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FAST CLASS: The Outdoor Photography Experience

Lesson 10 of 13

Glacier Point: Shooting Stars & Night Photography

 

FAST CLASS: The Outdoor Photography Experience

Lesson 10 of 13

Glacier Point: Shooting Stars & Night Photography

 

Lesson Info

Glacier Point: Shooting Stars & Night Photography

It is officially one in the morning and we are at the top of Glacier Point in Yosemite, and this is pretty much, I would consider, probably the best stargazing location you could go to on a dark night in California. You have, you know, due to logistics, you obviously can't really see what we're looking at. It looks like pure darkness, but it's actually a really beautiful view of Yosemite Valley looking out over Half Dome and the Milky Way, as well as Nevada and Vernal Falls, all through the Valley bottom. It's an awesome, awesome location. Probably one of my favorite places to go. And I would say for any kind of beginner or someone who really wants to work on shooting, you know, star trails, nighttime photos, nightscapes, whatever, this would be an amazing location. So I just really quickly wanna go over some of the logistics of how to approach these scenes. First thing I would say (laughing) would be to kind of prep your gear ahead of time, prep your location ahead of time. Because th...

e worst thing you could do is show up here in the middle of the night, it's pure pitch black, and you're working with a headlight, right? And you're trying to figure out where to go and where to be. And that's how you drop lens caps, you drop lenses, you slip, you fall, things like that happen. You don't wanna be walking around in darkness trying to find a good location. So scout out these locations ahead of time. Know where you're going and what your angle is gonna be so that when you get there, you kind of have a perspective of what you wanna shoot. Now, best thing for really doing these is having a bit of technology. And there's an amazing app. There's a few of them, but I use an app called SkySafari. And basically it's an app that allows you to, it allows you to basically look at this night sky, and what it's gonna do, and move it around so you can kind of adjust and see what the Milky Way is doing, and what the sun and the moon is doing. So what I can do is I can look out here and I can move my time forward or move my time back and go, "Okay, wow, the Milky Way is going to be right here "in an hour and a half." So it just gives me a perspective so I can kind of know where the sun's gonna rise, where the moon's gonna rise, if it's a full moon, if it's a half moon, and just kind of get a perspective for what the night sky is actually doing, what planets are up there. It's also just really good for kind of knowing and understanding your, you know, the brightest night sky is gonna be at this time, when the moon is here and the sun is there. So having a good app can really help you to kind of prep these areas so you're not up all night trying to shoot. You're really just maximizing that one killer window between maybe two and three when the Milky Way is really in the perfect spot. So for me, I'm here at 1:00 am because right now, the Milky Way is in the perfect spot, right above Half Dome. And it's kind of this really awesome frame. And this is what I sort of came here for at this time to get. So let's go over a couple quick just tools and things that you'd wanna bring when you shoot nighttime stuff. Now, headlamp is obviously crucial. I would say some warm clothing, some gloves, the essentials is always good to have. I usually try to bring an extra headlamp just in case, because worst thing you could have is kind of be in a situation where you don't have enough light to look at your camera and whatnot. Now, a really good sturdy tripod, obviously one that you don't mind leaving by itself, walking away from it. Something that's not gonna be blown over by the wind. Also having a little hook at the bottom so if you wanna hook your bag and put some weight on there, this really helps if it's windy out because tonight's a windless night. But most of the time it's not windless, especially if you wanna shoot night or star trails or time-lapses, right? One of the best things you can have in time-lapses is a little bit of wind to move the clouds. So a lot of times when you're seeing those, you're getting wind and you wanna make sure you have a really good stabilized surface. I'm using a Really Right Stuff tripod, as well as a ball head on this here. Now the camera that I have tonight with me, it's pretty much the camera that I shoot for all of my star and nighttime astrophotography, is the Sony a7S and it is a camera that, much like any other Nikon or Canon body that's optimized for low light and shooting astro work, this camera is the same. It's basically set up for high ISO, incredible results at ISO 8000, 10000, 12000, whatever you wanna shoot. And when paired with a really fast, wide-open lens, it can yield incredible results. So tonight we have no moon, which is really the best time to see the stars. And I'm still able to get an incredibly bright exposure at ISO 3200 at 20 seconds. This lens is a Rokinon 24 millimeter. It's an F1.4, so the aperture is really wide open. Typically when I'm shooting nighttime stuff, I'm not shooting it all the way wide open 'cause usually lenses aren't the sharpest at that aperture. So I'll be backing it off a little bit to about F1.8 or F2 and shooting it there. Now my settings for a night like this, I'm shooting a prime lens, obviously. So I've got this lens fixed. I'm also bringing another lens with me as well, which I'll grab and I'll show you. So my other lens I'll bring tonight is an F2 Sony. It's a 28 millimeter F2 with a fisheye converter, and it's F2 all the way through. It's a really great lens to use for nighttime stuff. Really bright, yields incredibly sharp results. Also works really nicely with the camera. It's always good, I feel like, to use the native lenses with the system. So this is something new I've just been using a little bit. And a lot of times when I'm shooting say a time-lapse or even star trails, I wanna get that wide perspective of the Milky Way 'cause it goes up in the sky. So shooting a nice wide angle like a fisheye 18 millimeter, 16 millimeter, 20 millimeter is really awesome. So right now, talk about, we'll talk about kind of the settings and how I'd set this thing up. Well, I'm gonna turn my camera on. And usually for me, I'm a fan of long exposure noise reduction. So I'd turned that on in camera, go to the menu, put on long exposure noise reduction, right? And then I would basically go through my settings, dial everything in, put my auto balance to auto white balance or my white balance to auto white balance so that I can basically, 'cause with the night sky, it's a lot different than the daytime or shooting water. You can get a lot of different colors going on. It's, I think it's easier to let the camera's algorithm work itself. It's basically kind of just a guessing game in a lot of ways. You know, I'm moving the ISO to some ranges where I know and feel like I can get good results. And on a night like this, you know, it's gonna be between ISO 3200 or ISO 8000, maybe even 10000, depending on how, how fast of a shutter speed I wanna shoot. A couple of little rules and tips. I'm shooting at 24 millimeter. Now there's a very awesome algorithm for figuring out exactly the amount of seconds you can shoot at a 24 millimeter to know how much star movement you're gonna get, right? I'm not that guy, I don't know that stuff. I know there's some amazing blogs and websites you can find out about that. But my rule of thumb is usually with a 24 millimeter lens, if you're shooting a 15th of a second, 20th of a second to about a 15th of a second or faster, that's your sweet spot for really capturing the stars sharp and without movement. The wider you go, if you're shooting a fisheye, a 16 millimeter, an 18 millimeter, you can go a longer period of time before the stars start to show movement. Now it's all artistic interpretation. But what I find is that when you're trying to shoot a night sky, it's kind of one of the other. You're either shooting star movement with a big star curve going through it, a long exposure, maybe 20, 30, 40 minutes to a couple hours. Or you're shooting 10 seconds, 15 seconds, something like that because you want the stars tack sharp, where you really get that defined Milky Way. And by shooting the stars tack sharp with that defined Milky Way, you actually bring out a bit more color, I find, in the sky and it actually feels a little less noisy in some ways because you don't have all the movement. You know, in some ways it feels a little less busy. So for me, I have this really nice wide open lens, F 1.4, I'm shooting at F1.8 and I'm actually getting incredibly bright results by shooting 3200 here, ISO 3200 at like 20 seconds and ISO, let me see what this one was, ISO 6400 at like 10 seconds, right? One of the key things that I would be, I'd be trying to do that's one of the hardest things that I find a lot of people are always asking is like, "How do you go about focusing in night sky?" Well, tonight, there's really no way for you guys to watch this process, but there is, the easiest method I have found is one of two ways. First of all, if there is any ambient light anywhere, a city or a car headlights far away or whatever, focusing on that light, okay? With the wide angle lens, the nice thing about it is you don't really have a big range of focus to mess with. You usually pull it all the way to infinity and you back off a little bit til that light looks sharp. Now that can be really tough when you have a pitch black night sky, which is really optimal for shooting this type of scenario. So what you have to do then is most cameras nowadays, they have a live view mode and in that live view mode, what you can do is you can set it to zoom in on your focusing. On the Sony's, I can speak to the system 'cause I know them the best, they have a mode called direct manual focus. And what that does is when I push this focus ring, it actually zooms in on my, on whatever I'm focusing on, right? So it'll zoom in for me as many times as I want. Zoom in, zoom in 10 times, 20 times, whatever. And I can really get an accurate focus on whatever I want. Now, sometimes that accurate focus might just be on the brightest star I can find, okay? So once I've achieved that focus point and I've kind of gotten it to a place where I feel like it's sharp, and literally this is a guessing game a lot of the times, right? There's no real way to know 110% that your focus is tack sharp, unless you're autofocusing, or unless you're testing your results. So for me, it's a matter of just testing it, looking at my image, coming back to it, trying it again. But what I'd like to do is once I find my focus, I'll put a rubber band around this lens so there's no movement. So nothing gets bonked out of place, right? Because the hardest thing to do in this whole process is find your focus. So I will look for the brightest star in the sky, right? I'll look up here wherever I can. I'll find the brightest star. And I will use this direct manual focus, I'll zoom in. The brighter the lens, meaning that the larger the F-stop, or the more open, the more you're gonna be able to see that star or that bright whatever object, right? So when I'm focusing, I'll usually open this lens up to the most wide open mode that it can go, F1.4, right? I'll focus it, I'll get everything set up, and then I'll put my rubber band around. And then I'll set my camera up. I'll back off the F-stop to maybe F1.8, F2, and then I'll go in here and I'll start messing with my settings. I'll look at what does, what does 10 seconds look like? What does 15 seconds look like? You know, and I'll just go incrementally. I'll start taking shots to kind of test each scene. Now we'll talk about this probably in classroom. But one of the things that's super important, especially when you're shooting night exposures is you really want information on that histogram, right? You want that histogram arc to actually have information on the right-hand side so that you can come back later and you can actually mess with these files. You know, one common mistake a lot of people make is they think, "Oh, I'm better off shooting a lower ISO "and pulling out that information later, "rather than shooting a higher ISO "and having it be the correct exposure "because it's gonna be noisy." Well, it's actually untrue. You're actually better off shooting a slightly bit overexposed at a higher ISO and bringing it back a little bit, than you are opening it up because you're gonna have more degradation in the file if you're trying to do it the opposite. So that's pretty much in a nutshell, the process that I can think of right now. I would say making sure that your camera's setup on a mirror lockup mode, as well as a short timer is really good. Right now I don't really have any purpose to have a remote clicker. This camera has an infrared. Most cameras do nowadays. So sometimes I'll use my cell phone as a remote clicker, or sometimes I'll have even a cable release off the camera, but since I'm only shooting 10, 15 second exposures, I really don't need to mess with that right now. But that's really in a nutshell, I think, the best sort of night exposure (laughing) tips and tricks I think we could give. So I guess we'll try and see what the results look like and talk about it in the classroom. All right, so if you look at my screen right now, basically I'm racking focus, okay? So what I'm gonna do is, first thing I'm gonna do is I'm gonna put my screen all the way to infinity, and then I'm gonna, I'm gonna zoom in. I'm gonna push my little zoom in button. And if you look at that, that's me zooming in on my focal point, right? I'm zooming in, I'm zooming out. So now I'm zooming back in. I can move it around. I can adjust it to whatever I want. And what I have is I have a friend down there with a light on. So I'm just giving you an example of how you can use this direct manual focus. So this is my normal frame right here, correct? Zooming in once, zooming in twice. And now I'm gonna start to adjust. Will you shine that light down more away from you? Yeah, there, a little off to the side. So if you look over here at this whole scene, we can see a lot of, we can see a lot of detail in here. I'm focusing basically to get this, I can see the stairsteps right here. They're getting in focus. I can see the silhouette of his body. He's almost too blown out because I've got so much light on him right now. And basically the camera's exposing for 20 seconds at 6400 ISO, right? So it's, it's overexposed a bit, but this is giving you an example of how it looks to mess with that direct manual focus. Now keep in mind, this is my frame, right? So I'm super far away, but it gives me the ability to zoom in there and get a really detailed... Quick you guys, while this video is going, if you look up here in the corner, you're seeing this little magnifying glass, right? I'm gonna talk about this direct manual focus concept after this, but I just want you to pay attention. This is telling me the amount that I'm zoomed in on my focus, right? So direct manual focus. It allows you to basically, you're viewing your image in live view, right? You're viewing it on the screen. And what I can do is I can push a button so it basically zooms in up to like eight times or whatever. So when you're fine, I mean, you can see, like this is just normal view, and what I was showing you is eight times zoomed in. So when you're finding that focus, it is such a helpful tool If you need to focus on a bright star far away or a headlamp far away, or a city in the distance, right? It's one of the only ways I've found to get really accurate focus at night, right? So this is kind of just what that is. And this is, this is what I'm going over. Just just so you guys know, right, and another point too that's really important is when you're shooting a wide angle, which typically almost always, when you guys are shooting at night, you're shooting 50 millimeter or below. I mean, you're shooting everything from a 16 millimeter to a 24 millimeter, to a 35, I tend to almost always be shooting 35 millimeter to about 16 millimeter. I'm not really a fan of fisheye, 'cause it's a little too skewed for landscape stuff, right? But I like this perspective of the 16 to the 35. And the beauty of those wide angle lenses, you guys, is that wide angle lenses, everything beyond a certain point is in focus, right? I mean, they're, it's so much easier to get a good focus point if you're shooting something far away, because all you need to do is find your focal point that's between, for the wider the lens, that the easier it is to find that focal point. For a 16 millimeter, it's about three feet to infinity. So beyond three feet, everything's in focus. The larger the lens, the little bit further that goes, maybe it's six feet to infinity with a 35 millimeter, right? But that's kind of the beauty of that, is that it all goes in focus, right? So this is kind of why you typically use that. And this is why I'm only focusing, I'm only gaining my focus on an object that's about a hundred feet away from me, because a hundred feet or the stars are gonna be the same thing. So this is what's really nice, is that if you, yeah, go ahead. I was wondering, don't you put this on infinity? Why do you need to focus still at 100 feet? You can't put it directly on infinity because that'll be out of focus. You need to back off a little bit, right? So it's infinity to, you know, you're, I can show you, I'll demonstrate on one of these lenses really quick, but basically you can't just throw your lens to infinity because that way you'll be throwing it all the way. Like it would actually go a little bit out of focus. So you basically, what you do is you roll it to infinity, and then you start to back off. And you back off when you see visually that your image looks in focus, right? So you still have to, you still have to find that little, like that little spot, you know, but essentially like that's all you really need to do. There's a pretty big spectrum of what you could, what you get in focus. But the main thing I'm showing you guys, a lot of times people will say, "I'm having such a hard time "getting my night exposures in focus." And you know, a lot of times what you'll find is that you're, if you're gonna shoot good night exposures, usually you're out of the city. You don't have a lot of light pollution, right? You're away from a lot of things. So you don't have light available to you to focus on, you know? But it's as simple as having a friend walk a hundred yards away, turn a headlight on and focusing on them, right? Or having someone shine a light at themselves and be like, cool, I can find my focus now, it's as simple as that. Because a hundred yards or the stars in the sky are gonna all be in focus. That's what I'm, that's what I'm trying to say. You don't really want to have somebody like three feet in front of you directly, you know? 'Cause that might be a little tough, but just have them, have them walk down. Turn your car headlights on, focus on those. The nice thing is that once you get your focus, you can tie it off with the rubber band. You just slip a rubber band on your lens, like, like this, or let me see this, like this lens. You can just, you basically, you put it to infinity right here. And then what I'm doing is 'cause right where infinity is, it's not really where your focus starts. Your focus starts here where the line is, okay? So between here and a meter, basically everything beyond a meter is gonna be in focus, right? That's what it's showing you. A meter to infinity is in focus. So everything beyond three feet for this 24 millimeter lens is all gonna be tax sharp, right? So I just need to find the point in here that I feel like my subject is nice and bright. If I was shooting right here, setting up a tripod and shooting star trails, all I'd need to do is focus on one of you guys and everything beyond that would be fine. Now, if I move closer to that, if my subject is here or here or here, then it becomes a lot trickier. But typically for night exposures, you're not doing that. So with a lens like this, this is the one I'm shooting in the video, I'm just basically, I'm racking it all the way to infinity and then I'm backing it off, and then I'm backing it off slowly. So between one meter, infinity is really my sweet spot, somewhere in there, okay? Does that make sense, you guys? I wanna make sure it does 'cause I know this is a little tricky. And once I have that, I can tie it off the rubber band because whether I'm shooting vertical or horizontal or whatever, it's all gonna be the same focus. And that's the nice thing is that, I mean, a lot of times I'll have this lens prefocused before I even get there. I'll have it from the night before, rubber band tied around it and it's not gonna move. So I know that it's good to go, right, and that's kind of the nice thing about these. So we'll finish this up and then we'll keep talking about it. Your focus of what I want or what I need. So right here, I'm pulling to infinity, and I'm backing off just slightly right there. And I might pop my eye in the screen and that gives me a really good perspective, popping into the screen because I can see really up close. So yeah, that's pretty much the process of getting that focus locked off. And this is really, I think, the key, the best setting in these new cameras for finding your kind of night exposure center is using that direct manual focus because without it, you can have all your settings perfect, But if you have a little bit of out of focus image, it's just not gonna work, so...

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