Favorites of 2015

I've had a few months absence from posting to the blog.  I really took the last few months of 2015 to chill out and hang with the fam.

I see the "in" thing now seems to be everyone posting  their "best" or "favorites" from the year of 2015, so I thought I'd follow suit here.  Many of these photos are special to me for various reasons.  It's mostly the memories made more then the photographs made.  Spending time with friends, stories we will talk about for years to come, some killer breakfasts after sunrise, I could go on and on...the point is, I probably like these for reasons that wouldn't make much sense to many of you, but that's one of the aspects of photography that I enjoy the most; friends and memories.

I hope you enjoy!  I included 15 images, since it was well...2015.

You can click on each image to view it larger.

Milky Way at Two Mile

The conditions for astro photography were prime while we were doing our workshops in Apalachicola, FL a few weeks ago.

There was no moon for a few days and the other days it was so minimal and it set so soon that it didn't effect us for getting great shots of The Milky Way.

We knew the conditions were right, we just had to find a spot to do it.  I suggested we try this place in Apalachicola called Two Mile.  I didn't know exactly how the milky way would line up there, but I knew there were abandoned boats in either direction you looked, so I knew we had a good solid foreground that wouldn't move.  Now, to just figure out where The Milky Way would line up in relation to either one of those boats.  I left that part up to my teaching partner, David Akoubian.  Once he figured out where The Milky Way's location was we saw that it lined up directly behind one of the abandoned boats.  Score!

Now, all we had to do was dial in our camera settings.  This is the simplest part!  We set our cameras on Manual Exposure mode and our Lenses on Manual Focus Mode.  We set our cameras to an ISO of anywhere from 1600-3200, out aperture as wide open as our lens would allow, in my case F/2.8 and our shutter speed to 30 seconds.  Then we focused our lenses all the way to infinity and pulled them back just a touch.  We brought a long flashlights to light of the foreground so everyone could get their composition set and we just fired off the shutters together.

ISO 1600, 24mm, F/2.8 @ 30 seconds

I made this milky way image using my Sony A7R II, LA-EA3 Lens Adapter and Tamron 24-70mm Lens.  All mounted a top my Sirui W-2204 Tripod.  

I was excited to see how excited the workshop attendees were when they saw their camera's LCDs light up with the image they just captured.  The next day we showed them how to process those milky way images in Lightroom.  Some of the students were pumping out some amazing images!  A few of them went out the next few nights on their own to capture more milky way shots.  That's what it is all about...we want to show you how to create great images and give you the tools to go out and do it on your own when you are back home and not with the group.  Mission accomplished!

White Dome Geyser

While I was out in Yellowstone a few months back I was determined to shoot some geysers at night under the stars.

While I made made plans to do this all by my lonesome, I actually ran into a friend earlier in the day and he had mentioned he was planning to do some night geyser shooting, too.  He even mentioned the same geyser I wanted to go to, White Dome Geyser.  So later that night we met up at the geyser.

Now, shooting these starry scenes, or even the Milky Way isn't rocket science.  You have to set your camera to Manual Mode.  Start by selecting your aperture as wide open as you can get.  If your lens goes to F/4, choose that...if it goes to F/2.8, then choose that aperture.  Next set your shutter speed to 30 Seconds.  Lastly you have to adjust your ISO.  I usually start at around 1600 and adjust.  If the image needs to be brighter bump your ISO up.  If it's too bright, simply lower your ISO.  That's it!

I'll admit, though in this image I was using my Sony A7S.  It can shoot in the dark without much noise, so it's kinda like cheating.  I shoot this at ISO 5000, which is still "low" for this camera.

ISO 5000, 24mm, F/2.8 @ 30 seconds

I processed this image using Lightroom.  The new Dehaze Tool in Lightroom really made the sky pop on this image.

I mentioned I shot this with my Sony A7S, but I also used my Tamron Lenses 24-70 F/2.8 Lens.  The Milky Way was actually visible above the geyser, but I didn't have a wide enough lens to capture it all.  So I settled for the stars and glowing colors of the north.

How to photograph The Milky Way

When you get to see The Milky Way on a clear, dark night it is a sight to behold, for sure.  You will want to make sure if you get the chance to see and photograph it you are prepared and come away with a great image. 

First of all, it helps to be in a very dark area, away from most of the light pollution caused by many city lights.  This usually means a spot far away from any city lights. There are a few website out there that will help you when finding a darker location.  One of those sites is called Dark Sky Finder.  Another thing to consider when shooting The Milky Way is the moon phase.  If the moon is over half full it will be difficult for the sky to become dark enough to see The Milky Way.  Also, check the moonset times.  The sooner the moon sets, the sooner the sky becomes darker.

So, after you establish a nice, dark shooting location, you'll want to nail down your camera settings.  A lot of people think this is difficult, but that couldn't be further from the truth.  You will need to put your camera in Manual Mode.  Set your aperture wide open.  If your lens is a F/2.8 lens, you'll want to shoot it at F/2.8.  Then set your shutter speed to 30 seconds.  ISO is typically set to a high value.  I leave my aperture and shutter speed the same and then I use ISO to adjust my image's brightness.  Let me explain.  If I take a shot at F/2.8, 30 seconds and ISO 3200 and then I check my LCD and the image appears too dark, I'll bump my ISO up to 6400.  If the image looks too bright, then I'll crank my ISO down to 1600.  It's pretty simple if you think of it in a way that the only variable that will be changing is your ISO. 

OK, you've got The Milky Way captured on a nice RAW image...you are shooting RAW, right?   What's the best way to process it.  Well, there is no right or wrong answer here.  However, there is an easy answer!  If you use Adobe Lightroom, that is.  There is a photographer named Dave Morrow that does wonderful Milky Way Photography.  He has also created some Lightroom Presets that are available for purchase here.  I processed both of the images on this post using Dave's presets.  I highly recommend them and they are only $5.00 for 48 different presets.  That's a good deal!  It also allows you, in some cases, have a one click processing job.  In other cases, it gives you a great starting point from which you can create your own vision.  I hope this helps when you decide to go out and shoot The Milky Way for yourself.