as points of light. While the image viewed at normal magnification looks acceptable, when magnified it clearly shows the elongated rice-shaped stars resulting from the earth’s movement over that 30 seconds. Where this would really become obvious is if you decided to make a large print. The lesson here is that you should always consider the 500 rule in these cases and even do a test shot and then magnify the result in your LCD to be sure your stars are both in focus and your exposure is within limits to produce stars as points of light.
The prime season in the Northern Hemisphere to view the Galactic Core of the Milky Way is from March to October, with best viewing between April and July. While the Milky Way is still visible throughout the year, the brightest portion of the core will be below the horizon from November to February.
I CONDUCT SEVERAL NIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS IN THE KANSAS FLINT HILLS AND HOPE YOU WILL SUBscribe TO MY BLOG TO GET PLANNED DATES OR REVIEW LATEST POSTS AND TECHNIQUES. YOU CAN ALSO VISIT MY WEBSITE FOR ALL SCHEDULED WORKSHOPS AT WWW.CRAIGMCCORDPHOTOGRAPHY.COM
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How often do we hear the mantra “It’s all about the Golden Hour” or another explaining how the “Blue Hour” is where the most beauty hides. Others may insist that landscape photographers should best use the middle hours for scouting and taking combat naps to ready for the next golden hour. While all these statement have some validity, I would posit that one can often lose out on some fabulous opportunities if you adhere to this guidance too literally.
Take for example the image above photographed at the iconic Oxbow Bend in the Grand Tetons National Park. Every morning hordes of photographers, some of which have traveled from around the world, gather to photograph this location at first light. And to be sure, this is an ideal time to catch some beautiful light slowly begin to paint Mount Moran and the fall colors along the Snake River. After the morning show, many go on about their way to grab a shot at some other site on the way back to breakfast or their favorite Starbucks beverage in Jackson. Maybe that is why when I arrived at this spot around 10 am there was hardly anyone around. Seeing this I immediately pulled in my workshop group to take advantage of these near perfect conditions. The clouds, the stillness of the air, and the beautiful light on the fall colors worked together to serve a perfect image well beyond the golden hour. Certainly a little serendipity played a role, as within about 15 minutes of our arrival a breeze came up which created ripples on the river, completely eliminating the reflections. The image opportunity was gone.
Another example is the Tetons and Golden Willows Image. This again was taken during a period many photographers might be having lunch, photographed around 11:30 am. Now to be fair, the overcast light does act as a diffuser and enables soft even light without harsh shadows you might otherwise have during this time of day. Which brings up another point I make of exploiting these conditions to expand your shooting day. No, you may not get that beautiful sunrise or sunset but I guarantee you will find many compositions that otherwise may have simply not worked in other lighting conditions.
The Jenny Lake image was a long exposure taken a little later in the afternoon around 4pm. Surely not the golden hour but it was late enough to be getting some depth creating shadows in the mountains. I wanted something more than just an afternoon shot of the lake and mountains so I grabbed my trusty Lee Big Stopper 10 stop ND to create this 239 second exposure. This created the motion in the clouds and also really smoothed out the lake to provide somewhat a semi-reflection of the mountain. It also produced a sense of sereneness to the overall scene.
Again using the Lee Big Stopper, I went for a similar effect at String Lake. This time the effect was slightly more subtle but still effective. The image was taken at 1:30 pm and did necessitate some consideration of shadows for foreground elements.
Even with the bright afternoon light you can still get some interesting, story-telling images while otherwise on your midday scouting mission. The image, “Boots and Bones” offers an example. Taken at 12:40pm It could be argued that this images best works during this period, as it adds to a feeling of a desolate place and the harsh life of early ranchers of the area.
So, don’t sell yourself short by ignoring times other than the often mentioned “Golden or Blue” hour. There are great opportunities throughout the day, not just the edge of day.
SIGN UP NOW FOR THE 2017 FALL COLORS WORKSHOP IN THE GRAND TETIONS, SEPTEMBER 21-25, 2017. DETAILS HERE: TETON WOKSHOP