Friday, March 13, 2015

Gearing up for 2015 With a ProtoMachines LED2 Light

Light painting night photography under moonlight in Bodie
One of the primary things to manage during night photography are your light sources. You may have light pollution from near or far incandescent light, additional light from the moon, a strobe (flash), and handheld lights such as a colored LED, flashlight or headlamp. Illumination from various types of lights ranges from "cool" (blue in tone) to "warm" (yellow). Fortunately you have a lot of flexibility to adjust the warmth or coolness of the lighted area in post-processing software such as Lightroom. On the other hand, it's good to do as much in-camera as possible, so if you can tune your light to have the desired effect while you shoot, that can save time on the post-processing side.

The result of a quest for warm, cool and colored lights
I've posted on the variety of lights I've bought, used and carry, but at some point carrying so much gear gets to be a bit of a burden, especially when moving around cluttered scenes on dark nights.  Even trying to keep costs low, over time I've ended up spending a fair amount just to have a selection of different light temperatures and intensities.  And the selection is one of compromises, incandescent lights being seen by the camera sensor as being very warm and yellow, while most simple LED lights are seen as very cool and blue.

"Old school" light painting in Bodie, with incandescent lights
After having customers show up at my Bodie night photography workshops last year with ProtoMachines LED1 and LED2 lights last year, I just picked up an LED2, which should dramatically reduce the volume and weight of the light painting gear I carry, give me a wider range of options, and reduce the number of batteries I need to keep charged.  I can pre-program warm and cool settings for a range of white balance settings, or various RGB values for creative color work.  The intensity can be adjusted in a range of up to 9 stops, so the brightest setting should be 2 to the ninth power brighter than the dimmest one, a range of 512x.

It's going to be nice to have a light with adjustable color and intensity, all in one small package.  It'll be fun to see what works best for lighting up foreground subjects under full moon, no moon, and mixed lighting scenarios!

ProtoMachines LED2 light for night photography

Applause for the Appulse: Moon, Mars and Venus

Venus, Mars and the moon setting over Mt. Whitney
I thought that I was having a good day to catch some nice photos of the crescent moon by Mars and Venus last month, setting behind Mount Whitney.

Then I put a sequence of photos together in a time-lapse video, and the event came to life!

I posted a link to my Twitter account @JeffSullPhoto, and +Philip Plait embedded the copy of my video on Vimeo in a post on his +Bad Astronomy blog on +Slate:
"Venus, Mars, and the Moon Go to Sleep".
He tweeted a link:
Then the +California Academy of Sciences tweeted a link as well:
It's cool to have astronomers and scientists recognize and share my astrophotography!  Check out Phil's blog post if you have the time.  He always adds some nice scientific context.  A "conjunction" is actually called an "appluse".

Monday, January 26, 2015

Massive Asteroid BL86 Approaches Earth

Mountain-sized asteroid BL86 came hurtling towards its near-miss with earth today, and I caught it on my camera as it approached late Sunday night. Here's the time-lapse video, both an edge to edge 16:9 crop at 200mm, then a second copy cropped to 1080p. Look in the center as it moves from lower right center to upper left center:

 Both clips in the video were assembled from 119 separate images of the sky, taken with a full frame DSLR and 70-200 mm lens, on a star-tracking mount. Here's a composite image assembled from the first 60 photos.

If you missed the asteroid Sunday and Monday, +NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a chart to help you find it in the sky into the night of Tuesday, January 27 in the U.S., Wednesday January 28 GMT:

Although the asteroid is bright enough to see with binoculars, it probably won't do you much good to try to find it that way. The asteroid moves so slowly, it's very difficult to tell from the smaller stars in the background.  In the time-lapse video you see it move because several minutes of time are shown in each second of video.

Since it's easier to see the asteroid that way, I just pointed my camera where the asteroid should be, and I set an external timer to have it capture photos for a couple of hours. I used a star-tracking mount so the area of sky it was in wouldn't move away form where the camera was pointing.

 For the video, you can adjust the playback on YouTube from its standard low resolution playback to as high as 1080p HD.

 I also have a copy down-converted to 720p HD on Vimeo if that works better for your Internet connection:

Asteroid BL86 Approaches Earth from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Four Nights With Comet Lovejoy

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy on the evening of Monday, January 19, 2015.
Last night I enjoyed the best viewing conditions for capturing Comet Lovejoy so far.  Seen under the dark skies of California's Eastern Sierra region and with no moon in the sky, even its long tail showed up well.  Knowing where to look (near Pleiades) I was able to just see it with my eyes, and find it with a 70-200 mm lens.  Using a Canon 70D DLSR, its "crop sensor" gave me the equivalent of 320 mm focal length.  I even added a 2X teleconverter to bring the effective focal length to a massive 640 mm!

I used an external interval timer to capture one-minute exposures until the camera's battery power ran out nearly 2.5 hours later.  I had the camera placed on an inexpensive star-tracking mount to follow the comet as the earth rotated.  I converted the resulting 147 exposures to video, and with 640 mm zoom, over the course of 2 hours you can see the comet move against the starry background!

Here are the time-lapse video results of several nights shooting, at effective focal lengths of 28 mm, 35 mm, 320 mm and 640 mm.  The video is best viewed full screen, switched to HD 1080p quality:

I hope that I get more clear nights this month to shoot the comet, as it gradually moves away from the earth and the sun on its big lap of our solar system.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Photograph Comet Lovejoy in January

Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy on January 6, 2015.
Comet C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy passes closest to earth tonight, offering our brightest viewing of it for several thousand more years.  It will brighten as it continues to approach the sun, but appear to fade in brightness as it recedes from earth, and as those two trends work against each other we'll have continued good viewing conditions for the next couple of weeks. 

The recent full moon challenged viewing, but tonight, January 7, in the Northern Hemisphere the moon rises about 3 hours after sunset.  Once the sky is fully dark (approximately 6:30 pm in mid northern latitudes), you'll have roughly an hour of dark sky viewing before the approaching moon brightens your sky.  Tomorrow, January 8, your dark sky window extends roughly 6:30 - 8:30.

You don't need fancy equipment to see this comet.  It's bright enough to see with binoculars, or in test exposures taken with a 24mm or 50mm lens or to find in a 70-200 mm zoom at the widest 70 mm focal length.  For the next few nights Comet Lovejoy will be to the right of the constellation Orion.  +Universe Today provides a handy finder chart in their article "Finding Lovejoy: How to Follow the Path of Comet 2014 Q2 Through January".

I captured the test image above with the nearly-full moon in the sky, using a Canon 70D DSLR and EF 70-300 mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount.  If you don't have a star tracking mount, no problem, just use your widest lens (I'd use an EF 16-35 mm f/2.8 lens wide open at f/2.8 and at it's widest focal length of 16mm).  Crank up the ISO and take a number of long test exposures to determine which combination of ISO and exposure time work well on your camera.

If the skies remain clear I should be able to capture even better images during moonless hours in the coming nights.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Vote for Bodie SHP in Via Magazine

California's Bodie State Historic Park at night

+AAA's Via Magazine is running a Wonders of the West sweepstakes.  They ask you a few short questions, then ask for your nomination for the best sight in the West.  What could epitomize the West better than a real Wild West ghost town?  All respondants are entered to win $1500 for a trip, plus $400 credit at Hertz for your rental car.

If you have a moment, go to their poll at, click on your votes for their 3-4 standard multiple choice questions, then write in Bodie as a Wonder of the West!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Geminid Meteor Shower 2014 in HD

Time-lapse video footage from the Geminid meteor shower on the nights of December 13 and 14, 2014. Shot at Topaz Lake in the Eastern Sierra region, on the California-Nevada border.

Here's a description of the Geminid meteor shower from NASA:

"Geminids are pieces of debris from an object called 3200 Phaethon. Long thought to be an asteroid, Phaethon is now classified as an extinct comet. Basically it is the rocky skeleton of a comet that lost its ice after too many close encounters with the sun. Earth runs into a stream of debris from 3200 Phaethon every year in mid-December, causing meteors to fly from the constellation Gemini. When the Geminids first appeared in the early 19th century, shortly before the U.S. Civil War, the shower was weak and attracted little attention. There was no hint that it would ever become a major display."

Composite photos showing multiple 2014 Geminid meteors
I'll be teaching photographers how to capture meteor showers in a photography workshop during the Geminid meteor shower in Death Valley in December 2015:

#Geminids #meteorshower #science #breakingnews #astronomy +Death Valley Workshops 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Leonid Meteor Shower: Timelapse HD Video

You should see two big ones top center, then a lot of little ones down near the horizon after that.

Assembled from 224 30 second photos taken last night from 1-3am in the Eastern Sierra, California, during the Leonid meteor shower in 2009.

All I can say now in 2014 is wow, my technique has progressed a lot since 2009!

Catch the Leonid Meteor Shower Nov 17/18!

The Leonid Meteor Shower, one of the best meteor showers of the year, is happening this week, peaking around November 17/18. The meteors appear to originate from the constellation Leo.  The radiant point that the meteors seem to originate from rises slightly north of due east shortly after after 11 pm.

Long, earth-grazing meteors could be visible coming out of the eastern horizon before the radiant point rises. You can download an app such as StarWalk to a smartphone or tablet to make identification of the constellation and radiant point easy. As night progresses the portion of the earth that you're standing on rotates around to the forward path of the planet hurtling through space, where it collides with more space debris.  The path of the earth is due east at midnight, so the sky and atmosphere above you acts like a big scoop collecting meteors and creating long fireball trails.  The eastern half of your sky can collide with slightly more debris at that point, and more and more of the sky above you is directly facing the direction the earth is travelling as dawn approaches.  That's why early morning hours are often advised for meteor shower watching.

For 2014 however the moon will rise around 3 am at mid northern latitudes, so the best viewing will be roughly midnight to 2:30 am. Adjust your shooting direction to accommodate the east to west movement of Leo as it seems to circle the North Star and rises towards nearly overhead and slightly northeast as dawn approaches.

Check the weather forecast and moon rise times in your area to fine tune your viewing experience. To find a prime viewing spot, travel east away from cities to put the light pollution at your back. Good luck!

Keep your Wordpress Content Fresh With Your Social Media Content

Social media is where a lot of the "action" is these days... new content and interaction (reshares, views, comments, likes, favorites). But posts on social media don't necessarily get seen, in part because your subscribers may not be watching at that moment, and because sites like Facebook and Google+ now filter content by what they predict people want to see, so many or most of your subscribers may never be presented with your content that they subscribed to see.  Social media posts can have a short half-life, getting buried quickly behind other content, so interaction falls off quickly.

Blogs offer a more rich publishing platform and people subscribe to see their content.  Many sponsors are accustomed to rating online influence by monthly traffic to a blog. So while some people have found success becoming "Internet famous" and are sponsored simply to post on social media, other corporate sponsors haven't broadened their criteria beyond more lasting content delivery platforms like +WordPress and +Blogger.

One of the ways they evaluate your content is using +Google Analytics to measure monthly visits to your blog.  So even if you've been  somewhat successful marketing though content, engagement and building a following on social media, you may find that the sponsors you'd like to connect with are using other metrics to evaluate potential marketing partners.

Posting to blogs adds yet another location to post to, and it is a good idea to have unique content there utilizing the added features such as the ability to include multiple images. But all of your work on social media doesn't have to go go waste.  To some degree your audience varies from site to site on social media, and who is online looking at your posts varies, so allowing your social media posts to aggregate to a blog can give your friends and followers a single place to see your recent content.  If you do a good job curating the site and attracting people to come back over time, your potential sponsor will like it as well.

I had a nice experience with the Google+ to Wordpress plugin for Wordpress this morning.  The founder of photo sharing site +500px+Evgeny Tchebotarev, tweeted to his 5000+ followers one of my Wordpress blog posts created from a Google+ post:
I experience decent results on Google+ when sharing individual photos, but for some reason the filtering algorithms on Google+ seem to demote my album shares somewhat, more heavily restrict shares of other posts, and severely restrict shares  of external links.  Worst of all, much of the interaction I see is from users far from my target customer base, so Google's current heavy and skewed filtering algorithm renders G+ practically worthless in my experience.  But I have a lot of confidence in Google to eventually correct course and get on a productive path.  So although my initial 4-5 posts per day for its first year dropped to 1 per day for the next year and again to more sporadic contributions this year as the site fails to deliver broad engagement, when it eventually does, I want to be there.  I've set up Google+ pages to use when they become fully functional, such as when they can connect with and follow (circle) more than a few users per day before maxing out some limit.

In the meantime, any work you invest to maintain a placeholder stake in G+, or to make posts such as URL shares which are likely to be barely distributed on G+, doesn't have to go to waste, since those posts can have a second life on your blog.

It's no small benefit that those blog posts aren't restricted by any severe filtering to hide them from your followers, as they might have been on the original social media site.  One good tweet of your blog post, and it may have more potential viewers than the original post had on the social media site.  And your social media sites may supply that traffic.  Even if there are few eyeballs on your G+ posts or they're not views from your target customers or subscribed (circling) G+ users, there's no reason why you can link to the resulting blog post and drive traffic there from Facebook, Twitter, and so on.

If you'd like to consider having your social media posts mirrored to a Wordpress blog, take a look at the Google+ to Wordpress plugin:  You'll also see the Twitter version there, Social Media 2 WordPress for Twitter.
Your G+ posts can appear on your blog
To see how they look on a blog, check out mine at  I just switched on the Twitter plugin, so I may have some fine tuning to do in the plugin settings before it works exactly the way I want it to, but you can get the gist of what it does.  Thanks to the developer +Daniel Treadwell.  He provides a free version of each plugin which imports the last 10 G+ posts, with comments, or the Twitter version with interaction as well, so you can try each of them out.  To make use of Wordpress plugins you'll need to have a "self-hosted" copy of Wordpress on your own Web site.  Other than the learning curve involved in setting that up, searching for the name of the plugins through your Wordpress installation, and installing and using them, is pretty straightforward.

Perhaps +Google will consider reporting our G+ activity in +Google Analytics so sponsors can see and recognize that as part of the value we offer.  But the filtering of the distribution of your G+ posts may still impede their visibility on G+, so having them available on an external blog enables you to make full use of the content, while you have full tracking and credit for how many people view it (at least directly on the blog).  It's surprising that Google didn't offer similar G+ to +Blogger post migration ages ago (and it's surprising that the existing Blogger to G+ posting capability suffers the same heavy filtering and reduced views that any other external link seems to experience).  Google Analytics could offer the unique strategic advantage of reporting of the combined views of the same post on G+ and Blogger, but a great baby step in the right direction would be any reporting of G+ posts at all.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Image buyers are using 500px Prime

I put about 50 photos into the +500px Prime licensing service when it was released a few months ago, and I didn't give it a second thought. I went back and checked yesterday, and I had $354 in royalties waiting for me. The average $7 per image won't buy me a new camera, but I did order a new tripod, and it will be arriving early next week.

 If I had uploaded a couple of high quality photos per day, the few hundred dollars might have been a few thousand. If you're a photographer on 500px who has put photos into Prime, I'll put the link to your 500px store in the description for this photo on 500px.

Here's the same photo on G+, in case that helps Blogger provide a thumbnail image when this blog post gets posted on G+...

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

CBS Features Bodie and America's Ghost Towns

America's Best Unrestored Ghost Town, Bodie
CBS aired an excellent segment on America's ghost towns last Sunday, including Bodie, California. Here's the segment featuring Bodie from their Sunday morning show:

The haunting remnants of America's ghost towns

Living not far from the park, I have the privilege of leading many dozens of photographers through Bodie each year, for special night access and to photograph building interiors.  Here are photos from our photo workshops, and visits to our favorite local ghost town:

Star trails and the Iridium 11 communications satellite are seen over the Bodie Church
Sunset in Bodie

Moon rise and moon beams over Bodie Bluff

A dusting of snow on Bodie in the spring

Inside the Boone General Store

The Miner's Union Hall in pre-dawn light

Milky Way rising over the Standard Mill

Bodie's 1937 Chevy coupe at dusk

Highlighting Bodie's landmarks under the Milky Way

The peaceful twilight hours in Bodie

Roulette wheel in the Sam Leon Bar

Evening golden hour in Bodie as the last warm rays of the sun touch the town
You can see over 200 of my photos of Bodie in an album on +Flickr :

We've raised roughly $25,000 for building stabilization in Bodie through our photo workshops there.  When we have dates for our interior access and night photography workshops in Bodie for 2015, we'll publish them on my Web site:

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Orionid Meteor Shower Under the Darkest Skies in America

Orionid Meteor Shower 2014
The annual Orionid meteor shower is created when Earth passes through trails of comet debris left in space long ago by Halley's Comet as it orbits around the sun. The "shooting stars" develop when bits typically no larger than a pea, and mostly the size of a grain or sand, vaporize in Earth's upper atmosphere.  This is a composite shot of the best meteors I caught during the Orionid meteor shower last week.

Want to see the stars somewhere really dark?    I shot the peak night of the Orionid meteor shower in the high, dry, optimal dark sky viewing conditions of Central Nevada, under some of the darkest skies in the world in the Tonopah Star Trails area:

Every once in a while, the Internet likes something I post on +Twitter.  Here's my post of this photo there:
I'm working on my time-lapse video from last week's meteor shower as well.

Here's a time-lapse video from chasing the Orionid meteor shower in 2012:

Thanks to Liz Horton and +ABC11-WTVD in Raleigh for using my Orionid Meteor shower time-lapse video from 2012 to inform viewers about the Orionid meteor shower!  Here's ABC11's report informing viewers of the upcoming shower:

Saturday, October 18, 2014

How to Photograph Comet Siding Spring by Mars, October 18-19

Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy and a Geminid Meteor, December 2013
Comet Siding Spring will pass Mars tomorrow, Sunday October 19, 2014.  The Orionid meteor shower is also underway, so you might get lucky and catch a meteor as well, like I did with this Geminid meteor I caught with Comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy last December.

I see that my exposure was 8 seconds at ISO 5000 on a 50mm lens. It was an f/1.4 lens, so I was able to shoot at f/1.6. No star tracking mount was needed for up to a 10 second exposure with that lens.  With that long of an exposure, shouldn't the stars appear to be moving across the sky?  Using the "500 Rule", as long as the focal length times the exposure in seconds doesn't exceed 500, you should be fine.  So 50 x 8 = 400, and you get no visible star movement.

If you try a 400 mm lens however your maximum exposure goes to 1.25 seconds, so you'd need a star tracking mount.  Most people don't have star tracking mounts, so a good compromise might be an 85 mm lens offering f/1.8 or wider, keep the exposure around 5-6 seconds or less, and boost the ISO a bit is necessary.  The comet is approaching Mars now, so try it tonight, Saturday, for practice.

Seen from mid northern latitudes this weekend, Mars will be visible to the southwest from the end of evening twilight until it sets around 9/9:30 pm or so.  Good luck!

I performed lens tests with Comet C/2-013 R1 Lovejoy in 2013. I've put together a time-lapse video today to show you how they did. I've uploaded the video to YouTube here:

+NASA Goddard has produced a cool visualization showing how Comet Siding Spring will pass Mars, in this video:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Fall Colors Report for Eastern Sierra Mono County October 16, 2014

Eastern Sierra fall colors, Mono County October 8, 2014
The latest reports are saying that many locations survived this week's wind storms better expected, and although there are many many bare trees at higher elevations, there are also colorful ones and others which still have green and will continue to change over the next 1-2 weeks. So it looks like we'll have prime conditions in Mono County this week, as good as it's going to get.

Here in Antelope Valley at 5000 feet elevation in the northern end of Mono County, the cottonwood trees are just starting to turn, so the Walker/Coleville/Topaz area could be nice for those in 1-3 weeks.   and I hope to get out to check current conditions further south in the county later today or tomorrow, and hopefully meet up with some of the folks we've met through photography in recent years.

These images of colorful aspen trees were taken in Mono County last week October 9, before the winds.

More fall colors photos from the Eastern Sierra:


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

500px Wants Your Feedback

How has the site 500px been for you lately?
Do you like their new Groups functionality?

They want your feedback, follow the link in their tweet to the questionnaire:
See you there!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Eastern Sierra Fall Colors Report September 2014

Fall colors near Bishop, CA Saturday, September 20, 2014
Fall colors are getting underway in the Eastern Sierra.  These are some of the better locations I found last weekend down in the Bishop area.  The aspen were still mainly green, especially nearly all of the larger trees off of steep hillsides, but for the next two weekends conditions should continue to spread the color to more trees at a wider diversity of elevations.

I say "should' because at this point in the transition to color, the big variable becomes wind.  If a storm blows through, the turned leaves can blow down.  Similarly, extreme cold can make the leaves go directly to brown.  So if you can only get up there on weekends, consider the next two for the Bishop area (especially Bishop Creek and Rock Creek), but do check the weather forecast and factor that in if you can only pick one.

The examples on this page were all taken Saturday, September 20.
Eastern Sierra Fall Colors 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

California Landscape Photography Guide Book

Draft cover for my upcoming guide book to Southern California landscape photography
This is the draft cover for my upcoming guide book to landscape photography from Yosemite to San Diego.I started this journey in September 2006, putting whatever belongings I could fit in my SUV and dropping them off at a storage locker, before going on the road with a copy of "Photographing Southwest, Volume 1 - A guide to the natural landmarks of Southern Utah" by +Laurent Martres.  I went on the road full time as my divorce started. Landscape photography, and that book, got me through a lot of rough times in the next few years. In a sense you could say that they saved my life. Imagine my surprise when I started a Mono Lake and Yosemite regional guide, contacted Laurent since he didn't have a California book, and by coincidence he was just about to hire someone to write a book to cover those locations through San Diego!

I spent the next few years living out of the back of my car, returning to spend weeks with my kids, and to bring them out to explore America's incredible landscapes with me.  On one hand it killed me to be separated from them sometimes for weeks at at time, but on the other hand it was crystal clear that the days with them were precious, so I went out of my way to dedicate those days to them, and engage them in the exploration of places of unique geology and geography and almost overwhelming beauty.  I'm very fortunate that they seem to have developed some of the same curiosity and thirst for exploration and adventure that I enjoy.

All my life I've been drawn to nature and landscapes, growing up exploring the woods, ponds, mountains and coast of New England.  Our family hiked the peaks of Colorado and the boardwalks around Yellowstone's geyser basins curing our move to California, where the grand scale of the High Sierra, Mojave Desert and Pacific Ocean begged for attention.  In a sense my explorations over the years leading up to this project mirrored that legacy, as I shared with my children many of the same discoveries that my parents had led me to.  Custody days for me aren't a burden, they're a priceless privilege.  Gaining perspective on what's important in life is something that can never come too soon.  

I could travel the world in search of soaring mountains, searing deserts with massive sand dunes, wave-pounded seashores or forests with astonishingly massive trees, but that's all within a day's drive.  You can search the world or Oz to fill some perceived need, but for anyone lucky enough to have both family and Southern California nearby, there's truly no place like home.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Lights Are in Your Light Painting Bag?

What's in your light painting bag?
A lot of my lights are re-purposed from camping, backpacking, cycling, astronomy, and so on.  A lot of the colored lights I use are from Dollar Tree or  I get asked a lot about what gear I used for a particular shot, so I store a lot of my purchases in an "Astore" on +Amazon.com
Your use of that link supports my work and blog.

What lights do you use?

Here are some of mine, shown above:

A. - Glow stick light wands - They are available in at least 6 colors plus a color-changing variety.  About $5 each.  Move them through the air or hide them inside things ot color the interior.

B. - Book reading lights - When you tie them to a string, spin them in a circle then rotate the circle to trace an orb sphere in the air, the plastic color shines through.  $1 each at +Dollar Tree@DollarTree
C. - Electroluminescent wire, also known as "El wire" - 9 foot sections of wire which glow in the dark.  About $5-10.  Whip it up and down to make "fire", move it along the ground to make "smoke".

D. - Stanley FatMax spotlight or Black&Decker - Millions of candlepower, two beam widths, very long battery life (haven't had to recharge it in months).  Great for chasing bears out of your yard or campsite.  About $50.

E. - Inova LED light - Great for light orbs, also for projecting small amounts of colored light onto objects.  About $7-9 each.
F. - LED Lenser RGB LED flashlight - Four on/off switches so you can mix and match colors.  About $40, may be marketed under Coast brand now.  Paint different areas of a scene with different colors.

G. - LED tea lights - The waterproof ones are very bright, either cool white or amber (orange).  The fake flame ones have more reasonable illumination on dark nights, and come in a warm yellow or a slightly warm white.  About $1 each in small quantities, but as little as $0.50 in larger quantities.

H. - LED under-cabinet lights - For your kitchen, or anywhere else you want a beam of light.  $1 each at Dollar Tree.I. - Green laser - Super bright, potentially dangerous to the eyes, not a toy.  Shines a bright beam for miles.  If an airplane thinks you're pointing it at them, you'll be reported to Homeland Security as a terrorist.  I bought mine at +Fry's Electronics, should be available at as well

J. - A Brinkman model, runs on AAA batteries.

K. - Small LED camping lantern.  About $10.

L. - Kukoda Track solar charging LED panels - Manufactured by +Flexiway Solar Solutions for the Kokoda Track Foundation, which is replacing kerosene lamps for residents of Papua New Guinea.  

M. - Colorful plastic film for coloring white lights - $1 at Dollar Tree.

N. - Cool white LED lights - I found these for $1 each in a 6-pack at +The Home Depot.

O. - Bike LED lights, white and red - Removable so they don't get stolen.  I bought mine at the Reno Bike Project, about $5-10 each.

P. - LED Light wand - Very bright, with the notable feature of having a magnetic side opposite the lights, so you can position this light firmly inside of rusty metal objects.  About $10 at Fry's Electronics,

Q. - MiniMag flashlight - Classic warm, incandescent bulb.  Easy to manage (enclose front in your hand) for adjusting camera settings, walking and only shining where your footsteps need to go, without spilling light all over town (like a headlamp).  A value leader at $10.
R. - LED MiniMag flashlight - Very bright, cool white.  About $30.

S. - Small "kids" headlamp - Small, light, compact, bright.  Thankfully no red mode which destroys everyone's foreground nearby if you accidentally turn it on.  About $12 as sale item in the clearance section of  +Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI)

T. - Mini-LED headlamp - Super small and light, I use this for hands-free use around camp when backpacking.

U. - UV headlamp - also has white and green modes.  I specifically bought this for hunting scoprions in the dunes in Death Valley.  Use UV-blocking eye protection.

I'll have to work on posts which illustrate more sample uses for many of these types of lights.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Chrome Extension Shows Klout Scores in Your Twitter Feed

Sometimes when new people start interacting with you on social media you don't have a lot of context.  Or with people you may have been connected to for a while, how active are they?  You can only keep track of roughly up to 150 relationships in your life, so for online interaction, a number of tools have been developed to help you make sense of the rest.

You may be familiar with +Klout, which ranks people for their activity and interactions online.  It has some drawbacks, like over-ranking people for activity volume rather than content quality, and failing to demote serial copyright violators who mainly re-upload others' images, but for a brief glimpse it at least tells you if they are active on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Google+.  A Klout score of 70 or above for example indicates a ranking in the top 10% of social media users.

Here are a couple of examples, the one above looking at +Andy Hawbaker's Twitter feed and  the one below looking at the feed for +Sierra Trading Post:
I took a look at their Twitter feeds after Sierra Trading Post licensed one of my photos for an article on night photography.  I like giving back, so I went to Sierra Trading Post and bought clothing from +Columbia Sportswear and fishing gear from +Ross Reels , +Umpqua Feather Merchants+frogg toggs and others.  Thanks Sierra Trading Post for using my photo, for helping me upgrade my clothing and gear!

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Mars, Saturn and Moon Conjunction Over Bodie's 1937 Chevy August 30

Mars, Saturn and the moon over Bodie's 1937 Chevy on August 30
I wrote a blog post last week about the opportunity to capture the moon, Mars and Saturn on the evenings of August 30 and 31.  This is the shot I planned with +The Photographer's Ephemeris to place them over the rusty 1937 Chevy in California's Bodie State Historic Park.

Moments earlier I had been catching sunset on Main Street, and Mars and Saturn were just becoming visible over the DeChambeau Hotel:

Mars and Saturn become visible to the left of the Moon over Main Street in Bodie 

It's fairly easy to plan for interesting photos to capture these astronomical events if you use any one of a number of astronomy or astrophotography planning applications to anticipate potential compositions.  I mentioned several in my blog post last week:
For The Photographer's Ephemeris, check out the new Web version of TPE, since Google has retired the version of Google Maps used in the prior desktop app.

Monday, September 01, 2014

The Redemption of High Dynamic Range (HDR) Software

Joshua tree in Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park
When I captured the image above in early 2009, I used a Canon EOS 40D.  Although that was the first Canon camera marketed as producing 14-bit RAW files, it wasn't always clear from the results that it was producing the implied 4X more color resolution compared to prior models producing RAW files with 12-bits of information.  This is the original single exposure image, fully post-processed recently in Adobe Lightroom 5.  In that single exposure result I was frustrated by the relative lack of detail in the shadows, and the highlights are lacking in detail as well, so the dynamic range, the ability of the camera to capture a wide range of bright to dark light values, is clearly inadequate.

Fortunately the image was captured in a 3-exposure sequence, so as I revisit the images from that day now, over 5 years later, I can try post-processing it using a current version of Photomatix HDR software which offers a "natural" mode which produces fewer artifacts than prior versions did..  One thing that is clear is that there is a significant amount of shadow and highlight detail present in the scene which is brought back into the HDR result.

3 exposures post-processed in Photomatix HDR software

I had been unable to produce an acceptable result for this image in 2009, but using current tools, significant highlight and shadow detail can be recovered.  High Dynamic Range software is finally getting to the point where it can produce high dynamic range.

Six days before I had captured this photo, I had written a blog post including the following:
"Many people vilify HDR; I don't get it. Most people play guitar poorly, but that won't keep me from enjoying the work of many talented guitarists. Of course everyone's entitled to their opinion and their own tastes. If classical music fans want to say, 'Ugh, I think I hear a guitar in that piece!', or photography fans want to say 'Ugh, Galen Rowell used graduated neutral density filters!', that's their privilege. Surely HDR software will get better and better at expanding dynamic range while producing unobtrusive results, and as that value is delivered for more and more shots, I'll have terabytes of exposure-bracketed images to draw upon."
Why Would Anyone Use HDR? It's Unreal!
While the degree to which the HDR processing itself is still noticeable is open for discussion, I didn't care for the original which was overly light and dark at the same time, so this strikes me as an improvement.  It is also a good example of that concept I proposed which proposes that future advances in software may help us overcome current limitations in hardware, provided that you record more data than your camera can capture in a single exposure.  The way to do that is to capture an exposure-bracketed sequence, where you capture both darker and lighter exposures than your best attempt at a single exposure.

At that point in 2009 I was using HDR software roughly 80% of the time, in spite of its crude state and sometimes objectionable artifacts.  Shortly after upgrading to a Canon 5D Mark II, with a full frame sensor and much better dynamic range,  I was able to quickly drive my HDR usage down to 10% and then 2-3%.  HDR could still rescue images which could not be salvaged in single exposure form, so it remained one of many tools at my disposal, but it became more of a tool of last resort than a key piece of my workflow.  

Unfortunately by that point the use of HDR had developed negative connotations with many photographers, so in 2011 I felt the need to explain my rationale for using it at all:
"Some photographers have fallen in love with High Dynamic Range (HDR) post-processing, producing dramatic but strange results. Other photographers dismiss the often wacky-looking HDR results as 'technicolor vomit' and note that any monkey can move a slider in software to make a scene look strange, the talent lies in making a single, flat camera exposure look more like what we experienced onsite. Unfortunately, the range of light present, the dynamic range of the scene, is often far beyond what a single camera exposure can capture. So like so many polarized debates these days, the prudent path may lie somewhere in between. " 
HDR Isn't Just a Crutch, or a Crime 
As I look back now, with improved HDR software providing even more useful utility, as I try to process photos from my pre-2009 cameras I still have challenges producing excellent results from some of the lighting conditions I found myself shooting in.  So although my own pendulum of HDR use swung from strong support to a bias against it, as my use is rising again it's still a centrist view: I'll use it when it's useful, and it is becoming more useful.

Merced River Calm
HDR 2014, Canon Digital Rebel XTi photo captured November 2006
If you decide to buy Photomatix, you can get a 15% discount by using the coupon code JeffSullivan when you by it from its publisher HDRsoft: