New Year, New Gear!

Photographers are always looking for new tools and techniques to help improve our work or to facilitate the exploration of new subject matter.  For me, it was the latter scenario—I recently purchased a new telephoto lens with the intention of taking a stab at wildlife photography.  As a long-time Nikon shooter and, as one not prone to splurge on gear, I settled on the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR  telephoto zoom and the Nikon 1.4 tel-extender.  When combined, they theoretically provide the capability to take a shot at 700mm.  That’s a big jump from my previous maximum of 340mm using a 1.7 extender with my 70-200m f/2.8 lens.

Weight is also a consideration.  The weight of the f/5.6 zoom lens is 5.1 lbs., while the weight of the 500mm f/4 prime lens is 8.54 lbs.   And for those who consider the weight of their wallet, the price difference is more than $5,000.

But how does it perform?  The answer to this question is still open, but some preliminary findings can be made.  In my view, it’s usually wise to take small steps while becoming familiar with a new piece of equipment.  So, I decided to start in my own backyard where the presence of a several bird feeders attracts a decent variety of birds, especially during the winter months.

telephoto-d-16-12-12-3549

Pileated Woodpecker  (male)

(Nikon D800E with Nikon 200-500mm lens on tripod;  1/400th sec @ f/5.6, ISO 3200)

The image above was not cropped and there was no sharpening in Photoshop. Due to the large size of original file, it would come out as a 16 X 24” print without any upsizing.  Given the low light situation, a high ISO was necessary so there probably would be a bit of noise evident in a full-sized print.

telephoto-d-16-12-19-4901

Pileated Woodpecker (female)

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens & 1.4 extender on tripod;  1/125th sec @ f/8, ISO 1600)

Adding the extender brought the subject really close.  But I found that the D800E had difficulty resolving focus with the extender.  Switching to the Nikon 810 brought better results but it had become clear the extender has limited utility in low light situations.  As before, this is an uncropped image.  A full stop was lost due to the extender, but by dropping the shutter speed, it was possible to use a lower ISO.  This speed, however would far too slow without a tripod, let alone a bird in flight.

telephoto-d-16-12-19-5047

Avian Food Fight #1

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens & 1.4 extender on tripod; 1/1600th sec @ f/9, ISO 1600)

telephoto-d-16-12-19-5031

Avian Food Fight #2

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens & 1.4 extender on tripod; 1/1600th sec @ f/8, ISO 1600)

The feeder in the two images immediately above is about twice as far away and the birds are much smaller.  But it was well illuminated by sunlight so a faster shutter speed was possible and focusing was not a problem.

Having tested the lens in a familiar environment and with full knowledge of knowing exactly where to point the camera before the birds arrived, it was now time to try for something a little more difficult—birds in flight.  I spent a bit of time practicing on a flock of buzzards at the nearby Great Falls National Park.  I will spare you samples of the results.  They turned out fine, but buzzards??

We need something more impressive.  Something regal and majestic, like a bald eagle.

Luckily, there is a location about two hours away where a large number of bald eagles gather in the winter.  It is the Conowingo dam in Darlington Maryland and I learned of it from Jim, a photographer colleague who had been there.  More information about it can be found here.

So, with a forecast of sunny weather on Wednesday, Jim and I drove up in the teeth of the morning rush hour traffic.   Jim was correct—there were many eagles to see and, as noted in the referenced link above, there were many photographers there as well.  But the weather man had lied—a heavy cloud cover arrived as we drove into the parking lot.

telephoto-d-16-12-28-5461

In addition to large numbers of eagles and photographers, there were also numerous vultures (buzzards).  Not a problem I thought, until I saw this sign.

telephoto-d-16-12-28-5381

But, there were so many cars in the lot, what were the chances?  We rolled the dice and decided to stay. (That part worked out as we hoped–they did not attack my car)  Here are two examples of the results.

telephoto-d-16-12-28-5312

Bald Eagle in Flight

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens handheld; 1/1600th sec @ f/6.3, ISO 800)

d-16-12-28-5421-crop-rdy2size

Bald Eagle with Fish

(Nikon D810 with 200-500mm lens handheld;  1/5000th sec @ f/11, ISO 1600)

In sum, more testing is needed and hopefully there will be another chance at Conowingo before the eagles depart in late January.  Updates will be included in future posts.  In the meantime…

 

Keep Shooting……

London Scenes

April was a low profile month, blog-wise, but it’s been a little hectic in the real world, mostly involving travel.  However, a short trip to London and then to Oxford afforded some photo opportunities.

2016 April 02 copy

Approaching Storm, Westminister Bridge

Westminster Bridge was nearby and afforded an opportunity to capture some images in cloudy weather.

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 handheld with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 32mm. 7 Exposures bracketed at ISO 400 and post- processed using the Photoshop HDR tool)

That evening, the twilight blue provided a nice counterpoint for the illuminated London Eye, a 443-foot-high Ferris wheel, erected in 1999.  The lines were long, our time was short, and so we opted for the ground-level view.  The building to the right is London County Hall which served as the city of London’s seat of government through most of the 20th century.  It now houses a variety of tourist attractions and an upscale hotel.

One of the problems in these evening shots was the fact that important elements of the scene were in motion (such as the Ferris wheel) which meant that a short exposure was necessary.

2016 April 06

London Eye at Night

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 24mm; Three exposures  1/15th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 800; three images photomerged)

The Elizabeth Tower, better known as “Big Ben” was renamed in honor of Queen Elizabeth in 2012 to mark the occasion of her diamond jubilee.  Here the motion problem was the presence of numerous pedestrians walking by me.

2016 April 07

Elizabeth Tower (“Big Ben”) and Parliament Building

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 24mm; Eleven exposures  1/15th sec. @ f/6.3, ISO 800; eleven images photomerged)

 

2016 April 03A

Moon and Elizabeth Tower

Those who know me will not be surprised to see the moon included in a twilight shot.  Since the vantage point was in a traffic lane, I decided that setting up a tripod would be unwise.

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 handheld with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 70mm; Exposure 1/8th sec. @ f/2.8, ISO 400; two images photomerged)

The Monument commemorating the Battle of Britain is relatively new, constructed in 2005.   It honors the heroic World War II air campaign during the summer and fall of 1940 that prevented the German Luftwaffe from gaining air superiority, making a land invasion impossible.   It was the first defeat for the Germans and marked a turning point in the war.  It is located on the Victoria Embankment a short walk from the Westminster Bridge.

2016 April 04

Battle of Britain Monument at Night

Again, the movement of the London Eye (red semi-circle in the background) required a fast shutter speed.

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 24mm. Exposure: 1/50th secs. @ f/2.8, ISO 3200)

 Getting up before dawn is far more difficult when your body clock believes it is 1:00 AM, but the plan for the next morning was driven by visions of a rising sun striking the Parliament building across the bridge from our hotel.  As the image below shows, however, Mother Nature had other plans that day.

2016 April 05

Early Morning Rain, Westminister Bridge

(Technical Data: Nikon D810 on tripod with 24-70mm f/2.8 lens, extended to 45mm. Exposure: 2 secs. @ f/16, ISO 200)

So, before my camera got too soaked, I headed back for breakfast and a taxi ride to the train station.

Keep Shooting…..

Another Moonrise

Mother Nature scheduled a full moon for last Tuesday evening and while the weather was mild enough, my photo colleague Joan and I watched what might be called the dance of the seven veils from 6:02 PM (scheduled moonrise) to about 6:30 PM when the image below was captured.

Moonrise D-16-02-22-2202

Full Moon over Lincoln Memorial, February 22, 2016

(Technical data: Nikon D810 with 70-200mm f/2.8 lens extended to 165mm; exposure setting: 3 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400 taken at 6:28 PM)

The original idea was to catch the moon as it cleared the horizon, just to the left of the Memorial.  Sunset was 5 minutes before the moonrise, so we were hoping for the sweet spot in the period of Civil Twilight.  By the time we were able to see the moon, however, the evening was well into the phase known as Nautical Twilight. For details on these various twilight phases check my post on the subject here.

But that’s OK, it was a really nice evening and no other photographers were around.

On a related matter, the Lincoln Memorial is finally being scheduled for a much-meeded sprucing up, thanks to a substantial donation from a private citizen.  Check here for the details.  The announcement was made on February 12th, Lincoln’s birthday that David Rubenstein, who has also donated funds for the repair of the Washington Monument and Iwo Jima Memorial, had provided a gift of $18 million to fix up the Memorial and add a large visitor center underground.

So before this project begins, those of us who want to photograph the Memorial had best get going.  Hint:  The next scheduled moonrise is on March 23rd.

Keep Shooting…..

Twilight and Beyond: Photography at Night (Part 2)

In the first installment of this mini-series, I suggested including the moon in a night scene as a way to add interest and provided a few examples.  In this segment, we’ll look at the moon in a little greater detail.

In the Washington, DC area, capturing images of a full moon rising has become increasingly popular, largely due to the availability of mobile “apps” to help you be at the right place at the right time.  The general approach is to find a location from which one can photograph the moon perfectly positioned in relation to one of the major monuments.   The image below was captured at the most popular of these locations, on a hill in Rosslyn, Virginia directly in front of the Netherlands Carillon.

Night Photos D-09-09-05-51_52_53

Moonrise, Washington, DC (September 5, 2009)

An image like this is not as easy to obtain as it would appear, even with the help of an app like TPE (The Photographer’s Ephemeris). Aside from the obvious need for good weather, the time between the moonrise and sunset are critical as is the precise location of the moonrise.  In the case of this image, it was actually taken on the night after the full moon.  On the previous night, the weather was cloudy, the moonrise was 13 minutes before sunset and well to the right of the Lincoln Memorial. On the night of this image, the moonrise was 13 minutes after sunset at the perfect azimuth reading—85.5 degrees.  This photograph was taken about 10 minutes later, very close to the end of civil twilight.

For those wanting to know when the next such opportunity comes, they might want to mark their calendars for October 15, 2016.  It is the night before the full moon and the moon will rise 2 minutes after sunset.  That’s a little closer than ideal, but the azimuth reading is close to perfect, at 84.1 degrees.  Not as good as September 5, 2009, but worth a try if the weather is favorable.

A word of warning:  You will be sharing this location with as many as 100 other photographers, all with tripods.

The Jefferson Memorial is probably the second most popular spot for a moonrise image, often attracting 30-40 photographers on a promising evening. The advantage here is there are more vantage points along the sidewalks of the Tidal Basin.

Night Photos Jefferson and Moon D-15-07-31-5527_33

Moonrise, Jefferson Memorial (July 31, 2015)

(Technical notes: Moonrise 2 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 106.2 degrees; photograph taken 18 minutes after sunset.)

A similar alignment will occur on April 22, 2016 with a full moonrise 3 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 105 degrees.

One of the challenges in photographing a full moon is exposure.  Once it gets well above the horizon on a clear night, an exposure chosen to capture a twilight scene will often result in an overexposed moon. This will happen even with illuminated buildings as the primary subject.

Night Photos Jefferson Fireworks

Jefferson Memorial, Full Moon and Fireworks (April 4, 2014)

(Technical notes: Moonrise 21 minutes after sunset at Azimuth 99.1 degrees, photograph taken 63 minutes after sunset.)

Tactics for resolving this issue can range from hoping for a light cloud cover to blending two separate exposures in Photoshop or using the HDR bracketed exposure procedure.  Another method is to try for a crescent moon.

Night Photos Lincoln Moonset 01

Crescent Moon with Lincoln Memorial (August 17, 2015)

Photographed 35 minutes after sunset.  Note:  In this case, the photograph is taken in same direction as the setting sun.  Therefore, the twilight blue lasts longer than when you are pointing in the opposite direction.

Always consider possible locations when you travel.  Apps like TPE can be really helpful if you check the destination before you go.  For example, Mother Nature had kindly scheduled a full moon during our visit to Paris in 2014.  A check with TPE revealed that it would be possible to have it in a picture with the Eiffel Tower.

Night Photos Paris D-14-06-13-0876_79

Full Moon and Eiffel Tower (June 13, 2014)

(Technical Notes: Moonrise 8 minutes after Sunset at Azimuth 119.5 degrees. Photograph taken 50 minutes after Sunset. Twilight tends to last longer in Paris than in Washington, DC.)

The next full moon will be on February 22nd.  Pick a spot and …

Keep Shooting….

Moonrise over Washington, DC

When you are trying for the classic moonrise over the city of Washington, DC, everything has to go perfectly.  Several of us made the effort on October 26th, knowing the weather would be bad on the following night, the night of the full moon.

We also knew before we arrived that conditions would not be perfect because the moon was coming up 15 minutes before sunset and it likely would be too high in the sky by the time the twilight blue was at its peak and the illumination of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and US Capitol were in balance with the ambient light still in the sky.  We also knew that the clouds could pose problems.

But, when we arrived, there was an additional problem.  The Marine Corps Marathon had been held on the previous day and our chosen location (near the Marine Corps Memorial) was also the location of the finish line for the race.  A massive disassembly effort was underway.

Moonrise 01

Unexpected Obstructions, 20 Minutes before Moonrise

Moonrise 02Another Surprise

Moonrise 03A

Passing Truck, 4 Minutes after Moonrise (not visible yet)

But, aside from the occasional passing vehicle, there was nothing that was directly obstructing the view.   By 6:15, the official time for the sunset, the moon was already pretty high and it was still too bright to see the illumination on any of the buildings below us.

Moonrise 04

Clouds obscuring the moon at Sunset (6:15 PM)

At 6:30, the twilight was a nice blue color, the clouds had abated, but the moon was too high.

Moonrise 05

Ideal Twilight, 15 Minutes after Sunset (6:30 PM)

So the only solution was to back off the focal length, and take the full scene and then do some post processing cheating.  The image above was taken with the telephoto zoom extended to 200 mm and the moon in its actuual location at the time.  The image below, taken a few seconds later with a 145 mm focal length, shows the moon in a decent location.  But it was just “moved” down during the postproceesing from where it was at the time the image was taken.  Not a bad result, but not something I will post on my website or offer for sale.

Oct 26 Moon

“Manufactured” Moonrise over Washington

Lessons Learned:

  1. If one wants to capture an image of the moon rising over the “Big Three” (Lincoln, Washington, and US Capitol), the specific location is right in front of the Netherlands Carillon a short distance south of the Iwo Jima Memorial.
  2. Using the well-known app “The Photographer’s Ephemeris,” the moon should be rising at an Azimuth reading of about 85 degrees.
  3. For ideal twilight conditions along with the lighting of the “Big Three,” the moonrise time should be about 15 minutes after sunset.

Keep Shooting….

Crescent Moon, Lincoln Memorial

A setting crescent moon at twilight usually can be best captured about 3 days after the New Moon. I went down to the Reflection Pool last night to see if I could catch it with the Lincoln Memorial.  The timing on this composition is a little tricky because you need the moon to be close to the Memorial shortly after the sun has set. This doesn’t happen very often.  There is about a 15 minute window when the building’s lights, the twilight sky, and the brightness of the moon are in balance. The moon was a little more to the left of the Memorial than I would have liked, so I compensated by moving to the right (northeast) corner of the Reflection Pool.

Lincoln Moonset 02

Photographed at 8:23 PM

The photograph above is a merge of two images so I could include the reflection of the moon in the water.

Lincoln Moonset 01

Photographed at 8:36 PM

The sunset was at 8:01 PM and I appreciated Mother Nature’s positioning of the clouds to add interest without obscuring the moon. There was very little wind, so the surface of the Reflection Pool was almost mirror-like.

For those with a technical bent, both images were photographed with a Nikon D0800E on a tripod.  The first image was captured with a 24-70m f/2.8 lens set at 62mm, 1/5 sec. @ f/9, ISO 1600.  The second image (also a 2-shot photomerge) was captured  with a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens set at 105mm, 3 sec. at f/13, ISO 1600.

AfterBefore Friday Week 55

Today marks Week 55 in the AfterBefore Friday series managed by Stacy Fischer of Visual Venturing.  It’s open to anyone and participants share their approach of transforming one of their own images into its final form, an expression of their creative vision.  You can find links to all of the other participants here.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to try out one of the new tools that appeared in the most recent Photoshop CC upgrade.  Most writers have been rhapsodizing about the new “Dehaze” tool, but I have been far more pleased by the integration of the Photomerge capability into the Adobe Raw Camera (Version 9.1) process.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 55 Before

Original Image (one of four)

The above image is one of four used to produce an overall image the front of the Jefferson Memorial at sunrise.  Longtime readers may recall that I used a single image from this set in ABFriday Week 44.  But that was to produce a much tighter crop. This week it will be a wider view to include the tree on the left side of the building and some balance on the other side.  Now, I could have captured all of this in a single image using a wide angle lens, but I wanted to avoid the distortion of an extreme wide angle and I also wanted to be able to make really big prints if the image turned out nicely. (Technical: Four images with a Nikon D800E; 24-70mm f/2.8 lens at 42mm; Exposure: 1/160th sec. @ f/16, ISO 400)

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 55 Screen 01

The Well-Hidden Photomerge Button

The screen capture above shows the Adobe Camera Raw (ACR) display window with the  four RAW images opened as the first step for a photomerge.  In what must be one of the most obscure placements of a functional command in history, Adobe has seen fit to place this teeny little button in the upper left corner of the window, just to the right of the word “Fimstrip”  (Red Arrow).  If you select 2 or more images and then click on that little spot, you get the flyout menu (Yellow Arrow) that is displayed showing several options including “Merge to Panorama.”

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 55 Screen 04

Preview of Photomerge Process

If you click on that command, a preview window quickly appears as shown in the screen capture above. The ACR process has chosen which of three “projections”  it believes will produce the best result which, in this case, was “Perspective”  (Red Arrow). If you are not happy with that one, you can click on one of the other two to compare the results. It also provides a preview of an “Auto Crop” (Yellow Arrow) which essentially cleans up the ragged edges of a typical photomerge process.  A very nice touch, I thought. The image below shows the result when this box is unchecked.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 55 Screen 03

Auto Crop Unchecked.

In some cases, one may decide to handle the cropping on their own, but it obviously did a fine job here.  Once you are happy with the result,  click on the “Merge” command and it quickly goes to the “Save As” function as shown in the screen capture below.  Just give the file the approapriate name and select the folder in which it is to be saved.  So far about 60 seconds have passed.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 55 Screen 06

Saving the Merged image

As shown the Screen Capture below, a new thumbnail of the photomerge has appeared in the filmstrip (Red Arrow) and is ready to be processed like any other RAW file.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 55 Screen 05

ACR Window after Save Command is Executed

From here one just uses their standard workflow.  In this case I used the follwing settings: Highlights decreased to -31; Shadows increased to +73; Whites increased to +57; Blacks increased to +16; Clarity increased to +30; and Vibrance increased to +39.  The image was then opened in Photoshop, where I spent some time removing a few of the people on the steps.  The final result is shown below.

Robin Kent ABFriday Week 55 After

Final Image

Comments and Questions are welcome.  Please be sure to check out the other examples of post-processing techniques at Stacy’s post, ABFriday Week 55.

Keep Shooting…….