Saturday, May 23, 2015

A Photo Workshop Day and Night in Bodie

Pre-dawn light at the bullwheel
First light on Main Street
The California Gold Rush was started by the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848.  In 1959 W. S. Bodey discovered gold east of the Sierra Nevada, and the rest is history.  Fortunately we can explore that history due to local families preserving the town until it became Bodie State Historic Park in 1962.  This authentic Wild West ghost town town is preserved in a state of "arrested decay", and the interiors of the buildings have been left largely untouched for over 50 years.

So what's a photography workshop in Bodie like?  Let's go through the approximate schedule for this coming Sunday.  This will be our first one where doing interiors in the morning and night access that same night, so we'll give everyone a card-clearing, battery charging siesta from roughly 1-4 pm.

The temperature is forecast to be 35 when we arrive, with:
"A slight chance of showers, then a chance of showers and thunderstorms after 11am. Partly sunny, with a high near 53. North wind 5 to 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 30%."

4:45 am - Turn up Bodie Road where it meets Hwy 395.  Don't be late (watch for deer).

5:15 am sharp - Meet at gate, south end of town. Sunset sky color may be underway!

5:39 am - theoretical sunrise time in Bodie (zero degree horizon).

We'll start to enter buildings as soon as it's light enough: Boone General Store, Wheaton & Hollis Hotel, Sam Leon Bar & barber shop, Lottie Johl House, morgue, shoolhouse, Dechambau Hotel, IOOF Hall, and various residences as time permits.  Our record so far is 14 buildings.  Sample interior photos.

6:00 am - sunlight gradually reaches the buildings as the sun bathes them with golden hour light.  Divide your time in and out of buildings.

6:40 am - end of the best golden hour light.

9:00 am - the public enters the park.

11:52 am - moonrise, 41% full (we won't see it for another 20 minutes).

12:00 noon - end of interior access.


Virginia Creek Settlement
12:12 pm - 41% crescent moon becomes visible over Bodie Bluff from town (approximate time).  Look for it to the left / north of the Standard Mill from the headframe by the parking lot.

1 - 4 pm - take a break, take a nap, get off your feet to rest for the night session!


4:30 - 5:30 pm - optional dinner  at Virginia Creek Settlement restaurant, just north of Bodie Road, to discuss your experience, goals, gear, techniques.

Bring a waterproof layer with you back to Bodie, just in case:
"A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms before 11pm. Partly cloudy, with a low around 38. North wind 5 to 10 mph."
With 10 MPH winds, 38 would feel like 28, so bring a warm hat and gloves!

5:30 pm - turn up Bodie Road where it meets Hwy 395.

6:00 pm - meet at front gate, then we'll park, move gear to a meeting room, have a quick safety talk, then go shoot.  Sample Bodie night photos.

7:00 pm - the golden hour light will only get better until it leaves town around 7:45.

7:45 pm - approximate last direct sunlight in town.

8:07 pm - sunset time in Bodie (zero degree horizon).

8:27 pm - best sunset sky color in Bodie, give or take a few minutes

Enjoy blue hour light until 9:10 or so.  If some of the clouds stick around from the afternoon, blue hour may be spectacular.

Late blue hour with moonlight
9:10 pm - blue hour ends, switch to night lens / clothing, get lights, snacks, hydrate.

9:58 pm - end of astronomical twilight, sky fully dark

Shoot star trails, light painting, night panoramas, Camelopardalid meteor shower (weak).

Comet Lovejoy will be near the North Star Polaris on this night, so we might not need star-tracking mounts to catch a shot of it with a long lens!  The sky hasn't been clear this week for me to see how bright (or dim) it is, but we'll know where to find it quickly.

Iridium flare
10:25:31 pm  Iridium flare - 272 degrees (west) , 11 degrees elevation, we'll see a flash as the Iridium satellite #70 passes.

12:54 am - moonlight leaves town (approximate) as moon dips below hills.

1:00 am exit park (watch for deer on the drive out).


1:14 am theoretical moon set time in Bodie (zero degree horizon).  (The Milky Way will become more visible, but if you want a parting shot, you'll have to catch it from outside of the park land.)

It's going to be a long day, but we should have a lot of great photographic opportunities!

Light Painting in Bodie in the moonlight.
More information on our Bodie workshops... dates and prices:

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

At the End of the Rainbow: More LG G4 Sample Photos

Sample image from the new LG G4, captured in RAW (DNG format) and converted to JPG
LG G4 in Panorama mode
The rain and rainbows at Topaz Lake last night kept coming and going, so you had to move fast to catch them.  The rainbow arrived just as I was pulling steaks off of the grill, so in between bites of dinner I was in and out of the house with various cameras as the rainbows came and went.

When it reached more or less complete double rainbow stage, they spanned the California / Nevada border, so both states had a pot of gold waiting.  The rainbow was too tall to catch in a single photo so I put the LG G4 phone I'm evaluating into panorama mode to capture a wider field of view both vertically and horizontally.  Most of the time I was out with that as my camera for convenience, as it was easier to shield from the rain.

As the sun set, the sunlight moved higher and the rainbow lifted off the water of the lake.  For a brief while the small patch of remaining spectral color added extra bands of purple and green, a rare "supernumerary" rainbow!

As the patch of light became smaller and smaller, I pulled out a Canon 5D Mark III with 70 - 200mm lens to get high resolution at high zoom.  There's still a solid place for the extra pounds and dollars of equipment for some applications, even as smartphone cameras rise in capability and the DSLR niche in the camera market becomes a smaller piece of a much larger whole.

LG G4 in HDR mode
I find that I don't take fewer DSLR photos as mobile phones get better, I just take more photos overall as mobile phones provide immediate "in your pocket" convenience, connectivity to social media, panorama capability, solid close-up performance without switching lenses, and access to a massive app ecosystem.  I also have to admit to liking the convenience of never having to clean dust spots off of the images from a mobile phone camera.  DLSR manufacturers should be looking at all of this, including cultivating an app ecosystem both on the control/exposure side and on the editing/filter/post-processing side.  Until they get there, my phone will take the photo more and more often, no matter how much I love my DSLRs.

LG G4 in HDR mode
The image at the top above was captured in RAW format on the LG G4.  Shooting in RAW also results in a JPG version being saved as well, so you can use the image immediately in that format.  The RAW file was 19,559 MB, the JPG was 6,820 MB, so you can get a sense of how much more the RAW file gives you to work with if you might want to do a fair amount of adjustment later.

But the advantages of RAW go beyond color/information depth.  You have more control over how much JPG compression is applied, sharpening, noise reduction, and other things which affect the resulting quality.  You can see that inspecting the high resolution samples I provided with a blog post a couple of days ago (they should expand as you click on them, although I haven't tested that in various browsers):

New LG G4 Smartphone Review: Raw File Output!

The difference isn't great for most uses and print sizes, but if you're in a stunning moment and might want to blow the result up really large, RAW is the way to go.

Disclosure: I should mention that the LG G4 was supplied to me as part of the effort to raise awareness of the #G4Preview Tour underway via +T Mobile vans across the United States this month.  The phone couldn't have come at a better time for me, since I've been wanting a larger format phone for some time (especially one with manual camera control and RAW output), but I've been locked into a 2-year upgrade cycle, which doesn't come up for renewal until November.  My commitment to mention the tour was met a couple of days ago, but in the interest of full disclosure I'll mention that the phone was supplied to me for a while longer, until it's clear (and bordering on rudely tedious) on my various social media accounts.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Storm Chasing in Nevada

Sunset storm over the Cambridge Hills in Lyon County, Nevada
Smith Valley south of Wellington
At Topaz Lake on the California/Nevada border,  and I had a storm pass by earlier this month.  There was lighting over by Wellington in Smith Valley, so we decided to chase it east into Smith Valley to see if we could catch some lightning photos. 

We saw some flashes of lightning in the distance, but it was way ahead of us.  We didn't catch the storm in Smith Valley; it continued over the next set of mountains to Mason Valley, south of Yerington.

So we headed through Wilson Canyon and once in Mason Valley headed south, ending up in the Cambridge Hills as the skies cleared towards the setting sun, and "golden hour" color spread under the storm clouds. 

Crepuscular rays, sun rays, were streaming down past the clouds.  I had to pull over to catch a quick hand-held picture.

The storm was to the west, the sun was shining under it from the east, and we were under the edge, which ran north and south.

I continued on to where I knew there was an old stone building in the Cambridge Hills mining district that could serve as s good foreground subject.  The light was perfect with a dark, shadowy hill in the middle and the clouds breaking up, revealing a mountain in the distance.

We headed west over the hills, but the country was opening up and there would be few foreground subjects, so we backtracked briefly to shoot toward the sun.  We turned north on a two track side road through the sagebrush, and at some point had to simply stop and make do with whatever foregrounds we could compose, as the light was going off, and it would't last.

We had some great opportunities as the sun went from yellow to orange and shot light under the storm clouds, while the clouds to the east of us started to take on shades at the blue end of the spectrum (above).  

When you mix cool and warm tones, blue cloud-diffused light with orange to red sunset tones, you can get shares of purple, pink and magenta.  Some people don't believe that those tones happen in the sky in real life, but there they were, and they were consistently captured across multiple cameras.  

When the best of the color was past, and the sky darkened and faded a bit, I could  slow down, start to put away my DSLR, and see what  smartphone could do with what was left.  A panorama seemed appropriate to show the transition into the darkness under the storm.

We stuck around to capture a time-lapse of the clouds moving as the storm dissipated, and as the nearly-full moon rose behind them.

We never did catch up to the storm of capture any lightning shots, but we sure found some great conditions that we never could have anticipated!  Sometimes showing up is what it takes to see the amazing things that happen all around us every day. 

Last golden hour light before the sky went crazy.

Monday, May 18, 2015

New LG G4 Smartphone Review: Raw File Output!

Testing Focus and DOF at About 3-4", HDR
LG G4 unadjusted, cropped, shot in HDR mode
Over the last few days I've had the opportunity to try the new LG G4 smartphone.  I'm going to skip to the end and encourage you to enter to win one, and check the see if the @G4Preview tour currently underway will be near you, so you can try one out as well:

I've been watching the larger phones to decide when to jump in, and the LG G3 was reviewed as competitive with the top models on the market, especially for camera performance, so I was eager to try this new model out.  Here's the basic overview:

"The LG G4 comes equipped with one of the best cameras on the market not only for any smartphone, but for digital cameras in general." Highlighted features include: 
  • f/1.8 Lowlight Lens, 
  • Manual Mode, 
  • Optical Image Stabilization, 
  • Laser Autofocus, 
  • High-res Image Sensors (16mp rear camera, 8mp front camera for great selfies)
  • Color Spectrum Sensor in addition to many, many more features
It's an attractive phone right out of the box, with its leather case.
Leather case!

The slight curve to its face makes the LG G4 easy to hold
So far so good, but I'm all about the camera.  In particular, the reviews I've seen so far highlighted the image stabilization, and as an avid DSLR shooter, I know the advantages of RAW format.  I've been waiting for years for access to higher quality RAW files from a high resolution smartphone.

So let's get right to it.  Have you every tried to capture a decent photo of a California poppy?  Most digital cameras do crazy things with the white balance and color, but as you can see at the top above, the Color Spectrum Sensor measured a perfect white balance and created a stunning result right out of camera.  Click on the photo to see the higher resolution original.

Now let's look at another unedited shot, straight out of camera, captured in low light using the camera's HDR mode. Like every automatically created JPG, the camera made some automatic adjustments, and there is some compression in the output when you view it in detail, as we should expect:

Looks great for most uses, but click on the image to see what auto-created JPG looks like up close.
It's great to have 16 megapixel, 5312 x 2988 results, and no doubt it'll look good on a standard monitor or printed to common prints sizes, but on this phone, can we use another mode to do even better if we really want to dial up the quality?

Shot in RAW and adjusted, saved to JPG, yielding MUCH higher quality!  Click on the photo to inspect
When you look at this new image up close, the result speaks for itself.  RAW files to the rescue!  The prior image, automatically adjusted and saved to JPG, looks great and would work fine for most uses, but if you might want to blow the result up into a larger print, the RAW file is clearly the way to go.

I'm still trying out the other features of the phone.  The image stabilization is truly superior.  The panorama mode is solid.  I still need to try out the 4K video on a worthy subject.  We've had some dull, gray, rainy weather over the weekend, but it looks like we may have better light for the next few days, so I can show you what this device can do under a variety of interesting conditions.

Follow my Twitter account @JeffSullPhoto for links to my latest samples, and follow @LGPreview on as well for updates on the LG G4 Preview Tour.

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of LG. The opinions and text are all mine.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Route 66 in the Mojave Desert

Roy's Motel Cafe on Route 66
Roy's Motel Cafe alongside historic Route 66
In the spring months I'm often passing through the Mojave Desert, which puts me on historic Route 66.  There are a number of old houses and businesses along the way, mostly in various states of disrepair, but there's a nice cluster of buildings worth checking out in the small town of Amboy, including Roy's Motel Cafe, the deserted and overgown Amboy School, and a picturesque, if dilapidated, church.

Amboy Crater
Spring is also the time for wildflowers in the desert, so if you catch the timing right, you can see many species like this desert sunflower with Amboy Crater in the background.  Amboy Crater is a couple of miles west of Amboy alongside Route 66, and if it's not too hot you can walk about a mile to the crater itself.  The trail winds its way around black lava flows, which warm up in the sun, so brings plenty of water.

If the plants are growing green in the area, keep a sharp eye out for several species of large lizards in the lava, including chuckwallas, which grow to 18" long and nearly 2 pounds in weight.

From Amboy you can travel north to explore Mojave National Preserve and Death Valley National Park, south to explore Joshua Tree National Park, or west to Baker and up the Eastern Sierra.

A short distance to the east of Amboy, the walls of a building have been turned into a canvas for graffiti art.
East of Amboy

This area is covered in my 320-page guidebook to landscape photography in Southern California, coming this September (  In the meantime, if you'd like to buy the Northern California guidebook in the series, written by photographer Gary Crabbe, I've placed Photographing California Vol. 1: North - A Guide to the Natural Landmarks of the Golden Statein my recommendations on Amazon.  If you access Amazon through this link, your purchases there will can fund these travels and reports, and the development of my guides: 

Amboy Church

Friday, May 08, 2015

How's Flickr Doing These Days?

How's Flickr doing?  Pretty well!
I saw some usage numbers which looked good for Flickr this morning: 50 million active users. I was curious to see what I could find to back that up. As of April 2015, here's what I find:
  • Over 16 million active users per month, U.S. alone (growing since mid-2013):
  • Flickr users upload 3.5 million photos to the site each day.
  • Now 92 million total registered users:

The 50 million active users seems plausible given the U.S. visitor and daily upload figures, and given the U.S. user graph, the trend is solidly up over the last 2 years. I have over 4000 photos there and contribute more just about every day that I have Internet access, so it's good to see that they're doing well.
Why is Flickr growing? Even after 10 years it had feature advantages over many other sites, with strong tagging, group functionality, strong search capability with and the ability to sort by "interestingness". Given those features, here are some of the things that I've found the site to be good for over the past 10 years:
  • Seeing amazing pictures 
  • Getting inspired by those pictures to travel new places 
  • Reading and posting techniques tips. People can come here and become a better photographer. 
  • Getting feedback on my photos, usually positive, sometimes constructive. 
  • Interacting with people about photos and the places they depict. 
  • Meeting other photographers and shooting with them. 
  • Searching for the best photos from a place, the most interesting viewpoints, before I visit there. 
  • Making some money from Getty and from direct contact by image buyers has helped fund both gear and travel: my continued development as a photographer.
On Flickr, photographers interact around the content, so pursuing producing quality photographs is inherently recognized as participating in and contributing to the community.  If you like photography, if you want to learn more, if you want to share and discuss your results with like-minded people, Flickr is a site where you can find an incredible diversity of photographers and knowledge.  So Flickr enables social interaction around photography as well as or better than than many sites called "social".   Being focused around photography, Flickr doesn't attract volumes of people simply looking for a place to become "Internet famous".  And taking this narrower target audience seriously, Flickr actually does something about copyright violators who steal our work.  Often someone tells me that someone has take my image and re-uploaded it, by the time I get that message and go look, the offending account is already shut down.  Social media sites seeking high transaction numbers thrive on photo theft, and rarely will delete any more than the one image you own and are reporting, often leaving hundreds of obvious infringements active, rewarding the person who stole them.  Some of the people stealing photos and presenting them as if they were their own are posing as professional photographers.  Some social media sites shelter and even promote these faux-tographers if they're driving enough precious "interaction".  It's a huge plus for photographers on Flickr that Yahoo! maintains higher ethical standards than that.  Hollow click-trading statistics are like Monopoly money.  Some people get caught up collecting them, and sites even try to compete to some degree on that basis, but it's not the same as lasting value.  Those games get old fast for most people, and the people who get caught up most in them tend to get rather aggressive towards other photographers.  Flickr doesn't provide as many tools for pure social interaction without photos, but that excludes the anti-social use of those tools as well.  
Flickr has been very good at attaching valuable context to photos/content: map location, tags, inclusion in thematic groups, and that can all be searched against.  In addition it has been very good at introducing me to other avid photographers and quality work from them, and it's fantastic that we haven't been inundated with images from everyone with a mobile phone camera and their cats.  While counting total users is a game that industry pundits may use to have something to talk about to compare one site to another, but it's a fairly meaningless comparison, like comparing apples to broccoli and potatoes.  If you want to connect with fellow avid photographers, it's not particularly useful to have 10X or 50X more general users on a social media site.

So while the social aspect of interacting with others around photos has been a key to Flickr delivering value, that's valuable to the extent that it supports a photographer's aspirations to be out shooting more, shoot in more stunning places, to be a better photographer, and to connect with other like-minded people.  Over the past year Flickr has been busy working on an image licensing system, so earning money for your photography could soon become a reason to spend more time on Flickr as well. 

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Time-lapse of the Milky Way Rising in the Mojave Desert

In late April I was out camping in the desert, and I set an alarm to get up in the early morning hours to catch the Milky Way rise.  Around 1 am the first bits of it were just rising over the eastern horizon, so I set up two cameras, to catch both static and panning views of it.

The camera on a stationary tripod captured images that I could also process to create star trails images:

See the link to my star trails tutorial below
 Here's the time-lapse video captured on a second camera, using a sky-tracking, panning mount:

Digital Rights Management by Nimia

 Here's the time-lapse video captured on the stationary camera:

Digital Rights Management by Nimia

I set another alarm to wake up near sunrise to stop the time-lapses, and with one of the cameras I captured multiple shots to stitch together a panorama of the Milky Way, now forming a high arc in the sky.

Milky Way Over Joshua Trees, Panorama
It all turned out really well.  I should sleep at work more often!

Here's some introductory information on night photography techniques, in case you want to try yourself:
How to Capture Milky Way Images

Create Star Trails Images

I can show you more advanced techniques as well as these in more detail during night photography workshops in the "ghost town" of Bodie. We have five workshops scheduled in 2015, with dates available from May through October.  Several of the workshops also offer special escorted access into building interiors, which are not generally open to the public:

P.S. - Thanks in advance for lies, shares, +1s, comments, or any other honors that you choose to bestow on my blog posts!  With my book done, I'm trying to get a lot more active on updates to my blog, so you should see a lot more activity and updates here in the coming weeks and months.  I also have a "new"(er) blog, which I use to consolidate social media posts to: