Fizzy flower in a fish tank

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Off camera flash is one of my favourite tools.  

Using a rose in a small fish tank filled with soda water (and a few shakes to reduce the volume of bubbles) – checking the exposure so that the ambient light is effectively nil.  Using 2 flashes next to the tank at reduced power ( I think 1/32 and 1/64) to highlight the rose only.

I’ve used a soda tank for many other subjects – chilli, flowers, tomatoes or anything that comes to mind. 

Moving forward

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Salt lake in Western Australia.  Salinity is a serious problem for agriculture (and everything) but provides interesting photographic opportunities.  Especially at dusk/dawn when the low angle of the light can provide more definition to the pressure ridges as the salt surface contracts and cracks.  

A lot of the time people lose a bit of drive with their photography and work on getting them going again with various projects – things like 365 (one photo a day), 50mm (shooting with just a 50mm lens) and multitudes more (see here for some examples http://digital-photography-school.com/7-photography-projects-to-jumpstart-your-creativity).  Joining a photography group can also assist in terms of stimulating skills and ideas.  Going through photography sharing pages like 500px, Flickr and many others can also help stimulate the creativity – but being wary also that I feel that it can cause some photography fatigue – seeing too many quality photos after awhile starts to lose some of the wonder.

Motivation and skills also tend to plateau and needs reinvention to keep moving forward.

I keep notes on my phone through evernote (synchronises with my computer, tablet and phone) and mind map what I want to do as well.  I tend to do much less spontaneous shoots nowadays but am aware of the weather conditions suited for what I want to do for landscape photos and what planning and testing I need to do for others.  For me – it’s important to be aware of the seasonal opportunities so that I don’t let time pass me by as it has before.  I’ve got a rather large mindmap that keeps evolving.  Whenever I get ideas, I record and mark off (but keep it listed) the completed projects.  Keeping the focus also means that going to a shoot, I’m aware of the different techniques that I want to try as well – rather than being overcome with the emotion of the moment.  

At the moment – I’ve got numerous landscape location being researched, astrophotography dates and techniques, numerous techniques to test (to expand my photographic options), lots of flash and creative projects.  Arguably I’ve got more than what I can cover during the year, but most of it should be able to get done.

I like having an underlying purpose of why am I taking photos too – matching my personal values.  I don’t like doing things just for the sake of things.  This has been changing for me over the few months/year.

Sugarloaf Rock and CPL

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I recently went to Sugarloaf Rock in Dunsborough Western Australia with my older brother.  Sugarloaf Rock is one of those excessively photographed areas.  Unfortunately the skies weren’t all that good.

I love using the CPL (circular polarising filter) for it’s ability to cut through reflections – especially to cut through water to show rocks underneath.  Having said that though – a bit of thought (like everything) should be exercised – sometimes you can over do the polarising effect and make the scene look fake.  Consciously rotate the CPL for the desired effect – don’t think of it as an ON/OFF effect.

I also like using it with foliage (especially wet ones) – to remove reflections of light to bring out the colour of the plants.

I use a 105mm CPL on my Lee filter adapter – since I have adapter rings and step up filter rings – can use my filters on any of my lenses.

I haven’t “really” taken photos over the past couple of weeks – been out scouting for location for something I’ve visualised.  Apart from the vast resources of the internet, sometimes you have to actually go to a location and have a look.  Gauging what the location will be like at different times of the day, different seasons, different tides and so on.  Scouting is fine for if it’s only within a couple of hundred kilometres for me – anything further, I think I’d just take the risk for the right conditions.

Star trailing at the Thrombolites

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Another post on star trailing.  

GEAR

Camera, intervelometer, sturdy tripod and as wide an angle lens as possible.

COMPOSING 

I know that the lens (17-40) field of view is 93 degrees at full wide, so the positioning of the celestial pole is due south at 30-40 degrees elevation (at my location).  I offset the lens direction from due south so that the celestial pole isn’t in the middle.  Trying to balance it out with the larger thrombolites – but the lens wasn’t wide enough so did a compromise and unfortunately had one partly cut off.  If the lens isn’t wide enough – then shooting up a hill works well.  I went portrait for this one to get more of the foreground.

The Thrombolites are only exposed for a couple of months per year allowing many of them to be above the water level some motion can be captured from a long exposure with the foam drifting around them.  I took around 10 photos of the foreground till I got a pattern that was satisfactory – noting that the light was disappearing rapidly as well.

When it was dark enough and the starts started coming out – I run a number of test photos to confirm where the stars are rotating around for composition – and if need be recompose.  This does however mean that the work I did with the foreground will be wrong and I would have to take another photo for this which maybe less satisfactory.  Testing at this time saves the grief of a face palm moment later if realising that it was all for nothing.

The star trails here were for around 2 hours.  As noted before – I prefer to take the foreground when it’s still light/dusk.  The foreground was for around 30s.

TAKING THE FRAMES

At the moment I’m using a Canon 6D with a 17-40L.  For the foreground I’m happy to use a smaller aperture to keep most of that in sharper focus.  The star trails themselves I will tend to take at ISO 800-1600.  Cameras will start to lose some of the colour at higher ISO settings, but the 6D is fine till quite a high ISO.  Noise also can become an issue – but can be managed with taking dark frames.  I think taking about 10-20 dark frames to include in the stack is probably my recommended – however it’s more of a backup just in case I want to use dark frame subtraction to help with noise control.  I generally use the widest aperture for the star trails to get as much of the light into the frame.  The shutter however I will tend to vary depending on ambient light.  If the moon is up – then I will reduce the shutter to reduce the light.  It’s a bit of a balancing act at this time because wanting to have the shutter open enough to burn in the stars – but beyond say 30s – when they start evidencing star trails, the benefit is around having less photos to process later.  If there is going to be a milky way travelling through the scene, I’d tend to keep at 20-30s (based on the lens) so that I can cross purpose the photo and have milky way photos too.  Arguably can extend the exposures to burn in more ambient light – which could do for creative effect or to expose the foreground (if not already captured).  Light noise can be used for interest, but don’t want to create too many elements either.

PROCESSING

I use starstax for the processing of the star trails.  The current version allows for “comet trails”.  In this photo I manually graduated the trails – by dividing the photos into 20 different stacks and then changing their opacity before blending back in with starstax.  I note that I post process the foreground differently to the star trails, either by a separate edit or by masking the sky to land.  Subsequent to this one – I’ve been going for more saturated skies to bring out more colour.

Black carding on a quiet morning

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Black carding is one of my favourite techniques – where you use a black piece of card instead of graduated neutral density filter to darken the sky to match the exposure.  The card covers the lighter area and vibrated so that no harsh black line is evident from just holding the card in front of the lens.  

The card covers the sky to get the right exposure for the sky – so if you wanted a 30s land exposure and a 10s sky exposure – you would have the card in front of the lens for 20s being the difference of the two.

It’s also important to consider your starting point – if you tend to vibrate the card down first, then you’ll want to have the card starting just above the horizon otherwise it will create a darkened strip below the horizon.  So it’s probably easier vibrating up first.  

Ideally you want the sky exposure to be at least a few seconds – if it’s less than a second, then the chance of having a dark band as the card is removed is more likely.

I like this method because -

1 – it reduces the amount of things in front of the lens – which would reduce image quality

2 – reduces any of colour caste from having filters

3 – cheap

Negatives are

1 – really need to be able to do a long exposure to do effectively

2 – takes a lot of practice to get it right

 I use my cable release – intervelometer and bulb so I can time the exposure precisely.

Alternative Fireworks

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It’s the festive season and there are lots of fireworks over Christmas and New Year.  Without going into the normal photography techniques for fireworks – an interesting alternative is around focus shifting.  

Start in focus or out of focus (will have a different effect) and when the firework is blossoming, shift the focus during the shot to in focus.  Therefore using a wide aperture is recommended.  Remember that the longer the focal length, the shallower DOF and more out of focus you can make it as well.  Use bulb and/or a black card (to cover the lens) to expose for the correct duration of the firework.  Make sure you check your exposures to see if it’s the effect that you’re after rather than going through the whole fireworks and realising it didn’t work.  

A stable platform like a tripod is highly recommended.  Also 3 hands because it’s a bit fiddly ;)

Waiting for the sky to fall

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I think it’s very important to actually enjoy the moment – over capturing the moment (unless you’re being paid for it) – some astrophotography lets me just sit back.  I haven’t worked out how to capture the feel of a meteor shower as they streak across the sky – especially when a fireball materialises.  Meteors show as brief lines with a brighter midpoint as it burns up.

Star trailing at the dunes at Lancelin (Western Australia) starting around 2am till 4am on the morning of 14th December 2013.  The dunes are lit by the setting moon.  There is one Geminid meteor in the scene, but this was facing south and the radiant point for Geminids was north.  

Canon 550d, tokina 11-16, 11mm, f2.8 ISO 800, 60s exposures stacked with starstax – around 100 photos stacked.