I tried to capture the previous Blood Moon earlier this year in April, however it was not a very fulfilling exercise. There was only so much I could do with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens, even with the EF 2x Extender III attached and even with the 7D’s crop factor. The shots I got weren’t very pleasing and in my mind, not even worth writing a post about.
Since then I acquired a fully assembled set of astrophotography gear and accessories. I discussed this a little in previous posts Astrophotography: The journey begins and Astrophotography: Solar Observation.
Up until last night I had been dreading the steep learning curve and painful process involved in learning to properly align a German Equatorial Mount with computerized tracking. The Blood Moon was a good reason to dive into it and see if I could figure it out. I got an early start. My first setup and calibration took at least an hour and I got a solid track on the moon.
However the moon had not yet crossed the sky and when it did I had to re align the telescope mount. My second alignment took half the time but was less than perfect and I still had some drift. It was still small enough for me to compensate for in post production.
With tracking somewhat sorted out, I had another challenge of managing the wild swings in exposures throughout the eclipse. You will notice I had to segment the time lapse as I made adjustments. I used spot metering, shutter priority mode with auto ISO throughout most of the sequence and stepped my shutter exposure as the eclipse progressed, switching to manual mode briefly at the peak of the eclipse. As you can see I did not place much emphasis on image quality. Since it was a time lapse, I also set a higher maximum ISO as the clarity and quality of the individual frame is not as important as the consistency of the sequence from frame-to-frame.
I hope you enjoy this time lapse. Please feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions and experiences, especially with GE mounts and photography.
Blood Moon – Lunar Eclipse (October 8, 2014)
Happy New Year!!!
This year I decided to stop thinking about watching (photographing) the fireworks over the San Francisco Bay and actually get out and do it. One of my good friends and great photographer, Steve was only happy to come along and plan our New Year’s Eve photo excursion. We decided, since we were going to be out in the cold weather we may as well catch the sunset over the city. I had been wanting to revisit my last shoot from the Port of Oakland where I shot my last time lapse of the Bay Bridge lights. This time my focus was to obtain a really good high quality wide panorama shot for large format print and reproduction. I did however capture a time lapse of the sunset and city lights as well. It’s hard not to, as it has become fairly easy for me with my 7D and 17-55mm f/2.8 lens. I’ve shot so many time lapses with that combo, it only takes a few minutes to setup.
Magic hour over the city only lasts for a few minutes, and I found it very challenging to capture a full panoramic set of the city with a long enough exposure at a narrow enough aperture (f/8 or smaller). This was due primarily to the amount of the disturbance on the water from boats, ferries and large cargo ships. While you might see a few minutes of calm, they are punctuated by wakes, shadows of moving vessels and light streaks. My frustrations were only compounded by the fact that I decided to use my EF 2x Extender III on the 70-200mm f/2.8. I chose the wrong time to experiment. Under anything other than perfect lighting conditions you will find it exceedingly difficult to use any lens with the 2X extender III. As a result, I missed easily half of my photo opportunities. Below are some panoramic shots I managed to salvage. The detail is pretty impressive – you can see inside offices and hallways in all those buildings you see. The full res compressed JPEG is just under 200MB and the master GIMP file is 1GB (1000MB).
Canon 5D Mark III + EF 2x Extender + EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
Canon 5D Mark III + EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
We shot through the sunset till about 9pm then we packed up and headed out to treasure island to scout for a good angle on the action. I have never seen this many photographers and enthusiasts in one place. The whole island was crawling with people like me. Even in the seemingly remote bushes along back roads. We finally settled on the waterfront as the best vantage point. Fireworks are a challenge to shoot! This was my first time shooting fireworks and nothing could have prepared me for it. Below is a collection of some of the highlights. Overall I think it was a success. There are a few things I would’ve done differently now. Your feedback would be highly appreciated.
I was also able to capture a time lapse of the fireworks. The entire show lasted about 13minutes. It was a spectacular affair. If you missed it, the time lapse compilation below should help you enjoy the experience in a matter of seconds. My new years gift to you. I wish you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!
Finally got all the TL frames processed – all 7500 of them LOL. The frames were shot over two photo excursions to the San Francisco Bay. I posted earlier about these two trips here:
It took me a while to find a soundtrack that channeled (or at least came close) the energy of the experience for me. The music is composed by Ben Beiny. The Bay Lights are a wonderful art-meets-technology showpiece. If you haven’t visited San Francisco since it’s installation, I highly recommend a trip to the city. If you are too far or cannot visit, then hopefully this video will give you a decent idea of it’s scale. You can also find out more about The Bay Lights and the artist behind them – Leo Villareal – at the following link:
Thanks for stopping by and sharing. Be sure to view it in Full HD – 1080p for the most detail.
Yesterday was another lovely day chasing sunsets and the Bay Bridge lights. I decided to seize the opportunity presented by ideal photography weather conditions in the Bay Area. Most ideal was the low (sometimes none) wind speed. This means very calm bay waters, relatively speaking, which in turn means an opportunity for a dramatic light show through sunset and through the night.
The Port of Oakland
My strategy started out with the port of Oakland. From a google maps survey of the area, most of it looked restricted so I looked for a backup vantage point and settled on Potrero Hill which may warrant my next photo excursion to SF. I was unsure about how much access I would have to a coveted view of the bay. I definitely wanted to at elast have some shots from the Oakland side of the bay, especially during sunset. I arrived at the port by mid afternoon and began to scout the area. Portview Park was my ideal view but it was slightly obstructed by the restricted docks area – I wish I had a way of gaining access to the port docks. That in and of itself would make for not only an ideal perspective but may prove to be a treasure trove of industrial and gritty photography goodness. I moved on to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park where I found an outcrop nature preserve with trail access. The view was a bit too distant and less than ideal but then again if I’ve learned anything, it’s that nothing ever is.
With my location sorted out I proceeded to wolf down a Subway sandwich while waiting for the sunset. I parked next to a really nice, clean Nissan 300ZX. Being a car enthusiast myself I began to talk cars with Allan the owner. I drove down in my roadster so it was all around cartalk. Allan was very laid back, easygoing and ended up just handing out through the sunset into the evening. Very nice guy. While I was setting up and shooting another great gentleman showed up. He was a port customs agent who just happened to carry his Digital Rebel everywhere he went. He had just got off work and decided to come take in the view as well so we all hung out and talked everything from cars to logistics to photography while shooting the sunset. It made for a great evening and great new friends.
I took a 2 hour time lapse of this scene with the 7D + 17-55mm f/2.8 while shooting stills such as the one above with the 5D Mark III + 24-105mm f/4. It will take a while to process all the time lapse frames and will present that compilation in a separate post. Unfortunately the Bay Bridge lights were not visible from this vantage point. It turns out the lights are angled slightly towards the city of San Francisco. I later found out this was for the simple reason to avoid interfering with drivers’ view coming into the city.
The Bay Bridge Lights
Finally after dark we all packed up and left. I headed over into SF to do another time lapse from the peer 14 perspective. There I met more interesting folks. First was a cool guy named Brian visiting from Chicago. He’s into photography and cars/hotrods as well, so you can pretty much guess what we ended up talking about all night out there on the peers. I took two time lapses of that view as well while shooting stills, HDR shots, panoramic shots and several 1080p video takes of the bay lights to capture the more subtle action that would otherwise be missed in the time lapse. I ended up shooting late and into the early morning when yet another pretty cool laid back guy by the name of James stopped by for a chit-chat. I got a lot of good tips on accessing some vantage points I’ve been wanting to shoot for a while now. Very nice guy. In all it was a great SF excursion, with lots of great people and a really relaxing time in a great city.
I did time lapses of both scenes above and below as well. Will post those once I’m done processing all the frames.
Finally finished my DIY (do it yourself) time lapse track and dolly setup. I started this little (not so little) project last fall but stalled as the cold winter set in and I didn’t have good reason make use of it with the cold months. There were a few ideas driving my final design. I wanted the cheapest possible solution as this was meant more for my personal projects and would not be used for any paid projects. I also limited myself to using readily available components around my workshop and home. Buying a ready made solution was too costly. Most DSLR time lapse track/slider rigs were starting at over $1000. I’ve seen a lot of DIY solutions out there but honestly they just seemed too unnecessarily complicated with PLCs, Arduinos, Raspberry Pi, custom PC boards etc.
I do have a background in Electronics Engineering and a Software Engineer by profession so I am by no means intimidated by the various DIY solutions I found nor did I find them unapproachable. However I just felt that they would only serve to derail my passion for photography at the time. I have only a limited amount of time to explore my creative photography projects and I simply did not want to spend it tinkering with circuits.
With that said all I wanted was a somewhat sturdy track that was longer than the 3-4ft tracks I was seeing out there. I felt this would make for more dramatic slides/pans across a scene. I settled on a simple design using two 8ft Aluminum L-channel beams and some square tubes with butterfly/wing nuts and bolts so I could disassemble and haul it around fairly easily in my Nissan Murano.
As for the drive mechanism I eventually realized the LEGO Mindstorms set I had laying around unused was exactly what I needed to drive the dolly. It also came with 3 very capable stepper motors which when combined with the very simple but advanced LEGO Mindstorms program/design/robotics software allowed me to control the movements with great accuracy and precision.
The only hack I did was to reverse engineer the wiring and set one of the motor ports to drive two simple relay switches that would in turn drive the shutter release/remote for my DSLRs. I could also program the relay activation duration and intervals to accommodate single shot lapse or HDR bracket shots. The computer brick also packed enough power to crank out multiple hour time lapses, one after the other, all weekend long.
It is far from perfect; there are already several changes I would like to make to the drive setup but for the most part it works great and delivers suprisingly good shots for how much I have invested in it – about $240 (I bought the Mindstorms NXT set at a $140 bargain and spent about $100 on Aluminum, nuts, bolts and bearings). Below is a short video of my first test run and the compiled time lapse. I think it’s funny how slapped together the solution is, but I can’t argue with the results…LOL.
I’m excited. I finally got around to finishing post processing on all the frames I shot for a time lapse of the SF Bay Bridge at sunset last Sunday. I took about 4000 shots between both the 7D and 5D MkIII. Each set should yield about 1 minute of time lapse footage covering the 30 minutes before and after sunset. I stretched the enterval on the 7D and set it run for two hours at 4 second intervals which also yields about a minute of footage.
While I have done tons of time lapses before every one is different. No two lapses are the same. Especially under changing light conditions which makes it very tricky to predict what the light conditions will be at the end of your lapse period and what kind of exposure will the camera need at what ISO and aperture, in order to keep up with the intervalometer. It’s a different kind of photography. It also forces you to drop the details and focus on the big picture. I like that I can crank up to ISO-1600 and not have to worry about the effects of noise because it is of very little consequence to the end result. In contrast I don’t like that I have to leave my aperture wide open in anticipation of a low light scene and shutter speed limited by my interval. This always creates a softer image. Enter post processing and Canon DPP.
Changing light conditions also introduce my biggest peeve – flickering frames. As the light in the scene changes the camera (in AV mode) constantly tries to meter the light and when it approaches every stop of exposure it tends to dance back and forth before committing to the new value in the sequence. Up until recently I had no way of correcting this without expending tons of cash for software licenses. I recently found an Open Source solution (right up my alley) called VirtualDub and so far it’s doing a really good job of taming my sunset/sunrise time lapse frames. VirtualDub will definitely require a separate post or posts. For this lapse, I used partial metering instead of evaluative metering. This greatly reduced frame flicker. One of the many measures I’m experimenting with to reduce the amount of work in post processing.
Below are sample mid-sequence frames from last weekend’s exploits. The Tokina is a little soft on the edges but most of the blur was due to the wind which picked up considerably as the evening progressed. One of the many nuances of SF. I hiked through some sketchy parts to get this view. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve gone crazy.
7D + Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
5D Mk-III + 24-105mm f/4
What I enjoy most about photography is that I never really know what beauty awaits, but I do know when it arrives, I’ll be there to take it all in.
My day was done early and I had been having a little bit of an itch to capture the sunset with a time lapse. I also hadn’t taken my 7D out since I got the 5D Mark III. So I decided to head down to Old Sacramento to explore a nice vantage point to take in the view, lights and changing colors of the sunset. This was the main reason why I bought a second body, so I can pull double duty on my photo outings. During the last few years I’ve found myself having to make several trips to the same location just to capture my stills and time lapses. Add to that unpredictable weather and it becomes quite expensive to get the shot I want.
I set the 7D up for the time lapse and let it run, while I took my time soaking up the view and trying various takes on the scene with the 5D Mark III.
Here is a shot from the 5D Mark-III. I used the in-camera HDR which works quite well actually.
Here is the composed time lapse from the 7D. I probably should have let it go 20-30 minutes longer to soak-in the night lights, but not bad for a random evening. You can view full screen and full HD at 1080p for full detail and effect. Enjoy.