Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tools to Help You Photograph the August 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse

The great American Solar Eclipse will pass across 12 of the United States on August 21 at the speed of about 2,000 mph! PhotoPills recently published a 116-page eclipse guide on their website. In it, you’ll learn how to turn your eclipse photo ideas into real photos—from planning the eclipse with the new PhotoPills Eclipse tool, to the gear and camera settings you need.

Photog Adventures has also produced a YouTube video tutorial on how to use the PhotoPills Eclipse update to plan for the 2017 Solar Eclipse!

If you are not able to travel to one of the areas of eclipse totality, here's a website that will show you what the solar eclipse will look like in your area—just type in your Zip Code!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Creating Natural NightScape Photographs

Creating Natural NightScape Photographs is a 90-minute seminar I presented with the help of some of my friends, Ralf Rohner, Manish Mamtani, Eric Benedetti and Clarence Spencer. It was given on March 14, 2017 in the West Jordan, Utah Viridian Special Events Center before a group of 240 people. For the best experience, go full screen and change the video settings to the highest quality. You can also share this YouTube video, using this link:

Our thanks to Adobe Systems for their generous sponsorship for this free event.

5 Ways to Produce More Even Artificial Lighting was discussed, but the main presentation was about techniques to Reduce NightScape Noise, increase image resolution and quality.

One of five ways to produce more even and natural NightScape lighting is to increase the lighting distance in order to reduce light fall-off. Four other techniques are presented in the seminar.

Most of the seminar was about using these 6 techniques to decrease digital noise and increase NightScape image quality and resolution.

MULTIPLE IMAGE STITCHING: Instead of shooting ONE wide angle image (24mm on left), you can use a 50mm lens (with the camera in the vertical position) and shoot several overlapping images to create a simple panorama that can be cropped into an image that looks like the 24mm image, but now has about twice as many pixels, greater detail, and less noise.

Enlarged detail from the above two images. Even though the 24mm image was a stack of 8 exposures (which greatly reduced its noise), the 7-stitch image on the right has much more detail and resolution. See the next two images below to see how "exposure stacking" reduces noise. Click image to enlarge for detail.

EXPOSURE STACKING is another method of reducing digital noise and improving image quality. Instead of taking just one exposure of a night scene, you can increase your ISO by 33% to 100% and take many shorter exposures and then combine or "stack" these exposures together into one final image —using Photoshop or a variety of free or inexpensive stacking apps. Click image to enlarge for detail.

Exposure stacking not only reduces noise, but allows you to use shorter exposure times, producing sharper stars and revealing smaller stars that were obscured by noise! Click image to enlarge for detail.

Guest presenters, Eric Benedetti and Clarence Spencer finished the seminar with additional information about tracking and astro modification options for your camera's digital sensor.

Resources, Products and Software mentioned in this seminar presentation:
Star Stacking Resources:
Starry Landscape Stacker app (Mac) used by Royce & Manish Mamtani
Fitswork (Windows) app use by Ralf Rohner
Photoshop tutorial for stacking
Star Trackers:
Sky-Watcher Star Adventure used by Eric Benedetti
Vixon Polarie Star Tracker used by Royce
iOptron SkyTracker - most popular & least expense
Low Level Landscape Lighting organization
Astro camera modification by Spencer Camera
Royce's "Milky Way NightScapes" eBook
Photog Adventures - produced & edited the video of this presentation

Future Video Tutorials: This seminar is a spring-board for the future production of many short and highly concentrated video tutorials on specific topics, i.e. exposure stacking, tracking, multiple image panoramas and advanced lighting techniques. Each 10-minute video will move along quickly, with plenty of detailed and illustrated information on that topic. Your feedback and suggestions are appreciated in the comments below...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

PhotoPills now available for Android

PhotoPills goes Android! The best selling iOS app for planning photo shoots with the Sun, Moon and Milky Way is now available for Android!

“Hey Royce! - I just wanted to tell you that after 1 year of hard work, we've just released the [Android] Beta version for PhotoPills,” - Rafael Pons, The Bard, at PhotoPills.

Rafael had confided in me about a year ago that they were working on this, and I’m so excited for them! Keep in mind that this is a beta, unreleased app, and it may be unstable. Android users are finally going to experience what only iPhone and iPad users have enjoyed for several years now. This is one AMAZING app (and I’m not getting any renumeration for recommending this).

At $9.99, this may seem a little expensive for an Android app, but this is the same price that iOS users have been paying for years. The app is very versatile and has so much depth, you'll be amazed at all the things it can do. Unlike most apps out there that provide very little instruction, PhotoPills provides a complete library of user helps, including video tutorials for every function.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Minature USB Rechargeable Camp Lantern

The Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro USB Rechargeable Lantern is the perfect lantern for campers, backpackers and starry night photographers. Photography by Royce Bair and Arup Malakar

Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro USB Rechargeable Lantern: The smallest member of the Lighthouse family packs a big punch, with a maximum brightness of 150 lumens! USB rechargeable (in less than 3.5 hours), dimmable and the perfect companion for the weight-conscious adventurer. It's less than 3.7 inches high (93mm) and weighs only 2.4 oz (68g). The lantern is weatherproof and waterproof, with an IPX7 rating. The Li-ion battery can last from 7 to 170 hours, depending on the number of LEDs you choose and how much you decide to dim them. The battery can be recharged hundreds of times via a built-in USB charging tip (that folds inside when not in use). It also can be recharged via the Goal Zero Nomad Solar Panels. Four blue indicator lights let you know the charge status of the battery. For starry NightScape style photographers, the key photography features for this lantern are a warm, 3800ºK light output and that it is completely dimmable down to only 7 lumens —so you can do Low Level Lighting with your Milky Way skies! You can choose to operate only two of it's four LEDs or all four, and infinitely dim them. View the complete PDF user guide.

Price: $19.99ORDER direct from Goal Zero

FREE SHIPPING Alert: Receive Free Shipping for a limited time only on orders of $49+ at Goal Zero. Offer Valid 3/27/17 12AM MT - 3/29/17 11:59PM MT.

You can also order the Lighthouse Micro Flash model, which includes a built-in flashlight, for only $5 more.

The Lighthouse Micro Flash model includes a built-in flashlight for only $5 more ($24.99)

Both models work as a powerful, portable lantern.

Unlike most LED lanterns, the Goal Zero Lighthouse Micro Lantern produces a warmer, more natural light (3800º Kelvin rating) that is easier on your eyes for reading inside your tent —causing much less eye strain and glare than typical, more bluish LED lights (many are in the 8000º to 10000º Kelvin rating). This also makes the light more useful for night photography.

Because the Lighthouse Micro is dimmable down to only 7 lumens, it also makes a great omni-directional light for doing selfies with the starry night sky. You can learn how from the Milky Way NightScapes eBook. Photographed with a Canon 5D Mk3, using a Tamron 15-30mm @ 15mm, f/2.8, 15 sec, ISO 6400. Photo by Royce Bair

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Artificial Lighting Banned in Grand Teton

The Thomas A. Moulton Barn illuminated with Low Level Lighting at about 2:00am, in order to align it with a mid-July Milky Way. The lights are left on during the full 25-seconds exposure, and were dimmed to output less light than a Quarter Phase Moon. In fact, the light is so dim it takes about 20 minutes for your eyes to see the effect on the barn —until then, you have to rely on the greater sensitivity of your camera to see what is happening. At the time, I did not know that artificial lighting was not allowed in the park! © Royce Bair

Night photography that uses artificial lighting is not allowed in Grand Teton National Park. This policy applies to all Grand Teton National Park visitors, including commercial operators.  Any operator found using artificial lighting outside of a headlamp for walking safety and red lights inherent on camera equipment may be subject to a written citation.

The ban on artificial lighting is not new. This policy has been around for many years. The park’s compendium language states, "The Superintendent has determined that prohibiting the use of such devices is necessary for the protection of wildlife." This restriction, in section 2.2(e), is found on page 19 of the 38-page Grand Teton National Park Superintendent's Compendium.

Since most of us don't take the time to fully read such lengthy documents, it's not surprising that I've overlooked this restriction in years past. However, during this year's CUA application process for a photo workshop permit, this restriction was brought to my attention. Instead of taking the normal few weeks to get a permit, it took several months. In the end, I and all other commercial operators are being made aware of this ban on artificial lighting. (I know of about a dozen photo workshop operators in the park who show artificially lit Teton features on their websites. This change may come as a surprise to many photographers!)

Both of these photos of the John Mouton Barn and homestead were taken in June and illuminated with Low Level Lighting. At the time, I did not know that artificial lighting was not allowed in the park! Click images to enlarge. © Royce Bair 

Alternatives to artificial lighting in Grand Teton: The Moulton Barns are popular and historic man-made structures in the park. They and the Chapel of the Transfiguration are the only features I've ever lit within the park. There are over a dozen other natural park features that I regularly photograph at night without the use of any artificial light, so this restriction will have little impact on my NightScape style photo workshops within the Tetons!

Even the man-made structures can easily be photographed without artificial light, using additional longer exposures for the foreground and blending those exposures with the sky exposure(s).

Manish Mamtani took this photo of the Thomas A. Moulton Barn without the use of any artificial lighting. © Manish Mamtani

Teton wildlife and artificial lighting: Section 2.2(e) of the Superintendent's Compendium states, "Viewing of wildlife with any type of artificial light is prohibited in the park and the parkway. This prohibition conforms to Wyoming State Law (W.S. 23-3-306). The Superintendent has determined that prohibiting the use of such devices is necessary for the protection of wildlife."

A closer look at section W.S. 23-3-306 of the Wyoming State Law reveals that it prohibits the... “Use of aircraft, automobiles, motorized and snow vehicles and artificial light for hunting or fishing…” and that “(b) No person shall take any wildlife with the aid of or by using any artificial light or lighting device...”

This law is all about the use of artificial light to take (kill) wildlife. The state restriction is only against the hunting and taking of wildlife via the use of artificial light and motorized vehicles. I would have to have a firearm and dead animals in my possession to be in violation of the state law.

So, does the park Superintendent's ban on the use of any artificial light (other than the use of headlamps to get safely to our night photo locations) within the park help protect the wildlife and eliminate the disturbance of their natural habits? That's certainly debatable, especially compared to the havoc automobile headlights have within the park. And, Low Level Landscape Lighting is about 40 times less powerful than most headlamps.

Still, I believe we should be grateful that all night photography was not banned from the Tetons. This restriction on artificial lighting is only a minor inconvenience compared to not being able to photograph the stars over such a magnificent setting!

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Low Level Landscape Lighting Tutorial

Low Level Landscape Lighting (LLL) illumination levels compared with light from the stars and the moon. Click to enlarge. Photography by Royce Bair at Chimney Rock, Capitol Reef Nat'l Park, Utah. is a new public service website that Wayne Pinkston and I have created to educated photographers of the benefits of this less evasive and low-polluting form of artificial lighting for starry night landscape photography.

A quick illustration of how LLL lighting compares with traditional hand-held light painting, using a focused flashlight. Click to enlarge. Graphics by Royce Bair

We hope you'll visit the website, look at this style of NightScape photography, compare, and see where your night photography might benefit from using these low level lighting techniques.

Traditional light painting is convenient and portable, but produces much higher light pollution and is very inconsistent compared to LLL lighting. Click to enlarge. Graphics by Royce Bair

Equipment resources for LLL lighting are also given near the end of the webpage. Neither Wayne or I are financially benefiting from this public service website.

LLL Lighting Tutorials can be found on this website and in my Milky Way NightScapes eBook. Below, is just one example taken from page 85 of that eBook:

In this example, I used two F&V Z96 LED panel lights (on tripods), filtered, dimmed (see above) and left on during the whole 30 seconds camera exposure. Click to enlarge. © Royce Bair
Final image after some post processing contrast was added to the night sky. Another advantage of constant LLL Lighting is that you can use this lighting for hours while you do time lapses or star trails. Click to enlarge. © Royce Bair

Please help us spread the word about this website. Why? At least two USA national parks have banned light painting in commercial photo workshops, and we have heard rumors of more bans coming in other parks. Of course, some of you may say that artificial lighting has no reason to be in the parks in the first place. And yes, there are plenty of beautiful techniques for producing wide-field astro-landscape photographs that do not use artificial light. Still, we believe there are benefits to using responsible, LLL lighting.

1) A single 25 sec exposure @ f/2.8, ISO 6400. 2) A 100 sec exposure to increase foreground detail, blended (via Photoshop layers) with the previous exposure of the sky. This is the “natural” method preferred by many, but because starlight comes from overhead and all around, it is like photographing with an overcast day (very flat, with little character). 3) A single exposure @ f/2.8, 25 sec, ISO 6400, with LLL lighting strategically placed. Click to enlarge. Photography by Royce Bair at Chimney Rock, Capitol Reef Nat'l Park, Utah.

Why artificial lighting is sometimes helpful: Compare the above photos. Photo number 2 is the "natural" double exposure blending method for enhancing foreground recognition. We believe there are artistic and foreground recognition benefits to #3.

Please note that #2 could have been done using low angle moonlight (to give an effect similar to #3), but the star and moonlight exposures would have been many hours apart, and there are only 2 days a month where the angle is even somewhat correct at this location. Mixing a twilight exposure would have been a fairly worthless option here because we are facing southeast and a northwestern twilight would have also given flat lighting.

Another reason for allowing responsible LLL lighting in the national parks is that it is much less invasive than the headlamps use to help photographers or stargazers get safely to their night viewing destinations. Compare these two images, below, as proof:

Typical headlamp illumination can be 20-40 times brighter than LLL lighting. Click to enlarge. Photography by Royce Bair at Sunset Arch, Grand Staircase-Escalante Nat'l Monument

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Night Photography Restrictions in Arches National Park

An April Milk Way rises behind Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Utah - foreground illuminated by Low Level Landscape (LLL) lighting.  This very dim, filtered light panel was set up on a tripod down in the bowl. It was dimmed down until it matches starlight. You cannot even see it until your eyes dark-adapt. The dim light was left on for about an hour, while over 30 visitors from several nations were able to take similar photos, even though they were not part of my workshop group. (EXIF: Canon 5DM3, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, 13 sec, f/2.0, ISO 5000) © Royce Bair

Will All Night Photography Be Banned in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks? Beginning this year, no light painting will be allowed to take place within Arches and Canyonlands by commercial photo workshop groups; and starting in 2018, it is very possible that no night photography will be allowed by participants of these photo workshops within the two parks. Currently, this ruling applies only to Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) permit holders and their photography workshop groups. It does not (yet) apply to private individuals and amateur photographers.
16. Light painting – Light painting activities are not authorized under this authorization. Light painting, or light drawing, is a photographic technique in which exposures are made by moving a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph, either to illuminate a subject or to shine a point of light directly at the camera, or by moving the camera itself during exposure. [APPENDIX SPECIAL PARK CONDITIONS - ARCHES NATIONAL PARK & CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK - Still Photography Instruction
Earlier this month, all night photography had been banned within the two parks for CUA permit holders and their photo workshop groups. However, after numerous protests from operators, who already had scheduled workshops in place, Concessions Management Specialist, Michael Hill, lifted the ban for the current 2017 season, but not the ban on light painting. In an email to all Still Photography Instruction CUA permit holders, Michael wrote on January 5, 2017:
Some folks have voiced no concern about the change, while a few others stated that all they do is night photography and that change would be devastating. ...For 2017 we will continue to allow night use in the Still Photography Instruction CUA for Canyonlands and Arches, as we have done in the past. Light painting, however has been an issue with our park nighttime visitors, and we still feel that does not have a commercial place in the park. …For 2018 I am open for dialogue if that night use will continue. Feel free to email me your comments.
Balance Rock stands only a few hundred feet from a busy park road. It is a very difficult formation to photograph at night because of all the car headlights that rake across it. However, at about about 2:00am on some Spring mornings, the traffic does diminish and one can capture the Milky Way rising above the horizon. (EXIF: Canon 5DM3, Rokinon 24mm f/1.4, 13 sec, f/2.0, ISO 5000, using LLL lighting.) © Royce Bair

Could a future ban affect ALL photographers? It is not clear if a possible ban on all night photography will begin in 2018 just for Still Photography Instruction CUA permit holders, or if this ban will be for all photographers. Currently, Guided Interpretive Day Hiking within the two parks is already restricted to daylight and twilight hours:
36. Area Use – This authorization is applicable only for the use of the area, term, and conditions designated herein. The area(s) authorized for use under this authorization must be left in substantially the same condition as it was prior to the activities authorized herein. Only 2wd roads are authorized for use.
**Approved use starts 1/2 hours before sunrise and ends 1/2 hours after sunset. This does not include travel time.**
Increasing Park Visitation and undesirable activities in the park. Michael Hill, explained park managements reasons for the changes in the same email letter to CUA permit holders:
Managing the parks here are complex, and have ever changing issues to manage.
If you have followed the news you would understand the explosive use of this area has changed a lot in and out side of the parks here. Technology as well has impacted how we manage the parks. In those 8 years we have gone from 24 to 260 CUAs. Our park visitation has increased to where we need to change how we manage the visitors, as well as commercial services. 
It is our mandate to balance protecting the park resource and providing the enjoyment for park visitors. We have to balance the commercial use of a park in regards to services that are appropriate and/or necessary, in regards to the above statement. Commercial use in a park is a privilege.  
Regarding night photography instruction, you don't need Arches to teach night photography. Teaching night photography can be accomplished in many areas outside of the National Parks here.
Regarding light painting in Arches National Park. We have determined that as not a desired activity in the park when, we have visitors (not photographers) complain about it, and some of those visitors just leave the park as they don't know what is going on. 
Are Additional Night Photography Bans Coming? As park visitation increases in all the national parks, we may expect to see similar bans on night photography in other parks. Fox News recently reported that Utah's Zion National Park is now experiencing too many visitors, even in the winter off-season.

Is "Light Painting" Getting a Bad Rap?
That depends on how one defines "light Painting." If it is defined the way park regulations are written above as, "...moving a hand-held light source while taking a long exposure photograph," then maybe it deserves the bad publicity. Usually, these lights are powerful flashlights, headlamps or even spotlights that are being waved around natural formations to illuminate them. The lights are so bright, they can only be left on for a few seconds during the long camera time exposure that is necessary to record the starry night sky. The on and off flashing of these bright lights is ruining to one's night vision, and is very annoying to visitors (especially non-photographers) who are there to enjoy the night sky at a unique dark sky location. Most of these lights also have a very bluish color rendition, which also adversely effects night vision. Remember, many of the national parks have been promoting the slogan, "Half the park is after dark," and most of these nocturnal visitors are coming to see the stars, not your light painting!

The better way to light: More responsible photographers are beginning to use stationary, Low Level Landscape lighting (LLL). These very dim, filtered light panel care set up on a tripods and dimmed down until they matches starlight. They are so dim one cannot even see their effect until ones eyes dark-adapt.

"Headlamp Intrusion" at Mesa Arch - Canyonlands National Park. The top photo shows headlamp intrusion from a hiker about 100 yards behind me, through the trees and brush. The bottom photo has the same LLL (low level landscape) lighting as the top photo, but did not have the headlamp intrusion from behind. This should give one an idea of how dim and subtle LLL lighting is. Because this type of lighting is on for the whole astronomical exposure, it must match or be just slightly brighter than the intensity of starlight! In the top photo, the hiker's headlamp was only on for a few seconds of the whole 25-second time exposure, yet its estimated 150 lumens brightness (even from 300 feet away) completely overpowers my LLL lighting. (EXIF: Canon 5DM3, Tokina 15-30mm @ 15mm, 25 sec, f/2.8, ISO 6400) © Royce Bair

Share and share alike. In the top image, I was never able to get a decent photo because a bus tour of about 30 foreign photographers came and they would not shut off their headlamps and flashlights, even for 30 seconds. They wanted it all to themselves. “You Americans think you own the national parks,” said the tour leader. I checked the next day, and the park had no record of a permit for them. In the bottom photo (2 years later), dozens of photographers shared my lighting set up and even my shooting position. One of those was a talented photographer from India, Manish Mamtani.

"Arch over an Arch" - Mesa Arch, Canyonlands Nattional Park, Utah. “This is a Milky Way panorama created by stacking and stitching about 56 images. I wanted to take this shot at Mesa Arch in Utah [for over] 4 years, and finally this year I was successful. I ran into Royce Bair …and he had set up some lights to light the foreground,” says Manish. © Manish Mamtani

Continuing the Discussion...
To see what others are saying about the light painting restrictions and the possibility of a complete ban on all night photography, beginning in 2018, check out this post on Ben Coffman's Facebook page.

Fellow photo workshop instructor, Brad Goldpaint, had this to say in that Facebook post, after a lengthy telephone conversation with park Concessions Management Specialist, Michael Hill...

Mike mentioned the issues he’s been facing in the park(s): Too many crowds/busses, too many CUAs, not enough staff, and too many complaints from nighttime photographic activity. He mentioned a number of examples which led to this abrupt change. A couple of these examples stood out to me that I’m sure some of you can relate to:

  1. “Someone set up a tent under a popular arch, put a light inside of it, and then turned on three other flashlights in the area. A visitor approached the scene, thought there was a search and rescue underway, and decided to leave the area. We’ve had people sleeping under the arches, hiking off trail, vandalism, and it’s getting to the point where we have no way of controlling the massive amount of crowds.” Mike has a lot of experience and history with Arches. He told me back in the 80’s he could ride a bike throughout the entire park during a full moon and not see a single headlight throughout the entire night. Nowadays, he gets more and more complaints about people in the park at night, “doing things they shouldn’t be doing.” I couldn’t help but mention ‘the CUA holders I know are actually the ones who are protecting, teaching, and leading by example to help keep a close eye on what transpires at night. If you remove the CUA holders, then it really is free reign on the park.’
  2. “Some things have gotten so bad I’ve had my sanitation crew threaten to quit. We have busloads of visitors coming from the other side of the ocean who have never used a pit toilet. Therefore, visitors and my crew have to pick up human feces. We’re actually installing visual diagrams to show visitors how to use pit toilets in hopes of preventing this issue from continuing to happen.”   
  3. “We’ve had busses follow night photography workshops around and we don’t have the staff to keep them out of the area so the students can enjoy. The instructor will complain, but I don’t have the staff to control the massive amount of people.”
  4. “We were actually going to get rid of the entire ‘Still Photography CUA,’ but I fought to keep it. I did my best in trying to limit use during times we cannot monitor the park.”

Listening to Mike, I began to understand the issues he and the park are facing. It’s not what I wanted to hear, nor was this unexpected change handled in a reasonable manner, but something has to give and change is inevitable. Remember, “Commercial use in a park is a privilege and no one is guaranteed a CUA the following year.” 

I’m happy to see we are allowed to teach an additional year in Arches & Canyonlands, but I believe it is critical for all current and future CUA holders to voice their opinions and ideas to formulate a sustainable solution for all parties affected so future generations can enjoy similar experiences we’ve been fortunate enough to have. As Mike H. said in his latest email, "For 2018 I am open for dialogue if that night use will continue. Feel free to email me your comments. I look forward to receiving them."

Followup: After I had a chance to discuss these issues with Brad, we both agree that Mike is in a tough situation and trying to do whatever he can to alleviate the problems of night use in the park. The problem, we believe, is park administration is blaming it on the “good guys.”

If only the CUA holders are banned from doing night photography in the parks, who is going to be there to report the non-permitted tour bus groups that lurk the parks at night?

Despite this, no light painting in Arches and Canyonlands is a restriction we can live with, if it will help reduce tension and heighten the dark sky experience for all visitors to these two parks.

Teaching Night Photography Ethics:
In an effort to educate the public on proper night photography ethics and Low Level Lighting (LLL) techniques, I have scheduled an entertaining and educational mini-seminar for March 14, 2014, called “Creating Natural NightScape Photographs.” This free event is sponsored by Adobe Systems, and will include socializing at the Viridian Event Center in West Jordan, Utah.

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