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Little white LED "Ball" lights were used to find my way to and from these hoodoos in Goblin Valley, Utah. I also used yellow colored ball lights for accent low-level accent lighting behind the hoodoos. Some were placed under white plastic drinking cups to produce a soft, omnidirectional glow. 

Returning to your pre-scouted location: Scouting for a nighttime photo location can difficult even in the daytime if you are in maze like Goblin Valley State Park, Utah (enlarge to see the people at the bottom of this inset photo). Finding you way back to the chosen the spot for the final Milky Way alignment can be nearly impossible without leaving a marked trail! What you need are electronic "Hansel and Gretel" bread crumbs—not the ones in the famed story that were eaten by the birds, causing the poor children to wander!

LED Ball Lights can be your electronic "bread crumbs!" Strategically placed, they will light your way to your pre-scouted shooting location and guide you back for your return.




Ball light in daylight marking the trail 

Two ball lights mark the trail at night (1 hour after sunset)

CAUTION: The LED Ball lights can attract critters! In a recent nightscape photo shoot at Rainbow Bridge near the Utah / Arizona border, we discovered that at nearly every spot we placed a light on the ground or a rock there was a small scorpion next to the ball light!

Sunnyside Coke Ovens lit inside by ball
lights. Photo by Robert McKendrick
Multiple Uses: These LED Ball Lights can also be used to mark the locations of where you've pre-placed Low-Level-Lighting (LLL) in the daytime, so you can return and turn these lights on. I've also placed the little lights under the tripods of cameras doing timelapse sequences so I can find them in the dark without using headlamps or flashlights. My friend, Robert McKendrick, who first introduced me to these little lights uses them to do LLL accent lighting behind foreground features or to light inside these pioneer coke ovens in central Utah. You can use the white LED color lights and wrap any color filter around them, like he did using a warming gel, or you can purchase the LED color you prefer (I prefer the yellow and white LEDs). You can control the intensity of the light by adding or subtracting the number of ball lights you use at each location, and by used diffusion tools like white plastic drinking cups or tissue paper.

WHERE TO BUY: These lights are typically sold under the description of "LED Mini Round Ball Balloon Lights" or "Ball Lights for Paper Lanterns" or "Balloon Party Wedding Decoration Lights." They are usually sold in packages of 50, 100 or 200 lights. Some of the lights I've gotten in the past have been defective (about 10-20% didn't turn on when I pulled the tab). I'm currently buying my White LED Ball lights from this Amazon 'Prime' vendor, and have yet to get a defective light. I get my Yellow LED Ball lights from this Amazon 'Prime' vendor, and have had the same satisfaction (they also carry Blue, Green, Red and Multicolored lights).

Pick Up Your Trash! As I return from my shooting locations, I pick up my lights, one by one and place them in a zip-lock sandwich bag that contains the little tabs (that were pulled to turn on the lights). You can place the tabs back in between the two little batteries and reuse the ball lights at another time. A couple of reuses is about max, as the light only has about a 50% output by the end of 48-72 hours of use.

Water Resistant?  I recently got rained out at a location. As I headed back to the car, I gathered up each little ball light, some partially covered with rain water and mud, but every one was still glowing!

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Nightscaper Conference Commemorative Poster 

Special limited edition run item for registered, Nightscaper 2019 attendees.

Luster printed 18"x24" commemorative poster for the first annual, 2019 Nightscaper Conference, taking place in Moab, Utah. This poster was designed by graphic artist, Phill Monson, who will also be at the conference exhibiting his unique outdoor designs on hats, shirts and stickers.

Note: this is a pre-order item and will be delivered at the conference and will not be shipped (however, a mailing tube will be provide to protect your poster inside your luggage).



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A NightScape Photography Contest sponsored by Pictureline 

1st PLACE PRIZE: Free 1-week rental of a camera body and a lens
2nd PLACE PRIZE: Free 4-weekdays rental of a camera body OR a lens
The 2 WINNING IMAGES will also be featured on @roycebairphoto

Check out Pictureline's RENTAL department for their list of photo equipment. Pictureline is the main sponsor of the 2019 NightScaper Conference in Moab, Utah.

JUDGING will be done by the Pictureline staff.

HOW TO ENTER:
1. Enter up to three (3) “NightScape” photos (any nighttime sky with a landscape foreground) by using the Instagram #PicturelineNightScape hashtag.
2. Tag 3 other people in the comments below.
3. Follow @pictureline on Instagram.

RULES:
1. Contest begins at 12:01 AM MST on February 18, 2019 and ends at 11:59 PM MST on February 22, 2019. Only “NightScape” photos listed on Instagram with the #PicturelineNightScape hashtag are eligible to win.
2. The date the photo was taken or created is not important, but the photo must be the sole creative work of the contest submitter.
3. Contestants submitting more than three (3) images (via the use of the #PicturelineNightScape hashtag) will be disqualified.
4. Contest winners will be announced here and via Direct Messaging, on or before March 1, 2019.
5. Winners must claim and use their rental prize on or before August 1, 2019, or they will automatically forfeit their prize.
6. Distributions of prizes may subject to rental equipment availability.
7. Winners are responsible for any rental shipping charges or applicable taxes.
8. Employees of Pictureline, Inc. and Stock Solution, Inc. (Royce Bair Photo), and their family members are not eligible to submit images for this contest.
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LISTEN to 37-minute Podcast with The Photo Show host, Mike Pach, and guest, Royce Bair, talk about NightScape photography.


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Cover of "2019 Starry Night Quotes" calendar (click to enlarge)

Sample calendar month with spiritual quote (click to enlarge)

THREE CALENDAR OPTIONS:

1. FREE Download for your hand-held device - You can download a PDF version (6MB) of this calendar to view on your hand-held device.

2. FREE download for printing - You can download a higher quality PDF version (26MB) to your computer and print out the calendar on you own inkjet or laser printer (14 - 8.5" x 11" sheets).

3. Order a Pre-printed calendar from my Etsy website for only $15.99 - This spiral-bound, 26-page wall calendar is printed on beautiful glossy coated card stock. Folded, it is 11" x 8.5". Hanging on your wall it is 11" x 17". Shipping is only within the United States. Delivery is by First Class mail while supplies last.

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Conference Schedule:

Tuesday, April 30, 2019 - check into any Moab hotel, or stay at the Marriott Springhill Suites and Fairfield Inn Suites (right next to each other). These are our conference hotels and they are also closest hotels to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. We've reserved a block of rooms for our conference guests at a special discounted rate. Book your room now, as these rooms will go fast (you have until March 15, 2019 to cancel, should your plans change). The average rate for national brand hotel rooms in Moab is about $249/night. Your special rate for these beautiful Marriott rooms are $199 and $189 per night, respectively (normal rates in May are $293 and $273 per night)!

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

  • 9:00 AM - Conference Room Opens - Receive Registration lanyard
  • 10:00 AM - Christine Kenyon ~ Answers to Common Nightscape Questions
  • 11:00 AM - Clarence Spencer ~ Astro-Modified Cameras
  • 12:00 PM - Break for lunch
  • 1:30 PM - Conference Room Opens ~ Bring your Lanyard
  • 2:00 PM - Wayne Pinkston ~ Putting the Landscape Back in Landscape Astrophotography
  • 3:00 PM - Wayne Pinkston ~ Putting the Landscape Back in Landscape Astrophotography - Part II
  • 4:00 PM - Mike Shaw ~ Nightscape Composites and Blends – A How-To Guide
  • 5:00 PM - Photog Adventures ~ How to plan your next Milky Way adventure with PhotoPills
  • 6:00 PM - Break for dinner
  • 8:00 PM - Personal shooting on your own or optional Paid Field Trips


Thursday, May 2, 2019

  • Midnight - Personal shooting on your own or optional Paid Field Trips
  • 5:00 AM - Return to hotel for rest and personal time*
  • 1:30 PM - Conference Room Opens ~ Bring your Lanyard
  • 2:00 PM - Royce Bair ~ Six ways to improve the quality of your NightScapes images
  • 3:00 PM - Mike Berenson ~ Stacking, Tracking and Composites, Oh My!
  • 4:00 PM - Ron Risman ~ Tracking the Night Sky with Motion Control Gear for Timelapse
  • 5:00 PM - Photog Adventures ~ Five features in PhotoPills you are using wrong
  • 6:00 PM - Break for dinner
  • 8:00 PM - Personal shooting on your own or optional Paid Field Trips


Friday, May 3, 2019

  • Midnight - Personal shooting on your own or optional Paid Field Trips
  • 5:00 AM - Return to hotel for rest and personal time*
  • 1:30 PM - Conference Room Opens ~ Bring your Lanyard
  • 2:00 PM - Bettymaya Foott ~ Guest speaker of International Dark-Sky Association
  • 3:00 PM - Eric Benedetti ~ Tracking Mount Based Nightscape Photography
  • 4:00 PM - David Swindler ~ Post-Processing Methods to Achieve the Highest Quality Night Photos
  • 5:00 PM - Photog Adventures ~ The Power of the PhotoPills Planner Tool from Top to Bottom
  • 5:00 PM - Ron Risman ~ Shooting Day to Night “Holy Grail” Timelapse Sequences
  • 6:00 PM - Break for dinner
  • 8:00 PM - Personal shooting on your own or optional Paid Field Trips


Saturday, May 4, 2019

  • Midnight - Personal shooting on your own or optional Paid Field Trips
  • 5:00 AM - Return to hotel for rest and personal time - Conference ends*
  • 11:00 AM - Hotel checkout time, unless you wish to extend for private workshops


*The Milk Way core first appears each night at about 1:10 AM and remains visible until about 4:35 AM.

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The first annual NightScaper Conference has been scheduled for May 1-3, 2019 in Moab, Utah.

Check back in a couple of days for more information!

Poster design by Phill Monson / Entrada Outdoor Company.






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“Two Rivers” ~ The Dark River (a.k.a. The Great Rift in the Milky Way) rising over the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona ~ © Royce Bair

The Story: I woke up eleven days ago at 3:30 am on the 5th day of a Colorado River rafting trip with Western River Expeditions (that’s their boat on the bottom right); and found that the Milky Way core had finally rotated almost to the point that the Dark Horse Nebula could be seen at the bottom of the canyon. Five hours earlier I had gone to bed under the conclusion that the Milky Way core would not be revealed from this location (according to PhotoPills), before the Astronomical Dusk had ended, due to the high canyon walls.

PhotoPills had been right; however, even though the Astronomical Dusk (AD) was just ending, the view of the Milky Way in this 6,000 feet (1829 m.) deep section of the Grand Canyon was breathtaking, and I decided to wait another 15 minutes into the twilight, allowing more of the “horse” to be revealed and started an 8-exposure stack (to reduce digital noise) at 3:45 am. About a minute after I finished the stack, the bright yellow star, Antares, disappeared behind the canyon wall.

After the stack for the Milky Way, I waited another 45 minutes into the Nautical Twilight (at 4:30 am) and did a 4-exposure stack for the foreground. The results of these two stacks were then blended in Photoshop.

Although shooting past the Astronomical Dusk lowers sky contrast and makes the Milky Way more faint, it was worth it in order to place the core closer to its reveal and produce a better sky composition—reminding me once again that even though the AD is technically the best time to photography the Milky Way, there are esthetic and artistic reasons to fudge a little and wander into the Astro Twilight periods!

EXIF: Stacked & Blended. Canon EOS 5D Mark III using a Rokinon 12mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens. Sky: 8 shot stack, @ 15 sec | f/2.8 | ISO 8000. Foreground: 4 shot stack @ 30 sec | f/4.0 | ISO 1000

How-to-Tutorial: Exposure stacking. Many wonder how effective stacking is in reducing digital noise. Although tracking is a better method of reducing noise and improving detail in the sky, for the small investment in extra field time, stacking is very effective. I often like to say that stacking is the poor man's method of tracking. It requires no extra equipment, only a little extra time in the field. In this case, only eight 15-second exposures, or two extra minutes. Of course, one must spend extra time in post-processing to stack the exposures. I used Starry Landscape Stacker for the Mac. Windows users can use Sequator. Both software programs align the stars (which move between each exposure) and treat the foreground separately (which does not move).

How many stacking exposures should you make? For starry night skies I recommend at least five shots, taking them as fast as they'll write to your memory card. The more you shots you take, the smoother the software can make the sky between the stars. Seven to nine shots is a good number. I find much more than this produces a diminishing return (less noticeable smoothness for your extra efforts). If you need to shoot the foreground separately like I did, four or five stacks is typically good enough, since foregrounds often have details (rocks and plants) that tend to hide noise.

These three images were enlarged 200% in order to show show the digital noise (click to enlarge for more detail). At this enlargement, a standard 25 seconds exposure still shows some star movement or trailing. By reducing the exposure time to 15 seconds (and even shorter times when using longer focal length lenses) and compensating with a higher ISO, one can make stacking even more effective.

Processing the sky exposure. Make sure you process your stacks as 16-bit TIFFs in order retain as much bit depth as possible. Once you have processed your stacked exposures into one image, you'll need to increase the sky contrast, especially in this case where I went into the Astronomical Twilight, which makes the Milky Way even more faint than usual. As explained in my other blog posts and in my eBook, I use an "S" Curves to increase the sky contrast, while protecting the star highlights.

The left image is the Camera Raw exposure and the right image is after adding sky contrast, using an "S" Curves in Photoshop. The red lights and reflections are weak blinking lights the river guides use to make the trail to a hidden portable chemical toilet that makes river rafting more comfortable (and a national park requirement).

The foreground exposure. In order to see foreground detail below the Milky Way sky, one typically needs to use an exposure that is at least 4 to 8 times greater than the sky exposure. To reduce noise, one should use the camera's Long Exposure Noise Reduction feature. Stacking exposures will further help. However, if one is close to an approaching twilight period like I was, one can wait and take that foreground about 45 minutes later like I did. You can also take a twilight exposure for the foreground before the Astronomical Dusk begins.

This foreground exposure was taken during the Nautical Twilight, and was a stack of four 30-second exposures to further reduce noise.

Blending the Milky Way and foreground exposures. Using the sky as a masking channel and inverting the selection, the brighter foreground is selected, copied to the clipboard and then pasted as a layer over the Milky Way sky exposure. Once alignment is perfect, the layer is flattened into a final blended image.

Exposure blends like this are NOT considered "composites" because the tripod and camera did not move. In fact, alignment blends are quite easy as long as both camera and tripod do NOT move between exposure!

Correcting fisheye lens distortion. This image was taken with the relatively inexpensive, but amazingly sharp (and very low coma) Rokinon 12mm Fisheye f/2.8 lens (made for full-frame cameras). Using a fisheye lens enabled me to show the deep canyon perspective of this area. However, fisheye lenses exhibit extreme barrel distortion near the outside edges of the image, especially when they are tilted upwards! You can enable the Lens Corrections Profile in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom to remove this distortion, but it will greatly change the look of your image and typically destroy the image quality, especially near the edges. I've found a better solution is to selectively use Photoshop's "Warp" feature (Edit > Transform > Warp) only on the offending areas of your images. This correction feature enables more image quality to be retained and is much less destructive. Caution: always make sure you do this correction last, as any masking channels you have previously created will no longer align with your newly warped image!

Often, only one or two corners of a "fisheye" landscape image need lens distortion correction. Once in the "Warp" submenu, I clicked on the far left corner of the river's shore line and dragged it straight down until the river looked more natural. Although the other corners of the image are just as distorted, their distortion is actually adding a unique perspective to the image and were left alone. A simple, ten-second correction! 

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PODCAST Episode 76: Single Image Milky Way Photography vs. Star TrackingListen to a podcast I did earlier this week with Aaron and Brendon at Photog Adventures.

I discuss pros and cons of both types of Milky Way Photography and how to best take advantage of your time out there under the stars and get the most out of our images whether or not you do any star tracking.

We share some post-processing techniques I use to reduce the noise in my single image photography using the Nik Collections DFine tool as well as going for the small effort of a mini stack to reduce noise.

I also talk about why I sometimes use an astro-modified camera and the benefits that come from that, as well as the rule of thumb I like to follow for what determines whether an image becomes a Single, Stacked, Blend or Tracked mage. Along with this, I give my thoughts on the ethics of composite nightscape photography.
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