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FIRST LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY ONLINE NEWSLETTER

NOVEMBER 2016

GREETINGS

Sorry about the time lag between newsletters but a lot has been going on as big changes have taken place. Rhonda has taken a new job and we have recently moved to Eagle, Idaho, just outside of Boise. This was a very strange move for me in that we headed to Boise to close on a house one week, then I was off to Alaska for eagles from there, then finally back to Eagle to wait for the movers to arrive with our house belongings. There has to be something ironic about going to photograph eagles and then moving to Eagle. Hope it's a good sign. Going to miss the Denver area after being there close to 30 years, but, a new adventure and photo opportunities await. My new mailing address is PO Box 875; Eagle ID 83616. It will take a little bit for me to change every page on the site but it will get done.

I'm also pushing forward with an email change to my gmail account. I'm tired of dealing with the more than 100 spams a day I'm getting on my website email account. Please use firstlightphotoworkshops@gmail.com going forward. Please make sure you allow emails from this new address and change your default to that for sending me emails. The old account will still be active for awhile until I get switched over to a new server and format using Squarespace for building and maintaining my website. Not sure when the new website will be up but it is being worked on a little bit at a time.

ACADIA / MAINE COAST WORKSHOP

Nailed it. Despite a very dry summer in Maine, the colors this year were amazing. In talking with some locals, they said the reds were the best they have ever seen in the area. With getting a day of exploring some new roads before the trip, I found a wonderful place for the group to finish the workshop - Shaker Village at Sabbathday Lake. The combination of unique buildings, farm equipment and fall color made this a very popular stop on the trip.

One technique I have been using quite a bit the last few years and passing on at the right locations also was well received - very long exposures of moving water. Stops at Boulder Beach and Sand Beach in Acadia provided some great opportunities for this and several people took full advantage of the settings and came away with some wonderful images.

stone barn bar harbor
Stone Barn found on the way to Duck Brook Bridge

By taking a different route to Duck Brook Bridge from our hotel in Bar Harbor, we came across the beautiful old Stone Barn, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1907 and is next to a farm house and carriage barn that were built in 1850. It is sure to be visited on future workshops to the area. This shows that even if you know the spots you want to visit on a trip, taking a different route or exploring another road may lead to some incredible shots.

One thing I experienced both in Acadia and on my Utah trip was more people at these places than I've ever seen before. When you used to count on parks starting to empty out after Labor Day, both areas were packed with people. It doesn't surprise me as much in Acadia as this is the peak of fall color but in Utah in late October there were masses of people like you would expect during the high season of summer.

We also worked on some other forms of fall abstracts off and on during the week including, tossing some rocks in a lake or smoothe stream to create some ripples, zooming, camera shakes and multiple exposures. Some participants had used these before but for some they were new and they looked forward to using them more down the road.

shaker village sabbathday lake
There was great color at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village

Other good spots in Acadia we visited were Jordan Pond, Seal Harbor and a few isolated streams and areas with some trees with various colors. Even though Acadia was a very popular destination, mid-coast was more of a favorite with most people on the trip. When I asked people as we were heading to the airport where the favorite spot was, most had areas not in the park. Besides the Shaker Village, a pond I've found, Hope Church and the stream behind a senior center were very popular.

With weather that went from fully socked in with no light to no clouds in the sky for sunrises or sunsets, it was a really nice trip that everyone seemed to enjoy.

UTAH NIGHTS

With setting up this trip to two locations in eastern Utah, I hope for two nights of three near Mexican Hat being clear for shooting all of the formations I want to get to for Milky Way / Star Trails shots and three of the four nights in Moab for Arches National Park. We got the nights we wanted on the southern leg but only got two nights in Arches before some weather came in. Even with just two nights, we got some really nice shooting in and the techniques learned by the group has them more than on their way to heading out on their own for this type of shooting in the future. From the stuff I've seen from them they went home with some great shots.

Our first night at Valley of the Gods in southeastern Utah takes us to a spot where we can get three different formations from one parking spot. We always show up for a sunset shoot just around the corner from the night shooting area but we have plenty of time to then get the cameras ready for shooting the stars. The primary settings on the camera everyone needed to learn about were infinity focus, shooting mode, ISO, f/stop and shutter speed. With these all set and an understanding of the why that was discussed in a preview program before we headed out it was time to start shooting. The biggest challenge the first night for people is when switching from one formation to another and getting a new composition in the dark. This is one reason I like the first spot is that we don't have to drive around, just walk a few yards to compose a new shot with a new formation and shoot.

After several test shots, exposures and compositions looked good and the shooting was underway. It's then time to pull up a rock or a small camp chair to sit and let the camera do its thing for 30 to 45 minutes of taking individual shots to stack together for a star trail. While this location is one of the darkest spots in the west, it has now become a popular route for planes flying overhead between several areas. With them being at a pretty high altitude they stay in a stack for three to five shots. While the stacking program I use and show people how to use has a gap filling mode, it doesn't fully get a five shot gap of 15 to 20 second exposures filled in all the way. We shoot for long enough to get some pretty decent stacks and from what several people showed me they were able to get some good star trails images.

milky way valley of the gods
Milky Way at Valley of the Gods - ISO 3200, f/2.8, 20 seconds

With primarily good weather for this leg of the trip - we did lose our third night to clouds - we were able to get pretty much everything I hoped for the group to get at this location. The main thing was everyone became comfortable with getting their settings and compositions and mainly working with their cameras in the dark. Some good light also brought some really nice shots along in a very unique location.

After the southern leg is was off to Moab and Arches National Park. As mentioned in the Acadia write-up, I had never seen it so crowded at Arches before, especially at this time of year. Driving down the main drag at night most every hotel parking lot was full and we even had a bunch of people out doing night shooting. It wouldn't be so bad but when you're set up and shooting a formation people would arrive and start light painting not knowing what they were doing. I'd blast a really bright light at them to get them to stop but it still would mess up some of our shots. What was a bigger disappointment was my main painting light wouldn't work so we weren't able to get as good of light painting done as I would have liked. The only thing I had was an LED light and those are way too bright for doing this but good for walking in and out of shooting locations. It's amazing though what some car headlights will do for a bit of light painting when done from the right angle.

Our first two nights of shooting provided clear skies so we got as much in as we could knowing that some weather was on its way. I had hoped and thought we'd get a third night in but it just didn't happen. We did try a new formation area for some night shooting at the Garden of Eden and our second shot here is one I'll definitely use on future trips. We also went to a couple of formations I hadn't done in a while and they turned out to be quite popular. We hit these due to people at the other spots so it's good I have a bunch of stand-by locations for night shots in the park.

star trail at garden of eden arches np
Garden of Eden star trails at Arches National Park

While not every formation we shot had the Milky Way in them, the group had more than enough to come away with some good Milky Way shots. Again, from what I saw people had some good shots. I have my 2017 trip to this area around the same time of year but hope there won't be as many people out. One thing I might change up is heading out later at night to avoid both the planes and the crowds on clear nights. On clear nights the sunsets aren't overly dramatic and the trip is primarily for night shooting anyway. I will probably change the time of year for my 2018 trip to try and get an even strong Milky Way than what is seen in October.

BALD EAGLES OF THE CHILKAT

Weather. This is something a workshop leader can never control. I push this trip out as late as possible in November in hopes of there being snow on the ground at the eagle preserve in Haines, Alaska. Last year the snow came just a few days before our trip but this year it was scheduled about three days after we left. It seems the snows are coming later and later each year, not just here but all over the place.

Even without the contrast of snow on the gravel bars in the river, there was better shooting this year compared to last year. With a fast running river, the main shooting area changed from the one primary spot last year to two others this year. At times the feeding eagles were very close as opposed to way out in the river on the back side of the gravel bar. The tough thing was that where the best shooting was it didn't have as many open spots for photographers to get clear shots so you had to work your way into openings for shooting if you weren't the first ones there, which we were a couple of times.

At the beginning of the trip everyone was asked about what kind of shots they hoped to come away with from the trip and it ran the gamut of different behaviors from flight shots to great interaction. A couple of people got the good combo of a pair of bald eagles battling in the sky, a shot I don't have but would like to get. They were at the right place at the right time when one eagle took flight with a chunk of fish and another took chase after him. The mid-air exchange was really quick and the person happened to be on them and got some good shots.

bald eagles fighting
Bald eagle confrontation - 600mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/2500

What we didn't get this year was a bunch of shots where there was aggressive arrivals of eagles coming in to challenge a bird already on a salmon pulled out of the water. Even though eagles prefer a fish that another bird is on, there were enough salmon around they didn't have to battle as much even though there was some good action between various birds and a few good fights.

The reason there was a bunch of fish was that just before we arrived there were three days of rain that raised the water levels up quite a bit. As the water made its way down stream and subsided, a pool was created between a couple of gravel bars stranding a bunch of fish in there. There were so many fish trapped even the gulls were able to pull a few fish out without the eagles bothering them. What a sight.

With the first two days being pretty cloudy before clear skies were projected, everyone was able to get some good practice in with flight and behavior before the good light and faster shutter speeds could be used without bumping up the ISO to high. For fast action I was trying to get people close to 1/2000th of a second but the first two days they weere lucky if they got to 1/1000th at best. Those who were mainly hand holding saw the reason for getting pretty fast shutter speeds. Some early morning shots were done at around 1/320 and 1/640 even with pushing the ISO. This caused some slight movement in the wingtips for shots of the birds in flight just over the water. This can create some nice effects showing movement but it's always better to get good sharp images in these situations.

One thing the sunlight made people do was keep an eye on their histogram so as not to blow out the whites of the adults' head and tail. The main thing I emphasize when shooting whites is to have the highlight side of the histogram get just into the far right section. This keeps the whites white with some detail in them and not making them overexposed. With the gravel bars being a major portion of each shot, using evaluative metering and over exposing either 1/3 or 2/3 was all that was needed for getting good exposures.

With one person on thiis trip having done both Haines and Dutch Harbor with me for eagle trips I asked him which one he preferred. His response was a vote for Dutch Harbor due to more flight shots and being able to get the birds taking fish out of the water. I had done Dutch Harbor for a bunch of years but the price of the flight from Anchorage to there ($900) made the price a bit too steep for most people. I would love to get this back on the schedule and if there is enough interest I'll see about getting it scheduled, maybe even for June or July of 2017. While a big lens is nice, a trip here can be done with just a 100-400 lens or something comparable. Please let me know if you are interested in this and I'll work to put something together.

bald eagle landing
Bald eagle landing on a snag - 600mm, ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/4000 (notice the detail with the very fast shutter speed)

AURORA BOOK PRE-ORDERS AVAILABLE

The proof is back at the publishers, after a slight delay do to my trips and moving, and is moving forward with the next steps towards printing. Not sure what is next but as soon as I get word I'll pass it on about when the book will be out. Pre-orders can still be made online through Amazon. Visit https://www.amazon.com/Aurora-Borealis-Andy-Long/dp/1682032086/ to order yours today. There are some changes to the print version from the ebook along with a bunch of new images so it will be a great addition to your photo book collection. Make a pre-order and show proof of purchase and I'll take $100 off the price of my 2017 Alaska or Iceland northern lights trip should you wish to attend either. Siign up for both and get $400 off total. They are pushing me to get 100 pre-orders so please help out with this endeavor.

A PHOTOGRAPHERS PRIMER FOR WHAT TO DO WHEN MOVING

Everyone has made a move at least once, some quite a few times. The hassles of changing addresses with every entity known to man, getting utilities set up, packing, unpacking, setting up office. The list goes on and on. Then you have all sorts of other things to do when you're a photographer, especially if the move is to a new state. You're very comfortable with the area where you were in terms of places to go for a day of shooting but moving to a place you've never been before brings about a whole new set of items to take care of. For me, the Denver area was home for close to 30 years and I could pick from dozens of places to go shoot in the area.

This primer is a good thing to keep in mind when making a move to a new city or state as I have just done. Of course you have to deal with everything else, but next is finding out how you can figure out where to go shooting in the area. Luckily we have the internet and everything it has to offer. Now, what kind of web searching to do when getting to a new place?

My first searches were to find any photo clubs in the area. The Boise area actually has two camera clubs and I plan on checking out both of these. Why a camera club? The images they show in judging / critiques will give you lots of ideas of local places to go shooting. Programs may also provide good info on areas of interest. Talking with members and finding a good shooting companion (or two) will also be something to look for with finding a good camera club. My first visit to each of these clubs will be incognito as I won't give my full name so people won't recognize me - unless someone get's this newsletter and is on the lookout for me.

As a bird photographer, my next search was to see if there was a local Audubon club. While you don't have to go to any of their meetings, their web site will probably have a section on local hot spots and what kind of bird activity is there. I have found a bunch of spots I want to check out at various times of year here as there are some very new and interesting birds I haven't photographed.

Keeping going with bird photography, check out a local bird feed store and ask them about places of interest. Also do some online searching for state parkes, National Wildlife Refuges or any other parks that may be of interest. I have a couple of NWRs in the area, a state park three miles away and a greenbelt along the Boise River a mile away. I also hit the jackpot here in that the World Center for Birds of Prey is in town. I've already stopped in at a national forest office and talked with them and picked up a lot of information on what's in the area. I plan on expanding the horizons in the coming months to these offices and online to see what there is.

This was followed up by an 'Idaho birders' search that came up with a bunch of info and websites pointing me to good birding hotspots. I have one very close in that there is a lake behind the houses across the street from me. Right now the most interesting thing there are some hooded mergansers to go with the mallards and Canada geese (I just can't seem to escape these). The bird feeders go up when I get back from Bosque / White Sands to see what else is in the area. Dog walks have had me seeing a group of quail in a few yards.

A visit to Facebook is also a good place to do some searching. Do some searching for local and state 'Groups' and join these. I've already found four that seem pretty interesting just by typicing Idaho in the seach box. Keep checking these to see what places images are being posted from and track these.

Moving on to other animals, do a search on hunting in the area to find spots for large game such as deer, elk, moose, and possibly even bear. It's amazing what a search for something like this will produce.

There's more information available on places to shoot than you really imagine. If you're looking for a few new spots in a place you've lived for years, try some of these and you may be surprised at what's available that you didn't know about.

FRANCE WORKSHOP 2017

Just a few spots remain for this trip in June 2017 after the last round of sign-ups. Come capture the essence of France from two very different perspectives for a trip you will remember for years to come. The Paris and Nice trip is now set up and ready for people to sign up. I had been waiting for the Monet Gardens to open in April to connect with them about extended hours and this will be included one day while in Paris. This 10-day trip will feature four nights in Nice and five nights in Paris. The train ride between the two is included in the price. The trip is packed with lots of great spots in both areas. Visit www.firstlighttours.com/france-workshop.html to read all about this trip. Contact if you have any questions.

FALKLAND ISLANDS 2018

With three people expressing interest in this trip, there is room for only two or three more people. It might seem a bit early, but my January 2018 Penguins of the Falkland Island trip is fully set up and ready for sign ups. It took a bit more work getting all of the islands set up but it's pretty much a repeat of the 2016 trip that everyone enjoyed quite a bit. the only slight change is one extra day in Stanley at the end of the trip, something people brough up as thinking would be a good idea as there's a bit around town to shoot and previously there wasn't quite enough time. Would like to have five people for the trip but can take up to seven depending on the mix of males and females for bed space on one of the islands.

PHOTO QUOTE OF THE MONTH

“A true photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words.”  ~ Ansel Adams

DIGITAL CORNER - BATCH CONVERSIONS

With all the set up it takes to do star trail photography, primarily when doing a series of individual shots, how to get all of those RAW files converted to jpeg in order to process the files using StarStaX. Depending on the computer and operating system being used, there are several options for converting a large number of files from RAW to jpeg.

With quite a few photographers using Lightroom (I still haven't jumped to the dark side yet), there is an easy solution for this process but depending on the number of files being converted it could take some time. For Lightroom, use these steps:

  • Add the photos you want to convert to the Quick Collection and select them all. Click "Export" and set the following settings: Export Location, File Renaming, Image Sizing, and Meta Data (Include All). Next, click "Add" to save the settings as a preset, so you don't have to enter them again the next time. Click "Export" and wait.

    • For those using Photoshop with Bridge open the program and get to the folder containing the images. Select them and then go to Tools > Photoshop > Image Processor. When the window opens up, select the location to save the processed images and then the file type (jpeg). Make sure the quality is 12, the highest available. Click Run and take a break. This is a slow process as it opens each file to be converted in Photoshop before making the change.

    A little faster way of doing this if using Photoshop is to select and open all of the RAW files so they open in Camera RAW. Before opening the images, create a folder with a distinctive name for a location for the converted files to be saved. Now it's safe to open all of the images. Once all of the images have opened, use the Select All button to group all of the images together. At the bottom left of the screen is a Save Images button. When this is clicked a new dialog box opens where you can select the folder previously created can be chosen and the file quality (again type in 12). Click start and let it go.

  1. Most everyone has one of the two programs that can be used for doing a batch convert but there are others ways as well for doing this. Canon users who like using Digital Photographer Pro can do a batch convert. To do this open the program and select the images to be converted. Next, click the Batch Process button. When the dialog box opens, select the destination folder (must already be created), the export file format and the image settings. For settings, I use 350 dpi so the final stacked file is of very high quality that can be opened for post processing. Click Execute and sit back while the processing takes place.

  2. There are some people out there who do not have any of these programs and there are a few options for doing a batch convert. Doing a Google search for free RAW to jpeg conversion programs show there are numerous options available but more than likely most every photographer has one of these available for doing this process.

    Why do a batch convert? If doing a star trail stack using StarStaX it's a necessity as the program only works with jpeg files. It would be nice if it compiled RAW files but when you get a good free program such as this you can't ask for everything. This is why it's best to save the converted file at the highest possible quality so that after the stack is complete the image can be worked on in whichever post processing software is preferred.


  3. star trails three gossips arches np
    Short stack of 23 images of Three Gossips at Arches National Park