Yosemite Valley, Sunrise via Tunnel View
Several weeks ago I made a last minute spontaneous trip down to Yosemite. Finally after severe snow storms for months, the weather cleared up for for almost an entire week. With the forecast looking completely clear the entire weekend, I decided to hit the road early Friday afternoon. After several weather and construction related detours I finally arrived at Yosemite View Lodge after driving about 4 hours.
The lodge is the last stop before you get to the Yosemite Valley park gates, just a few miles up the road. I was tempted to go into the park that night, since it is a 24hr park – one of the best things about Yosemite Valley – however I was worn down by the long drive and felt I might be more productive after some good sleep. Instead I decided to rest, wake up and head into the the valley before sunrise.
I was up by 4am, hit the road shortly after and was in the valley before sunrise. First stop was Tunnel View lookout. I captured two sunsets over the valley from this location last spring when I made my first trip to Yosemite – one of the many trips I have yet to blog about. I wanted to try something different. The sunrise sounded like a beautiful proposition since the valley lies West to East and Tunnel View is located at the Western end.
Little did I know it would far exceed my expectations. It was magic, above and beyond the already majestic landscape. The best part was, unlike most sunrises and sunsets which typically last just about 5-to-15 minutes, this sunrise lasted at least 2 hours. This had to do with the winter sun being further south and it stayed hidden behind the southern mountains most of the early morning. This game me ample time to carefully work through my process and make sure I got a good capture. The shot above is what I was going for and more. It will definitely make it to limited edition print.
Have you been to Yosemite? What was your favorite view?
Jenny light painting with steel wool
Last week my friend Jenny and I were finally able to get together and play with some steel wool. We had been talking about exploring this popular genre of photography for a while now. Since none of us had tried it before, the idea was to get familiar with the nuances and work on technique before we tackle our more ambitious creative ideas. It turned out to be some of the easiest fun I’ve had with photography in a while.
Basic light painting supplies
After some quick googling, I found out it was pretty simple to put together. There are of course way more elaborate ways of doing this but I very much prefer the path of least resistance. This means less time tinkering, and more time practicing photography. All you really need is some steel wool, a wire whisk, some steel wire/cable and a lighter. It turns out I already had all I needed laying around the house.
Our first try
Steel wool burns very fast. We did almost two dozen takes. Each take lasted mere seconds but were a veritable light show, even more so on camera as you can see. I set the Canon 5D Mark III on a tripod. My Model, Jenny, held a candle in front of her face while standing on a predetermined spot. This helped me acquire focus on her in live view. I then switched to Manual Focus, and set my shutter to about 5 seconds. This covered most of the take from start to finish. I would light the wool for her, jump out of the frame and trigger the shutter, using and infra red remote control. We got the hang of things pretty quickly. We are definitely ready for our more creative ideas. I can’t wait!
Molten steel embers/sparks can be very very hot. Although they are generally too small to be of any concern, some larger globs/chunks/drops will break loose and continue burning where ever they land. I kept a water hose close by just in case I had to put one out. I also keep several canisters of fire extinguishers on hand at all times. You cannot be too careful. Please allow ample space and nothing flammable around you.
Constellation Cygnus the Swan – Canon 5DsR + EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II @70mm
I have tried my hand at many a genre of photography but none have humbled me the way astrophotography has. A few weekends ago I happened to be free the same time we had a New Moon. This meant that I could actually have a care-free 24 hours to pack up all my gear and run away somewhere with less light pollution than my backyard. I opted for my good friend Ethan’s place in Auburn. An amazing artist himself, it was refreshing just to catch up with him. Another friend Jeremy came out at the last minute. He’d always wanted to explore Astrophotography so I figured this would be a good opportunity to share what I’ve learned so far.
I stuffed my car full of everything I could think of – my entire telescope and mount setup (read more about that here) as well as my entire photography kit – and headed up the Auburn Hills to Grass Valley. I figured if it turned out to be a good showing, I wanted to be prepared. It was mostly cloudy but the forecast said it should clear up by 10pm, right when the sunset really ends, so I took my chance. Unfortunately the clouds and haze lingered all night especially in the Northern sky where it was darkest. The light pollution from the Sacramento valley was also much worse than anticipated. Combined with the haze it overpowered all but a few of the brightest stars.
Finally around midnight the North Eastern quadrant of the sky cleared up. Due to the weather conditions I was only able to perform a very loose polar alignment as well as a poor 2-star alignment of the Celestron Advanced GT German Equatorial (GE) Mount. This resulted in poor tracking. However poor tracking on a GE mount is always better than a simple tripod. To compensate for this I chose to use the Canon 5D Mark III for its excellent high ISO low noise capabilities. I mounted it (piggy-back) on the telescope and aimed at the clear part of the sky – the Constellation Cygnus. After just a handful of shots I realized that even with the poor alignment, I was still able to do 3 minute (180 second) exposures at ISO-400 without the stars trailing. I knew this was well within the capabilities of the higher pixel density sensor cameras such as the 7D Mark II or even better, the 5DsR. Both just happened to be laying idle in my bag.
I had never tried the 5DsR at astrophotography and very much wanted to see how it performed. I liked how the 7D Mark II did and knew the 5DsR would at least match or exceed it since they have very similar pixel densities. Accounting for about 1 stop exposure difference from the 5D Mark III, I bumped the ISO to 800. Exposure stayed the same at 3 minutes. I was also shooting with the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II which I recently added to my kit. I knew it was tack sharp and would be able to keep up with the 50 megapixel body. Nothing prepared me for what I saw. I only took 4 shots and decided it was good enough.
What you are looking at above is a single 3 minute exposure. Processed from a RAW file with no noise reduction, some color temperature and curve adjustments and a final light mask to help reduce the atmospheric haze. Nothing fancy not even lens correction (you can see some vignetting). The shot has bee downsized to about 1/12th it’s original size. At 70mm the detail is astounding. The light “clouds” are easily revealed to be individual stars. Mind-boggling scale and detail. It’s one thing to see images from the Hubble telescope, but an entirely different experience to see it for yourself.
I’m not sure what took me so long, but it’s safe to say I will be spending several sleepless nights shooting the stars out in the middle of nowhere this summer.
Bixby Creek Bridge, Big Sur, California
I know I have gone missing for a while now, at least on my blog. I have fallen woefully behind and have a ton of catching up to do. However this is all for good reason. Pretty much every spare moment I’ve had, I have been doing photography or taking trips and photo outings. So there’s lots of good photography to share. You can also follow my on Instagram (@bryanallo) for a more up to date musings.
I spent last weekend in Monterey. I made the trip for various reasons which also included the Monterey Grand Prix races and a few other attractions. I was initially going to cover the races Saturday and explore the coast on Sunday, but when I realized the final heat race was on Sunday, I decided to skip the qualification races and spend Saturday exploring the coast. Due to the limited amount of time and only one sunset to spare, I had to come up with a shortlist of locations within 30 minutes of Monterey.
After a few stops, I concluded Bixby Bridge was to be my final stop. It did not disappoint. This is what beautiful country looks like. The California, most Californians don’t know about. Most of the people I ran into out there were from around the world or out of state at best. I highly recommend this quick stop as you make your way along the Pacific Coast Highway. It is only 20-30 minutes south of Monterey CA.
I arrived about 30 minutes before sunset. My objective was to quickly scout the area for a good clean shot – a shot good enough to make it to Limited Edition fine art canvas print. Above is a panorama from the west/sunset facing side. Below is another perspective which ended up being my perspective of choice for my final shot. I scouted the area with the Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens. Once I settled on my shot, I switched bodies to the 50 Megapixel Canon 5DsR body. I used a tripod, ND8 filter and then took my time as magic hour progressed. Those shots will take a while to process so I will have to post them later.
Bixby Bridge at Sunset
Bixby Bridge at Magic Hour
Big Sur coast at Sunset