First Night: Testing an iOptron SkyTracker, Part Two

Orion Nebula and Nebula NGC 1977

Orion Nebula and Nebula NGC 1977. Three minute exposure with a 300mm lens and camera mounted on an iOptron SkyTracker. This is cropped from a larger image.

After a one minute exposure using the iOptron SkyTracker (see the photo in part one), I tried a 3 minute exposure with the same 300mm lens to create the image above (which is cropped from a larger image which you can see below). The Orion Nebula (M42 and M43) shows up quite well and you can even see some of the nebulosity of NGC 1977 just above the Orion Nebula around the 5th magnitude stars Orionis 42 and 45. The iOptron StarTracker is an impressive piece of equipment.

Posted March 17, 2016. Updated Dec. 5, 2017

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Snowy Owl Photography: Control the Background for Better Images

Snowy Owl, Photo Location 1

Snowy Owl, Photo Location 1

A simple change of background can turn a disappointing wildlife photo into a great one. Professional wildlife photographers think about backgrounds all the time and do everything they can to improve the background. Less experienced wildlife photographers are so excited to find an interesting creature that they give the background precious little thought.

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How to Find and Photograph Snowy Owls

Snowy Owl Sightings, January 2016

Snowy Owl Sightings, January 2016

Winter is your opportunity to photograph Snowy Owls. When it is cold and snowy there are a lot of snowy owl sightings across the northern U.S. Don’t delay. If the winter turns warmer the owls will head farther north. On the other hand, if the winter turns colder they may move even farther south.

This is the first in an ongoing series of articles on Snowy Owl photography. Originally posted January 25, 2016. Revised and updated Dec. 24, 2017.

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How To Work With A Model When The Windchill is 4°

Selina

Selina, Downtown Columbus Ohio

You would think a windchill of 4° Fahrenheit (-16°C) would be too cold for a photo shoot, but not with some models. We booked this January shoot weeks in advance so we knew it would be cold, but we had no idea how cold until the day arrived. Here’s the story behind this image and how to work with a model when it is so cold.

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Art Wolfe – Don’t Miss Your Chance To Download This Free Photography Video

Chamonix Needles & Lac Blanc, France. Photo © Art Wolfe.

Chamonix Needles & Lac Blanc, France. Photo © Art Wolfe.

Art Wolfe is a world class photographer. If I could pick only 5 photographers to go out and shoot with, Art would be on that list. His work is stunning. I own several of his books, some for inspiration and some for “how to” information. So I jumped at the chance to get his 30 minute video, “Ten Deadly Sins of Composition”.

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“How To” Series: Winter Photography

Last Light on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

Last Light on El Capitan, Yosemite National Park

In addition to all of the usual photographic challenges, winter provides some extra complications, especially in terms of metering. So I began my series of articles on winter photography. I just finished revising and updating the series. I also revised some related articles and added new ones. They are all linked below. They will help you meet the unique challenges of winter photography. So read the articles, get out there, have fun, and create some stunning images!

This series is updated every year in January. The January 2017 update is here.

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Metering Wildlife in the Snow, Part One

Elk in the Snow, Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk in the Snow, Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Metering dark toned wildlife in the snow is a major exposure challenge. It is usually best to avoid large “burned out” areas (washed out, featureless white) in a nature or landscape photograph, but with properly exposed snow, the wildlife can be so dark as to lose all texture. On other hand, metering for the wildlife can burn out the snow. So what do you do?

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How to Create a Stacked Image of the Night Sky

Night sky with airplane lights, Fremont, California

Venus, Jupiter, stars, and airplane lights. Fremont, California. 27 separate images stacked together. Click to see a larger version.

It is a handy thing to know how to stack multiple night sky images into one photo. It allows you to create one stacked image covering a long period of time (using multiple photos) when it is not possible to make one long exposure of the night sky. What is a stacked image? Several images taken over a period of time which are combined to create one image fro the whole time period. This tutorial will show you how to create one.

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How to Photograph Stars from a Plane

The Big Dipper from a Jet plane

The Big Dipper from a Jet Airplane. Click to see a larger version.

Theoretically, it is difficult if not impossible to photograph stars from a moving plane. And for most flights that is true. Star photography usually means a steady tripod (on the ground, of course), exposures that are around 15-30 seconds in length, and an ISO around 400-1600 depending on the amount of sky fog at your shooting location. That just won’t work on a plane. Plus most plane rides are just too bumpy or unsteady, not to mention engine vibrations that are transmitted through the airframe. But it can be done with just the right conditions.

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Create Great Yard and Garden Photos With A Camera Phone

Balloon Flower Closeup, iPhone 4S with Olloclip closeup lens

Balloon Flower Closeup, iPhone 4S with Olloclip closeup lens

Fall is in the air and it isn’t too late to grab your camera phone and take some pictures in your garden. Here are some tips for creating some memorable photos. All of the images in this article were created with an iPhone 4S, which means more recent iPhones and Android phones should be capable of doing everything you see in this article (plus one simple accessory for a few of these photos). Continue reading

October 7-8: Photograph the Northern Lights Tonight!

Planetary Kp Index Map for the U.S. and Canada

Planetary Kp Index Map for the U.S. and Canada. Click for a larger version.

The planetary Kp index tonight (October 7 into the early hours of October 8) is projected to be 7. That is one of the highest readings in months. If you live north of the yellow line on the map above, your odds of seeing the Northern Lights are good. Of course you need clear, dark skies. That means little or no clouds, no moon, and you need to be far away from big city lights.

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POTD: The Maroon Bells by Moonlight

The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake by Moonlight with the Milky Way. Colorado.

The Maroon Bells and Maroon Lake by Moonlight with the Milky Way. Colorado. Click to see a larger version.

The Maroon Bells deserve their reputation as one of the best photo locations in the state of Colorado, especially in the fall. They look just as spectacular by moonlight. It is an added bonus if you get a hint of the Milky Way in the frame (left side of the image). It won’t be as sharp and defined as on a dark night without the moon, but it will be there.

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How to Photograph the Northern Lights

Northern Lights over Lake Michigan

Northern Lights over Lake Michigan. Click to see a larger image.

It was an amazing night for Northern Lights in Northern Michigan, and I was leading a photography workshop. What a treat for all the photographers! I specifically picked this location on Lake Michigan so we would have the lake, some trees for framing the image and a good view in the expected direction of the Northern Lights.

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How to Photograph the International Space Station

Light Path of the International Space Station

Light Path of the International Space Station. August 1, 2015. 10:05 – 10:09 pm EDT. Click to see a larger version.

The International Space Station (ISS) passes over Columbus Ohio. It isn’t that hard to find and it is relatively easy to photograph. In this photo the light path curves below the center of the frame from lower left to upper right (click to see a larger image). There are also airplane lights in the lower right corner of the frame. The stars are slightly streaked due to the motion of the earth during the long photograph.

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POTD: Wood Poppy

 

Wood Poppy (Celandine Poppy), West Lake Nature Preserve.

Wood Poppy (Celandine Poppy), West Lake Nature Preserve.

On my way home from my photography workshop in Grand Rapids/Holland, another photographer and I stopped at West Lake Nature Preserve in Portage, Michigan. It is one of my favorite nature photography locations in southwest Michigan. Something is happening there most any time of year.

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Metering Nighttime Winter Scenes

Twilight, Rocky Mountain National Park.

Twilight, Rocky Mountain National Park. Sirius, Canis Major, Orion, Taurus, the Hyades star cluster, and the Pleiades star cluster are all visible in the fading light. Click for a larger version.

You can photograph the night sky year around, but winter brings an added bonus: SNOW! Instead of the black, silhouetted skyline you get most of the year, in winter you have the possibility of including the highly reflective snow. That is why for many photographers winter is their favorite time of year to photograph the night sky.

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How To Photograph Comet Lovejoy

Comet Lovejoy cropped from a full size image. Click to see a larger version.

Comet Lovejoy cropped from a march larger image. Click to see a larger version.

If you have never photographed a comet before, this is a great chance to practice. All you need is a camera with long shutter speeds, a reasonably fast wide angle lens, and a tripod. Most any recent model DSLR will do, plus a few high end point-and-shoot (all in one) cameras.

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Metering Wildlife in the Snow, Part Two

Cougar

Cougar

Most wildlife are medium to dark in tone, making them a challenge to meter properly in the bright, white tones of winter. If you trust your camera’s auto exposure modes, the odds are good you won’t get the best exposure. If you switch over to manual exposure and make the right decisions, you can get great exposures and better quality photos (more about that later).

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Metering Wildlife in the Snow, Part One

Elk in the Snow, Rocky Mountain National Park

Elk in the Snow, Horseshoe Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Metering dark toned wildlife in the snow is a major exposure challenge. It is usually best to avoid large “burned out” areas (washed out, featureless white) in a nature or landscape photograph, but with properly exposed snow, the wildlife can be so dark as to lose all texture. On other hand, metering for the wildlife can burn out the snow.

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Metering Daytime Winter Scenes

Mount Hunter from a Bush Plane. Denali National Park. Alaska.

Mount Hunter from a Bush Plane. Denali National Park. Alaska.

Metering for scenes with a lot of snow can be tricky since the bright snow fools the camera meter. I see a lot of winter photos with gray snow, which means the camera meter did exactly what it was designed to do and the camera owner didn’t know how to use exposure compensation. The solution is quite simple provided you know what to do.

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