Pathway To The Stars. The Milky Way Over Mount Hood Oregon - I had a great time hanging around in the dark with my brudda Rob last night. We shot the night sky over Mount Hood from the north side while talking about the Milky Way over Mauna Loa - The night was as warm as a Big Island night - and other places where we've stood and observed the stars.
There are very few things that surpass the brilliance of the stars on a dark Summer night. Since I was a small boy I have slept outside whenever possible, even if only in my backyard. I'm fortunate to have lived in some places that have extremely dark night skies.
I remember great times while I was in school in the Illinois Valley of Southern Oregon when neighbor friends, my brother and I would just lay blankets out in the pasture, set up our sleeping bags and count falling stars and satellites until we fell asleep only to wake up again at sunrise covered in dew.
I was reading the other day that 80% of the people in the United States are unable to see the Milky Way at night. That's a sad figure. I sincerely feel that when we remove ourselves from the natural world we suffer. Taking away the stars in the sky that have caused so many people to dream fantastic dreams and thoughts of wonderment and hope is the last brick in the wall of separation of humanity from Nature. Stand in a city some night and search for anything natural. Even the sky is cloaked in a bath of unnatural light. How can we understand what Nature requires from us if we don't understand her?
Please do yourself and Nature a favor and reconnect your soul to the Earth and all of its natural fantastic wonders. Drive somewhere dark some night and look up. Bring a blanket and a sleeping bag. You may be there for a while.
In light of the recent Eagle Creek fire in the Columbia River Gorge I have decided to dedicate my 2018 calendar to all gorge photos. There are certain places that will never look the same as they did before. I still have some left so gt them while you can. These calendars are of a very high quality offset printing. They come saddle stitched so they lay flat. The photos are 8" x 10".
The note cards are 4 1/4" x 5 1/2". They're blank inside so that you can write your own message. They come four to a package, with envelopes. Each card has a different scene.
The Surge - Below the creek was cold from the melted snow that flowed into it no more than two more miles upstream and it was swift from the rain coming down from above. Standing in the creek seemed to be the best approach to this waterfall, so I pull my Wiggy's Waders on over my boots and rain pants and take my tripod and camera into the stream.
In front of me is the surging waterfall that seemed to send a steady mist toward me spraying the filter on the lens with drops that would accumulate in a matter of seconds. The best approach was to clean the lens with the camera pointed downstream, cover the lens with the rag, swing the camera around, remove the rag, take the shot and spin it back again in a vain attempt at trying to keep the drops out of the photo.
In time I was able to get the focus and the composition set so that when I could perceive the slightest slack in the breeze I could do my spin, reveal and shoot procedure described above. With that methodology, I was able to come home with a photograph.
This was made using my Nikon D810 and my 20mm f/2.8 - 1/8 sec - f/16 - 1000 Iso
The aurora borealis over Mount Hood at Trillium Lake August 2015. This was an incredible night. The skies were great and the lodge only had one invasive light that I was able to brush out of the photo easily.
I've been asked a lot about seeing the aurora here in Oregon after seeing one of these photos. I explain that although you can see them with the naked eye, the camera absorbs more light than you eyes are able to. Therefore, these photos don't represent accurately how you're able to see the lights. So don't be disappointed if you go in search of the aurora and you can't see it. If it's forecasted to be displayed that night take a test shot or two just in case.
It was this night when I met two young women that were there enjoying the stars with one of the women asking me questions about photographing at night. I had yet to start to take any photos and gave her a quick two minute night photography tutorial. We got her all setup with her camera and tripod, took the first shot and looked at the preview screen. The image showed the northern lights as they were just starting to flare up. The woman practically freaked out when she saw the photo. I had to explain to her what was going on. She was amazed.
Once I was done with the two ladies there I went to get a few photos of my own, this being one.
Photographing Lightning - With Spring and early Summer comes transitional weather that will cause some amazing photography opportunities. Everything from blue skies with majestic thunderheads, rainbows and lightning. It is photographing lightning that I’m asked about how to capture the most.
A lightning bolt typically lasts about 10 to 50 microseconds (0.000050 sec). That’s a lot faster than your ability to react to it so we will need to discuss methods and conditions that must be understood prior to going out into the field to get that awesome photo of a bolt of lightning, but I must preface the information with a warning about safety.
Standing in the rain with a lightning rod in your hand
Of course when we're trying to get our lighting photo we’re venturing out into a storm. Be prepared for the weather. Dress appropriately, of course, but also remember that you are standing out in the storm with a tripod and a camera. One can’t help but be reminded of the fellows who are struck by lightning on the 18th hole as they celebrate a great putt with a golf club in their hand.
When the storm is surrounding you, go inside. Do not stand in the middle of a thundering tempest and think that you’ll come away with something more than a quick trip to the hospital, if you’re lucky, to treat you for the effects of a 100 million volt electrical shock. Your best photos of lighting will be when the storm is in the distance.
You will want to use a camera that you are able to control manually. Many cameras will allow you to switch to Manual Mode to allow you to control your shutter speed, the duration of the exposure. You will also want to use a tripod to establish a platform for you to put your camera on. It’s easier than trying to hold your camera while you’re working and a necessity for a longer exposure photograph.
Additional gear which will improve your chances of success are a 10 stop Neutral Density Filter (ND filter). And another piece of gear that can be handy is a Lightning Trigger. I will cover the use of both of these pieces in the text of this article.
Daytime or Nighttime
When photographing lighting there are two basic conditions that will require different methods to be successful. Daytime with a lot of light and darkness with little or no light.
It’s easier to capture a lightning strike during the night than during the day. At night time it’s easy to set your camera to make a long exposure, sometimes as long as 30 seconds. Because the light is dim or even completely dark your photo won’t be exposed unless there’s a lightning strike during your exposure. I set my camera up on the tripod and point it in the direction of the storm, set my exposure to 30 seconds and click the shutter and wait for a lightning strike while hoping that it will happen in the direction that I have the camera pointed. If, once you’ve captured some lightning, your photo is too bright make your exposure a little shorter or stop down your aperture (smaller hole, bigger number) and try again. The lightning becomes it’s own flash bulb.
Daytime is a bit more challenging. It’s much more difficult to set your camera up to make a long exposure when there’s so much light that you will need to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter. An ND filter is like sunglasses for your camera. It blocks light allowing you to extend (make longer) your shutter speed which will allow you to photograph the scene using the same method as at night. Make your exposure as long as possible, click the shutter cross your fingers and wait.
High Tech Toys
Of course there’s always the easy way. Technology is your friend when it come to photographing lighting. Many people are just hobbyists and don’t want to spend a lot of money on a toy that they would rarely use, but there is that option.
A lightning trigger is the solution. A lightning trigger can react to the flash of the lightning and click the shutter in time to capture an image. The mechanism mounts to the hot shoe flash connection on top of your camera.
Although handy a lightning trigger is certainly not required to capture lighting.
Have Fun - Be Safe
The most important part of capturing lightning in a photograph for me is the experience. I love being outside and watching sever weather. To be able to make a beautiful and dramatic photo is a bonus.
I can’t stress enough the safety aspect of doing this. Please be safe and don’t put yourself in any dangerous situation to try to make any kind of photograph. There will always be more opportunities in the future.
Give these methods a try. Good luck and as always, have fun with your photography.