Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Canon Picture Styles

Like it or not, this image effectively came straight out of my camera, using a custom picture style.

I shoot entirely in RAW mode, so I never bothered to look into these JPG presets. However, after seeing how far you could push these presets in-camera in this post at Canon 5D Tips, I thought I'd try messing with Canon's Picture Style Editor a bit to see what I could come up with.

The author of the 5D Tips blog post wasn't kidding - the software is very difficult to use. I have no idea what I did to achieve the above image, but it's cool enough that I'm going to keep tinkering to see what else I can come up with. Adobe Lightroom can't use these picture styles, so I had to export my JPG in Canon's DPP. And, since I'd rather swallow a handful of white-hot thumbtacks than use DPP, I think I'll just switch to RAW+JPG for the times when I'm tinkering with picture styles for crazy effects like the one above.

The Canon 40D and 5D Mark II only allow 3 custom picture styles, so I'm going to take only my favorite presets with me. I can always resort to DPP in post-processing, so it's not critical that I have my picture styles with me, but it'll be cool to see how well the effects work with the shots in-camera. Also, I'm no wizard with video processing, so it'll be a nice shortcut to apply these effects to video in-camera as well.

Overall, if you shoot RAW, nothing much is gained here but a little fun while shooting.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Drobo BeyondRAID Enclosures - Making Hard Drive Death Less Painful

Data Robotics Drobo 4-Bay USB 2.0/FireWire 800 SATA Storage Array

My Canon 40D turned me into a digital pack rat with its 10 megapixel RAW files, slowly filling up my 500GB hard drive up over the course of a year and a half. Every few weeks, I'd burn my recent photos on two sets of DVD-Rs, put them in different boxes, and rest assured that my data was reasonably safe. It was a problem, but a manageable one.

That backup strategy wasn't ready for my upgrade to a Canon 5D Mark ii a few months ago. I now have 21 megapixel RAW files that weigh in around 27MB each, and 1080P video at 300MB per minute. Not only that, but the camera can shoot in damned-near darkness, so I'm shooting in locations that were previously inaccessible. Most outings with the camera would end in a filled 16GB CF card. It didn't take too long to find myself 100 DVDs behind in my backup routine.

In comes Drobo - a multiple unit hard drive enclosure all of the benefits of traditional RAID, but without the rigidity. The Drobo houses up to four SATA drives, spreading your data across them to protect against any one of them from failing. It doesn't care if your drives are the same size or vendor, and, you can replace drives at any time with one of equal or bigger size. You can also start with two drives, and work your way up to four, if you like. The biggest drive in the cluster is used for redundancy, so if you had four 500GB drives, your total usable disk space is about 1.5GB.

Unlike RAID, the unit is data-aware, continually checking for errors. If any are detected, the green light will flash yellow next to the affected drive. If the drive is on the verge of dying, the light turns red. At this point, you can remove and replace the failing drive without turning it off, and while still using it, if you like. The Drobo takes care of assimilating the new drive into the cluster, spreading the data across it to protect from any future drive failure, completely transparent to your machine.

I still plan on continuing to burn my data to DVD-R, but have become a little more lax since buying the Drobo. To safeguard against accidental deletions, complete hardware failure, or theft, I signed up to unlimited data offsite backup. For $50/year, Backblaze's software automatically encrypts and uploads all of my data to their servers, even keeping a couple of weeks of incremental backups so that I can rollback some data to a few days ago, if needed.

I now sleep just a tad better at night.

While you're at it, I recommend you get started with two of these 1.5TB Seagate drives. If you have an extra 500GB drive laying around the house, throw it in the mix as well - it can't hurt, you can upgrade it later.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Phillies' Clay Condrey - Action Pitching Sequence

I shot this at a Phillies game with my Canon 40D, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS back on May 8, 2009. This was a composite of 6 shots of 20 taken in high speed mode SRAW, then stitched together in Photoshop.

For reference, here's how far back we were sitting:

With the 1.6X crop factor of the Canon 40D and 200mm, you get in pretty close to the action.

Monday, October 5, 2009

X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Color Calibration System

I just received the new X-Rite ColorChecker Passport color calibration and white balance system after growing weary of eyeballing my photos' white balance for some time now.

I recently calibrated my monitor with the Pantone huey MEU101 monitor calibrator, but still spent too much time trying to find the white balance and tint to give accurate and pleasing skin tones.

So, I broke down and ordered the ColorChecker Passport. It's $100, which is a lot, and since I've only spent a couple of hours with it, I'm not yet aware of all of the ways I can use it. But, in this two hours, I was able to find out some amazing stuff... Like... My color thus far... is awful.

The first thing I did with the ColorChecker was to take it outside and shoot it at arms' length:
Straight out of camera
This is the shot exactly as it came out of my 5d Mark II and 35mm f/1.4L, with no modifications.

I then adjusted the white balance by keying off of the neutral landscape grey square, which gave me this:
White balanced with Adobe standard color
This is as far as I thought I'd have to go to get true colors. I figured, get the white balance, and use the rest of the color squares to help eyeball up my greens, blues, etc. Well, this is just the beginning. This is where I realized how little I knew about color management.

Apparently every copy of a camera and lens - and thus, combination - have different color signatures. The software can analyze a test shot containing the ColorChecker Passport, locate it within the frame, then determine the camera's response to the known colors within that environment. Doing this couldn't be easier. From Adobe Lightroom, you just export your test image through their exporter, then give the profile a name such as "Outdoors, 35mm f/1.4L before sunset". After the export is complete, you restart Lightroom, and the color profile is available for you to use for the rest of that photo shoot. The color profiles are available for use in Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

The results were less than subtle:
White balanced and color calibrated

Open the three test images in separate browser tabs and flip through them. You'll notice a purplish hue in my original photo, corrected in the white balanced one. The difference between the second and third shots is mainly in the blues, purples, and greens - color responses you can't correct for with standard white balance cards.

If you found this review helpful, please support this blog by using any of the links to purchase your gear.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How We Roll

(View my studio site)

We might have had a little too much fun tonight.

Strobist Info:
* Key: Alien Bees B800 studio strobe shot into Alien Bees large foldable softbox with grid, camera right.
* Fill: Nikon SB-28 speedlight shot into Westcott 43" Shoot-Through Umbrella, camera left, 1 to 1.5 stops below key, triggered by Pocket Wizard wireless flash trigger.
* Background lighting: Canon 430EX triggered by Pocket wizard, Nikon SB-26 triggered by built-in optical trigger, both at about 1.5 stops below key, pointed into white back. I used the velcro compartment separators from my camera bag as gobos on the two background flashes

Background: Savage 107" Super White Seamless Background Paper

Floor: Two sheets of white tile board, the front one overlapping the back one, which overlaps the paper.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

White Paper Background/Tile Board Studio Setup

Here's a studio portrait I shot of my daughter this weekend. I recently purchased some white tile board for my studio flooring as described by Zack Arias - this was my first attempt with it. Aside from the pretty reflections under my daughter, it also helps preserve my paper background and saves some photoshopping out of creases and folds due to our walking on it.

Here's my studio (basement) when I setup the white background:

If you click the image, you'll see that I have just about every bit of equipment labeled.

Strobist Info:
* Key: Alien Bees B800 studio strobe shot into Alien Bees large foldable softbox with grid, camera right.
* Fill: Nikon SB-28 speedlight shot into Westcott 43" Shoot-Through Umbrella, camera left, 1 to 1.5 stops below key, triggered by Pocket Wizard wireless flash trigger.
* Background lighting: Canon 430EX triggered by Pocket wizard, Nikon SB-26 triggered by built-in optical trigger, both at about 1.5 stops below key, pointed into white back. I used the velcro compartment separators from my camera bag as gobos on the two background flashes

Background: Savage 107" Super White Seamless Background Paper

Floor: Two sheets of white tile board, the front one overlapping the back one, which overlaps the paper.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Jupiter, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto

** No telescope used **

This is a composite of 10 shots taken of Jupiter (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto), with my 500mm f/8 mirror lens and Canon 40D at ISO1600, f/8 (fixed), 1/6 second, showing the major four moons of Jupiter. There are at least 63 moons in all.

To avoid any vibrations in the camera, I used a tripod (w/ ballhead), cable shutter release, and mirror lock-up.

I manually focused in live view at 10X, which was tough because every touch of the lens would wobble the subject all over the place. This is such a tight zoom at 500mm that you can actually see Jupiter moving across the LCD screen. I'd then turn off live view mode, wait a few seconds to let the vibrations stop, then fire the shutter with the cable release. This just flips the mirror up, which causes a tiny amount of vibrations. I waited another couple of seconds, then fired off another cable release shutter click to take the photo.

After ten shots, I cropped the photos as close to the same spot in each photo, then stacked them all together in Lynkeos.

This is screenshot from Stellarium, showing the expected positions of the four moons at the time I took this shot.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Better to Burn Out

(This is the sun, not the moon)

View On Black

Shot while trying to capture a sunspot - I'm going to need a neutral density filter or welding glass for any luck - this was f/32, 1/8000, ISO100.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

International Space Station (ISS) - Without Telescope

This might not look like much, but it's a view of the International Space Station pieced together from 19 photos taken without a telescope. I used my 500mm f/8 (fixed) catadioptric mirror lens, shooting at f/8, ISO800, 1/1500. Thanks to fyngyrz for the exposure info. It's important to realize that this is a sunlit - very bright - object, so we need the quick exposure.

The ISS travels at an average speed of 17,209 mph, completing 15.7 orbits a day. The orbit is very predictable, and using the charts at Heavens-Above, you can find out exactly when it will show up in your night sky. I was prepared for tonight's passing, having already manually focused on the moon with 10X live view, keeping the camera on tripod and pointed WSW, where tonight's transit would begin.

I found it very difficult tracking it with such a tight telephoto, keeping one eye outside the camera to help get it in my viewfinder. Once I narrowed it down, I led it by a full frame, parked the camera in the tripod's ballhead, and snapped away for the two seconds it would stay in frame before switching views to keep up. I took the cleanest shots at its peak of 57 degrees above the horizon.

I wasn't sure I had a single useable capture as I walked back from the shoot, but once I looked on the computer, I almost couldn't believe what I was seeing. A 10 megapixel photo will take up about 4 full monitors worth of screen real estate. When viewed at that full resolution, the ISS is much smaller than a fly - a little speck with three blobs - the space station and its two big solar panel arrays.

I took about 90 shots of the space station tonight, throwing away all but the best 20, then stacking (combining) them together in Lynkeos. Stacking several images of the same shot helps remove the random noise due to atmospheric distortion. After enlarging and correcting the white balance, this is the final result. Take a look at one of the raw shots to see what I mean - and keep in mind that I'm zoomed in at an effective 800mm (500mm x 1.6 crop factor) and the crop of just the space station.

Here's a tight crop of one of the unprocessed images to show what a difference the image stacking makes:

Canon 40D, Phoenix 500mm f/8 Mirror Lens
Bogen/Manfrotto 190XPROB Tripod Legs, 322RC2 Grip Action Ballhead

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Check the Diagonal

While waiting for my doctor, I snapped this with my iPhone. It was a translucent piece of plastic over an x-ray viewing screen - I imagine to gauge different shades of gray.

Taken with my iPhone.

Monday, May 25, 2009

International Space Station (ISS) - Into Earth's Shadow

I frequently monitor Heavens Above to see if there's any upcoming satellite passes worth seeing. Tonight was one of the brighter showings of the International Space Station (ISS), with apparent magnitude -2.3, just dimmer than the maximum brightness of Jupiter. It started in the west-northwest, rising to 69 degrees in the south sky.

For whatever reason, I was waiting with my camera pointed too far to the east, trying to get a shot of the satellite rising over some houses. Right as I was scratching my head trying to find the thing, I finally saw (don't ask me how I originally missed it) the Big Dipper, which points me to the North Star (since I'm a star-gazing newbie).

Brief aside: the North Star is the center of this previous star trail shot I took last year.

Just as I realize I'm pointed in the wrong direction, I see the space station moving quickly across the sky. I was able to swing around and capture it as it faded into the Earth's shadow. In this shot, the ISS is moving downward as it fades into darkness.

Shot with:
Canon 40D, 10-22mm
Bogen 190XPROB Tripod Legs, 322RC2 Grip Action Ballhead.


The iPhone camera isn't the best, but it's great in a pinch for random shots you might find interesting while walking about.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Ceiling-Bounced Fill Flash

View On Black

40D, Sigma 30mm f/1.4, 430EX flash

The window to the left provided most of the light here, but with harsh shadows on the right. I could either blow out the left side to bring the right in a little bit, deal with dark shadows on the right, or use a flash. The first two options are compromises - the latter, if done subtly, can still look like it wasn't used at all.

To pull this off, I used my camera-mounted 430EX flash, bouncing it off of the ceiling to the right, set at -1.5eV.

The flash was very dim compared to the sunlight, so it didn't affect a majority of the scene, but was just strong enough to brighten up the shadows a bit. At 0eV, the flash would probably have lit up the right side of her face to match the left, but that's just flat, boring lighting. I was able to keep the scene looking more natural by effectively taking the flash off-camera and increasing its size by bouncing.

Here's a test shot without flash to demonstrate how harsh the shadows are:

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Crazy Booth!

I just finished post-processing photos from my first "crazy booth" photo shot. We hosted a party tonight, so I set up the lighting gear and invited my guests into the studio. The only rule was that everyone had to act silly and that they *should* wear or use one of the props I made available.

If you're a strobist, I'd highly recommend giving this a try next time you're hosting a party. Set up your lights ahead of time, making sure to get everything just right. You can get away with a single flash, but make sure to use a shoot-through or reflective umbrella, and keep it around front, 45 degrees from center and a little overhead.

I shot against my seamless 107" charcoal paper background, with three lights:

1. Key light
Alien Bees B800 - above, camera right with large soft box (32"x40") and grid, fired with built-in optical trigger

2. Fill light
Nikon SB-28, 2 stops below key, camera left into 43" reflective umbrella, fired by Pocket Wizard wireless tranceivers.

3. Background light
Nikon SB-26 through Honl 1/4" Grid, pointed down towards background from 7ft, fired with built-in optical trigger

You can see one of my test shots in my previous post, here.

Keep the subjects far enough from the paper that they're not casting shadows on it. I light lighting the background with a grid or snoot, aiming it right behind the subjects. This gives the shot a natural vignette that you can amplify in post-processing very easily. Make sure to keep the lights off to the sides enough for some good depth, and to help prevent reflection in your subjects' glasses. I like keeping my fill like 1.5-2 stops darker than my key - this fills in the shadows while preserving depth and preventing the lighting from being too flat.

One other note is that my basement studio has light green walls which would be a nightmare if they reflected back onto the subjects. To prevent this, I use a grid on my large soft box and a reflective umbrella to keep most of the light hitting the subject and the edges of the background.

Any Resemblance To a Gang Sign Was Completely Unintentional

I set up a crazy booth for a party. The rules were simple - you have to be goofy, and you *should* wear or use one of the props we made available. Here's one of my test shots to get my lighting just right. Normally I delete these, but I just couldn't get rid of this one :).

That's a Sekonic L-358 flash meter around my neck, which I use to test my lights. The added RT-32 transmitter chip inside triggers the Pocket Wizards for me.

Shot against Savage seamless 107" charcoal paper background

With Canon 40D, 17-55mm f/2.8 IS, Bogen 190XPROB tripod legs, Bogen 322RC2 grip action ballhead, and 10-second timer.

Strobist Info:
* Key: Alien Bees B800 - above, camera right with large soft box (32"x40") and grid, fired with built-in optical trigger
* Fill: Nikon SB-28, 2 stops below key, camera right into 43" reflective umbrella, fired by Pocket Wizard wireless tranceivers.
* Background: Nikon SB-26 through Honl 1/4" grid, pointed up towards background, fired with built-in optical trigger

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day - The Day the Internets are Useless.

Flickr Scout is a great tool for those obsessed with finding out how many of their photos have made it on Explore, but today they'll tell you that (basically) all of your photos have. It's cute and all, but annoying.

Every year, each site tries to outdo themselves from last year that it's getting harder to figure out what's real, and what's a goof.

Sites like ThinkGeek are still funny, because it's clear that Squeez Bacon is a joke, but if you're one of the few that still surfs Slashdot, good luck. Same with Digg. I prefer to opt-out of the internets (as much as I can) each year on this day. It's just too heartbreaking when you realize that article about nanobots or cold fusion were jokes! :)

If you're interested, here's what they're telling have been on Explore, lol:

1. Nevermind, 2. Dew Drop Lens, 3. DMU, 4. Yeah dude, I rock!, 5. Dew Droplet Refraction, 6. White Background: Setup, 7. Star Trails, 8. Strobist Lighting Setup for Kaitlyn Shots,

9. Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) - 67 Image Stack: f/2.8, ISO3200, 2 seconds, 100mm, 10. Self Portrait: Background Paper Test, 11. There Are Four Lights, 12. Any moment now, 13. It's full of... stars...., 14. Northern Lights in Pennsylvania?, 15. Bah Humbug - A Strobist Christmas, 16. Eclipses,

17. Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin), 18. Brian, 19. , 20. 1950, 21. Ashlyn Rose, 22. Thriller!, 23. Valley Forge, 24. Self Portrait,

25. Sunset over Lincoln Memorial, 26. Lake, 27. Self Portrait: Background Paper Test 2 - Gray -> Purple, 28. Setup for Kaitlyn's 3 Month Photo Shoot, 29. Orion's Belt, 30. eye., 31. Epic, 32. Moments Before The Glass Broke,

33. The Night Sky, 34. Bound, 35. It Didn't Have to End Like This, 36. Tree at Night, 37. Cat's Eye, 38. Sunset Sycamores, 39. Heavy Water, 40. Glass Ceiling,

41. Crescent Moon Sunset, 42. Into a Thousand Pieces, 43. Ice Crystals on Windshield, 44. It's Coming Down, 45. 520–570nm, 46. Strobist Setup: Strobist Sandals Photo Shoot, 47. Apple Orchard Setup, 48. Winni the Pooch - 1,

49. Fighting The River, 50. I Think I Can Make It Across, 51. Alone Down Here, 52. Sydney, 53. No Second Chances, 54. California Sky, 55. Don't Stop Looking Back, 56. Gary Fong LightSphere II Cloud Diffuser with Universal Mount,

57. Waning Crescent, 58. Santa's Firetruck, 59. Spot, 60. puke, 61. Grain, 62. Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) - 48 Image Stack: f/2.0, ISO3200, 2 seconds, 50mm, 63. Angelina, 64. Party,

65. Splinter, 66. Radial Symmetry, 67. Over The Rock, 68. Matthew, 69. Ashlyn, 70. Timmy, 71. Snow Cones, 72. Sunrise from Haleakala, Maui

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Freak Hail Storm = Fun With Camera

The other night, we had a pretty cool freak hail storm. I don't remember seeing hail this bad before - of course my first reaction was to get my camera and go have some fun!

I'm sure the neighbors enjoyed watching me and my expensive-looking camera gear get pelted with chicklet-sized hailstones.

Here's how the storm rolled in - pretty awesome clouds.

And this was the aftermath.

Shot with Canon 40D, 70-200mm f/2.8 IS, 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5, 430EX

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Fighting The River

View On Black

Another shot (previous) from the DCNR Lake Nockamixon dam release.

Twice a year, the DCNR opens up the dam at Lake Nockamixon for kayakers to enjoy. I shot about 700 photos in the two hours that we were there.

This was the first chance I had at putting my new 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to work outside. It sure didn't disappoint. The autofocusing was quick, the image stabilization was excellent, and the clarity is clearly top-notch. This was also the first time I tried the mode-2 image stabilization, designed for panning. It only stabilizes the vertical axis so I didn't have to fight it as the kayakers moved downstream past me.

Canon 40D, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS
ISO200, f/5.6, 1/1500, 200mm

Monday, March 23, 2009

Heavy Water

View On Black

One of the day's kayakers at one of the more turbulent sections of the creek that we could get to.

Twice a year, the DCNR opens up the dam at Lake Nockamixon for kayakers to enjoy. I shot about 700 photos in the two hours that we were there.

This was the first chance I had at putting my new 70-200mm f/2.8L IS to work outside. It sure didn't disappoint. The autofocusing was quick, the image stabilization was excellent, and the clarity is clearly top-notch. This was also the first time I tried the mode-2 image stabilization, designed for panning. It only stabilizes the vertical axis so I didn't have to fight it as the kayakers moved downstream past me.

Canon 40D, 70-200mm f/2.8L IS
ISO200, f/5.6, 1/1500, 200mm

Monday, March 9, 2009

You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You

I've been meaning to take a blurry silhouette/alien shot like this for some time. While waiting for our table at a local hibachi restaurant, I caught this trio setting at the backlit bar.

I'm really enjoying the Sigma 30mm f/1.4. There's so many more shots you can attempt when you can shoot in such low light.

Sigma 30mm f/1.4, ISO3200, f/1.8, 1/45

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Comet Lulin: 100mm, f/2.8, ISO3200, 6 seconds

I had planned on calling it quits with Comet Lulin after a few successful attempts (one, two, three), but knowing that in a couple of weeks that this thing will effectively gone forever and that it's just about at its brightest and highest in the sky for me... I had to get one more round of shooting in.

Finding this was no picnic. The goal was to shoot it at 100mm, so I first focused that lens as near to infinity as I could, picking a lit target about 1/4 mile away. I then carefully swapped the lens for my Sigma 30mm f/1.4, making sure to not adjust the 100mm's focus.

It took about 10 minutes of blind shooting to find and center the comet - it's very tiny at 30mm. I then carefully swapped lenses again, back to the 100mm. I needed to make a couple more adjustments to get it just right. Then, I attached my cable shutter release and sat inside behind my sliding glass door, shooting one 6-second shot after another, about 60 in all.

This shot here is a crop from one of those shots with a little bit of post-processing. I plan on spending some time in the next couple of days stacking the images (fully described here) to remove as much noise as possible. I'm optimistic with this set since the comet was much higher in the sky and further from the light pollution.

I'm already impressed with the length of the tail in this shot. More comet goodness should be on the way.

Canon 40D, Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro, Bogen 190XPROB Legs, 322RC2 Grip Action Ballhead

Monday, February 23, 2009


You find the coolest stuff in forgotten places.

Please view on black.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Please view this large, on black

I went out driving last night, trying to escape the light pollution of my neighborhood so I could shoot more stacks of Comet Lulin. My last attempt (here and here).

What I found was basic:
1. You can't escape this much light pollution by driving 30 minutes
2. When you drive 30 minutes away from home, it takes roughly 30 minutes to get back.
3. The sky moves fast. Before ya know it, your front yard view is in your back yard.

There's no comet in this shot, but if you'd like to see how I shot the thing so far, check my blog post.

Shot with Canon 40D and the *very* fast Sigma 30mm f/1.4.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) - 67 Image Stack: f/2.8, ISO3200, 2 seconds

This shot was the product of 67 individual 2-second photos at ISO3200, f/2.8 of Comet C/2007 N3, aka "Comet Lulin."

This comet's green color comes from a type of carbon and cyanogen, a poisonous gas. View this shot to get an idea of how insignificant this comet is in the context of the whole night sky. If you look closely, you can see the faint tail of the comet extending to the lower-left.

Equipment used: Canon 40D , Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro Lens, Bogen/Manfrotto 190XPROB Tripod Legs, Bogen/Manfrotto 322RC2 Grip Action Ballhead

I shot these in the early morning hours of February 18, 2009, from 12:15AM to 12:25AM EST from my deck, (an hour north of Philadelphia, PA), with a horribly light-polluted sky. Weather-permitting (and it's not looking cooperative over the next few days), I'm planning on finding a darker area to shoot this comet once more, with hopefully even better results.

This wasn't a very well-planned event. I never head about the comet until a couple hours prior from fyngyrz's post. To find out when it would be visible here, I used this interactive sky chart to get my bearings as to where I'm looking, and this page to find out where the comet currently was (look for the downloadable PDFs). 3AM would have been a better time to take this, with the comet higher in the sky and further away from the horizon's light pollution, but this camera gear doesn't pay for itself - I had to wake up at 5:30AM.

Now, from what little I know about astrophotography, it's important to take your shot quickly to avoid star trails - within a second or two. You'd be surprised how quickly those starts move across the sky. To take shots this quickly, you have two options: a very high ISO, and a very wide aperture. Ideally, you go with both. Now, as with anything in photography, there's tradeoffs with both of these options.

With the high ISO, you're introducing a lot of grain. My Canon 40D goes up to ISO1600 with a "pushed" ISO3200. By "pushed", it's really just ISO1600 that's boosted in-camera one stop brighter. Pushing introduces a lot more noise than would be present at the already-high ISO1600.

With the wide aperture, you're more likely to get chromatic aberration (CA). Ideally, I'd like to use my f/1.4 50mm wide open. However, due to the CA that's introduced at that aperture, I get very distinct bands of purple fringing around every star, ruining the shot. I find that this CA drops significantly at f/1.6, almost going away at f/2.0.

So where did I end up with these options? Well, I took to series of shots - one with my 50mm f/1.4, and one with my 100mm f/2.8 macro. With the 50mm, I tried f/2.0 to reduce the CA, and with the 100mm, I used its widest aperture of f/2.8.

Each of the individual shots of this comet are (necessarily) terrible. The grain makes them almost a waste of time to look at. There are several types of noise introduced by the shot including: high ISO, sensor heat, and atmospheric - each of these degrade the image. However, these noises are random. The underlying image that I'm shooting isn't. It's possible to remove the noise with a process called "image stacking."

Basically, image stacking involves layering several photos of the same subject on top of each other, varying the transparency of each photo through the stack, with the most transparent being at the top. You blend the photos together with a subtraction algorithm so that anything that doesn't exist in the other photos -- the random noise -- is ignored. It's a tedious process, but well worth the time, because you're getting what would otherwise be an impossible shot.

To image stack for the comet in this series, I took 67 individual photos, each at ISO3200, f/2.8, and 2 seconds. I then used Apple Aperture to crop them down to the size you see here. I was as careful as I could be to line up the crops with each other - remember, the earth is spinning fast enough that within 20 minutes, the comet will move out of frame! Lining these up took a considerable amount of mind-numbing time. After cropping, I brightened them up a half stop, then exported them all as JPGs.

I then used the image-stacking software called Lynkeos to automatically line up the photos better, then stack them together. I could have done this manually with Photoshop, but was more than happy that Lynkeos did a fairly decent job on its own. I exported from Lynkeos to TIFF format, then post-processed with Photoshop and Aperture to get the most out of the shot that I could.

I plan on stacking the shots from my 50mm in the next couple of days. It'll be interesting to see how that extra stop of light makes a difference. Unfortunately, the comet will be much smaller due to the wider focal length.

iPhone Photo of the Day, 2/18/2009: Lines

I was trying to get away without any post-processing outside of the iPhone, but ended up bumping up the contrast and exposure in Flickr.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Fun With the iPhone Camera

After reading Chase Jarvis' post, 5 Tips for Making Great iPhone Photos," I thought I'd give it a shot. I bought the two apps he suggested, Camera Bag ($2.99) and Pano ($2.99), and so far haven't been disappointed.

Camera Bag gives you a bunch of presets to transform your iPhone into one of several types of historical cameras. This shot here was given the "Lolo" preset (apparently a knock-off of the old Loma toy cameras, though I'm not that familiar with them). I'm also a fan of the "Helga," which tries to make your shots look like they were taken with a Holga camera.

Pano is a very powerful photo stitching app, allowing you to stitch together up to six photos, side-by-side. The rightmost sliver of the photo is laid semi-transparently on the left side to help you line up the next shot. The exposure blending and seam-joining is top-notch. I'll post a shot when I come across something interesting to shoot.

One great thing about being able to shoot and post-process your shots in-camera is that you can then upload them to your Flickr account with such apps as Darkslide, or using Flickr's email upload service.

It's weird when you get excited about degrading the quality of your $300 iPhone photos to look like old camera snapshots, but hey, it's made me interested in using the thing. I'm looking forward to posting more on-the-go shots with my new toy.

Into a Thousands Pieces

Shot from outside the Camden Adventure Aquarium.

Canon 40D, Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Harris' Law

Harris' Law states:
At some point, all humanity in an online community is lost, and the goal becomes to inflict as much psychological suffering as possible on another person.

Due to some in-fighting, the Flickr group DeleteMe Uncensored imploded the other day. I'm not sure what the fighting was specifically about, but the way it ended was - in true DMU style - hilarious. One of the admins made everyone an admin. Of course, then came the free-for-all of several of these new admins racing to ban everyone else in a sort of online riot.

Shot with Canon 40D, 50mm f/1.4

Monday, February 2, 2009


Shot at the Adventure Aquarium, Camden NJ. There's a bunch of this stuff on the wall towards the end of the exhibits.

Low light handheld shot at f/2.0, ISO3200, 1/25sec

Canon 40D, Sigma 30mm f/1.4

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Made the Front Page of Explore

Click to see the original
This is pretty cool - I've made Flickr Explore several times now, but this is the first time that I've made their front page. Since then, the shot has been getting faves every few minutes, and has gotten as high as #1 on Flickr Explore for 1/31/2009. Very cool.

I know, I know, all this proves is that I satisfied some random "interestingness" algorithm, but it's still cool. Lots of real people are clicking through and marking it as favorites, so it's not entirely artificial.

When the photo was on the front page, it's amazing how much traffic it was getting.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


Wall art, shot at the Adventure Aquarium, Camden NJ.

Canon 40D, Sigma 30mm f/1.4