Here are two from a super late night with Nick. We started off shooting the Virginia City, NV graveyard near midnight and then Nick showed me an amazing place (top photo) that I’m sure I will be shooting lots more!  I’m too tired to put up the specs.

Abandoned 

Graveyard at midnight: Virginia City, NV

Comments welcome…

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Milkyway over Tahoe Panorama   © 2008  Dan Newton

I’ve had some pretty heavy bags under my eyes for the past few days as a result of my late night habit of staying out until 3am doing night photography. Last night a buddy and I drove up to Virginia City, NV—a preserved 1800s mining town— and shot an old church.

Old Church in Virginia City, NV    © 2008  Dan Newton

On Monday night I joined a small group of friends for some late night shooting at Lake Tahoe. Our original plan was to try and locate Banzai Rock (in which we failed miserably), so we decided to shoot near sand harbor instead.

The 180 degree panorama on the left is the result of five photos stitched vertically. My D300 was set to ISO 3200 to pull off 30 sec exposures at f/2.8. The lens was a Tokina 11-16mm 2.8.

The very bright ball of light rising above the trees, on the left is Jupiter.

The final photo (below) is yet another star streak photo over Tahoe, taken at the same time as the panorama. I stacked for an hour using 30 second exposures with the 10.5mm fisheye (which I am on the verge of using too much) at f/2.8. The foreground exposure was taken in RAW for 10 mins at f4 (for more depth of field) with noise reduction turned on. The exposures were later combined in Photoshop. Later on, I may post a rectalinear corrected version (meaning the fisheye effect is removed using software) just for fun. The photo isn’t finished, if you look closely you can see plane streaks and I’m not too sure about the color.

An Hour of Lake Tahoe     © 2008  Dan Newton

Well, thats all for now, comments welcome…

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Here is an hour long star streak photo taken near Washoe Lake, NV. Nearby traffic lit up the face of the tree during the exposure and the orange sky pollution near the horizon is from Reno.

Stars over a dead tree

Specs: Nikon D300, 10.5mm 2.8, just over an hour’s worth of stacking, ISO 1000 at f/3.2

Be sure to check out my guide to star streak photos.

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From this afternoon.

tracksIR

 

miraIR

Specs: IR converted Nikon D100, 50mm f/1.4, processed in Photoshop.

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Quantum, Novatron and a number of the other lighting companies use the AC (household) sync and the cables to connect them to Skyports and PocketWizards aren’t cheap . The only two manufacturers I’m aware of that produce these cables are PocketWizard and Paramount and both charge around $25-35 for a short cable! Here’s how to make a few for around $4.00 each!

Disclaimer: I will not be held responsible for any damage to your flash or radio trigger. I am not an electrician. Please try this at your own risk.

Homemade 1/8

Read More

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To compliment my last post, here’s another portrait of a Reno photographer. You can see Asa’s work by clicking his link under the “People I photograph with” section on the right.

Asa Gilmore, Photographer

Photo info: Nikon D300, Tokina 28-70mm 2.8, exposure 1/200th, F4.5, ISO 400, 2x Speedlights.

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Here’s one from a fun shoot last night with some friends. The guy’s name is Nick Higman, he’s a genuinely nice guy and talented photographer.  You can see his photography by clicking his name in the “People I photograph with” section on the sidebar —>

Nick Higman, Photographer

The photo was taken around midnight in an alley near downtown Reno.

Nikon D300, Nikon 50mm f/1.4 @ f/2.5, handheld @ 1/30th, ISO 500

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Ever since the first time I looked in a book with long-exposure photography, I’ve loved the look of trailing stars in photographs. The idea is simple, expose for a long enough period of time to record the rotation of the stars as the Earth spins. My own attempts were never very successful using film due to the negative effects of reciprocity and my lack of technical skills and patience. Even later, when I finally got a digital SLR camera with the battery life to pull off an hour long exposure, my star streak photos were always sub par, riddled with technical and aesthetic problems. One of my problems was that I always tried to shoot star streaks as if I were shooting a film camera: One very long, guessed exposure, teetering on the edge of my battery life. As I will outline, there are many problems with this technique and there is a much better solution!

Stars over Lake Tahoe

The “Traditional” Method of Getting Star Streak Photographs

Things used to seem quite simple. Find a dark sky without too much light pollution, calculate an exposure based on the ISO, working aperture and phase of the moon, place your camera on “bulb” mode and expose for a long enough period of time so that the stars streak through the sky as the Earth rotates. As simple as this seems, there are many problems with this method. For one, while digital cameras don’t have the issue of reciprocity like film does, they do have the inherent problem of noise. Without getting too technical, all digital cameras use an internal imaging device to convert light into an electric charge, this is either a CCD or a CMOS in most cases. As the camera exposes, and depending on the ambient temperature, the sensor begins to heat up and produce thermal noise or dark current. Here, the star detail is limited because I exposed for the foregroundThis can heavily degrade the detail and quality of an image. Most modern digital SLRs have built in long exposure noise reduction by silently taking second “dark frame” for the same length of the first, thus removing the dark current. One of the major problems with the built in noise reduction is that in order to be effective, the camera has to noise reduce under the same ambient temperature as the original exposure(meaning the photographer has to stay on location for twice the amount of time), the other problem is battery life limitations. With my older Nikon D200 + battery grip, I could pull off about an hour of exposure + an hour of noise reduction and just barely have juice to preview the final shot.

Another problem with the so called “Traditional” method is balancing a light polluted sky with the foreground. Unless you are just going for a shot of the stars in the sky and don’t care about any foreground detail, you are most likely going to be very frustrated when you find that the sky is too bright to make out the stars due to light pollution if exposing for foreground detail (see the photo on the left). City lights, car headlights and especially a large phase moon can light up the sky dramatically brighter than the foreground leaving you with the choice of either underexposure your foreground, or losing precious star detail and contrast by exposing for foreground detail. Painting the foreground with light is one solution, but doesn’t solve the other problems.

Stacking, the (Almost) Perfect Solution!Stars over Verdi, NV

So instead of shooting a single long exposure, we can take a large number of short exposures equaling the length of time that our single long exposure would have been and “stack” them together. Let me clarify. Lets say you would like to have an hour long exposure of the stars moving across the sky. You could set up and shoot an hour long single exposure and run in to the previously mentioned problems, or instead you could do the following…

Shooting:

  1. You’ll need a fully charged battery (battery grip is recommended), a cable release or remote, a tripod and a memory card capable of holding a few hundred shots.
  2. Set your quality to .jpg-fine or RAW (Keep in mind that if you want to shoot raw, you will have to batch process a large number of files).
  3. On a tripod, compose your shot and set your shutter speed to the slowest speed your camera will shoot continuously, most digital SLRs will shoot as slow as 30 seconds, don’t use bulb.
  4. Taking a few test exposures, set your exposure (using your ISO and aperture) so that you can see stars in the sky. Don’t overexpose the sky, we want a fairly dark histogram, with a very small spike near the right for the stars. Also, don’t worry about getting too much foreground detail in your exposure right now, just focus on the stars.
  5. Set your white-balance for the sky. This is a matter of personal preference and it will vary depending on the light pollution.
  6. Turn off any kind of long-exposure noise reduction that is built in to your camera. High ISO NR can be left on.
  7. Set your camera to continuous drive mode.
  8. Lock your cable release/remote so that the camera is stuck firing continuously. Now the camera will shoot one 30 second exposure after another until you stop it.
  9. Stop after an hour (or however long your predetermined exposure is). The longer you let the camera shoot, the more the earth will rotate and the longer the star streaks. Also, keep an eye on the camera as some cameras do not have the buffer to handle so many shots in a row.
  10. Don’t move the camera! Once you’re done exposing, you still need to shoot a manual dark frame for noise reduction. Put your lens cap on, make sure the viewfinder doesn’t have any light shining into it and expose for 30 seconds.
  11. The last thing you need to do it shoot a brighter foreground frame for the detail in the foreground. Put your camera on bulb, and make an exposure long enough to get good detail in the foreground, don’t worry about overexposing the sky. I recommend using the same aperture and ISO setting as the 30 second exposures for noise consistency. You can enable in camera long exposure noise reduction for this if you want, or you can shoot another dark frame with the lens cap on of the same length for noise reduction. I recommend turning NR back on for this if you have the time/battery life.
  12. Go home and follow the next section for processing.

Processing:
Stacking How To

Windows Users:
Note that Windows users can also follow the OSX instructions for a bit more work, but also a little more control.

  1. Download StarTrails from HERE. We will also be using Adobe Photoshop CS3 (although you can probably use CS2 or even Elements 6).
  2. Open StarTrails and go to File –> “Open Images” and select all of the frames except for the dark frame and foreground frame.
  3. Go to File —> “Open Dark Frames” and select your darkframe
  4. Click Build —> Star Trails and give it a few minutes. You can watch as the star streaks grow.
  5. Save as a .tiff file and open the .tiff in Photoshop
  6. Also open the foreground exposure jpeg and paste it as a new layer on top of your stacked .tiff file in photoshop
  7. Create a black mask on the foreground layer and paint in the foreground carefully (see graphic above for example).
  8. Apply curves, noise reduction and other editing adjustments and your done!

OSX Users:

Since the StarTrails Software doesn’t work in OSX, we can use Photoshop to do the same thing. Its a bit more work, but it gives you more individual frame control. There are two ways to do it:

Method 1: Use the CS3 script under File —> Scripts —> “Load Files into Stack.” Open all of your exposures except the foreground frame. Change each layer’s blending type to “lighten” and the dark frame’s to “difference.” This is time consuming and tedious. I recommend method 2.

Method 2: Download this Photoshop action (this does everything above automatically, except the dark and foreground frames). Follow the directions on the site (one step). I recommend deleting the action step where it flattens the layers. Then add your dark frame as a new layer, change the blend type to difference. Next add your foreground image as a layer, create a black mask and paint in the foreground. Apply curves, noise reduction and other adjustments as needed.

Train Bridge Streaks

Almost Perfect? What gives?

While the stacking technique gives you a ton of control, it is definitely more work. Also, at large print sizes, small gaps can appear in the star streaks from the small gaps between exposures.

Some Tips

  • You can include the polar axis (rotational center) in your shot by including Polaris (the North star) in your photo (see the Tahoe photo at the top of this post)
  • Shoot during a new moon or smaller than half phase if possible
  • Look up local moon rise/moon set times so the rising moon doesn’t mess you up in the middle of an exposure
  • If you have a large budget, look at battery grips and/or external power sources for your camera such as Quantum’s Turbo 2×2 battery

Timelapses

If you took a bunch of stacking photos, you can always put them together as a time lapse like this:

That’s it for now, feel free to comment or contact me with any questions.

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Thanks to the growing number of serious photographers now using inexpensive, on-location lighting (which can be attributed to excellent resources such as Strobist) the competition for radio triggers is heating up. Today I am reviewing Elinchrom’s SkyPort Universal Set. First I would like to mention that I am not affiliated in any way with either Mamiya/PocketWizard or Bogen Imaging/Elinchrom. I am just a hobbyist and do this on my spare time, so please feel free to contact me if there are errors in this article.

I should also note that, for this review, I did borrow some pocketwizard Plus IIs from my good friend and photographer Fielding Cathcart as well as a PocketWizard Multimax from another friend, co-worker and photographer Gary Weinheimer. Please check out their websites and photography.

Triggered by radio triggers

PocketWizards – The Current Champion of the Radio Trigger Ring

Traditionally, PocketWizard transceivers have been the industry standard with a very positive reputation for their reliability, simplicity and range. Today, PocketWizards are available in two different flavors: The Plus II ($190 each street) and the uber-expensive MultiMax ($290 each street). With either setup, each individual unit is a transceiver, meaning it can be set to be a transmitter (trigger) or a receiver. This means that the photographer must purchase at least two units to get up and running. The price is one of the main downfalls of the system, especially considering the high cost of two MultiMax units. With a large percentage of photographers using the Plus II units, which are limited to only 4-channels, it is very common for channel conflicts to occur.

MultiMaxs have some major benefits over the Plus IIs, such as 32 built-in channels (vs 4 on the Plus II), an Intervalometer for time lapse photography, multiple flash groups for separating lights and customizable lag time adjustment which can be used for syncing multiple cameras to fire either in sequence or simultaneously. At just under $600 for a pair, however, the units are outside the budget for most.

Elinchrom SkyPort – Enter the Contender

Weighing in at a fraction of both the weight and price of the PocketWizards, Elinchrom’s SkyPort system promises to deliver similar performance and professional reliability with some unique features. As opposed to PocketWizard’s transceiver design, the Skyports are dedicated units: transmitters and receivers. Three receivers and a transmitter in the handy case Each unit is available separately or the system can be purchased as a set. The set includes a receiver and a transmitter, as well as a nice molded carrying case (which can accommodate up to four units + cables), a charger with worldwide AC adapters for the receiver, a battery for the transmitter and a slew of sync cables.

First Impressions

These things are small! Both units combined are about half the size of a PocketWizard. The transmitter doesn’t have a hotshoe lock, but seems to slide in very tightly. I’ve seen people use Velcro on top of their prism to reinforce the transmitter. Tiny transmitterThe transmitter has two small switches on its side: one selects the triggering mode, firing on all groups or a specific group, while the other switch selects one of the four groups/subchannels. The main channel selection switches are located in a recessed area on the face of the transmitter and unfortunately the tiny switches are very difficult to adjust with just an index finger. There is a test fire button in addition to the “+” and “-” buttons which are used to control Elinchrom RX style strobes.

The receiver is slightly larger than the transmitter and features the same channel and group selection switches. In the latest version of the receiver, Elinchrom replaced the on/off switch, previously located on the side of the receiver, with a single on/off button on the face of the unit. The button is one of my main complaints, as it can be accidentally pressed. Having to hold the button down for 2-3 seconds would have been a nice feature and would alleviate the worry of killing the battery. The receivers use a miniphone connector for sync and come with small straps for hanging.

Both units have the same aerials which seem like they are a light aluminum surrounded by a flexible plastic. The aerial is tougher than it looks. I have to admit that the aerials seem a bit flimsy, but they can withstand some pressure. It is not necessary to have the aerial flipped up at closer distances (normal studio use) and the molded case included with the units should protect them in transport.

Power

Unlike the AA batteries that PocketWizards use, the SkyPort receiver uses a lithium ion rechargeable battery. The unit plugs directly into the wall and charges in about an hour or less (I haven’t timed it because I’ve had to charge very few times). There is a charge indicator light which turns off after the units are fully charged. Elinchrom claims a battery life of up to 30 hours and the units will go to a power-saving stand-by mode after four hours. I see two problems with this system: 1) There is no battery life indicator which is quite important considering… 2) the battery is not user replaceable. My advise is to charge before an important shoot as the batteries will not develop aThe tiny channel switches memory. It should be mentioned that included AC adapter comes with a variety of international adapters and will work throughout most of the world.

The transmitter uses a replaceable CR-2430 battery which is advertised to last up to three months. Elinchrom includes a spare transmitter battery insert, just in case! The transmitter does not have a power on light and this doesn’t help forgetful people like myself who find it difficult to remember to turn things off.

Channels and Groups (Sub-channels)

One of advantages of the system is its multiple channel and group support. Even though the system is advertised as having eight channels, it has the potential for 32 different channel combinations thanks to the four sub channels (groups). Skyport Universal Receiver There are numerous benefits to having four groups, one being the capability to separate lights. An example would be shooting a basketball game, each hoop could have a strobe in a different group, giving the photographer control to choose which strobes are firing.

As previously mentioned the 4 subchannels can be used in any combination with the 8 primary channels to create up to 32 unique channels which can be extremely helpful when shooting with lots of other photographers. I’ve been to a Strobist meet-up and I know that it can be extremely frustrating to share a channel with 5 other people!

Conversely, if you are the lone photographer, you can easily switch the transmitter to fire all groups at once. As you can see in the photo of the receiver I label my receiver with a group # so I can quickly see which unit is in what group.

In/Outdoor Range, Encryption and Reliability

Elinchrom says that the units will trigger reliably up to 164′ indoors and about 400′ outdoors. Not having the room to test distance inside, I will say that triggering next to other 2.4GHZ devices like my wireless router and phone do not hinder the performance. The units use 40-bit encryption and it seems to work. I also had no problem firing through walls in my small apartment.An SB-800 firing at 415' away!

Outdoors, the unit works as advertised. I set up an SB-800 at 1/8 power on the side of a long road and paced out 400′. The system worked flawlessly firing multiple shots without missing. I flipped the aerial down and the unit quit triggering. Overall with the aerial up, I got reliable results up to about 415 feet. I didn’t keep moving back because it is was busy street and I’m a little paranoid about my equipment being stolen/messed with.

Sync Speed and Frame Rate

Elinchrom does not advertise the max frame rate of the triggers, but below you can see the SkyPort system firing a Quantum Q-flash (1/64th power) at 8FPS which is as fast as I can shoot with my D300 + EN-EL4a combo, not one miss! The units are said to sync up to 1/1000 of a second, however I cannot test this because of the sync limitation on my D300. 1/320th looks fine and with anything faster my curtain starts getting in the way. These results show that the Skyports will be adequate for sports photography.
8 Fps sequence

User Modifications

Here are a few handy modifications that I found online. These fix most of my complaints on the Skyports:

AA field charger for the receiver Sb-800 with receiver
Receiver On/Off button protector
How to better reinforce the transmitter to your camera

Conclusion

While the system is not without its flaws (see cons below), Elinchrom has done very well in creating a reliable radio trigger as an alternative to the popular PocketWizards. Coming in at roughly half the price of the Plus IIs, firing as far away as 415′ and packing 32 possible channels, the Skyports seem like an excellent choice. The Skyports can definitely be improved if Elinchrom would add a transmitter power light, battery indicators for both units, beefier aerials and a hotshoe lock. Considering the ups and downs, I can easily say that I would recommend the Skyports to anyone who can’t afford PocketWizards, wants to save space, or needs more than 4 channels on a reliable trigger.

PROS

  • Super small and light weight
  • Inexpensive (half the price of the PocketWizards)
  • 32 possible channels
  • Reliability seems on par with PocketWizards
  • Good usable range
  • The battery life is excellent and the receivers have rechargeable batteries
  • Includes a number of sync cables, international power adapters as well as a nice case

CONS

  • Transmitter has no shoe-lock (see work around HERE)
  • Poor placement of ON/OFF button (see work around HERE)
  • The aerials seem flimsy
  • Neither unit has a battery life indicator
  • The Receiver does have a Lithium Ion rechargeable battery, it is not interchangeable to my knowledge
  • Although a variety of sync cables are included, neither the “set” nor the receiver comes with a miniphone to PC cable (common for small speedlights)
  • Hard to change channels with your finger

Wizards vs Ports (1)

Channels

Advertised Range

Speed

Intervalometer
for time-lapse photography

Groups

ability to separate lights

Connector type

PocketWizard Plus II

4

1600 ft

12 Fps

No

No

Miniphone

PocketWizard MultiMax

32

1600 ft

12 Fps

Yes

Yes

Miniphone

Elinchrom Skyport

32
using sub-channels

400+ ft

at least 8 Fps, probably faster

No

Yes

Miniphone

Wizards vs Ports (2)

Dimensions

Power Source

Lag time adjustment

used to trigger multiple cameras simultaneously

Advertised max sync speed

Price
Est. Street
(May ’08)

PocketWizard Plus II

size:
3.6 x 1.4 x2″
(antenna is 2.2″)

weight:
6oz w/ batteries

2x AAs each

No

1/3000th second

$190 each unit

PocketWizard MultiMax size:
4.0 x 1.4 x 2.1″
(antenna is 2.4″)

weight:
5.4oz w/ batteries

2x AAs each

Yes

1/3000th second

$290 each unit

Elinchrom SkyPort

Transmitter:
2 x 1.75 x 1″

Receiver:
2.5 x 2 x 0.5″

Transmitter: CR-2430
Receiver: Rechargeable Li-Ion

Yes

1/1000th second

$199 for complete set (transmitter + receiver)

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The Lost Memory Card Returns From its 100 Mile Journey!

May 16, 2008 | Category: Photography | Comments Off on The Lost Memory Card Returns From its 100 Mile Journey!

In my last post I mentioned that I had lost a 2GB memory card full of photos from our camping trip at the Black Rock desert. I tore apart EVERYTHING looking for it and nothing. Blackrock DesertI spent almost an entire day cleaning my car, double and triple checking my camera bags, unpacking all my camping equipment and making phone calls to the places we stopped on the trip.

A couple days ago, after I had finally accepted that my photos were lost forever, I received a call from someone saying they found my card! The card must have fallen out of the car when we made a brief stop 100 miles away from home.

Moral of the story: label your memory cards with your contact info and make backups on the spot if possible!

Although I’m way behind in my editing, here’s a few from that card…

 All dressed up and nowhere to go  Tasha

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