Monday, August 31, 2015

"The Shoot & The Gear" Part 2 - Milky Way Over Nelson

Welcome back! Moving along with part 2 of this series is "The Shoot & The Gear." I was back in Las Vegas in early August for Photoshop World, my second year attending, and it was awesome...again!

One of the pre-conference workshops I attended was lightpainting with Dave Black. Basically, lightpainting is done in the evening when it's dark, where you hold a long exposure for the ambient light, then move off-camera and use an LED flashlight to "paint with light" on your subject. Check out Dave Black's site to learn more and get inspired to try it yourself.

I mention the lightpainting as it's germaine to how I got the image above. To lightpaint you use a long exposure with the following starting point of f8, 30 sec, ISO 500, and then you adjust as needed to get a decent overall exposure. This is all done on a tripod, obviously. While doing this for over an hour you get pretty comfortable with managing long exposures, and you can get pretty good at predicting how varying exposures will look.

As the workshop was winding down I headed back to the bus, and that's where I looked up and saw the Milky Way (everyone with me had already seen it and were shooting so I was kinda late to the party; I was shooting in the other direction for most of the night). So I set-up and began shooting away. As I mentioned in my original post I shot in both landscape and portrait orientation. Always good to do both just in case you don't make it back to that spot. That way you can decide later on which one you like best.

Here we go with the gear and settings:
- Nikon D810
- 24-70 f2.8 (version 1 since a new version with VR has just been released)
- 24mm, f2.8, 30sec @ ISO 2500
- This was all done in "Manual" mode

I also used the timer setting with a 5 second delay (I was already using that for lightpainting as I needed the 5 seconds to get off camera with my flashlight). However, you can use a cable release or a wireless remote just as well.

I set my focus mode to manual and then to infinity by turning my focus ring all the way to the infinity mark, and then back just slightly. There are a few different focus techniques for shooting stars and such that you can Google, but for this I chose set it to infinity.

Aperture - you always want to shoot with the widest f-stop as possible so you can capture as much light, and as many stars as you can. For me this was f2.8; however, if your widest f-stop is f4.5 then go with that.

Shutter Speed - a good starting point is always relative to your focal length. Basically whatever your focal length is that will be your shutter speed in seconds. In my case I was at 24mm so the closest shutter speed was 25 seconds, which is where I started. I ended up bumping it to 30 seconds as I got a bit more light, and the overall exposure looked better to me. Again, take a few different exposures so you have some options later on.

ISO - I set mine to 2500. Again you want to capture as much light as possible and this is a good starting point. However, if your widest f-stop is f4.5 you may want to push the ISO a stop or 2 higher than 2500. If you need to go higher after your first exposure then you bump bit by bit until you get something that looks good.

Remember, this is all about your exposure triangle of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. With your f-stop at its widest you only have shutter speed and ISO to play with to adjust your exposure. So start with some base settings and make adjustments along the way to see what works for you.

One last thing about trying to capture the Milky Way is that you really need to have a dark sky. I live near Toronto where there is a lot light pollution so I don't get to see the Milky Way a lot around home, if ever. However, Nelson is about 50 minutes south east of Las Vegas, basically out in the middle of cell service, and no light pollution. You could see the Milky Way with the naked eye, which was really cool! So basically get as far away from a major city as possible and you'll be in a good shape for some serious star gazing.

So that's it for "The Shoot & The Gear" in this series. Stay tuned for the final installment, "The Post," where I'll show how I post processed the final image.



Saturday, August 22, 2015

"The Shot" Part 1 - Milky Way Over Nelson

OK folks, time for another instalment of The Shot, The Shoot and the Gear, and The Post. This is where I post a photo, then follow up with the how I shot it and the gear used, and finally my post processing to create the final image.

In this instalment I actually have two shots, one landscape and one portrait. I like to shoot both sometimes and decide late which one I like better. In this case I'm leaning towards the landscape orientation as my favourite, as the foreground adds a nice element to the overall scene. But you can decide which one you prefer.

Stay tuned for the next post!



Saturday, August 1, 2015

Travelling with Camera Gear? (Canadian Version)

Are you a Canadian photographer who travels? Do you know what a Y38 is? You probably should.

Ok, I live in Canada so this information specific to Canadians; however, if you live in another country you may have similar regulations so you may want to check out your local requirements.

A Form Y38 ("Identification of Articles for Temporary Exportation") is a document issued by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA). If you haven't heard of this before I'm not surprised. I had never heard of this form until few years ago after driving back across the border from a trip to the US.

I went down to St. Louis to see the Flashbus Tour featuring Joe McNally and David Hobby a few years ago. I live in Ontario fairly close to the Niagara Falls border and at times have traveled out of Buffalo due to cheaper flights. As usual, when I travel I take some of my camera gear, and have done so for close to 10 years with nary an issue. On this occasion it was a little different. When I returned to cross back into Canada I expected the usual questions, where have you been, how long have you been gone, what are you bringing back etc. I'm always honest with the CBSA agents because I have no reason not to be. So when I said that I was attending a photography seminar (the Flashbus Tour) I was questioned about my camera gear; essentially how do they know that I didn't just buy all this stuff in the US and was trying to sneak it back across the border without declaring it. The CBSA agent wanted me to prove that I purchased everything in Canada...easier said than done when all of the receipts were at home over an hour away at the time.

I showed the CBSA agent the gear I had with me, and after additional questioning she relented, but told me that I should have obtained a Form Y38 before I left Canada. Suffice it to say I was a very bad person for not knowing about a form that no one in the past had ever mentioned to me, but we all know ignorance is not defence. I guess she thought I was honest enough because her attitude changed slightly and she explained it to me in more detail.

After I got back I went searching for a little more information on how to do this, and found that it's a pretty simple process. Here's all you need to do:

1) Make a list and itemize all of your gear, I mean all of it, with make, model and most importantly serial number;
2) Take all of you gear, plus your full list to your nearest CBSA office (click here for a directory);
3) Explain to them that you travel frequently with your camera gear and understand that a Form Y38 can help when coming back into Canada.

In my case I went to the Hamilton International Airport as it was closest and not that busy. The agent there was extremely friendly. He took my list and checked out all of my gear, including verifying all of the serial numbers. He filled out the Form Y38 (it's actually a small green card), and attached it to my larger list, where he also noted the total number of items and that he had checked the serial numbers. He signed it, I signed it, and we were done; it took about 5 minutes.

The Y38 does not have an expiry date so it's good for as long as you have your gear. Even if you only travel with a few pieces, as long as they're on the list covered by the Y38 you're good. The only caveat is if you add more gear or change things out you will need to get a new one. I updated mine last year, which involved updating my list and heading back to the CBSA office to get the revised list signed off on a new Y38. However, this is probably the most important need to remember to carry it with you when you travel.

So it may seem like a bit of an inconvenience to do this, but consider the alternative... getting into a dispute with a CBSA agent, getting frustrated about something you knew nothing about, getting pulled off to the side for further questioning, having to pay duty on your own gear, having to gather all of your receipts after the fact and head back to a CBSA office to prove your case. I know I may be exaggerating just a little, but how much easier would it be to drop a Y38 on them once they start to question you? You'll probably look like a pretty smart cookie, the CBSA will likely appreciate that you took the time to get informed and make their job a bit easier, too.

Happy travelling!