Fourth of July 2014

Fireworks Wort Hotel
Fireworks Wort Hotel

The Fourth of July, 2014, in Jackson Hole was a pleasant evening. The storm that blew through earlier in the day cleared out the air and made for perfect fireworks conditions.

Click on the picture at the right. It was taken from the Jackson Indian Arts Museum across the street from the Wort Hotel.

This is a single exposure, no Photoshop involved. Judicious use of exposure time, off-camera strobe, a Nikon D800, and a Nikon 35mm f/2D lens.

Happy Fourth America.

Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014
Wort Hotel 4th July 2014

Jackson Hole Juggernauts

JH Juggernauts
JH Juggernauts

As a photographic sponsor of the Jackson Hole Juggernauts Roller Derby, I was out last night photographing them. They had a bout with the Magic City Rollers at the Snow King events arena. Although the home team lost, it was still a very good bout and enjoyable. Up to the 18 minute mark, the teams were tied, trading points and position back and forth. Then, out of nowhere, the Magic City Rollers rocketed past the Juggernauts and created an overwhelming deficit.

The sport of roller derby has come a long way since the 1970’s, when players bashed themselves up. Now, the rules are heavily enforced, get checks, no elbows, fists or otherwise. They really keep it interesting. Yes, there were many knock-downs. Many intentional. But I never see it as something where the players are trying to hurt each other, just take the opposing player out of play.

Turtle defense #1200
Turtle defense #1200

I had a lot of fun photographing this event, as this was the first time I was able to use my D800 to see how it would do in a sports situation with my Nikon 180mm f/2.8. The camera is not intended to be used for sports, as its repeat frame rate comes in at a paultry 4fps. But that’s not my shooting style. Instead of blasting away, I shoot selective shots, just like when I was shooting surfing. I have no desire to edit 3000 photos at the end of the night. I’d rather come back with a more useful 300. Granted, I can’t get the sequence shots that a D4s would give me, but that’s okay. The resolution advantage that the D800 gives me makes me happy. Besides, I’d be tempted to blast away with a D4s.

Stay down
Stay down

One of the things I did with this event was I was able to use my Nikon SB-800 Speedlights to light up the arena. I was blown away how much better they made the photos. The clarity popped right up. With the combination of the Pocketwizards and Speedlights, I was able to light up most of the rink without issue. Since I was running on 1/4 power, I was able to shoot at ISO 1250 and achieve a nice balance between the ugly green/yellow lighting of the arena and the nice polish of the flash. Once I got the 3rd light set up, I was having a good old time. I couldn’t believe how much better the shots were. It was like shooting in a professional arena with their huge lights. I would have prefered my strobes to be high on the ceiling, but that’s okay. I like the drama the shadows add.

Going for the knockout
Going for the knockout

There was another photographer there from Utah last night. He was using on-camera flash, but the light fall-off from his vantage point was so bad that the rest of the arena looked dark. In my class, I talk about how to achieve a nicer balance. If he would have boosted his ISO to 1600, he could have achieved a good balance between his on-camera flash and the arena lighting. Granted, the on-camera flash would have still been unflattering, but at least his shots wouldn’t look like they were shot in a cave. If you’re reading this, I have a DVD available for sale that would help you out!

I’ll have to try some rear-sync stopped motion at the next bout. That should give some even more interesting shots!

Nikon D800 firmware update

AF-ON
AF-ON

A new firmware update is available for the Nikon D800/e. You can go to

This link

scroll down to D800 or D800e, to download firmware 1.10.

One of the major updates to the camera is the ability to do trap focus. What is trap focus you ask? It’s the “special mode” using the focus as the activation method for shutter release. When you activate menu option A4 and select AF-ON only, you will force the shutter release to only trip the shutter but not activate the auto focus. When the menu option is set to Shutter/AF-ON, the shutter release will both activate the focus system and trip the shutter release.

With A4 set to AF-ON only, the back AF-ON button is the only button on the camera that will activate the focus system. This is very handy when you want to completely decouple shutter release vs the focus system.

Why would you do this? Lets say you are waiting for an object to come into focus and, for whatever reason, you don’t want to refocus the camera. When you have the AF-ON only option selected, you can hold the shutter release down  and wait for the subject to come into focus. Once the object is in focus, the shutter release will trip and you will have your shot.

This acts like a “trap”, where you are waiting for something to spring your shutter release. It’s possible to use a cable release and lock the shutter release and walk away, waiting for something to trip the shutter. It’s a somewhat esoteric use, but it can be handy. This option is also great for sports shooters.

One thing I found about this action is that the response of the camera seems to be a little slow. If I pass through the focus area too quickly, the camera won’t lock and fire. This can  be attributed to the option selection in A3, Focus tracking with lock-on. I have my camera set to normal, so it waits a little while before refocusing and shooting. When I select 1 (Short), the camera responds more quickly for trap focus. Not much more, but a little bit.

This mode requires some experimentation but can be very handy for sports and action shots. It’s well worth playing with to have in your arsenal for your D800 and D800e shooting arsenal.

Moon eclipse with Spica

Click for larger picture
Click for larger picture

The full eclipse of the moon as viewed from Eagle, CO, was a sight to behold. At first, when the full moon rose at 7:30pm MST, it looked spectacularly large on the horizon. Though this is only a visual effect and the moon was no larger on the horizon than it is straight overhead, the effect is still stunning.

After waiting for hours, the moon began its slow progression into darkness, moving from the outer shadow of the Earth (penumbra) and through to the inner shadow of the Earth (umbra). Once the moon was fully eclipsed,  it turned to a copper color. Some describe this as a “blood moon”. I enjoyed watching the transition from daylight bright to a deep, ruddy color.

There are several enjoyable aspects of a lunar eclipse:

  • You can look straight at the moon and not damage your eyes
  • They “seem” to be more frequent than solar eclipses
  • The effect is chilling

One beautiful part of this eclipse was the moon was a few degrees from Spica in the constellation Virgo. At first the moon was bright enough to overwhelm the 15th brightest star the sky. But as the moon fell into the Earth’s shadow, that imbalance changed until Spica, a giant blue star, gracefully complementing the scene.

For the photographers out there, here is what I shot with:

and the settings on the camera were:

  • ISO 640
  • f5.6
  • 1 second

DSC_D8_4036 star trailThe thing about shooting with a 180mm telephoto lens on a full-frame sensor body is that shooting any longer than 1 second causes the sky objects to begin leaving tell-tale streaks, better known as star trails. Also, I wanted as much sharpness as I could get out of my 180mm, so I shot it at f5.6 rather than f2.8. At effectively infinite distance, the depth of field didn’t matter, but the smaller aperture made for easier focusing. It also helps reduce or eliminate halos around highly contrasted subjects, too.

As can be seen in the extreme crop at the right, the star is no longer a point but rather an oblong shape, indicating the 1.6 second shot was too long.

Ansel Adams shot moon
Ansel Adams shot moon

An hour after the moon rose on the horizon, I photographed it as a comparison point against the eclipsed version. Using Ansel Adam’s oft-quoted formula, I knew exactly the exposure I wanted to put the moon in Zone VII to make it properly bright without being blown out. Here are my settings:

  • ISO 100
  • f11
  • 1/60 sec

Those settings or a proportionate variation will give you great full moon shots. The exposure setting has to do with knowing the luminance of the full moon is 250 cd/ft^2. Using that setting as the shutter speed, one can place the moon in Zone V. But that makes the moon gray. So to make the moon a bright but not blown out Zone VII, all I have to do is drop the shutter speed 2 stops, from 1/250 – 1/125 – 1/60. A perfect moon every time.

Note that with a setting of 1/60, a lens like the 180mm will be blurry due to handholding. This is where both the tripod and exposure delay come in. Even on a tripod, shooting that slow with a long lens will show vibration. Adding mirror lockup is even better. The initial vibrations damp out from the shutter slap. Then, depressing the shutter release again, the D800 begins its 3 second shutter delay. For really long shots, I’ll even use the camera’s self timer and set it for 10 seconds with mirror lockup.

Happy moon photography!

Winter weather

While driving back from Kelly toward Jackson, WY, this scene opened up right before me. I was very lucky to have my Nikon 80-400mm and Nikon D800 with me, as my shorter lenses and Nikon D300s body would not have captured the detail or tonal range of this image. We were out for a drive to check out the warm springs and to see if any interesting animals were out in the weather. I just happened to bring my extra gear.

Cache creek

Once I saw this scene develop, I visualized the image in my mind before I shot it. Then, I remembered I was wearing running shoes. The only way I was going to get the shot was stomping (postholing) through deep snow to get to the right vantage point. Boots would have been much more pleasant. But I was not going to let a small thing like cold feet stop me.

As the light was a dull, milky blue, I knew that this shot was not going to work in color at all. The original looks muddy and dissonant, not something I wanted in a photograph. But with the 13 stop range of the Nikon D800 and the 36MP body, I knew I might finally be able to capture an image worthy of making a good black and white panoramic.

D800
D800

Although I really enjoy the Nikon D300s, it does not work very well for taking effective panoramic images. There just is not enough resolution in the 12MP body. When taking landscape photos with that camera, there was very little image left by the time I cropped the image. As much as the camera is still great for sports & portraits, it never made me happy when photographing landscapes with it. The D800 has fit that bill very nicely.

As much as I like shooting the D800, the RAW files are huge. 45MB a pop. What’s the big deal? Well, when I do a photo shoot or go out to make some shots, I’ll shoot 100+ images. That’s 4.5GB. Very, very quickly, my external hard disk storage has been eaten alive. As such, I have started treating this Nikon more like a medium or large format camera. Instead of using the “spray and pray” technique, code for shooting with wild abandon, I find myself slowing down and enjoying making the image. It still does not come close to the quality of a 4×5 format camera, but there’s enough resolution and tonal range where I can actually made good enlargements.

As I learned from Galen Rowell

When I shoot, I heft the camera on top of the tripod, treating it like a large format camera. I adjust the settings a bit, then really look around at the image, inspecting the corners. Then, when I’m fully satisfied with the shot, I take one more look. And, only then, do I press the shutter release.

I just wish I was wearing boots to make the above shot. Standing in running shoes in 20 degree air in 25MPH winds makes for distracted photography. Galen would have ignored the cold. I have learned to do so, too. As I had a warm vehicle to hop back into, it was not a big deal to deal with stinging toes. The result was worth it.