Saturday, June 22, 2013

Shooting the Supermoon

The so-called 'supermoon' was incredibly clear last night, so as my wife was heading off to bed and Cinderella's carriage was turning back into a pumpkin, I decided to grab my camera, zoom lens and tripod and venture out into the garden.



I thought it was going to be pretty straight forward - after all, with my Sigma 50-500mm last time, it was simple. But not with a shorter zoom lens - a 70-200mm lens with a 1.4x extender, giving me a 280mm reach.

When I first set up, got the tripod in the right place, lens at the right angle and the moon in focus, a massive band of thick cloud strafed in front of the moon, completely blocking it from view, and I thought the photo shoot would come to an abrupt end, but thankfully the cloud was moving pretty quickly.

I knew I had to consider a few things:
1.) The moon is really far away and I have only 280mm to play with, so whack the resolution up as far as it can go (22-ish megapixels on the 5D Mk III).  I can crop later on to see the detail.
2.) I need maximum clarity, so high ISOs are a no-no.  ISO50, 100, 200 are fine.  Stay away from 3200...
3.) Lock the tripod everywhere.  If this camera and lens tip over on the concrete patio, I will actually cry.
4.) Use a lens hood to stop streetlight, erm, light getting into the lens and creating weird and wonderful effects.
5.) Use mirror lockup and the 2-second timer facility to minimise any shaking, which would blur the moon.

The issue with shooting the moon is exposure.  Camera sensors are in no way as sophisticated as our eyes, so it's incredibly difficult in extreme lighting circumstances to capture what your eyes see.  The sensors in cameras try to pull colours towards middle grey, meaning that cameras try to overexpose for black (turning them grey) and underexpose for white (turning them grey).

(With that in mind, consider for a second what it is like to shoot a wedding, when many grooms choose black suits and most brides choose white dresses.  Nightmare.)

So when I pointed the lens at a mainly black sky with a moon the size of a pea, the camera just wanted to overexpose the entire shot.  This means that I might as well have created a black image and put a round circle of white in it somewhere, as the moon just goes completely saturated with no detail at all.

The answer to this dilemma is pretty simple - you underexpose the shot by about 3-4 stops or more to bring out the detail in the moon.  Don't worry about the sky being underexposed - it's black to start with!

There was a nice effect when light cloud around the moon was being illuminated, but it was almost impossible to get the moon correctly exposed while showing these clouds (and they were moving pretty quickly too, so the 0.4" shutter speed just blurred them across the frame):



Summary:
1.) Ignore the camera's settings - it will give you a dark grey sky with a pure white moon.
2.) Underexpose by anywhere between 3 and 5 stops (or take a wild stab in the dark at the settings and go from there).
3.) Use a low ISO setting - high ISOs will prevent a really clear image.
4.) For stability, use a tripod, use the mirror lockup feature and set the 2-second timer.
5.) Set the camera to the highest resolution you have - then crop to see the detail.

1/60" at f/6.3, ISO50 at 280mm, cropped to a fraction of the original size

Monday, December 24, 2012

Finishing off 2012

Reviewing my New Year's Resolutions on this blog,  I think I've managed to stick to them.  Just about.

1.) Project SGR 366 is complete - we managed to get a photo of Samuel every day of his first year.  On ONE day, we relied on Emma, his childminder, to take a photo of the wee man, but other than that, either Lou or I took a pic, either with the DSLR or with a camera phone.

2.) Take more film - I have shot off a few rolls this year, but not enough.  Being that I work in the Wharf now, I intend to take more in 2013.

3.) Carry on writing this blog - well, since the Resolution post, I've posted three times more.  That'll do. More next year, I hope.  If anyone's interested.

4.) Learn more about Photoshop/Lightroom - Project SGR 366 has helped me to be a lot quicker when using Lightroom, but I haven't had the time to sit and learn more about Photoshop.

5.) Print more photos - when I get a little time (probably tomorrow, when I'm off work again), I'll put together a few albums of SGR...

Merry Christmas, everyone!

D

SGR, wondering why Daddy has a huge white flashing umbrella next to him.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Instagram: Commercial FAIL

I'm really disappointed in Instagram.  And Facebook.  But it gives a second bite of the cherry to Flickr, if they're smart about it.

Sunset on the Isle of Wight, taken from my Instagram photo stream
Flickr was started as a small photo-sharing community in 2004 and was bought by Yahoo in 2005.  But Yahoo missed a trick in my opinion - with the backing of the then biggest search engine, it should've been what Facebook became.  But Yahoo didn't pour enough money and effort into it and it trundled along with other photo- and video-sharing websites popping up around it stealing their market share.

The recent news about Instagram changing their terms and conditions so that companies can use your photos without paying you a penny has rattled a number of photo-sharers.  It's annoying, but it's not unreasonable by Instagram - after all, you're using their server space and service for free, potentially showcasing your work to millions around the world.

But it doesn't seem right that Instagram (Facebook) can make money from YOUR photos and YOUR effort without acknowledging that you are the artist.

They could have been a lot smarter about how they use people's photographs.  Perhaps Instagram could've said that they would act as an intermediary on your behalf with companies who want to pay to use your photos in their adverts.  The model could have been that Instagram assess what a fair price would be for your photo to appear in an ad campaign that could reach a few million people, get your agreement to use the photo in the first place, then turn around and give you a percentage.  They make money; you make money; you get the kudos for your photo appearing in an ad campaign; and the company uses the photo in the knowledge that it has all been done in agreement with all parties concerned.  Job done.

Instead, they've damaged their reputation by saying "ner ner - we've got your photos and you won't get ANYTHING."

So I hope people move away from Instagram - or that Instagram revokes these new terms of use and thinks about a win-win situation for the people who have basically given them a business.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Off-camera flashing

For a few years now, I've been a fan of Strobist.com, David Hobby's web site dedicated to using a flash off-camera as opposed to mounted on top of it.  I'd highly recommend it if you're thinking of getting into the world of semi-pro lighting.

This week, I bought my first proper shoot-thru umbrella and stand.  Although it takes a few minutes to set up, it's an amazing piece of equipment.  It wasn't particularly expensive (£54 delivered) and I know I'm going to get a load of use out of it.



I've been taking pics of our son Samuel for months with a flash now (when he was a very small baby, I used a high ISO and fast lens, the latter of which he is too quick for nowadays), but I've wanted to get into using a shoot-thru umbrella with a speedlight - a Canon 430EX - for a while.  I don't have the space, budget or inclination to buy expensive studio lights at the moment, so the speedlight is fine.

A few years ago I bought some Yongnuo wireless triggers, so I can control the flash when it's not on top of the camera and with a very simple set up, I took the shot of Samuel, above.

At first glance, you might say that it just looks like a shot taken with a flash or with good room lighting, but I think it looks so much better than the flash-on-camera shots I've been taking recently.  The light it balanced across the shot, there aren't any harsh shadows and the quality of the shot overall is much more pleasing.

This was shot #1 taken with the umbrella set-up.  After reading the Strobist Lighting 101 series I was able to set up the shot and get this result (well, an incorrectly white-balanced version of it, until I fixed it in Lightroom).

The next challenge is doing all of this with the Mamiya medium format film camera...

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Step back in time... again.

It's mad - I've got a Canon 5D mk II and several fancy lenses, but for some reason, when my Dad gave me his Pentax K1000 which he bought in Boston in 1977, I got more excited than ever.

As a boy, I remember my Dad having this mechanical, complicated looking contraption, snapping away with a shutter which let out a satisfactory 'clunk' when it fired and wind-on crank which now brings back memories of a happy childhood.

He told me that it cost him $25 for the kit, which included a 55mm f/2 lens and a case.  It's still in perfect condition and after I got the light meter working again (it required a 357 battery, whatever that is), I loaded it with a film and started shooting away.  Cautiously.  (I say cautiously because with only 36 frames, you don't want to 'waste' any, right?).

I know that shooting film these days is slightly pointless - the Canon can reproduce shots which look much better than the Pentax results in a matter of seconds.  In fact, in just about the time it takes to shoot off a reel of 35mm film, I can take a shot on the Canon, process it on the computer and print it off on my parents' printer 400 miles away using Google CloudPrint.

But wanting to dip into a piece of nostalgia, I've bridged the gap - our old scanner (which I bought YEARS ago) isn't compatible with Mac OS 10.6 so I've bought a new one which can scan film.  Instead of getting prints, I'm going to get films processed only, then scan them in to be edited digitally.

Watch this space.