Quadrantids Shoot Questions

Thanks all for the sharing of the post, tis much appreciated. I've received a few questions about the images and figured I'd take a moment or two to answer them to the masses even though I've responded directly already. The first question I'll address here was actually the most recently received, but for a bit of background on my process, I decided to answer it first.

What is image stacking, and how does the PhotoShop action work?

Essentially – image stacking is layering a series of images together so that you can then process them as a set. Because I shot from a tripod, and the illumination on most of the foreground objects stayed the same throughout the shoot, the sides of the houses, the chimneys, the trees, all have a consistent illumination. The sky is mostly black, except for where the stars are in any given shot. In each shot, they move just a little bit, not doing much more than adding a bit of blur to the star rather than a discernible trail in any given image. By stacking 683 of them, that lets the stars move through their arcs, the process pulling the brightest pixel from the column of images.  Now, PhotoShop doesn't have to actually stack all 683 at once, you start with a new PS document and fill it with black. As you run the automated batch process against your folder of images, PhotoShop grabs each one, and copies it into the "new" file, and then applies a lighten action to get the brightest pixel at each location. So, after processing the one image, the "processed" image looks just like the first one… from here, the changes are more subtle. The action closes that first image and works through each successive image, merging the new layer into the previously processed image and brightening fairly small areas.  Over time, this yields the streaks. 


Why 683 images? Why not a 3 hour exposure?

Okay – so that is a shortened version of the question, but the essence is the same. Why do folks stack rather than using longer exposures or a very long exposure?

I've not searched for an answer but a few quick reasons come to mind. First off, early digital cameras had more noise the longer the sensor had to gather data to process, so to avoid this extra noise, you had to keep your exposure times short. Even now, there are settings in DSLRs that enable or disable long exposure noise reduction on images; so there is still some noise generated by a longer exposure.

Another practical reason is that most cameras' longest exposure time (excluding bulb) is 30 seconds; but again this changed with the advent of intervalometers (such as my canon TC-80N3) – devices that allow you to set exposure time, time between exposures, and number of exposures, greatly simplifying time lapse photography. There are even firmware builds (such as Magic Lantern unified, available on several Canon bodies) where countless additional features can be added to your DSLR. Without one of these devices (or a firmware modification), it is easy (as I did, see yesterday's post) to set the camera on continuous shooting and just slide the latch to lock the shutter into the "shoot" position… the camera dutifully shoots till it runs out of battery or storage.

Test shots are much easier to evaluate in shorter exposures. You can always do the math and calculate how a longer shot needs to either have the aperture cranked closed, or iso lowered, or both; but why not just go ahead and do 25 or 30 second exposures?

Flexibility in post processing pops to mind as well. I is fairly easy for me to process 180 or so images:

instead of the full 683:

(Click either to enlarge)

It nets a very different result. I could also skip sections of images to add some gaps… hmmm… spelling out a secret message in morse code anyone?


So, did you actually capture any meteors?

Yes, I think… well, one… maybe. How's that for decisive? LOL  Well, based on info discussed in yesterday's post, I think I ended up with one meteor, and one satellite.  Both came from the lower portion of the image towards the upper portion… both were caught in multiple frames. The first item I saw was what I think was a meteor:


(click to enlarge)

and what I think is a satellite – tho it may be a faint meteor. It is a longer trail, but the trail is pointy at the end, so it may have been a more glancing blow to the atmosphere – but while it is faint – the trail goes all the way into the tree… so perhaps tis a satellite after all:


(click to enlarge)

There are gaps in both due to them being captured in two frames each. There is a slight pause between closing the shutter and re-opening it. I got "lucky" both times – LOL

If anyone can give me a bit more info on meteor vs. space junk, I'd appreciate it.

All for now – keep those questions coming!

Thanks for reading!

Quadrantids Meteor Shoot

Ahh… celestial photography. A fun topic that I've rarely had time to explore. I've done occasional shots of the moon, usually to test a new long lens or stacked teleconverters, but have never tried to shoot a meteor shower or star trails.  I've done some other time lapse stuff lately, and other long exposure photography, so I've had it at the front of my mind. As I was surfing around the other day, I saw a post about the Quadrantids meteor shower, and how it was that night. I did a bit of surfing about where and when it would be visible but didn't think too much of it. As luck would have it, I got stuck at the office late after a fairly long day and noticed it was crisp and clear in Austin as I headed to the car.  On the drive home, tinkering with some long exposure photography seemed a great way to relax and unwind.

When I got home I went into the back yard and realized that a) I'm to the south of downtown Austin, so the views north to northeast from the back yard were polluted by light; and 2) [sic] that with the houses of my neighbors also cluttering up the sight lines, I'd be pretty much guaranteed to get squat for meteor shots.

Undaunted, I figured I could use this as a great way to tinker with exposures, apertures, ISOs, and lens selection. I soon had my 5D2 in the back yard with my 17-40L f/4 mounted atop my tripod and ballhead. I wanted to go for a longer exposure (figuring I'd go "simple" with my camera's shutter options) but didn't know what ISO, f-stop, etc. I ran a series of tests with the lens wide open at f/4, and thought I'd be happy with an 800 iso 25 second exposure @f/4, but ran a few other tests while I was at it.  I played with different shutter speeds at 400 and 1600 ISO, as well as halving the exposure time and bumping a full stop to 5.6.  I was a bit surprised at how much I'd liked the 800 ISO f/5.6. It was definitely sharper, and with some lingering humidity in the air (along with the light pollution to the north), the reduction in overall exposure made it all look so much crisper. I had thought I'd want to be a touch overexposed to ensure I caught every possible trail, but with the reality of the houses and lights, I figured this might be a better star trails exercise, so I leaned towards a slightly darker image.

As for which "exact" direction to point the camera, I leaned on (as I say it) the AKASG – all knowing all seeing Google – In this case – the Google Sky Map app on my Android based device (tho I'm pretty sure tis free for iOS and Blackberry devices). I figured I could use it to help ensure I knew which way was NNE, but I was surprised to see that meteor shower focal points (essentially the point at which it looks like the meteors are coming from, they radiate out from the focal point) is a selectable option to include in the view. So it was very easy to see where the shower currently was (at this point, it was bout 11:00 PM and the shower's focus was still below the horizon) but knowing where Polaris (the north star) was, I could figure out where the shower's radius would "rise" and how it would track across the sky.

I'll admit I got lazy and didn't over research the ability of the 5D2 to lock the mirror up and stay up between images. I thought I could "fool" it by going into Live View (which locks the mirror up so the sensor can read real time) but wasn't sure if I'd be wasting valuable battery juice powering the back LCD panel. As I thought through the mirror lockup, I decided that since the up and down of the mirror would be such a small portion time wise of the 25 second exposure, it wasn't worth fooling with. Overall battery life was indeed a concern as I'd no idea as to the duration of a gripped 5D2 with two batteries in the cold 35 degree Austin night, so I was trying to err on the side of caution. I wasn't sure if the cold and draw of the long images would run the battery out before my 16gb CF card filled up.

As for how to trigger the sequence. I did have a few options. I have a nice long USB cable with a repeater built in (for longer than standard) runs, and I could have run the cable from where the tripod was in the yard, through the dog door, and to my laptop on the counter, but – the dog door – that's the rub.  I didn't want the dogs rushing out in the middle of the night chasing some random noise and tearing into a cable… destroying either my camera, my laptop, or both. So I went (again – sense the theme for the evening yet?) easy… I just used my TC-80N3 timer control, but dumbed down. Rather than setting an interval, I simply set the camera on repetitive "rapid fire" (a bit humorous when doing 25 second exposures) and I just slid locked the trigger in the "on" position.  This would have the camera repeat 25 second exposures one after the other, knowing it would take shorter than 25 seconds to write the previous image to the card, so no fear of the buffer filling. It would just be a race – what would run out first? The battery (knowing it was hampered by the cold) or the card capacity?

My final setup was as follows: Gripped Canon 5D2, EF 17-40 f/4 – 17mm for 25 seconds @f/5.6 ISO 800

Hurry up and wait, I had topped off my spare pair of batteries as I was doing my tests, and then I kept them in my pockets to warm them in hopes of squeezing out every shot possible. I finally started the process about 1:30 AM Central time (the focus was just coming over the horizon and was still blocked by houses and trees), went off to bed, and figured I'd have at least 2 hours worth of exposures.

This morning, I found that the camera still had about 30% battery left, I'd filled up the memory card first. Yes, I had considered reducing the resolution, but not knowing how faint or bold the meteor streaks would be, I went for resolution. 683 images was the final tally.

(click to enlarge)

I took a quick peek after importing them into Lightroom, I did a quick scan and found some cool airplane traces but didn't have time to examine all the images. One that caught my eye (above) had an airline trace that curved; I can't recall seeing a curved trace in a sky shot of mine before. The images looked great, but I bumped the blacks to 15, and pulled the color temp back to 3750 (from an as shot of 4500 or so) which brought the tone from orange-y, and more like a nice cool toned night shot. The adjustments applied, I kicked off an export for some testing – 1600 pixel wide 70% quality jpg images.  I had some coffee, hopped in the car with the laptop on the passenger seat and motored up to the office. It took about an hour to render the images from the 21mp raw files.

On the drive, I figured I'd try two different ways to locate any meteor traces. I'd try a "star trails" stacking of the images, hoping that any non rotational trails would stand out better that way; or, alternatively, I could convert the sequence of images into a time lapse movie and look for the streaks by "scrubbing" the positional control back and forth as I looked at different areas of the screen.

Another visit to the AKASG brought me to a star trails action for PhotoShop CS4. A quick install later, I followed the instructions on the linked page and found what I thought to be the only meteor in my shot:

(it is diagonally up-left from the center of the swirl – click to enlarge)

Using Apple Quicktime to import my sequentially numbered sequence, I was soon happily scrubbing through a 6 fps frame rate version; watching the big dipper rise and set, as I looked for the meteor trail I'd seen in my stacked image. It wasn't hard to see that the image was near the end of my sequence. I referenced other more visible cues and soon knew it was after my neighbor switched on a light in a bathroom (which threw a vertical broad flare at about 1:44 in) and then right after a distinct long trail from chimney to tree to the right of the house. Within a minute or so, I'd found my image. Another "scrubbing" session showed another trail, a longer faint one just to the left of the tree (about 1:48).


After a bit of well timed research (thanks, via Google+, Jennifer Yu) seems to point towards my capture of one meteor (the first one I spotted), and one satellite (the longer, thinner trace). Jennifer's top tip – meteors are usually in just one frame, while satellites and other space junk will be in more than one. Also – meteors will usually be pointy at one or both ends while the satellite or other space junk will be a more even intensity across the length of the trace… Sorry to keep you in suspenders, but I've only the time and the energy to fight off the sandman long enough to post the images I've already referenced. I'll post a set of shots of the meteor and space junk later.

Thanks for reading, and please ask questions early and often either through comments on this post, or via the contact link in the header above!


First Thoughts: Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye Zoom

Well, with the holidays fast approaching, un-coincidentally a few new bits of gear have landed in my possession lately. I've finally replaced my beaten up old P&S with a Canon PowerShot S100, I've picked up some new (well – this hasn't been that recently) ThinkTank gear for hauling gear during a shoot, and most recently – a copy of the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 Fisheye zoom.

So, why not start with the most recent… The FE Zoom… aka – the FEZ.

I've had a lot of fun with my tried and true EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye from Canon, but how could I resist an upgrade to L optics, and while the lens did slow down a bit, I gained the ability to zoom back out to 8mm – giving me a full 180 degree field of view. I'd never shot with a circular fisheye before, so I wasn't too sure I'd actually plunk down the greens to get this lens, but a deal came up on a used copy and I couldn't resist – figuring that I could always flip it and get my money back if it didn't work out.

Short version – I'm not selling it…

The FEZ is a bit bigger than my 2.8, but I've also read that it is the smallest L grade lens… There has been much said about how easily the lens cap falls off with a bump in the right (or wrong) place, and many have raved about it but I'm not sure I've seen much on why folks like it… so here goes nothing. I'll start by saying this post will have more thoughts than empirical comparisons – I've taken some shots with both Canon fisheyes in a controlled space, but I'll save those for another day.

Capping it off

It seems that most folks are quick to knock the "easy to knock off" lens cap; I'll get this one out of the way so we can move on to the images. There is a lens hood that twist locks onto the front of the lens, you'll need to press a button to release it (much like the 70-200 2.8L IS II's lens hood). I've heard many reviewers kvetch about this hood – that it gets in the way when you zoom out… Um – hello – does 180 degree field of view mean anything to you? (chuckle)… The lens cap itself clips onto this hood when you press the release buttons along the edge of the cap. While it is true that this hood can fall if you bump just one of the two release buttons on the hood, I think I'm not sure there is much if any benefit to the lens hood itself (other than front element protection when around your neck, etc) so I think I'm going to tape them together. I found it much easier to just remove the pair together; pressing the button to rotate the hood off the front of the lens… this gets the lens hood out of the way for impromptu 8mm shots, and when taped together (got to love gaffer tape) the "cap" won't fall off the "hood" – they'll stay together either in my bag or on my lens.

I will throw out a caveat: I've not done much post processing to these. The office photo is right out of the camera (well – via Lightroom 3.6 default settings exported to a jpg and cropping square), and the other two have had a quick rotate to straighen them and maybe a quick whitebalance tweak and the aforementioned cropping to square, but not much else.

First Images:

I'll fall right into lockstep with the other reviews I've read and say that this lens if just plain fun… I found myself happily looking through the viewfinder of my 5D2, walking around the office, looking to see how the world looked different through it. Initially, however, I was struck by how I wasn't exactly sure what I would use it for. Soon I was shooting the daughter of someone at the office – it was fun to get the lens right in the baby's face and get the image filled by baby, carrier, blankets, toys and padding. The next image I shot was to hold the camera over my head to shoot down on all the folks gathered around the baby. Quite a fun perspective. "Vantage number one!" said the Bi-Coloured-Python-Rock-Snake… - Kipling – the Just So Stories


Immersion Therapy:

That night I went out to an area of Austin called 37th street to shoot some of the holiday lights there. I'd been there years before but hadn't been back since, while the display wasn't close to what it had been, I was glad learn that some of the residents started this year to try to restore some of the glory of the display. As I shot at one house, the sweet spot of this lens hit me… immersion. I was able to get pretty close to a group of residents and their friends as they read letters to Santa that had been left at their house (they put a table out with pencils and paper next to a large box that viewers of the lights were encouraged to make use of during the evening). As they unwound from the evening (I was there pretty late) over an adult beverage and read the letters out loud, they were great about ignoring me as I shot. What resulted was a great shot that really immerses you in that scene. There is so much detail in the image, the web version does it little justice, and I'll prob post this in my Gallery for sale shortly, so sorry – I'm not giving the high res of this one away… From the leaf detail in the tree overhead, to the curve of the candy canes along the sidewalk, to the expressions on peoples faces and the motion from the blur, to the inflatable barrel of monkeys in the tree – just lots to soak in. I'll try to make the time to do a detailed post about this image soon, with some call-outs to the detail. "Vantage number two!"


Moving just down the sidewalk, I also like the image of the scooter in the other half of their yard. I paid better attention this time to aligning the image to ensure the candy canes at the edge of the yard would line the lower half of the image. I think this one works very well too – tho the one above is my favorite.


I've a few more posts in mind for this lens, but for now – I like it a lot!

As always, let me know of any questions via the comments below, or use the "contact" link in the header above.

Thanks for reading!

EF 300mm f2.8L IS with (and without) Stacked Teleconverters

Okay – I'll admit it – up until recently, I've borrowed the 300mm f2.8L IS lenses I've shot with. It is (tho not as much as I thought it was) a specialty lens that was just what I needed for some projects (like any professional cycling race) that I hadn't committed to buying… till now.


When the lens arrived (I'll spare you typical set of pictures of every square inch of the lens – you all know what one looks like) my first question (as for most folks) was "how good is my copy?".  I managed to take a few shots around the office when I took delivery, but I had a busy day on tap, so I couldn't really play till I got home that evening. The moon was a day or two shy of being full, so I figured it would make a good test subject. In the shots I'd done at the office, I saw that I had no noticeable CA in my images at all… I decided to test with a 1.4x then 2x teleconverter handheld. I had great results (given that it was humid and fairly warm – lots of atmospheric "issues" making a great shot problematic).  Again – zero CA so far, very fortunate for me…

Handheld 5D2 w/ 300mm f2.8L IS – 2x TC = 600mm f7.1 1/400 iso 400

The next day had a criterium on tap at a nice course in an area of Dallas that has some older homes that have been converted to office space. The course is the bane of most of the area cyclists because there are no long straights – nothing but two squares connected at a corner, lots of turns.  This can be a challenge for a lens, but the 300 took it in stride… beautifully fast focus, with amazing bokeh.

1D3 – no TC – 300mm f2.8L IS – 1/1000 at f5.6 ISO 400

Stacked Success

So far – nothing was too out of the ordinary, but I was in for a surprise a few nights later. Some friends got together for a ride then dinner. As we left the restaurant I saw that the moon was just over the horizon and it was blood orange in color… Back at the house I grabbed my 1D3 and both my teleconverters.  I walked out into the cul-de-sac in front of my house, I raised the lens, half pressed the shutter, and was surprised to hear the AF kick in. It did dance a bit, but it wasn't blind hunting. It worked steadily in and locked on… 

5D2 – 300mm f2.8L IS – 2x TC II – 1.4x TC II = 840mm – 1/20th at f/8 (2.8 + 3 stops for the stacked TCs) iso 800

I snapped a few shots and wondered if it would work on my 5D2 as well. Lo and behold – it worked again. I shot a few more photos with the setup on my tripod. I knew they wouldn't be tack sharp (too much smoke, humidity, etc), but was curious just the same. I gave it an hour or so and shot some more; with the now brighter subject, the lens didn't hunt around – it just focused. In reviewing the images, I was impressed that it a) had focused, and b) had come out with just minimal CA in the images with the stacked TCs.  The CA wasn't evident in the orange photos (no color correction was done – this is how the moon looked – I think it was thanks to the wildfires in West Texas), but did show an hour or so later when the moon had climbed out of the smokey haze to shine brightly. Just a hint of cyan bleeding into the whites/grays.

5D2 – 300mm f2.8L IS – 2x TC II – 1.4x TC II = 840mm 1/200th at f/8 (2.8 + 3 stops for the stacked TCs) iso 400

The thing I should have checked (and will once I'm back in town and have my TCs at hand) was if my 70-200 2.8 will AF with the stacked set of TCs…  With the 1D3 and the 5D2 – I was using the center AF point selected, had spot metering (to help it get correct exposure on the moon) with no other special (that I know of) fn configuration.

The EXIF data on the images only show the effects of the 2x TC… they show a 600mm exposure at f5.6 – essentially two stops off the f2.8 of the lens; but it should read 840mm at f8 (with the extra 1.4x and the additional stop lost from the second TC).

Next up for the 300 – doing the AF microadjustment with my camera bodies…

As always – use the comments sections below for any questions, or use the "contact" link above.

Thanks for reading!


Canon EOS 5D Mark II – First Shots

I'd posted the other day about heading out with my Labrador to head to the canals for a swim (for him). I brought my 5D Mark II along with my EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS to see how the new body would perform. A surprise appearance by a Great Egret gave me a chance to check out the AF performance. Now it was flying from left to right (rather than the more difficult – towards me) and I'd already set to center point for the autofocus – AI Servo – but even the first shot was tack sharp.

As always – click to enlarge the photos (with full EXIF).

Enjoy and thanks for reading!





5D Mark II and 1D Mark II N…

Gee – where to begin.

Since I last posted about equipment, I've sold my 50D, the grip, and my two EF-S lenses and that covered the cost of getting a 5D Mark II.  I had been planning on waiting a bit, but a friend of mine who had picked one up but a week later got her hands on two 1Ds Mark III bodies to use – suddenly found her new gripped 5D Mark II sitting on a shelf. An attempt to sell on ebay yielded a "US" buyer who wanted it shipped to Russia – riiiiiight… then she was on a few projects. Just as I was sure I was going to be good and wait a month to get my 5D2 after a few other things I'm selling (a few bikes and other various stuff that has been gathering in my garage), she pings me w/ an offer I couldn't refuse.

So – the 5D2 arrived the day before I was going to take the new (to me) 1D Mark II N out to the Superdrome to see how it performed for the first time during some night races.

So – my conundrum… shoot w/ the 1 or the 5?

Shootin' the Pooch… aka DIW and BIF

Part of the decision was made for me when I took my black lab to the neighborhood canals for a swim and took the 5D2 along to document the occasion. As we neared the canal – a snowy egret took off and repositioned itself just down from where it was – this gave me a chance to try catching an un-planned BIF (bird if flight) shot. My 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS was on the 5D2 and I got off 8 or so shots and wasn't sure how well I'd done.

Soon the DIW (dog in water) opp was distracting me – the pup (well – he's 13 now) was too busy having fun chasing a bumper in the water as I fired off rounds and realized that I've been a bit spoiled with the 1D's 45 AF points… While the 9 had seemed plenty when I was shooting the 400D, 30D, 40D and 50D, the 1D opened my eyes to what true "great" AF performance and selectability is… I (like my friend Liz who sold me the 5D Mk II) think I've been spoiled…

Back at the house later, I was pleasantly surprised at how well the 5D2 had done with the egret. Having read about how the AF on the 5D2 was based on other 9 point AF systems from Canon - I wasn't sure what to expect. I had set it on Program, had done a quick white balance with my ExpoDisc as I walked over, and was able to track the bird with the center point fairly well. The fact that the bird was staying about the same distance from me helped; the images were tack sharp and the amount of detail – even on an all white bird - *without* highlight tone priority on blew me away.  But come to think of it – even the first shot was tack sharp. The photos of the dog came out great as well… Again – a bit spoiled by the AF point selection, I found I was able to find a good AF point and just keep zoomed back just a touch so I'd be able to crop down the pic just slightly to get the framing I wanted w/ the specific part of my pooch in focus… Again – the image quality of the camera and the detail I could see when pixel peeping was amazing.  This is the up-side of 21.1 MP images… the down side was soon apparent at the track that night.

At the Superdrome

That night I got to the Superdrome in Frisco, TX to find a huge turnout for the first race on the new surface. The facility had just undergone a $100,000 face lift for the track and other parts of the facility. The few weeks of open riding on this buttery smooth and fast surface brought out quite the crowd.

My plan was to mount the 17-40 f/4 on the 5D2 and have the 70-200 f/2.8L IS on the 1D2n. I ended up putting the 24-105 f/4L IS on the 5D2 for a bit as well.

I was soon in my routine of shooting the warm up, some shots in the pits (nicely packed w/ bikes and racers), and once the racing got started, the racing itself. Moving around on the apron for different angles, I also moved outside the rail to shoot some of the action so that the ligting would be a bit better for available light work.

I bring a 580EXII flash for the fill work, and will even push a longer exposure w/ wider aperture with the flash to get some motion blur with a clear image in the mix… You can see the images from that night here. I'll see about getting some of the BIF and DIW up when I have some more time.

The Down Side to 21.1 MP

So, it seemed intuitive that the large MP rating of the 5D2 would bring some immediate issues with the resulting file sizes – but there was another I'd not really counted on, but had an easy work around for.

I had been keeping an 8GB CF card in the 1D2n – which yields around 1100 or so images before I have to swap cards. I usually would take my main camera and put the 8GB UDMA card in it – then use a 4GB UDMA card to tide me over while I dumped the images from the 8GB into my Vosonic image storage device.  Then I'd just swap back after the download was complete.

I still figured I'd use the 1D2n the most (and I did) but didn't realize how quickly you can burn through 125 or so photos to fill a 4GB card… Not to worry – another card held me over while I moved files from the 4GB down to the vosonic.

The unexpected size issue arose when I'd finished working through the files overall – I sync my cameras so they have the same time on them, and I end up dumping all the photos into one folder when processing them in Lightroom (2.3 64bit). When I did the export to push to my sales site – it was easy to see which were from the 5D2 (the 10+ MB jpgs) and which were from the 1D2n (3-4 MB jpgs).  I started to upload and realized how long it was going to take… D'oh!

A quick cancel update command – back into LR to restrict max width to 4000 pix – re-export, and the files were soon posting quick as a wink.

I'll post more as I have some more time – till then…

Thanks for reading!