Sunday, December 21, 2014

Thanksgiving Sunsets

Over the Thanksgiving break I took the opportunity to enjoy some warmer weather and take a series of sunset photos.  The clouds were ripe for a great sunset, but just before the sun went down the wind had a different idea.  The wind picked up and cleared out what was going to be a very colorful sunset and left with this little band of clouds.  I attempted to do things right in camera and not use HDR for this sunset.  I used a 3 stop hard edge neutral density filter since there is practically no elevation differences in the landscape of the northern plains to even out the exposure.  I then transferred the files into Photoshop after my usually adjustments in Lightroom and added an LAB processing effect to the photos.  LAB processing brings out the natural oranges in the photo and adds to the saturation without degrading the image.  I toned that layer back to get the sunset the bright orange that I experienced that night.  I put the sun in the center of area toward the bottom third to get the most amount of sky possible and to crop out the farm buildings to the right side of the photo.  I normally would include those in the photo, but these wouldn't have added to the photos.

This photo was taken just a minute or two before the very top photo.  To see the difference in LAB color effects and regular process scroll back and forth between the two.  I cropped the other file to a 16:9 ratio because I didn't like the fence line in the photo below.  

These were the clouds on the backside of the sunset.  I thought these would stick around long enough, but again, the wind had a different idea. I took this photo with my fisheye lens and marginally straightened the horizon line in Lightroom.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Using a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter

During the early morning hours of the Thanksgiving holiday I took the opportunity to try and get some sunrise photos.  The skies were cloudy the previous evening, but they were forecasted to break in the night and be partly cloudy for the morning sunrise.  They were off by about 2 hours.  Sitting in a hayfield, I anticipated the sun to break on the horizon and reveal a beautiful sunrise, but it just didn't show itself.  So I used a little creativity and an opportunity to try using some older filters I had along with a new one I had purchased on sale earlier in the week.  In this post, I not only wanted to show what the possibilities are with filters but what surreal beauty they can add to the mundane.

In this first photo, I set up my camera and took the picture with a bare lens.  The clouds were streaking that day and it made for an interesting shot.  This photo was taken with a rather fast shutter speed which froze the clouds in the photo.  

I then placed my old trusty 6 stop neutral density filter on the front of the camera.  This allowed me to use a shutter speed that was much slower because the camera was now seeing 6 stops less light than before.  The slower shutter speed captured the clouds movement which gives the photo a better feel and mood than static clouds.  

Finally, I put the 10 stop ND filter on my camera and took a couple shots.  The color is a little different in this photo because the sun had now risen a little more into the sky and the clouds were starting to clear.  I took the liberty of saturating the colors a little more to give this a better feel of warmth.  If you notice, there isn't any static subject in the clouds and the are filled with silky smooth streaks.  I was worried initially after viewing this photo that my new filter was going to produce a magenta color cast which is sometimes troublesome for a 10 stop filter.  The colors were much different than the 6 stop.  Again, the sun had risen a little more and the clouds were beginning to break on the horizon.  This photo was also about 4 minutes long compared to 30 seconds of the other photo.  I was planning on taking a couple more shots, but not being prepared for the very cold wind that morning I decided to call it a day and head to eat some turkey.

Wanting to give the filter another shot at giving me the type of photo I want and to make sure I wasn't seeing a color cast, I stopped on the way home to capture this sunset.  The clouds were amazing this evening and the 10 stop filter added the drama I wanted to this photo.  There was a much brighter almost like the sky was on fire show 30 minutes later, but I was on a road that made it impossible to stop and get a shot.  I was very happy with how this photo turned out.  I didn't have time to get all different types of filters for this shot so I took two separate exposures, one 90 seconds and one 120 seconds.  I combined those photos in Photoshop to make the final shot evenly exposed.  

Thank you for viewing.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Starry Nights

Over Thanksgiving, I took the opportunity to sneak out during the night hours to see if I could capture some night sky photos.  In my previous attempts, I was either too tired or clouds were present and it just wasn't worth it.  Since everyone was tired from turkey and the rush of the day, there was an early turn in.  Knowing the area as I do, I had a good idea where I could go that I wouldn't be disturbed.  I also knew that I didn't have to go to far out of town to get a good area to see the stars.  If the night started out a failure, I could take the 5 minute journey back home and get myself to bed.  The night wasn't as cold as I thought it was going to be so it things started to work in my favor.

I initially planned on getting a couple night shots, try a night panorama where I could get the entire Milky Way in the photo and do a little star trail action.  I purchased a remote timer some time ago and never really used it to date.  I tried to familiarize myself with it while sitting in the car at the time, but it just wasn't clicking in my head.  So I tried to do a lot of the stuff manually.  The initial challenge with this is keeping the proper shutter speed to keep the stars sharp.  In night photography you can only have a certain amount of time before the stars start to blur.  If you want a crisp photo of the stars, you have to use 600/focal length.  This will give you the longest shutter speed you can use without trails.

I tried 3 different lenses over the course of the night for a couple reasons.  I read that a fisheye would give me the greatest amount of sky in my photos; therefore, giving me the best single shot of the Milky Way.  The initial problem with this is the fisheye lenses aren't known for their sharpness at their widest aperture.  I had to set my fisheye at f/5.6 to get nice, crisp, sharp stars.  This cuts down on the amount of light that reaches your sensor and doesn't provide as many stars.  The good thing about the fisheye is it is very wide, 8mm.  This gives the best opportunity to use a longer shutter speed.  I was able to capture a couple different shots between 35 and 39 seconds.  Second I used my Tamron.  I like my Tamron because it is fairly wide for a APS-C sensor lens at 17mm and it is sharp as a tack at f/2.8.  This gives me the chance to take photos at about 23 to 25 seconds.  The last lens I used was my Tokina.  That lens is a wide lens at 12mm but only a f/4.0 aperture.  It however is also sharp as a tack at 4.0.  Instead of sitting out in the cold for the entire shoot, I set the tripod right next to the vehicle.  I rolled down the drivers window, had a seat, and pushed the shutter button on the remote in the comfort of my bucket seat.  Most astrophotographers set their cameras up with the remote and leave them to do there thing for hours.  I didn't want to do that at all.

So where are the images.  Well, I have only had a chance to process a couple and not sure if the others are worth the time since they are kind of the same stuff, but I think this was a good start.  I might wait for a little warmer weather before I try the next round.

One cool thing to note from the evening, there was some type of meteor shower I didn't know about.  I saw in the hour I was out, four shooting stars.  I happened to catch 2 of them in my photos.  For next time, I need to focus on composition and post processing noise reduction.  Some of my images were very noisy.

Rokinon Fisheye @ 8mm, f/5.6, ISO 2500

Tamron @ 17mm, f/2.8, ISO 2500

Tokina @ 12mm, f/4, ISO 2500

This is a panorama of 8 different photos.  I attempted to get the entire Milky Way into the photo, but I cannot get them to line up when I attempt to make the panorama.  I may need to take a couple more photos up to get the entire system.  

Lastly, here is the one attempt at a Star Trail.  This is a single exposure using my Rokinon 8mm fisheye.  This exposure was 4 minutes long at ISO 1600.  It was a good start, but I was far too tired to continue getting the next 20 photos needed for a good star trail.  I hit the brakes of the car to give the foreground a little light.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Raptor Season

It technically isn't raptor season as they are around all year long.  I consider this raptor season based on the ease of seeing these beautiful creatures.  With the trees free of leaves that usually camouflage these majestic animals, they are easy to spot and sometimes easy to photograph.  This particular Red-Tail had taken a rest while scanning for his next meal on a tree very close to the main parking lot at Standing Bear Lake.  I stopped in a parking stall to show my youngest this amazing creature since he is very into wildlife.  I was only able to snap a couple of photos of him as he saw something right as I was firing off a few.  Not being prepared for the encounter, I only had my camera on continuous shooting instead of high speed.  3 frames per second compared to 8 really limits the amount of captures to get that perfect picture.  Even with shooting 3 frames, I was still able to capture the shots that I wanted.  Hope you enjoy!  

As always, if you would like to see a bigger version of this photo, click on the photo to be taken to my website at Alder Images.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014

First Blue Jay

I have captured many Blue Jays before, but never in my front yard.  I have often set food out waiting to see these beautiful yet bossy birds.  It took snow for one of them to finally find his way here.  I didn't want to chance him flying away before I got my camera on him, so I ended up taking this through the front door window.  It definitely degrades the photo from what the bare glass of my lens would have done, but it still turned out pretty good with a little deeper post-processing.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Birds of a Feather

I spilled some seed in the yard filling while making a DIY bird feeder with the littlest.  The snow came through and the spillage was covered.  Yesterday, it was finally warm enough for the snow to melt ever so slightly.  It sure didn't take long for the scavengers to stop by and start cleaning it up.  I even caught glimpse of a Blue Jay.  I haven't had one of these in my yard as long as I can remember.  All I needed was a Cardinal, but I think they have moved from the neighborhood for the winter.  Who knows, maybe they will be here tomorrow.

The first couple birds are Dark-Eyed Junco.  They are usually around all winter long and are pretty cool little birds.  They are very skittish however and very difficult to get your lens on up close.  The others are House Sparrows which are much more comfortable with people.  They may fly away at the slightest movement, but if you sit still they will make their way back to the food.

As always, if you would like to see a bigger version of this photo, click on the photo to be taken to my website at Alder Images.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Platte River Falls Take 2

My youngest and I visited Platte River State Park earlier in the month.  My two older boys were feeling left out as they had never viewed a real water fall either.  On our trip, I was planning on photographing them with the falls in the background so they would have something to remember.  I snapped a couple shots of the falls from the top before heading toward the lower falls.  Our trip was abruptly halted at the sight of a mysterious dead squirrel that appeared along the walking trail.  They got their fright a little earlier that planned.  After all, it was Halloween.

I had it suggested that I try to focus a little closer on the falls to get some of the intricate details.  Even though there were beautiful fall leaves all over the ground, I believe a turn to black and white brings this photo to a whole other level.

Here is another shot of the little falls that lead up to the larger.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Platte River Falls

My son and I visited Platte River State Park for the first time this week.  There was a photo of a waterfall that had shown up on a screen saver and he really wanted to see one.  Since this is fairly close, we decided to drive there to see.  Not having been there myself, I really didn't know what to expect.  I had viewed others photos of the falls, but you can't really get an idea until your actually there yourself.  I decided to take my camera along to grab a couple practice shots.  If the time works, I think I may go back and try some other stuff.  The photos are two little fall leading up to the bigger falls.  The little ones, as you can see, are only about 6 inches tall.  There wasn't a whole lot of water rushing over them since we haven't received much rain in the last month.  It provided just enough for some nice blur.  

We hiked down to the river bed following the trails that had been there for some time and stood in the river bed that was now a nice sand bar.  Since it was mid day, the sun was coming through the trees pretty directly, so it made capturing the shadows under the falls tough while trying not to blow out the highlights of the lighter areas.  Cameras cannot capture the same type of dynamic range as the human eye, so you have to really compensate for that.  Post production software, such as Lightroom, help quite a bit when confronted with this situation.  I moved in closer to try and avoid the harsh light.  I used f/13 to get a longer shutter speed to blur the water but it wasn't enough.  I had to use a 6 stop neutral density filter along with a Circular Polarizer (2 stops) to get the timer to between 45 and 60 seconds.  In total, I had 8 stops of light between the ND and CPL.  The last shot was taken at 65 seconds.  As always, click on the photo to view it larger on my website.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Foggy Morning on the Prairie

I visited family this past weekend and was greeted by some pretty awesome fog the following morning.  My son and I set out to get some breakfast pizza but were sidetracked with the site we had before us.  Not really having been in a true fog, I decided to take him out to see the countryside.  We stopped by the family hayfield to capture a couple iconic shots that I really love.  I plan to print these for myself as something to remember.

All of these photos were taken within miles of each other.  The sun was rising quickly, but the fog was hanging on.  The suns rays illuminated the fog in a beautiful hue that worked great with the frosty browning grass.  Here are a few from the morning.

"Trails End"

"Golden Bales"

"Windmill Sunrise"

"Lone Tree"

"Prairie Windmill"

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Epcot is not only famous for well being Epcot, but they have a very cool light show every night called Illuminations.  The fireworks last for about 15 minutes and are very awe inspiring.  I used my fisheye lens to capture as much of the show as I could.  I didn't have room for a tripod in my luggage so I had to use my shoulder to keep the camera steady enough through out the 1.5 to 3 second shots.  There were some blurring photos, but the majority of them turned out great.  We camped out under a tree due to the amount people nesting their way around the lake.  Some of my shots had a nice tree view; however, it didn't spoil the mood or effect of the fireworks that evening.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Last Few Weeks Random Shots

It has been some time since I posted anything and you may have been wondering if I had fallen off the face of the earth.  Maybe you didn't even notice or care.  If you have been one of those wondering, I have been busy these last couple of weeks with lots of awesome family time.  We went on a little vacation.  Then, the oldest and I spent a chilly 35 degree night in a tent, camping at Jubilee.

Going to such an awesome place as Disney for vacation, I couldn't help but bring along a camera.  I blew threw almost all of the 68 gigabytes in storage I took for the trip.  It was so much fun seeing the kids enjoying "The Happiest Place On Earth".  Mom and Dad were truly exhausted by the time the trip had come to an end, but I think we did enjoy a few things before we were done.

Almost all of the shots taken during the trip were family oriented, but I did take some time to snap a couple for the blog.  Maybe you can recognize a few of them.

This is a picture of my youngest admiring the enormous Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot.

And a view from the other side

A view of the fountains in front of the big ball

From the Magic Kingdom, Cinderella's Castle from the Rose Garden.  Most shots you see if this castle are from Main Street USA, so I thought I would try something a little different.

This was one of our favorite rides from the trip, Big Thunder Mountain as viewed from the Liberty Ferry.  There may be no inversions or loops, but this ride is probably one of the longest roller coaster rides I have been on and worth the wait in line.

Walking through Epcot in the Germany wing, we were greeted by a little rain storm.  It quickly passed and provided us with a little color.  I was only able to capture this little section of the rainbow since my card was low on space, but it definitely fascinated the crowds passing by.

We had to stop and see some of the favorite Cars characters.  I thought this an excellent opportunity for some fisheye fun.