How to Photograph the Milky Way

Arches Night Sky by Tom Redd

Many travel and landscape photographers, including myself, try to avoid shooting scenery with a clear blue sky. As much as we like seeing puffy or stormy clouds to spice up our photographs, we have no control over what the nature provides each day. Sometimes we get lucky and capture beautiful sunrises and sunsets with blood red skies, and other times we are stuck with a clear, boring sky. When I find myself in such a situation and I know that the next morning will be clear, I sometimes explore opportunities to photograph the stars and the Milky Way at night. I am sure you have been in situations where you got out at night in a remote location and saw an incredibly beautiful night sky with millions of stars shining right at you, with patches of stars in a “cloudy” formation that are a part of the Milky Way. If you do not know how to photograph the night sky and the Milky Way, this guide might help you in understanding the basics.

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Recommended Nikon D800 / D800E Settings

Nikon D800

After I published the article on the recommended settings for the Nikon D600 / D610, I received plenty of requests from our readers that asked me to write a similar article for the Nikon D800 and D800E cameras. Since I own and use both frequently, I decided to expand the series to other cameras (and I do have plans to publish similar articles for Canon DSLRs as well). In this article, I want to provide some information on what settings I use and shortly explain what some of the important settings do. Please do keep in mind that while these work for me, it does not mean that everyone else should be shooting with exactly the same settings. The below information is provided as a guide for those that struggle and just want to get started with a basic understanding of menu settings.

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Recommended Nikon D600 / D610 Settings

Nikon D600

One of our readers recently asked me to provide my settings from the Nikon D600 / D610 cameras that I use for my photography needs. While at first I thought that it was an odd request, it got me into thinking that many photographers probably get lost trying to dig through the many menu options. Since I have been shooting with Nikon for a number of years now, those settings are very easy for me to understand and I apply them over and over again for each camera that I work with. In this article, I want to provide some information on what settings I use and shortly explain what some of the important settings do. Please do keep in mind that while these work for me, it does not mean that everyone else should be shooting with exactly the same settings. The below information is provided as a guide for those that struggle and just want to get started with a basic understanding of menu settings.

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Light Frequency Issue

Light Intensity Chart

When photographing in artificial light, one has to always watch out for the potential light frequency issue. Due to the different intensities and wavelengths of light emitted by fluorescent and other sources of man-made light, there might be severe variations in exposure when photographing at fast shutter speeds. This is a similar “flickering” issue that you see when photographing or video-recording a TV screen – different light frequencies cause the flicker that is recorded by the camera. This can happen both when taking an image and when recording videos. Take a look at the following image, which I captured in a low-light situation using the Nikon Df:

Light Frequency Problem (1)

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The Riddle of Intermediate ISO Settings

RawDigger Screenshot 2

I guess today is a “blow your mind” Friday, because we have a guest post here by Iliah Borg, the person behind the RawDigger software that is used to analyze RAW images. I had a chance to engage in a conversation with Iliah when discussing the noise performance of the Nikon Df, where he not only proved me wrong on my assumption that the Df had exactly the same sensor as the D4 (turns out that they are similar, but not exactly the same), but also shared some incredible information about testing procedures, data analysis and other crazy, mind-boggling stuff! The learning curve with photography never ends, especially when you get into the whole sensor and image processing pipeline side of it. I must warn our readers though – the below article is very technical and is not intended for beginners! Hope you enjoy it! Nasim.

If one is shooting raw, they might be interested to know if there is any benefit in using intermediate ISO settings like ISO 125, 160, etc. There is no single answer to this question, because it depends on implementation of these intermediate ISO settings in the particular camera. Sometimes they are implemented the same way as the main ISO settings, but other times they are a result of certain manipulations, like digital multiplication.

To demonstrate how this can be determined, we will first analyze the so-called Masked Pixels (often called optically black area, or simply OB), which is a portion of the sensor that we normally do not see in our images. It is covered from light, so it can be a good indicator of the lowest possible noise of the sensor, while noise is what we analyze to learn how to use a given sensor optimally. We are taking a series of shots at varying ISO settings, from the lowest to the highest and, of course, using all intermediate ISO settings available. The subject of the shots can be anything – you can even shoot with a lens’ cap on.

Next, bring the first shot of the series into RawDigger and set RawDigger preferences to display the black frame (Display Options, Masked Pixels checkbox, checked) and not to subtract black Level (Data Processing, Subtract Black checkbox, unchecked).

RawDigger Preferences 1

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A Fifty for Creativity

A Fifty for Creativity

Even just a few hours ago, I was once again asked by a reader what lenses do I use most for my wedding photography. The answer is and always has been the same for my wedding, family or general photography needs – a classic fifty. I am sure hardly anyone will find this at all surprising, because fast 50mm fixed focal length lenses have become a legend of sorts. Ask any photographer and he will tell you – that is one of the two most versatile fixed focal length lenses you can buy (the other being a 35mm lens). It is time we back up that claim with actual photographs, and plenty of them. Is there a single reason for it being so versatile? No. Rather, it is a combination of various characteristics and generally pleasing manner of “drawing” the photograph that, even today with all the amazing zoom lenses, makes it such a sought-after lens.

A Fifty for Creativity

Naturally, the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G is not the only lens I own and use, but I really do feel this particular focal length deserves a separate article just to show how truly special it is. I adore it. More than that, my warm feelings towards such a lens are not dictated by raw technical characteristics, rather how much it resonates with the way I previsualize my work. And that is why, instead of boring you to death with technicalities, I will gladly let photographs do most of the talking for a change.

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What is an Extension Tube?

Extension Tubes

Our readers frequently ask us about extension tubes for macro photography. Since I am not much into macro myself, I have not explored this area of photography enough to qualify to write about it. While I have done some macro photography for product shots and ring shots in weddings with my Nikon 105mm f/2.8G VR lens (a very sharp lens that I absolutely love), I have not explored its full capabilities and I have not tried to use extension tubes and bellows to do crazy things that you can achieve with a true macro setup. Meanwhile, our readers have been gracious enough to fill in, and I have recently received the below post from one of our readers, Usama Nasir, who talks about what extension tubes are and how they are used in macro photography.

Extension Tubes

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What is Composition in Photography?

What is Composition in Photography

With the first article in our new Mastering Composition series, it is only fitting that we start off by discussing the very definition of our main topic. In this article for beginner photographers, I will outline the general meaning of the term “composition” in art. I will also briefly discuss the goal of composition, define what a good composition is and why it is such an important part of any work of art. At the end of the article I will provide you with a simple question that is also a hint on what is to come in future articles.

What is Composition in Photography

1) General Definition of the Term

The term “composition” applies not only to visual arts, but to music, dance, literature and virtually any other kind of art. In certain contexts, such as writing, this term may not be as widely used, but is just as valid nonetheless. In general, the term “composition” has two distinctive, yet related meanings.

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Image Management in Lightroom

Lightroom Filter Bar

One of the key areas that we will be focusing during our upcoming post-processing workshops, is image management and its effect on your workflow process. Unfortunately, many of us end up using Lightroom just for editing images and might not be aware of the powerful filtering and image management tools built right into the software. Before I started using Lightroom, I used to have a very messy folder structure in my computer, with images residing in multiple folders and several drives. I never really bothered to organize images in my file system, because there was no good way to do it – most operating systems cannot even properly read image EXIF data and lack built-in functionality to effectively sort through thousands of images. After discovering Lightroom, I was able to finally organize all of my images in my computer and once I developed a good methodology, I have been using the same process successfully for many years now. I wrote a detailed guide on this a while ago in my “how to organize images in Lightroom” article, where I go into more details on the import process. In short, if you have a messy folder structure today, I highly recommend that you organize it as soon as possible. Not only will it save you from a lot of headaches when searching for a particular image, but it will also standardize your workflow process and make your backup process simple.

I recorded a video earlier today, where I demonstrate the image management capabilities of Lightroom and talk about why you should be managing your files directly from Lightroom rather than your operating system. Here is the video:

For those that cannot watch the video, I will soon be updating my article on organizing images in Lightroom for the latest version and include many of the notes from the above video.

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments section below. I hope you find the above video useful and I hope it will motivate you to re-organize your photo library.

Tips on Photographing Food Outdoors

natural light food Photography (1)

Food can be photographed anywhere and anytime, given that a photographer has the right tools for the project. Photographing in a controlled environment indoors like in a full professional studio or a mini self-made studio can take a lot of effort to set up and can be very costly. But what if you do not have the required tools for the job or cannot afford a good lighting setup initially? You resort to using natural daylight, which is free for all, thankfully. And while daylight is available for us every day to use, it can be challenging to work with. In this short article, I will provide some tips on photographing food outdoors and talk about using very inexpensive tools that will make a huge difference when dealing with harsh lighting.

natural light food Photography (1)

1) Timing

If you are planning to photograph outdoors for a paid gig or as a personal project, your first step is to time the photo shoot correctly. While there are some great tools available that will come to your rescue if need be, selecting a desirable time of the day to photograph the process will always give you more flexibility and quicker results. Generally, food photography calls for soft, less contrasted and very appetizing frames. To achieve such look in a natural environment, pick a time during early mornings or late afternoons, when the light is very soft and the sun is not too direct and harsh. If it is a cloudy day, that’s even better, since clouds do an excellent job of diffusing light (with clouds, you can shoot any time of the day, no matter where you are). Simple and basic, but it works!

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