Still Searching for Dark Skies

star trails over Woodville

Sometimes I feel like I’m too easily sidetracked in my photography. There’s no doubt long exposure photography is something I really like. Light trails, light painting, steel wool photography – I like them all. There’s no doubt that car light trails and other “trick shots” make for interesting images. While reading articles and tutorials and watching videos on these topics, I’ll run across other photography topics that grab my attention.

A while back I stumbled across astrophotography. You know, star trails, the moon, the Milky Way. At first I wasn’t all that into it. I shot some star trails last summer and had some fun with it but really didn’t stick with it.

That is, until last fall when I went out in search of dark skies. Like many people in the U.S. I live in an area with a lot of light pollution and I gave up on the notion of finding night skies that were dark enough.

But last year I didn’t plan. No maps. No looking at moon phases.

I had a great time. I got some good shots, and I also had some failures. I’d love to say each time I go out and shoot it goes exactly as planned, but that’s just not how it goes for me.

Here are a couple of shots from my last night time photography adventure. I have a friend who has a hunting camp a little over an hour north of here. There’s a small town a few miles away, and it’s far enough away from severe light pollution.

star trails over Woodville
my first try this year at star trails
blue hour in Woodville
shot during blue hour

I would have liked to scout the location before driving up. Sometimes you just can’t, and due to traffic, I didn’t get to the location until about 45 minutes before sunset. That doesn’t give much time to look around and see where you’d like to set up and shoot when it gets dark. That’s something I’ll definitely try to correct next time. Even though I’m happy with the shots I got, I felt rushed to find a spot and setup, and the added stress took away from the fun.

And this was my first night out shooting in what I consider really cold weather. Those of us who live in the U.S. southern states are lucky to have mostly mild weather in winter. But there are times when (at least to us) it gets really cold. It also feels colder when you’re out in the woods in the middle of the night.

So I finally settled on a spot, setup my Nikon D5300 and my MIOPS Smart trigger to run a time-lapse. I set it to capture 300 exposures. My battery was almost fully charged when I started, but it was completely drained at around the 3 hour mark. It was cold enough that my camera had condensation all over it, my first time ever experiencing that. I’m not sure when I’ll shoot in cold conditions like that again, but it makes me wish my camera had better weather seals. Or maybe I’ll improvise something to keep condensation off the body and lens.

I’d originally planned to shoot all night, and even had a spare battery I could’ve used. I had plenty of memory card space. But it was so cold and I worried about the condensation. I could’ve stayed at the camp and driven back home the next morning, but I headed home. It was a long drive, and I was tired. It was worth it though. Those were my best night sky shots yet.

So what did I learn?

Leave earlier than you think so you have plenty of daylight to scout your location. Or go some other time in advance so you can plan.

Familiarize yourself with how your gear reacts to weather. Or pick a time when the weather isn’t a problem. I’ll go back to this spot later this year, and this time the mosquitoes, not condensation, will be my main problem.

Use maps and planning tools like Photopills to determine the best times and angles to shoot. I was pretty much winging it for this shoot.

For edits, I should’ve removed the light trails from the airplanes you can see in the star trails shot.

Any other tips? Please share them in the comments.

Camera Calculations App – Download on the App Store

My fourth photography app, Camera Calculations, is now available on the App Store!

Camera Calculations icon - small

I’m fascinated by long exposure photography – day and night, but there’s usually some math involved. But it can be a pain to do calculations, especially when it’s cold and dark, and you’re worried about your gear and getting the shot.

It’s easy to make mistakes in the calculations, even if the formula you’re using isn’t too hard. But you have to remember each formula, and also how to take into account crop sensor factor (and what the factor is!) if you’re not shooting full frame.

And the formula for calculating f-stop difference when using Neutral Density filters isn’t exactly easy to remember.

This app is really four apps in one.

You can use the Timer for setting long exposures (up to 900 seconds, or 15 minutes). Start, stop, reset. Easy.

Timer Screen Shot - iPhone 8 Plus

The Shutter Speed Calculator for f-stop difference compensation, like when you’re using a Neutral Density filter to take long exposures – day or night. Just put in the starting Shutter Speed and the f-stop difference, and the app calculates your adjusted shutter speed.

Shutter Speed Calculator Screen Shot - iPhone 8 Plus

The Camera Shake Calculator is handy for knowing the recommended slowest shutter speed when shooting handheld, and you want to avoid blurry photos.

Camera Shake Screen Shot - iPhone 8 Plus

The 500 Rule Calculator helps you get the star photos you want. To do this, knowing how to calculate exposure times using the 500 Rule is essential, because you either want star trails in your shot, or be able to keep the stars sharp, with no trails.

500 Rule Calculator Screen Shot - iPhone 8 Plus

For Camera Shake and 500 Rule Calculator, the app takes into account whether or not you’re shooting full frame, general APS-C (1.5 crop factor), or Canon APS-C (1.6 crop factor), and standard focal lengths. The Camera Shake Calculator and 500 Rule Calculator give the exposure time in seconds.

These 2 calculators are easy to use and have 2 input factors needed from the user – focal length and crop factor.

Then if you’d like, switch to the timer screen and set the calculated time if you’d like to countdown, or you can use the timer screen if setting really long exposures. This timer counts down in seconds from 900 seconds (15 minutes), or any time between 0 and 15 minutes.

If you’ve ever been out taking photographs and set a long exposure, and wondered how much time you have left until the exposure will end, this is for you.

For example, if you’ve setup your camera and tripod and figured the correct shutter speed, but need to compensate for increased shutter speed due to Neutral Density filters or other changes, you may have struggled to keep track of the exact time before hitting the shutter release or remote button again. Or you may be standing in the dark, freezing, and wondering what exact exposure time to set, and once it’s set, how much time is remaining.

Download on the App Store by going to iTunes and searching for Camera Calculations, or click the link below. Hopefully one day I’ll develop a version to run on Android devices.

If you get it, please let me know what you think, and send suggestions for other apps!

600 Rule Calculator App – Download on the App Store

My third photography app, 600 Rule Calculator, is now available on the App Store!

I’m fascinated by star trail photography and also shooting the Milky Way. One way to calculate exposure times is by using the 500 Rule. Another way uses what’s called the 600 Rule to calculate exposure times. This is another method to try to have star trails in your shot, or be able to keep the stars sharp, with little or no trails.

But it can be a pain to do calculations, especially when it’s cold and dark, and you’re worried about your gear and getting the shot. It’s easy to make mistakes in the calculations, even if the 600 Rule formula isn’t too hard. But you have to remember it, and also how to take into account crop sensor factor (and what the factor is!) if you’re not shooting full frame.

600 Rule Calculator is the result.

600 Rule app icon 1024 x 1024 alpha

 

This app is useful for photographers wanting to know what exposure time to set for star photography (or astrophotography) using the 600 Rule formula. This is essentially the same as the 500 Rule, but uses a (very!) slightly different calculation.

The app also takes into account whether or not the user is shooting full frame, general APS-C (1.5 crop factor), or Canon APS-C (1.6 crop factor), and standard focal lengths. The 600 Rule Calculator gives the exposure time in seconds.

The calculator built into the app is easy to use and has 2 input factors needed from the user – focal length and crop factor.

600 Rule iPhone 7 calculator screenshot

Then if you’d like, switch to the timer screen and set the calculated time if you’d like to countdown, or you can use the timer screen if setting really long exposures. This timer counts down in seconds from 900 seconds (15 minutes), or any time between 0 and 15 minutes.

If you’ve ever been out taking photographs and set a long exposure, and wondered how much time you have left until the exposure will end, this is for you.

For example, if you’ve setup your camera and tripod and figured the correct shutter speed, but need to compensate for increased shutter speed due to Neutral Density filters or other changes, you may have struggled to keep track of the exact time before hitting the shutter release or remote button again. Or you may be standing in the dark, freezing, and wondering what exact exposure time to set, and once it’s set, how much time is remaining.

swipe to set the timer, then hit the green button to run.

This app does the calculation for you, and counts down based on the time you select. Or you can just use the 600 Rule calculator function.

Download on the App Store by going to iTunes and searching for 600 Rule Calculator, or click the links on this page. Hopefully one day I’ll develop a version to run on Android devices.

If you get it, please let me know what you think, and send suggestions for other apps!

500 Rule Calculator App – Download on the App Store

My second photography app, 500 Rule Calculator, is now available. To download, click this link.

I haven’t yet gotten too far into really complicated photography projects, but one thing I’ve wanted to try is star trail photography and also shooting the Milky Way. To do this, knowing how to calculate exposure times using the 500 Rule is essential, because you either want star trails in your shot, or be able to keep the stars sharp, with no trails.

But it can be a pain to do calculations, especially when it’s cold and dark, and you’re worried about your gear and getting the shot. It’s easy to make mistakes in the calculations, even if the 500 Rule formula isn’t too hard. But you have to remember it, and also how to take into account crop sensor factor (and what the factor is!) if you’re not shooting full frame.

500 Rule Calculator is the result.

 

This app is useful for photographers wanting to know what exposure time to set for star photography (or astrophotography) using the 500 Rule formula.

The app also takes into account whether or not the user is shooting full frame, general APS-C (1.5 crop factor), or Canon APS-C (1.6 crop factor), and standard focal lengths. The 500 Rule Calculator gives the exposure time in seconds.

The calculator built into the app is easy to use and has 2 input factors needed from the user – focal length and crop factor.

only 2 inputs needed – focal length & crop factor

Then if you’d like, switch to the timer screen and set the calculated time if you’d like to countdown, or you can use the timer screen if setting really long exposures. This timer counts down in seconds from 900 seconds (15 minutes), or any time between 0 and 15 minutes.

If you’ve ever been out taking photographs and set a long exposure, and wondered how much time you have left until the exposure will end, this is for you.

For example, if you’ve setup your camera and tripod and figured the correct shutter speed, but need to compensate for increased shutter speed due to Neutral Density filters or other changes, you may have struggled to keep track of the exact time before hitting the shutter release or remote button again. Or you may be standing in the dark, freezing, and wondering what exact exposure time to set, and once it’s set, how much time is remaining.

swipe to set the timer, then hit the green button to run.

This app does the calculation for you, and counts down based on the time you select. Or you can just use the 500 Rule calculator function.

 

Download on the App Store by going to iTunes and searching for 500 Rule Calculator, or click the links on this page. Hopefully one day I’ll develop a version to run on Android devices.

500 Rule Calculator

If you get it, please let me know what you think, and send suggestions for other apps!