Friday, December 31, 2010

Owens Valley Rainbows (Timelapse Video)

Rainbows I found in the Owens Valley on October 5, 2010 while scouting conditions for the Fall Colors workshop. The rainbows move across the landscape as the sun moves across the sky.

Best viewed in high definition over on Flickr!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Last 36 Hours to Send Me PhotoBlogging Around The World!

Only 36 hours left in the voting for the Blog Your Way Around The World contest. I'd love to bring you more sights like this from around the world!

I'll place images from the trip on a site where you can order prints. Proceeeds from the sale of those prints will go towards charities and conservation organizations relevant to each of the areas visited.

I found the contest late, so every vote counts... tell your friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc! It'll take a miracle, but who knows... maybe a church or two would mobilize their members to support the charitable nature of this quest?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Meteor and Milky Way over the Sierra Nevada

A single image from a several hour, 438 frame timelapse I'm working on, taken while backpacking last Summer.

Flickr isn't accepting the HD video files I've been trying to upload this week. only lets me upload one high definition file per week (I don't have a revenue stream for video to justify upgrading to unlimited), so I'm not sure when I'll a high resolution copy available. In the meantime however, you can see Vimeo's severely downgraded preview:

Sierra Nevada Milky Way Timelapse from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

If this embedded player doesn't seem to play it well, try viewing it directly over on Vimeo: For low resolution previews that Vimeo downconverts from HD, I don't recommend full screen viewing.

It looks a lot better on my laptop of course, where it actually runs slower and you can see more details such as the meteor, a satellite, and so on, so I may slow down the frame rate on the next version of this that I create.

If you like my coverage of places and events, send me around the world to capture more images and timelapse videos for you to enjoy! Blog Your Way Around The World - The voting deadline is December 31.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse over Saguaro National Park

A massive storm was hammering the entire West Coast this lunar eclipse approached, so I decided to drive as far as I had to to get out from under the clouds. One 2000 mile round trip later, here's a timelapse video spanning several hours. During the total eclipse the moon turns very dim and red, coloring the clouds and the landscape below.

Update: The copy I uploaded here to Blogger was converted poorly to a low resolution copy, so I deleted it. For best results at the moment, watch a preview of my lunar eclipse timelapse video over on YouTube:

Here's one of my still images from the lunar eclipse, captured on an old Canon 40D:

Friday, December 24, 2010

All I Want for Christmas is... A New Life!

Outdoor/adventure photography is a challenging field. You're only as good as the depth of your portfolio and the compelling nature of your latest images. Those of you I've interacted with know that I don't ask for much... I prefer to contribute rather than ask, but this is important enough that I'm going to ask a huge personal favor. If you've enjoyed my images (or like what you see in my Flickr photostream and Favorites set if you've never seen my work before), please consider taking a moment to giving me the holiday gift of a vote... to send me on 8 adventure travel trips so I can build my portfolio as a travel/adventure photographer:

For many years I've admired adventure photographers such as Galen Rowell, and this is an excellent opportunity to follow in his footsteps. Winning this contest will be expensive (the winner must cover thousands of dollars in travel expenses), but such an opportunity could make my photography career, so it will be a worthwhile investment.

The site requires registration, but they won't spam you. Winning this contest could literally be a life-changing event for me. Thanks in advance for your consideration and support!

Happy Holidays!

Jeff Sullivan

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse Dec 20-21 2010

Here's one of my early shots from the lunar eclipse last night. I'm still in Tucson and have to drive 9-10 hours today, so I won't get around to working on the timelapse today.

On my primary camera, a Canon 5D Mark II, I shot a timelapse sequence of the eclipsing moon moving through the sky, as thin clouds moved overhead and the light turned red from the moon's darkened face.

I can't wait to see how the time-lapse turns out, but I have a LOT of driving to do first.

Update: Here's a first pass at the time-lapse video:

Total Lunar Eclipse Timelapse, December 2010 from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Phases of the December 2010 Total Lunar Eclipse

It's coming in only 2.5 hours! I finally arrived in Tucson, Arizona roughly 46 hours after I got on the road yesterday (I spent most of the first 16 hours crawling in 4WD on snowy Sierra Nevada roads to get my kids home, then all the way down to Bishop before the snow and chain controls ended).

Looks like it'll be partly cloudy here with thin, hazy clouds, but compared to California it'll be nice to be able to shoot at all.

A few quick notes on timing, lenses (field of view required to get a timelapse), and so on:

Dec 20/21...................Time...........Moon.........Moon
Eclipse Phase.................PST.........Azimuth.....Altitude
Partial Eclipse Begins:....10:33pm...SE....122.5........70.2
Total Eclipse Begins:......11:41pm.........174.3........77.9
Greatest Eclipse:..........12:16am.........209.4........76.4
Total Eclipse Ends:........12:53am...SW....233.7........71.4
Partial Eclipse Ends:.......2:01am....W....255.7........59.1
Penumbral Eclipse Ends:.....5:04am.........282.5........23.3

Best Sunrise Light Starts...6:28am.........292.8........7.6


Partial Eclipse, Field of View:.10:30-2am..133.2.......20 degrees
Use 16mm lens to follow, +8, -12 degree shallow arc moon path.

Total Eclipse Field of View:.11:41-12:53am..59.4.......-6.5
Use at least 20mm lens to follow flat-ish downward arc to moon's path.

Moonset in best pre-sunrise light:........6:28 - 6:58am........3.9........-5.2 200mm, downward diagonal
Sunrise to moonset (daylight):........6:58 - 7:13am........1.9........-2.4 600mm, small downward diagonal

The cameras I'll be shooting with simultaneously:

Canon 5D mark II:
24mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4 - Night landscapes with full moon in penumbral dim state
21mm (16-35 lens) - Entire total eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)

70-200mm - Moonset in best pre-sunrise light
70-200mm - Sunrise to moonset, "golden hour" daylight

Canon 40D:
70-200mm + 2X - Telephoto shots of moon in various eclipse phases
16mm = 105 deg. - Entire visible eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)

The lens equivalents noted are the minimum needed, and since I'll want to have the option to crop to a 16:9 HD video aspect ratio for a timelapse video, I'll actually shoot the wide shots wider to allow for a generous margin of error.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse Mon, Dec 20 (Last Chance 'Til 2014)!

I've been poring over maps, examining moon rise and set angles on Google Earth maps, calculating what lenses might cover various phases of the total lunar eclipse Monday night, and anxiously checking weather forecasts.

This will be the only total lunar eclipse until 2014, so to me it's worth an investment of time and effort to witness and to shoot. It might even be worth renting a lens for. Unfortunately, the entire West Coast looks out of the question due to weather, so I'm heading to Southern Arizona. I still have to cross the Sierra Nevada twice in the blizzard today, then I'll have a 15 hour drive to Arizona (maybe 20 hours total, if I'm lucky). On the plus side, capturing the lunar eclipse over a tall saguaro cactus could offer some stunning possibilities, not to mention sunrise and sunset.

If you're as crazy as I am and dying to get shots of the eclipse, I'd like to invite photographers to join me. I can save you days of research and I can help you line you some nice sunrise and sunset shots in addition to improving your chances of capturing nice eclipse photos and/or timelapse sequences. During an eclipse the exposure of the light coming off the moon changes dramatically, and it's helpful to have others nearby to compare exposure information with.

All I ask is that you have some night photography experience, a tripod and remote trigger (wireless or corded, even better if you have an intervalometer timer-trigger), and that you can work around your camera at night without letting any light leak forward into the shot. That last point is very, very important. It gets extremely dark during a total lunar eclipse, and a timelapse sequence of the entire event can be ruined by one stray flashlight or headlamp.

We'll set a time and place, meet around sunset, and shoot through dawn. Anyone heading back towards California after that is welcome to join me in searching for favorable light and weather over the following day or two (no guarantees that the weather will cooperate, which is why I'm not offering it as an official workshop add-on, but unsettled weather is the most dramatic visually, so I'm very excited about the forecast). Possibilities include Imperial Sand Dunse, Anza-Borrego State Park, the Salton Sea, Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley (a huge range, but the National Weather Service will help narrow down the choices). The Grand Canyon isn't out of the question geography-wise, but it's currently directly in the path of the storm, so a low probability (and it's snowy and very cold).

If you need to check airline flight availability and cost, the closest airport will be Tucson. If you'd like to extend your trip, I can offer some suggestions if you'd like to shoot within a few hours of there for an additional day or two. The weather there is forecast to be a low of 46 degrees, 70s during the day.

Whatever you decide, best of luck to you on your weather and your eclipse shots!

Early Results from the Geminid Meteor Trip

It may be days or weeks before I get enough time and an appropriately capable Internet connection to do my Geminid Meteor Shower trip justice, but I can direct you to a collection of the favorite images that I've run across so far:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Light Painting Photo Featured on Flickr's Blog

This light painting was featured on Flickr's blog along with several others to celebrate the best photos of 2010.  Welcome Flickr blog readers, and thank you Flickr!

This image was created on the Badwater salt flats in Death Valley National Park. I had a flashlight with three colors of LED light. During this single 30 second exposure I lit each color for close to 10 seconds while waving my arm around up and down (which traces a sphere, like a pumpkin).

The Badwater salt flats are particularly good for light painting, since there's minimal light pollution and the white surface reflects light well.

Death Valley offers a number of interesting landscapes for light painting... go explore!

Total Lunar Eclipse Coming Monday, Dec 20!

The full moon enters the earth's shadow during a lunar eclipse. The next one will occur December 20, 2010:

This eclipse will be well suited for viewing from North America, particularly the West Coast, with the darkest portion of the eclipse happening at 12:16am Pacific Standard Time.

I'm working out detailed shooting strategies for the following scenarios, so I can decide which ones to shoot and which lenses I'll need to capture each at maximum resolution:

- Moonrise in "golden hour" daylight before Sunset:
- Continued moonrise in best post-sunset light
- Night landscapes with full moon in penumbral dim state
- Telephoto shots of moon in various eclipse phases
- Entire visible eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)
- Entire total eclipse (sequence for still shots, timelapse video or phase composite photo)
- Moonset in best pre-sunrise light
- Sunrise to moonset, "golden hour" daylight

I've spent a few hours figuring our rise/set and eclipse angles so I can select a general site, specific shooting positions where I can incorporate landscape elements into the shots. The moon will cover a tremendous amount of sky on that night, rising in the northeast and setting in the northwest. To shoot from moonrise to moonset he site will need to have shooting opportunities covering roughly 240 degrees, almost 3/4 of a full 360 degree circle.

I'll make the final decision on site later this week once I can see a 10 day weather forecast, but I'm leaning towards a Southern California desert location to reduce the odds of having interference from weather.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Put Sunset Full Moon Rise Dates on your Calendar

Moon rise during sunset at Mono Lake.  The blue color near the horizon is the shadow of the earth.
Mono Lake Sunset Dream, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan (
Most of the time the full moon is too bright for you to take a landscape photo and preserve detail on the moon. However, there's one situation where the moon can be bright, crisp and full, yet you can include it in a landscape photo: when it rises around sunset and when it sets around sunrise.

Each month the full moon rises around sunset and sets around sunrise, and generally speaking, its rise and set times change an hour or so for each day you get away from the full moon day. So to catch the full moon in the sky while it's still daylight, look at the sun and moon times for the day before the full moon. Consider landscape shots where you can shoot eastward towards the rising moon. You can even look up the exact moonrise angle on a satellite photo of the site you're considering on Google Earth using a program (free for your laptop/desktop PC, small fee for iPhone) called The Photographer's Ephemeris (TPE), and plan exactly where to place your tripod so you'll get the moon lined up exactly how you want it vs. natural or man-made objects between you and the horizon.

Moon rise 6:59 pm (light blue line shows direction), shortly before 7:14 pm sun set (orange line shows direction).

To catch the full moon in a generally westward direction, the same process applies, but look one day after the full moon and check for the moon setting just before sunrise.

The sun moves quite a bit from summer to winter, so to go even further and select destinations when the lineups work best, you'll be able to note on +The Photographer's Ephemeris what the bearing (compass direction) is from your favorite viewpoints to landmarks in the distance, and you can plan on being there when the moon will be in exactly the right place.

All of the times and angles vary somewhat as you move across your region, so simply to give myself a ballpark idea of how the sunset moon rises work out for 2011, I picked Modesto more or less in the middle of California:

Times for Modesto, CA:
................ Sunset... Moonrise... Bearing
Dec 20... 5:13....... 4:23.......... 59.2
Jan 19... 5:12....... 5:26.......... 68.2
Feb 18... 6:48....... 6:41.......... 86.2
Mar 18... 7:12....... 6:26.......... 89.9
Apr 17... 7:40....... 7:43.......... 108.7
May16... 8:06....... 7:45.......... 116.6
Jun 15... 8:25....... 8:37.......... 119.6
Jul 14... 8:24....... 8:03.......... 115
Aug 13... 7:58....... 7:44.......... 101.5
Sep 12... 7:15....... 7:09.......... 85.5
Oct 11... 6:31....... 6:07.......... 76.1
Oct 12... 6:30....... 6:37.......... 71.2
Nov 10... 4:56....... 4:48.......... 64.7
Dec 9... 4:44....... 4:12.......... 61.4

Now I can plan where I'll be for each sunset moon rise, and look up the more accurate numbers for sunset and moon rise in those exact locations... and now you can too!

The same process can be used to place and shoot crescent moons, which are attractive because they also rise and set near sunset/sunrise, and the thinner crescent moon phases don't put reflect so much sunlight that they'll interfere with your night shots.

Examples of landscape shots including the sun and moon, some planned in advance using TPE, may be found in the Moon and Sun set on my Flickr photostream.

Maybe you won't be inclined to go to as much trouble as I do to plan your shots, but nevertheless, if you plan on getting out on these dates to shoot around sunset, you could have the added bonus of a full (and not overexposed) moon to include in the shot!

Geminid Meteor Shower Coming Dec 12-16, 2010!

I've dug up this old meteor shower timelapse to remind people of the Geminid Meteor Shower is coming December 13, 2010. The most dense showers tend to be visible after midnight as we rotate around to the front of the earth as it travels through space, so for a nice preview, try Sunday night Dec 12 after midnight (which technically will be Monday). The moon will set around 12:39am on the West Coast, further enhancing viewing conditions.

NASA tells us that the Geminid Meteor Shower will be the best of 2010, with the best viewing occurring on the night of December 13-14. I hope to be out shooting on the three nights beginning on December 12, 13, and 14.

This timelapse video above is from the Orionid Meteor Shower in October 2009. (Check a few posts back on my blog for details on how to produce a timelapse from a sequence of photos.) For best viewing you must go to Flickr to view this, select HD to view it in high resolution, and click the icon towards the lower right to view it full screen. Enjoy!

All in all that Orionid shower had a pretty disappointing showing of meteors. I woke up to go out the second night, but it was below freezing with 20 knot winds, so given the results on the first night I decided not to go sit out in the potentially sub-zero wind chill for an hour or two!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Photographing Big Waves? Check the Surf Forecast!

Off the Charts!, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

We've all seen nice images of waves crashing on the coast, and it's a pretty safe bet that you can find large waves after storms pass through coastal areas. But what you may not know is that models have been constructed to predict wave height in advance! Surfers and divers often consult these predictions, and photographers can use them as well.

Waves include wind-generated "windswell" which can come from winds or storms in multiple directions. Current prediction models such as NOAA's Wavewatch III wavemodel can forecast waves coming from up to six different directions simultaneously, all interacting to create the waves you see onsite.

Here's an example of a surf forecast for the Big Sur Coast:

Here's a map you can use to select other California coastal locations:

Based on the forecast, I'm going to make a point of pursuing large waves along the Big Sur this Thursday. I'll let you know how it turns out!

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Cut Light for Long Daylight Exposures

Garrapata Dawn light, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

We've all seen those nice one or two second exposures which make waterfalls look silky. Select your smallesta aperture, set your ISO sensitivity low, and perhaps add a circular polarizer to your lens to reduce light, and those exposures should be within range. But have you considered longer daylight exposures and similarly abstracting other moving subjects such as waves?

On a recent trip to California's Big Sur coast I was shooting long pre-dawn exposures and I decided to continue with long exposures for as long as I could. I started with my wide and midrange lenses closed to their smallest aperture f/22, I gradually reduced ISO sensitivity to Low (ISO 50) as the light increased, and I added a polarizing filter to cut light. As the sky lightened I added a 3 stop graduated neutral density filter to reduce light coming from the sky.

As the day continued to brighten I continued shooting but added a 3 stop neutral density filter and eventually I changed to a 70-200mm lens to further reduce aperture another stop to f/32. I had started with a Hoya Pro1 circular polarizer which only reduces light 1 1/4 stop, so I also used a darker polarizer which cut 2 stops of light. With the polarizer plus the ND and GND filters stacked I was cutting 8 stops of light in the sky and 5 elsewhere, on a camera shooting at f/32, ISO 50.

To continue in bright, direct sunlight you'll need to settle for shorter exposure times or go further to cut the light such as with a 10 stop ND filter. But a 10 stop filter is a pretty specialized tool that might not be on the top of your wish list, so in the meantime try shooting near dusk and dawn with your smallest aperture (most likely on your longest zoom lens), stacking the light-cutting filters you already have on hand.

A few things I should mention though... if you try long shots like this, it's critical to use a sturdy tripod, a remote shutter release or your camera's self timer, and don't forget to turn your camera's image stabilization off.

As always, click on any image to see a larger copy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is it Facebook vs. Flickr, or Both vs. Google?

An article on the PhotoShelter blog "What Google trends Says About Wedding & Stock Photography, and Photo Websites" proposes that a drop in Flickr ratings on Google Trends may be due to an increase in the popularity of Facebook for photo sharing. I disagree strongly with the article's conclusions.

The drop in Yahoo-owned Flickr status in competitor Google's trend ratings was probably more due to internal workings of the Google search engine to stop referring Google image search results over to their competitor's site Flickr. I've seen this firsthand in my Flickr statistics. I used to get nearly 30% of my Flickr views from Google search users, now I get close to zero. Meanwhile my Google hits on Panoramio have skyrocketed to over 5 million views on a handful of images.

Facebook's ratings on Goolge Trends also pummeted, so the same engineered obsolescence is probably true for Google's referral to anything over on Facebook, since Facebook is now emerging as a competitor for Google's dominance over Internet eyeballs. Facebook's drop in Google's ratings is far too precipitous to be attributed to a simple familiarity with Facebook's name, as proposed in the article.

The existing fight between Yahoo and Google has expanded to include Facebook, as demonstrated by Facebook's announcement this week of an email service that aspires consolodate messages from all sources. Google is simply taking prudent steps to minimize the extent to which their site promotes their competitors.

The bottom line for photographers? Flickr will remain strong with Yahoo search users, Google-friendly sites will dominate Google searches, and Facebook is an island unto itself, albeit a really big island that wants to aggregate all your content.

For the moment Flickr is a site with robust sharing photo sharing features but a rabid paranoia of all things external, including standard social media platforms, so it's dangerous to try to interact around Flickr photos (post external links and they reportedly may delete your account suddenly and unexpectedly). So Facebook appears to be the only major player with a viable solution friendly to social media integration at the moment. Although their tools for photographers seem a little lacking at the moment, their pool of app developers are working diligently to solve that problem for them.

Create a Timelapse Video on Your Digital Camera

I have a lot of timelapse sequences that I haven't gotten around to processing yet, but here's one from sunrise this morning!

Timelapse videos are easy to create on your DSLR. There are many software packages which will facilitate the process, some better than others, but I'll describe the simple and relatively low cost workflow that I currently use. You'll need software on your PC which can convert a sequence of JPEG files to timelapse video. I use VirtualDub (free download) to create an AVI format video, then I use MPEG Streamclip (free download) to convert the huge .AVI file to a much smaller (albeit lower quality) MPEG-4 for online use. Here's the process from shooting to finished video:

Clean your camera sensor. It is hard enough to remove dust from one image... picture having to do that 300 times. Even copying dust removal from one image to the others, the data changes over time (from shot to shot), so it really won't work well across the whole sequence. It's far, far better to remove the dust up front. Clean your camera sensor!.

Put your camera on a sturdy tripod. Install a fully charged battery and a blank, freshly-formatted memory card which can handle several hundred images.

Compose your image expecting to lose some of the vertical information if you'll convert the sequence to HD video with a narrow HD shape (16:9 aspect ratio).

Manually focus your camera and switch off automatic focus. If you forget to do this, your camera will insert delays in the sequence as it hunts for focus, making the playback jerky at best. Worst case, your camera may lose focus and you'll end up with a whole lot of blurry images.

Make some test shots to determine best exposure. If practical, set exposure manually so it won't change from shot to shot and cause flashing (flicker) as different exposures come up during playback. If the light will change a lot during shooting (sunrise and sunset), you can use automatic exposure, but then the exposure during the video is artificially stagnant, and you'll need to to "deflicker" the timelapse to reduce flashing from frame to frame when producing the video. You will learn some very interesting and important things about your DLSR in this process! When your DSLR changes the exposure up or down 1/3 stop from shot to shot, simply "fixing" the exposure during editing will not result in similar-looking images from shot to shot! Even adjacent images taken a fraction of a second apart may have different white balance, and a slight exposure change also affects contrast, color saturation, and so on. Once you've gone through the process a few times your whole approach will change and you'll try to maximize quality and consistency in-camera, not during editing.

Shoot several hundred images in a row. You can make the timing from frame to frame consistent using an Intervalometer Trigger (external timer), or you can simply hit the shutter release over and over (perhaps use the display of the prior image on the camera rear LCD as your cue to trigger the next shot and keep them at a fairly consistent rate). Remember that your finished product will be 30 frames per second, so you'll need 300 images for each 10 seconds of video. I recommend shooting in RAW format so you can adjust the exposures during editing, especially if you shoot at sunrise or sunset where the light will change over the course of your timelapse.

Read your camera's files into your editing software and crop them to the 16:9 aspect ratio of HD video. Remember that you have far more resolution in your DSLR than you need for HD video, so you can perform a "digital zoom" and focus on only a portion of your original camera image. Software strong in batch editing such as Adobe Lightroom (free trial available) will enable you to apply a consistent crop, exposure adjustments and even spot removal across the entire sequence of images. You'll also want to impose one consistent white balance across the entire sequence. Some video processing software (such as Adobe Premiere I believe) will even let you specify a starting crop and a different finishing crop, then calculate a zoom and pan across your sequence of images.

Save your files in sRGB JPEG format at 1280 x 720 resolution for video to be used on sites like YouTube or Flickr that only allow smaller 720p HD format video, or save them at 1920 x 1080 resolution for 1080p video to be uploaded to sites such as Vimeo. If you'll use the VirtualDub software, it will want you to point to the first image in the sequence then look for a sequential numbered file, so if you used automatic exposure bracketing while shooting you may be editing and saving every third file, but you can rename them sequentially so VirtualDub can order them properly.

Read the sequence into VirtualDub. It's important to notice when trying to import them that in the dialog box where you're looking for the first file to select, the file format has a drop-down menu which enables you to specify that it should look for an image sequence in JPG format.

Add filters as desired, in the order that you want them to apply. For example, Virtualdub can crop and resize larger JPEGs, perform sharpening at the new lower resolution, and you can search for and install a third party "MSU deflicker" filter to improve image consistency from frame to frame across the whole video. Check your frame rate and for maximum quality (but shorter result) change the default 10 frames per second to 30.

Save the video in AVI format. That's a very high quality format, so it may save a file of a gigabyte or more! Enjoy this high quality file on your computer (or read it into video editing software to burn it to Blue-Ray DVD).

To create smaller files for online sharing, read your .AVI file into MPEG Streamclip. Save to MPEG-4, playing with quality vs. file size tradeoffs until the results are what you want.

Upload your results to your favorite video sharing site. That's it! It takes a little more planning to pull off well and a little more time to produce the finished result, but you can produce some amazing videos.

For more information on shooting timelapse sequences, I recommend browsing the discussion forums over on

Note: although Adobe Lightroom has a retail list price of $300 to buy, there's curently a beta release candidate version 3.3c on Adobe Labs that you can use for free until December 2010. Then you can download the free trial of the production version and use that for another 30 days, so you're set through the end of January at least. Beta users often get a discount on purchase, so if you do eventually choose to buy you may get a lower price.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Leonid Meteor Shower is Underway!

The Leonid Meteor Shower tends to be one of the best meteor showers of the year. With the moon setting at 2:50am this morning, I made it out by around 3:30am this morning to check it out. It was doing really well, with rates as I watched appearing to be as high as a meteor per minute. Of course not all of these fell in the field of view of my cameras.

The meteor per hour rate should increase for the next night or two. The best viewing of the Leonids this year is during darker skies after moonset, which here on the West Coast will be 3:30-5:30am tomorrow morning (Nov 17) and 4:30-5:30am the following morning (Nov 18).

The first image here was taken on my Canon 40D: 30 seconds at f/2.0, ISO 1600 with a 24mm lens (38mm effective). The second image was taken on my Canon 5D mark II using a 16-35mm lens, using 30 second exposures at f/2.8, ISO 6400.

Now that I know that this year's shower is reasonably robust, I'll try to get up earlier tomorrow morning and drive to a location where I can set up some nice compositions.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Have Your Photos Seen by Millions on Google

Water Cuts Rock, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan. is a site which provided simple mapping of photos on Google Earth. Google eventually bought the company and now displays those photos to Google Earth users, as well as Google Maps and to people performing an image search by keyword on Google.

The new Stats function on Panoramio shows 198,000 views for this photo via Google (Earth, Maps, search). Apparently my 400 photos there, roughly 280 of them mapped on Google Earth, have had 4.9 million views in total! No wonder I get contacted by people saying "I saw your photos on Panoramio, and..."

Just add "/stats" after the URL of any photo or user URL on Panoramio to see some usage details. If it's your own account, you also see the most common referring URLs, so you can see how people are finding your photos.

It turns out that my photos there have 157,129 views in the last 30 days. Some fraction of those viewers want a print or to join me on a field workshop.

Give the site a try to introduce your own photos to new fans. I always recommend uploading only low resolution copies of your files to minimize the possibility of theft, and of course only upload photos which you're willing to disclose the location for, since you'll be placing them by shooting position on a Google Earth map.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wind and Rainbows in the Eastern Sierra

Rainbow in the Wind, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

The wind was literally ripping water off the wavetops in Mono Lake on Sunday. Gusts up to 80MPH were reported in the Eastern Sierra valleys, with up to 145MPH forecasted on the ridges.

Fall colors will linger on primarily in wind-protected areas.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall Colors Peak in the Eastern Sierra

June Lake Loop Fall Colors, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

Fall colors peaked in many areas of the Eastern Sierra by last weekend. I enjoyed some of the most varied and saturated colors in years along the June Lake Loop on Friday. I returned on Sunday to find ample colors remaining, but the colors were faded and by the afternoon hevay winds had arrived and many of the trees were having their leaves blown off. Pockets of good color and some green leaves still to change do remain, and trees at lower elevations such as cottonwoods down by Bishop have a slightly later season, but many of the largest aspen forests have declined substantially after Sunday's storm.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Stereographic Projection of 360 Degree Panoramas

My World in Autumn, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

If you want to try something completely different and have a lot of time on your hands, put on your widest lens and shoot a panorama which covers everything around you (including straight up and down). Run that through the free Hugin panorama software, and viola!

I have to warn you that it's a steep learning curve: it took me roughly 24 hours to produce this result (partially due to a nearly 1GB TIFF file initial result). Until I've done a few more the best option is to refer you to the many Flickr groups which have tutorials posted in the discussions:

For example, the group Create Your Own Planets offers tips on the shooting end. First you put on your widest lens, set one white balance, exposure and manually set focus (so the information in overlapping shots will be easier for the program to identify and blend). Then with the camera in portrait/vertical (sideways) orientation you rotate around and take overlapping photos in a circle (each one overlapping the previous one roughly 1/4 frame). You need to cover everything, so at 10mm you'll need to take at least 2 rows in a circle, one almost catching your feet and one almost reaching the sky straight up. Then you take one shot straight up, and one straight down. Tou do all of this while trying to have the camera always shoot from the same point (rotating around a point roughly halfway down the lens, which can be done best with a panoramic tripod head). Here's a discussion with more detail on the shooting: including a link to tutorials on this site:

Here's a discussion in that same group with 2 links to tutorials on the whole process, including software:
Now I need to go read the tutorials. : )

Good luck!

P.S. - For extra credit, once you get the basic process down, you can try integrating the result into a video, like the opening sequence here, and the timelapse at 4:00!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shooting & Postprocessing Fall Colors Images

Fall is one of my favorite times to shoot, as California's Sierra Nevada is decorated with colorful leaves: in the trees, on the ground, and alongside creeks and lakes. Aspen leaves are flat and shiny, and they point and rotate in virtually any direction, so in my approach a primary shooting consideration is the reduction of color-killing glare. Whether the lighting conditions are sunny or cloudy a circular polarizing filter, properly rotated to darken the image (the visual effect when you cancel out the glare), will enable the full color of the leaves to shine through and get captured by your camera's sensor. In fact, I drive around with polarized glasses on (in all seasons) so I'll recognize more potential shots. There can be issues with polarizers producing uneven results in solid blue skies if you're using wide to ultrawide lenses, so you may have to shoot a given scene with the polarizer on and off so you can select the best one later, and so you'll have the option of superimposing the two images and using Photoshop layer masking to use the Fall colors from one image and the blue sky from the other (more trouble than I currently go to, but a valid option nonetheless).

Optimizing your camera's capture of the color is only the first challenge however. Once you view your RAW file in your favorite editing program, you often find that the camera failed to capture adequate contrast and it assigned an automatic white balance which dramatically changed color as well.

That was my experience as I viewed photos of Parker Lake which I took during the Mountain high Workshops Fall Colors session last week. The yellow aspen at the far end were changed to a dull orange-brown, and the gren was overly dull as well. One however I shot of the attendees and lake from behind the trees when I first arrived, and the Fall colors on the far side turned out a lot brighter and more yellow, more like what I remembered from being there.
MHW Fall Colors Workshop

To restore that yellow to my other Parker Lake shots, first I tried a few white balance settings... changing from As Shot to Auto and Daylight, and possibly even bumping the color from there towards cold (blue) or warm (orange). Your mileage may vary based on your camera's sensor, so what I actually ended up with is irrelevant; the process is more important.

What really did the trick however was to go into the Develop tab/menu and where the color sliders are in the right column under the HSL / Color / B&W heading, first I set the sliders to Luminance (brightness) and made the yellow trees brighter, then I changed the sliders to Saturation and I gave just the yellows a bit of an increase until the trees matched the other photo with more natural color. I did a similar thing to a lesser degree to the greens, which also seemed duller than what I saw onsite.

Two additional adjustments that can often imporve the outcome are Develop - Presence - Saturation (of course, although if I use it at all I prefer to keep it minor and subtle, under 5%), increasing contrast (which you'll see improves color on most images taken at -2/3 EV or brighter... i.e. most exposures), and Library - Saved Preset - Punch, which seems to perform something analogous to a local content-aware contrast adjustment (it either improves the result or it doesn't, so I'm always ready to Ctrl-Z undo it).

I'm not sure what caused the camera to go so far off on the color for that sequence of Parker Lake shots, perhaps the green algae and brown mud on the lake bottom, but the corrected version seems much more natural to me. I've upload both the behind-the-trees shot and this adjusted reflection shot so you can see how the edits turned out on the reflection one.

If you don't have Adobe Lightroom, you can download a free trial, which will be active for 30 days from your first use. Adobe also periodically posts Beta versions for public use (you have to find the Beta download section of their site), which tend to work (with some bugs) for months.

Since I started using Lightroom I no longer have a copy of Photoshop CS installed on my latest laptop, and I hardly ever use Photomatix any more. Lightroom is simply more efficient to use, and it produces excellent results.

One of the key features I use a lot are software GND filters under the Develop (look for a little GND-looking icon near the top of the right column). I often use Cokin GND filters when I shoot, but additional fine tuning is extremely helpful.

A huge productivity boost comes from Lightroom being able to copy editing functions from one photo to many others from that shoot
(Library - right click over photo - Develop Settings - Copy). Since I bracket exposures, I can edit one dark one, one medium one and one light one, then copy those basic edits onto dozens of similarly exposed photos, then simply pick the best results to make some additional minor optimizations to. I even copy dust spot removal from one photo to adjacent ones, then simply adjust a few spots where the content in the new shot requires cloning from a different place (easy to do, difficult to describe... it'll make more sense when you try it).

Lightroom also helps you become deeply familiar with your camera's results. For example, without other experience I'd expect that a 0EV exposure might provide an excellent compromise as the image to work with and edit, and I've heard that a slightly overexposed image would offer more detail (a larger file size), but through using Lightroom and editing three bracketed exposures side by side, I've found that for my camera a 2 stop underexposed image often offers the best color and contrast, so at a minimum I'll edit the darkest file for reference, then see if I can get the middle exposure to look as good. Sometimes the middle exposure gets close if I increase contrast, but often I still choose the darkest one as the best (with a little extra noise reduction). I should mention that my most common bracketing and exposure compensation settings are: bracking of +/- 1 1/3 stop, biased -2/3 stop, resulting in exposures of -2, -2/3 and +2/3 EV. I should add the disclaimer that those settings do seem camera dependent... some of the workshop attendees' cameras seemed to perform better a 0EV, without the -2/3 stop compensation (which works well on my Canon 5DII).

The two things would like to have from Photoshop are adjustment layers / layer masking and free downloadable actions (such as one which enables you to make a star trails shot from multiple 30 second night shots). In some rare instances I might enjoy panoramas/stitching and content aware fill, but I prefer the shooting end of the creative process, not editing, so I tend not to get around to postprocessing which requires a lot of time. It's either easily and quickly available from the in-camera result, or I simply move on to work with another image.

For more tips, search my blog as follows:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Photographic Technique: Iterative Composition

When I see an opportunity to capture a nice reflection I may capture a quick shot of the reflection to have one before the light or water surface changes, but then I spend time walking around looking to "upgrade" and add a more interesting foreground like this one, where the logs provide "leading lines" whch further draw your eyes to the subject. It'd still be nicer with some colorful sunset clouds of course, but less than optimal weatehr is all the more reason to ensure that your compositions are strong and make your images work as well as possible, whatever the weather.

It's certainly well worth the few extra moments of forethought and exploration while you're shooting. Your percentage of strong images will go way up when your shooting process is more thoughtful and deliberate than see, point, and shoot. It all starts with your mindset and intention; when an opportunity presents itself you deliberately set out to make the shot, and reshoot it after making it better, resisting the urge to simply take one.

Sure there are details along the way that can help, but it all starts with your intention and your shooting process.

I'm not presenting this as a perfect shot by any means, but it's better than the others I shot immediately prior, and it was about as well as I could have done without wading around in ice cold water and muck to fine tune the composition (subject placement, lines, angles, etc) even further. After exploring this shot to this extent I simply decided at the time that with three lakes within a couple of hundreds yards of me, searching out other locations, foregrounds and results would be a better use of my limited time as the sun continued to set.

For more technique tips search this blog for "technique" or "technique tips". To practice this, join me this October for one of our two field workshops in California's Eastern Sierra:
Mountain High Workshops: Fall Colors in California's Eastern Sierra

You may also use the NetworkedBlogs feature in the right column to follow this blog over on Facebook.

Photographic Technique: Exposure for Maximum Reality and Flexibility

Garnet Lake Sunset, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.
To increase your successful exposures and the percentage of your shots which successfully capture what you saw, there are a number of things you can do while shooting to improve your odds.

It helps to understand that a camera does not "see" in the same way that our eyes see. A camera has one exposure for everything in the scene, while our eyes focus on one point, then change focus and exposure for the next point. so when we are present for an event like this, we see far more shadow and highlight detail than a camera will pick up. As with a camera, a photographic print reproduces the scene in a way that often won't enable your eyes to see or your brain to perceive the light the same way that they woudl onsite. To compensate for this and produce a more natural image and print, it's often helpful to increase shadow light when taking the shot (preferable) or afterwards when "developing" / editing it.

It is not always possible to perform the corrections while editing due to shadow noise, so it's better to optimize the shot as you shoot. All digital cameras worth shooting with (in my opinion) offer the ability to shoot and store files in the camera's native "RAW" format. While the common and smaller JPEG format offers smaller file sizes, it only stores 8 "bits" of data, or 256 colors per pixel. RAW formats offer either 12 bits (4000 colors) or 14 bits (16,000 colors), so when you go to adjust colors after shooting, such as simply lightening or darkening part of the image, there's far more of hte original scene's subtle information there to work with, and adjustments can be made in a much more subtle and natural-looking way as well, not having color or brightness simply make a massive jump to the next shade out of only 256 choices.

Once you have the camera set to capture RAW files, since digital files are free, I recommedn turning on yoru camera's Automatic Exposure Bracketing to take at least 3 exposures which you can select from later. I examine the results to ensure that the brightest exposure provides detail in the darkest shadows, and the darkest exposure preserves detail int he lightest areas. The middle exposure should be the best single exposure, at least in terms of being the best compromise between light and dark ones. All three exposures can be combined later in Photoshop using Layer Masking (they align best in the widest number of editing programs if you shoot on a tripod). Nikons can often shoot AEB sequences of 5, 7 or 9 exposures; it's your call how much data you want to store and to sort through later. In moast cases so many shots won't be necessary, but in some extreme cases having the extra information could prove very useful (hear that Canon?).

To obtain the best 3 exposures while shooting it is also necessary to adjust the whole AEB sequence up or down, using Exposure Compensation. I often shoot my three exposures with a spacing between them of +/- 1 1/3 stops, and with the whole sequence biased down (darker) 1/3 to 2/3 stops. This is not a "rule" it is just where I start. If I review the shots and the situation calls for it, I may expand the AEB spacing between exposures to the full 2 stops allowed by my Canon, and I may bias the whole AEB sequence up of down the full 2 stops allowed as well. For example, night star/Milky Way shots tend to need far more light than the camera estimates, while shooting a rising full moon often requires that one exposure be many stops darker to preserve detail on the moon itself, with tends to be much brighter than the surrounding landscape. If the automatic bracketing still fails to handle a wide range of light in the scene, you can use Aperture Priority (Av) mode to capture and optimize results for most of the scene, while setting your Manual (M) mode to be many stops away to capture the most challenging subset of the light (such as the bright full moon well after it rises and the surrounding landscape has gotten much darker).

Then there's the content of the shot to consider... while shooting. For a shot with a reflection like this, the part of the scene that is easiest to correct is the reflection, which will be close to 3 stops darker (8X times less light) than the direct view of that same object in the scene (in this case the orange clouds). Yet our eyes and brains perceive the direct light and the reflection as being the same intensity! To bring the exposure of I used a Cokin #121 3 stop graduated neutral density filter, which I positioned to darken only the portion of the scene from the horizon up (where the far side of the lake meets the mountain).

That adjustment while shooting was a great start, but some fine tuning of the light is still necessary in software, and I highly recommend Adobe Lightroom for that, since it offers three levels of fine tuning:
- software graduated neutral density filters which can correct for your hardware filter not being exactly right for the light present
- a "fill light" adjustment which can brighten shadows across teh entire scene
- a selection brush which can be used for burning and dodging selected items or regions of the image.
If some of the operations such as fill light start to make the image look less realistic, increasing contrast may be required to restore a natural look. I like to start with slightly underexposed exposures which already have high contrast and (in my experience) the most realistic color. There are always exceptions, but I don't find that the brightest exposures can be adjusted to look just like, or as good, as the darkest one. I'd strongly prefer to use the brighter exposures with less noise and more shadow detail, so I'll often edit 2 or all 3 exposures, but I simply find that the "keeper" is often still the darkest one. In that case it helps to have a camera with a sensor which delivers images with very low noise in the shadows.

So even having software that can do some of the adjustment, the physical GND filter is still necessary to do as much of it in the camera as possible, to avoid having too much noise in the shadows as you level out the light somewhat, just like our eyes would if we were there viewing the scene onsite. Similarly, having the physical GND alone is a great start but won't get you to the best possible result without software that has a software GND function plus some way to perform additional dodge and burn. And this all assumes that you shot and optimized 3 exposures on a tripod, with the files saved in RAW format.

Once you have these basic exposure tools and practices down, you can free yourself to focus on more strategic and creative things like composition, and to add creative elements such as motion/long exposure or light painting.
For more technique tips search this blog for "technique" or "technique tips". To practice this, join me this October for one of our two field workshops in California's Eastern Sierra:
Mountain High Workshops: Fall Colors in California's Eastern Sierra

You may also use the NetworkedBlogs feature in the right column to follow this blog over on Facebook.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Perseid Meteor Showers

My next photography adventure was heading out to shoot the Perseid meteor showers. After a realtively weak showing at the first night at Mono Lake, in part due to the large amount of dust in the air there (great for sunrises, not so great for seeing stars or meteors rising over the eastern horizon), I drove down to the higher and clearer Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

This time I had spoken to Tom Lowe several times in the weeks leading up to the event and I decided not to wait to capture the crescent moon setting over the crest of the Sierra Nevada before driving up to the Patriarch Grove at 11,300 feet. Several other photographers on Flcir who had expressed an interest in shooting this event had communicated that they would not be making it after all, but photographer Jean Day was expecting to join us. As luck would have it, her truck was up on a jack with a flat tire, shortly after Schulman Grove, still 10 miles and at least a half hour to 40 minutes short of my destination.

Even worse, someone who stopepd to help had overextended the jack, breaking the handle in the process. I had both cans of Punture Seal and an air compressor built into my minivan, but my jack was too short, so I shot the crescent moon descending behind some communication towers while we waited for an adequate jack.

After several people stopped we eventually were able to get the truck down off its jack, and drive, inflate, drive, inflate our way to highway 168 before the leak in the tire got too bad to reinflate. Fortunately we had been able to flag down a flatbed tow truck on its way to another call, who would now be looking for her as he drove out. Jean urged me to get back up there and shoot, so I headed back up.

To make a long story short, I was off to a late start, but I found a shooting location which would not get lit up by late arrivals, and set my camera and intervalometer timer loose to capture hundreds of consecutive 30 second shots.