great blue heron taking flight at sunrise with orange water aurora borealis northern lights photo with red bald eagle in flight photo colorado fall aspens photo marshall point lighthouse sunset
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FIRST LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY ONLINE NEWSLETTER

APRIL 2017

GREETINGS

March is over. This is always a long month with some very interesting extremes starting with northern lights in Alaska and finishing with birds in Florida. This year the weather extremes were quite interesting with it getting to -37F on the northern leg in Alaska and then hitting 85 in Florida, a 122 degree temperature change. Add to that getting up in Florida before going to bed in Alaska makes for several days of collapsing when I get home from these two trips. Why put them so close to each other? I want to do Florida based on tides in the St. Petersburg area while the baby sandhill cranes are still small on our visit to Circle B Bar Preserve outside of Lakeland. But, with not seeing the cranes for a second year in a row I believe I will push this trip back to the next moon phase in April to give me a little break between the two in 2018. I again have the first two weeks in March locked in for the aurora for next year so make sure to get your spot as soon as you can if you want to go. I've had people do this trip up to four times as it can be very addicting as each show is different from the previous, including one person from Brazil who did it twice.

Some very interesting trips coming up with space still available. The Palouse for landscapes May 30 - June 3, Flower Techniques July 7-10, and Mount Rainier July 31 - August 4. After that is the Tetons, Colorado and Maine for fall color depending on which part of the country you want to visit for some great autumn shooting.

I'm hoping to get some exploring in Idaho in the near future. One trip will be to do the Camas lilies in mid-May. It would be nice to add this as a trip in 2018 but from what I understand the peak season can vary by up to a week each year depending on how wet the previous season was. It should be early this year with how it's been. There are a couple of falls that should be running pretty good this spring as well that might make for some good shooting. Also off to find some coyote at a spot someone drew a map to a good area for me. May wait for them to have young. Now to try and find a good spot for baby foxes.

NORTHERN LIGHTS RECAP

Brrr. It was a cold one this year but pretty interesting. Temperatures were in the -20s and -30s most nights but did get into the -teens some nights which is more typical for this time of year. Daytime temps were also pretty chilly most of the time but everyone seemed to manage fairly well, even our visitor from Australia. She had borrowed her full set of gear from someone else who had done this trip with me several years ago so she was well prepared.

With always arriving three or four days early so I can get some shooting in by myself I was able to get a really lucky shot my first night out. With having so many shots of the aurora I hardly ever take a shot of just a basic band across the sky but with just setting the camera up at a new spot and testing some new settings (3200 ISO at 1.3 seconds) I hit the shutter with the two second timer and part way into the shot I got the most interesting thing I could imagine - a rocket going up into the aurora from Poker Flats. I happened to just be pointed in the direction of this research park outside of Fairbanks and everything came together with perfect timing to capture the streak of the rocket heading up into the aurora to gather data. I also did my first panorama of the aurora from this new location outside of North Pole at Chena Lakes Recreation Area my first night out while doing some testing. I like to do a little experimenting when I get in early before passing the info on to participants.

One thing that has been a staple on this trip almost every outing is some local dog races in Fairbanks. For some reason the local races were moved to Friday and Saturday this year instead of Saturday and Sunday and we missed this but we did get out and do some nice shooting of birch tree details at Chena Lakes which everyone enjoyed both weeks. Because of a lack of snow in south central Alaska the first week group was treated to the true start to the Iditarod as it was again moved to Fairbanks for the second time in three years. We went down the river a few miles and saw the first 15 to 20 racers go by and this was exciting for the trip participants, especially our Aussie.

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
Four shot panorama - Shots taken at 3200 ISO and 1 second each, processed before stitching

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
Pure luck of capturing a rocket heading up into the aurora to capture data - First shot of the night


Once we got up the road it was a mixed bag. We did get two nights of the aurora both weeks but it was not overly active compared to what I'd like it to be for participants but it was good for people who had never seen it before and everyone was able to get nice northern lights images. A dump a snow just before we got up there made some of my day trip routes difficult to get to but we were able to get out each day both weeks for good landscape and nature shooting of snow and mountain scenics. We were able to find some interesting ice at one spot each week with some different shooting each time. A group of ptarmigan and a Dahl sheep allowed for a little bit of wildlife shooting on week two.

I always hope for extremely active aurora with lots of dancing and colors but as with all nature photography you take what you are provided. With being a bit jaded with what I've experienced over the years I have to be happy when we do get two nights of activity a week as the folks we stay with on the northern leg so often tell me that so many people head up there and never see the aurora. I have been very fortunate in that every week I've run this trip in February and March we have see and photographed the northern lights. Let's keep that going next year.

My testing of pushing the ISO up to 3200 showed I needed to increase the Noise Reduction Luminance slider up to 75 to get rid of the noise, even for a shot at just 1.6 seconds. The final results, shown here, are acceptable but I like keeping this slider a little lower so the 2500 ISO seems to be a better compromise. The faster shutter speeds freeze the action even better and there might be some times when I will use this ISO setting, but overall the quality of 2500 produces a better image. I may use the 3200 once in a while when the aurora is really dancing in order to get some faster shutter speeds and feel more comfortable with the higher noise reduction value, especially once I get the next generation Canon 5D Mark IV as this was still with the Mark III.

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
3200 ISO at 1.6 seconds - Noise Reduction Luminance slider in Camera Raw upped to 74 to get ride of excess noise


FLORIDA BIRDS RECAP

Oh did I find a great new spot to add to my Florida trip that is causing me to change things up a bit. With the baby sandhill cranes being a no show for the second year in a row, a new star has emerged with a lake south of Orlando and west of Vero Beach with more than 300 osprey nesting in cypress trees. Some good friends have told me about this place and the images I've seen from them made me go there this year and it was well worth the diversion. Now I just have to figure out how to best fit it into the schedule for next year. This spot was either number 1 or 2 for everyone's top location of all the spots we visited this year so it proved to be worth going to. It will raise the price of the trip a little bit next year due to the boat / guide rentals but it will be well work the extra expense if you ever wanted to get really good osprey in flight or on the nest shots. The new schedule and price for the trip should be up on the site in the near future.

Besides some incredible ospresy shots, all of the the other usualy suspects for the Florida Birds trip made an appearance, including Big Red the reddish egret at Fort DeSoto Park in St. Petersburg. The group kept hearing me talk about him and it took until our third visit there for him to show up but once they saw him dancing around for food they knew why he is a star attraction of the area and why people go there time and time again in order to try and get shots of him. Action of other birds at Fort DeSoto and other spots in St. Pete was a bit slow this year for some reason. While there were some other herons and egrets, they weren't around in the numbers usually found. Still, every time we went out people got some kind of interesting shots. Of course the boat ride to the rookery in St. Pete is always a popular spot with both the numbers and the variety of birds on the mangrove rookery we circle for several hour on a pontoon boat.

As in recent years, the trip started off at the Circle B Bar Preserve outside of Lakeland where we were treated to a good variety of some different birds we don't see a lot of other places. Among the birds we saw were purple gallinules, a barred owl, four roseate spoonbills, several limpkin, green herons, whistling ducks, a cooperative water moccasin and a bunch of other birds in very nice habitat. As mentioned earlier, the sandhill cranes with babies were a no show for the second year in a row. This is what originally brought me to this area but it looks like they aren't going to be as predicable so I need to find another spot for these. With now pushing the trip back a couple of weeks, baby cranes will not be a big subject because of how fast they grow but a stop at this preserve will still be included since most people enjoy it so much.

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
Female osprey getting ready for a landing on the nest in a cypress tree - close to 200 nests dot the shores of this new lake we visit

gentoo penguin jumping out of water
Big Red did show up and put on a nice show for the group complete with all his dance moves and fishing techniques


Also staying on the agenda is the day at the Gatorland rookery in Orlando. Most people have heard about the great shooting at the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine but this location rivals that in that you can be just feet from the nesting birds while walking on the boardwalk. The place also offers a photo pass and on Saturday's allows photographers early entrance and late exit. Flight shots, babies interactingin the nest, feedings, interesting back lighting situations and more make for a great shooting dat at this spot.

Having grown up in St. Petersburg, I have a bunch of spots I know of where birds hang out but it was sad to see some of them this year with how the cattails and mangroves have grown up in certain areas totally blocking the view of the water and choking out the birds' habitat. Still, there were plenty of places where there were birds and the group had some good shooting. Being very picky about ourr light, we had too good of weather during the trip as we hardly had any clouds at all the whole week whiich made for very weak sunrises and sunsets. The goldish / orangish colors in the water lasted only about a minute so we didn't much time for those great silhouette shots of herons and egrets in the water with beautiful color surrounding them. We did get several opportunities for this so everyone did come away with at least something with this setting. While I did get on a group of black skimmers the last morning, they didn't behave like they normally do and didn't do any bathing shortly after sunrise or any early feeding. They just hung around on the beach and flew in groups from one spot to another. It was still good to find and see them.

A couple of people on the trip stuck around an extra week and drove down to the Everglades and worked their way back up stopping at numerous spots. One sent me an email and said they heard numerous people commenting on how dry many of the lakes and areas were and how few birds there were so it wasn't just the areas we visited that were thin on birds this year. Hopefully this is just a short term thing and hot something that will go on for years but evenso, there are still plenty of birds down there to photograph and I'll keep doing thiis trip as there are plenty of people who want to do this each year. I may even find another spot or two to add next year by getting down there a couple of days early and doing some scouting outside of Orlando and Vero Beach and south of St. Petersburg to some spots I haven't been to in a number of years.

 

UTAH NIGHTS WORKSHOP IN OCTOBER UPDATE

Despited what you might have heard about road closures and no light painting in Arches National Park, my Utah Star Trails / Milky Way trip is still a go this year. The way my schedule works out we will be able to go on as planned but with a little bit of of change in where we are each night. We will do our first night (Saturday) in Moab in order to get into the park and then head south the next day for three nights. We'll then return to Moab and do a couple of other locations the first two nights with our final night back in Arches. From now through November, the park is closed from 7 pm until 7 am from Sunday through Thursday and only open at night on Friday and Saturday night. This will only give us two nights in the park but there are some other areas outside the park we can do some night shooting I know of that will work fine. There is always a Plan B on workshops with leaders knowing the location really well. Their ban on light painting also has a work around. I have a friend who lives in Moab who leads individual trips throughout the year and he told me how he deals with this issue.

adamm and eve star trails arches

 

AURORA BOOK IS OUT

ALthough I have yet to get my copies of the book from the publisher, I have heard my Photohraphing the Aurora Borealis book looks and reads quite nice. Visit https://www.amazon.com/Aurora-Borealis-Andy-Long/dp/1682032086/ to order yours today. Paperbook price is now $23.95 and the Kindle price is $19.95.

 

FALL COLOR WORKSHOPS 2017

You have your choice of three great and very different fall color trips for this year. First there is Tetons in Fall scheduled for September 17-22 followed by Colorado Fall Color September 24-28 and finishing up with Acadia - Coastal Maine Fall from October 8-14. One each of these trips there will be plenty of opportunites for lots of trees sporting their beautiful colors along with a variety of of beautiful landscape shots, especially in the Tetons and in Maine. In Colorado we will have several old cabins and mining buildings we will explore. Of course, in all three spots I will teach a variety of fall color abstracts techniques that will add another dimension to yoru fall color photography. Learn to see beyond the trees to pull out perspectives you did not think were possible.

fall color abstract

ONE-DAY SEMINARS

First Light is implementing one-day seminars around the country where Andy Long will fill a full day with very informative programs on Saturday covering a wide range of topices to improve your photography skills. If you have at least 15 people in one or more camera clubs or groups interested in having me present please contact for more info. A typical set of programs will include Seeing Photographically (The Art of Previsualization); Foregrounds and Backgrounds in Landscape Photography; Water Photography; Into the Night; Bird Photograph; Abstracts in Nature; Getting the Most out of StarStax, Multiple Exposure, Panorama and HDR programs; and Getting the most out of post-processing techniques. To add to the adventure, he will join a small group for a Sunday morning shoot at a location of your chooosing for a hands-on workshop setting session. The Saturday session costs $75 person and the Sunday session would be $25 per person and limited to 10 people. Contact if interested.

JAPAN BACK IN SIGHT (FEB '18)

Still working on getting a schedule and pricing together for a trip to Japan for Feb. 11 - 21 next year that will include snow monkeys, red crowned cranes, whooper swans and some scenic work. Please contact if interested. Hope to have details in the very near future. I'm working with an outfitter and guide to get everything set up so for those who contact me with interrest I'll let you know first once I hear something. Numerous people were interested before, if anyone is still interested please let me know. I hope to have something very soon.

PHOTO QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“There’s nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept.”   ~ Ansel Adams

DIGITAL CORNER - SPOT METERING BIRDS

One subject that was brought up on the Florida birds trip this year was the use of spost metering. There were several situations with white birds with dark backgrounds where the conditions only called for this type of metering and I worked with several participants quite closely as they really wanted to get a good grasp of this technique and by the end of the trip they were knowing when and how to use it.

Not all situation fully call for this metering mode but it can be used extensively if and when you get to the level of fully understanding it but then there are situations when it is the only mode that does the subject justice - having a white subject against a dark background. After just a few shots in one of these settings and pulling out good feather detail, one person commented, "So this is how some of those great pictures are taken in tought lighting conditions."

It's very easy to get locked into using Evaluative Metering most of the time when the scene in front of you is very balanced, which is the case most of the time when doing bird photography, but when there is some extreme contrast between the primary subject and its surrroundings and there are two or more stops difference in the highlights and shadows swith to Spot. In some cases there can be extremes of four of five stops and the camera can't handle these differences so metering for the highlights and letting the shadows fall off is fine as it will cause the subject to jump out from the background.

Even with Spot Metering I still recommend Aperture Prioirty and adjusting the exposure compensation from there, typically +2/3 EV and adjusting from there until the histogram looks right. This works best for a stationary subject rather than one in flight but usually with a white bird in flight the sky is pretty neutral and Evaluative Metering can be used and normal settings for whatever color the bird is can be used.

cattle egret gatorland
A very good example of when to spot meter a white bird with a dark background

Anytime precise exposure on just a part of the scene is preferred is when Spot Metering should be considered. Realize that by getting the highlights correct the shadows are going to fall off and be quite a bit darker than they normally would be but in most circumstances this should be fine as you are wanting to draw the viewers attention fully to the main subject. If you do want to pull out some of the detail in the dark area use the Shadows slider in post processing to lighten that area a bit.

The good thing with Spot Metering today is that you can sync it with the focus square being used. This allows for optaining both focus and exposure at the same time on the main subject and not having to deal with multiple things with the camera. Over time, using Spot Metering can be used almost all the time as once the main subject is properly exposed the whole scene is exposed correctly. It takes some people a little longer to grasp this technique to it's not something I teach right off the bat on bird trips but once people have been on a couple of trips and are getting pretty good at everything else they can then understand the use of Spot Metering.

Understanding and using light is one of the most important and difficult parts of photography. On the most recent trip to Florida I had to keep reminding people to get on the sun side of the birds. Some were continually shooting from the shadow side which does not allow for getting proper feather detail so keep this in mind when on your next bird photography trip. If it's overcast, there is even lighting, but if it's sunny, there is a light side and a shadow side - go to the light side. If shooting from the shadow side use spot metering but realize the background may not turn out like you want as the exposure is going to compensate for the subject being darker than it should be.

There are some downsides to using Spot Metering though. If you don't get the proper reading right away you could miss a good shot. Doing too many test shots to get the proper exposure can results in a missed shot as you try to get the correct exposure if the bird is far enough away and has several colors to it such as a gull and some of the dark colors are used in the reading.

Different lighting conditions yield different readings for white birds, especially when using Spot Metering. Values can range from no compensation to a full stop in order to keep the histogram halfway into the highlights side so the bird is white. By getting a good handle on Spot you can learn to read the light so that when you come upon most any light situation you know what the settings should be whether using Spot or Evaluative.

While this discussion is based around bird photography, Spot should also be used for any similar conditions where the subject is getting light and the background is not getting light. Close-ups of flowers is another good example of where this comes in handy where you want to get precise exposure.

While it's one thing to write about it, it's much easier to understand when putting it to use with the camera in your hand, as it is with most camera techniques. The nest time you're in the field and come across a white bird in a stationary position, try working with both Evaluative and Spot Metering to see how they compare. It would be better if there was a dark background caused by side lighting as this is where it works best, but other situations will also help show this is something that can help take your photography skills to the next level by understanding your camera and natural light.