Milky Way over Clingmans Dome

Last week during a trip to the smokies with a few friends, we had the opportunity to photograph the milky way.  The weather was clear, there was very little moon, and it didn't even rise until after the milky way was to set anyway.  The weather was cooperating, so we just needed a place to shoot it.

After consulting my PhotoPills app and considering a few other places, we decided to try our luck at Clingmans Dome.  There isn't much as far as interesting foreground elements go in the parking lot there, so we decided to make the walk up to the observation tower and use that as a foreground element.  That walk, by the way, is not very fat friendly.  It is only about a half mile, but has an elevation gain of 331 feet.  That probably doesn't sound too bad reading it, but after a 1/4 of the way your thighs will let you know how bad it actually is.  We also did this at 3:00 AM.

We shot a few images at the base of the observation tower then one of my friends and I decided to walk up to the top of the tower to get above the trees and see how the compositions would look.  I'm sure glad we did.  Although the images from the base of the tower were great, what you could see from the top was incredible!  

You could not fit the milky way into the frame, even at 15mm, so this is a 6 shot panoramic image.  This was taken just minutes before the galactic center was to disappear behind the horizon. This was the first image I processed from my trip once I returned home.  I knew it looked pretty good on the camera's LCD, but I was just hoping it lined up and stitched together OK.  Lightroom Classic had no issues stitching the images.  I made sure to overlap each image by about 25% or so.  I'm pretty happy with the way this one turned out.

Equipment list: Nikon D850, Tamron SP 15-30 F/2.8 Di VC USD, Sirui Tripod and K-40 Ballhead

EXIF Info: Manual exposure, 30 sec, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 17mm


Milky Way at The Bonsai Tree

I've been out in Utah for a few days now in Zion National Park.  The focus of the trip here was primarily night skies...and the conditions are perfect for it!

Here's an image of the milky way from the first scene we stopped to shoot it at.  I'm not sure this area even has a name, but we have called it "the bonsai tree".  This little tree hanging off the side of this boulder makes for a good image anytime, but when the milky way rises in the valley between the two "mountains", it is a sight to see!

Manual Exposure Mode, 30 seconds, F/2.8, ISO 3200, 15mm

Photographing the milky way is super easy!  The hardest part is doing the research to figure out the time and position of it in relation to your subject.  The camera settings are easy...manual mode, 30 second shutter speed, ISO 3200 and set your aperture as wide open as your lens will allow.

This image was made with my Canon 5D III and Tamron 15-30mm Lens.  All resting atop my Sirui N-3204X and K-30 Ballhead.

Houston at Dusk

So, I got to do a few things last week.  I got to travel to Houston and I got to travel with a new to me product that I've been playing with over the last several weeks, the Sirui T-2205X Tripod and Sirui G20-X Ballhead combo.

This combo was a delight to travel with.  The whole shebang folds down to a whooping 14.6" making it very easy to fit in a carry on.  Its also very easy to attach to the side of your camera bag and forget about if you are making a hike into the woods.  It has a maximum height of 56.9", which is more than adequate for my travels.  It also holds up to 26.5lbs, so it holds my Sony A7R and Tamron 24-70 (my favorite combo) without any trouble at all.  It's one of the best travel setups I have ever used.  I've also been using some of their other products recently and their ballheads are an exceptional value.  I couldn't believe the retail price on them after I discovered their quality.

Back to Houston...I've been to Houston many, many times.  However, I usually don't get a lot of shooting time while I am there.  This time, however I had almost an entire day to wonder about.  I also squeezed an extra evening after dinner to head downtown into Eleanor Tinsley Park.  I've shot from the park a few years back and it made for a fantastic scene of downtown.  I'm a creature of habit, so I went back to the exact same spot.  Only this time I had my Tamron 24-70 Lens.  This time I wasn't prepared for the huge amount of people at the park in the summer...or the 15 parking spots that were available.  So, I thought I was getting there very early, but after finally parking I had about 3 minutes to spare.

I photographed this scene from a pedestrian bridge that crosses Allen Parkway.  This is the same bridge I had photographed this scene from before.  The last time I had a smaller lens, so I could jab it through the chain link fence and shoot without worry.  So, I was a little concerned that I might not be able to get through the fence with the 24-70.  As luck would have it, some kind soul had already cut a hole in the fence for me.  That concern vanished.

ISO 100, 24mm, F/16 @ 13 seconds

If you want to shoot "night" scenes like this, it's best to do it right after the sun goes down, right before dark.  It's dark enough for the lights to be on in the buildings, cars are using their head/tail lights, but the sky isn't black, so it has a lot more definition and not as much noise.

As you might suspect, there was plenty of traffic coming out of downtown in the evening, but not very much going into town.  I wanted to balance that part of the image as much as I could.  There was a stop light behind me about an 1/8 of a mile or so.  I'd watch that stop light.  As it turned green, I'd wait for the cars to get right beneath the bridge I was shooting from and open the shutter.  This gave me the most amount of taillights I could get.  I also stopped down to F/16 and shoot at ISO 100 to give me a bit of a longer shutter speed, too.

As I mentioned before, I shot this with my Sony A7R, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70 Lens.  All of this rested atop the Sirui T-2205X Tripod and G-20X Ballhead.

Houston Skyline

Last evening I shared an image i had made of the Houston Skyline on my Facebook page.  Many people had nice comments and I appreciate that very much.   Tonight I thought I'd take a few minutes to tell you what it was like making that image.  

First off, the image was made from a pedestrian bridge.  The bridge was maybe 2.5' wide, but at least it were only for pedestrians and you didn't have to worry about vibration from vehicles.   The bridge was covered in chain link fencing on both sides.  You can see this in my first attempt below.

Oh yeah, I've got to figure out how to get the lens through that stuff!  Luckily I was shooting with my new travel setup, the Fuji X-E1 and the XF 18-55mm lens.  It is a small rig and allowed me to get mostly through the fence.  I was using a tripod, as most always, but I still had to get creative with how the lens was wedged through the fence and put pressure on the back side of the camera/tripod to keep it from moving.  My first attempt at that with a 18 second shutter speed was not a very good one...

Yeah, someone (me) must have moved my tripod while trying to hold it against the fencing.  OK, time to make some adjustments to that whole tripod holding, lens through the fencing gig.  This time I tried a shorter shutter speed...10 seconds. 

Hey, now we're starting to cook with gas...If you look at this image above, you can see I got some of the fencing in the upper right and lower left corners of the image.  I was shooting at 18mm, so I kinda expected something like that.  I think I can work with this, though.  A little tweaking in Adobe Lightroom 5, some help from content aware and the cloning brush in Adobe Photoshop CC and Topaz Labs Clarity Plugin, I was able to get the final image below. 

Now, this one I can deal with!  I wanted to kinda show you the progression of how this shot came about.  It's not always a "one and done" scenario.  In fact, it seldom is.  It is about trying different compositions, sometimes experimenting with a tripod pressing, lens through the chain link method until you can get something to work with.  I try not to rely too much on Photoshop to fix things like this normally, however this time I accepted a momentary defeat to the chain link...until I pulled out the ole content aware brush. ;)