Pole Star

Pole Star

Pole Star, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is the last of a sequence of twelve photos of the wrecked Point Reyes trawler near Inverness. I took these photos the other night over the course of a couple of hours. The sequence started with The Long and the Short, and included Star Trawler. Like Star Trawler, this last capture in the series is a 1,204 second (20 minute) exposure.

As I was taking this photo, I was interested in the reflection of the boat in the water. I’ll admit I was pretty bored with all the waiting around during the long exposures and the in-camera noise processing, so I augmented the reflection with a little discreet light painting on the hull with my headlamp.

I also angled my camera so that it was facing due north and the Pole Star. The Pole Star, also called Polaris or the North Star, is almost stationary in this photo while all the other stars trail around it. This is because the Pole Star lies nearly in a direct line with the axis of the Earth’s rotation “above” the North Pole.

It has been rudimentary night-time navigation for thousands of years in the nothern hemisphere to determine north using the Pole Star (and is still useful if you are lost in the wilderness at night without a GPS or compass).

To determine north, first find the Big Dipper. Next, locate the “cup” part of the dipper so you can draw a mental line extending from the star Merak and extending beyond the star Dubhe (you’ll find a diagram in the Wikipedia article). The extended line will point at the bright Pole Star (it’s about five times as far from Dubhe as Merak and Dubhe are apart). Draw a line from the Pole Star to the earth, and you’ve fairly accurately found north.

This explains why I was excited when I spotted the Big Dipper pointing to the Pole Star directly above the wreck of the Point Reyes. I was hoping to capture the stars whirling around the single still point of Polaris above the boat.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 13mm (19.5mm in 35mm terms), 1,204 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

The Long and Short

Star Trawler 2

Star Trawler 2, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is my first, and shortest, exposure of the Point Reyes boat the other night. As I explained in my original story about the star trawler, I was surprised to find the apparently monchromatic moonlight producing such vibrant colors.

The longer exposure was intended to produce star trails, but I like the effect here too: of stars more the way we see them.

The pair of photos illustrates a spread of aperture-shutter speed combinations, both at essentially the same exposure value: from 1,204 seconds at f/22 at the long end to 30 seconds at f/3.5 at the short end. (“Long” and “short” refer to time.) Since depth of field is not an issue in these photos, the contrast is a good illustration of the differing way exposure time treats objects in motion (the stars).

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 18mm (27mm in 35mm terms), 30 seconds at f/3.5 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Star Trawler

Star Trawler 1

Star Trawler 1, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a 1,204 second (or about twenty minute) exposure of the wrecked fishing trawler Point Reyes. I’ve photographed this boat before, but never at night.

There was a bright moon in the sky, and as I walked across the mud flats behind the Inverness General Store, my fear was that all that moonlight would detract from the starlight. As I set up my tripod, polka music came faintly from the Czech restaurant in Inverness. Vladimir’s, it seems is still run by 78-year-old Vlad, and according to this review sometimes features live music from the old country, which must have been what I was hearing. Somehow, the music seemed to fit the slightly sad scene of the wrecked boat forever grounded on the mudbank.

As I began running test exposures, it became clear from my review in the LCD that my fears that moonlight would render colors monotonic were misplaced. It’s true that the stars were not as bright in the sky as they would have been on a moonless night. But the moonlight brightly lit the dark mass of the trawler (helped along in this exposure, I confess, with a little judicious light painting with my head lamp). The moonlight also created the reflections in the water in the foreground. If you look closely, you’ll even see reflected star trails.

And the astounding thing was that to my eye the world lit by moonlight was close to monochromatic, but the sensor picked up things with the vivid colors you see here.

For this long exposure, I stopped the lens down to f/22, with the idea of picking up as much star motion as I could.

[Nikon D300, 12-24mm zoom lens at 13mm (19.5mm in 35mm terms), 1,204 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Assembling Clivia


Clivia, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Clivia, a lily-like flower originally from southern Africa, grow on the shaded side of our house with very little intervention from me. These are slow growers, but spectacular, and unstoppable once established. I love them, but they’re tough to photograph in the deep shade, with their tendency to move in the slightest wind.

So the obvious move was to cut a nice stem of clivia, put it in a vase, and photograph indoors.

The clivia is shown here stopped down to f/32 for a high depth-of-field image. I put the stem in the vase on a black background using sun light for illumination. Like the anemone I photographed the other day, the final image represents several initial exposures at different shutter speeds (see the technical data below).

So, I assembled the flowers on the clivia stem from two exposures, one lighter and one darker. Looking at the results, I saw I needed more construction. I was looking at a horizontal, and the image needed to be vertical. This switch was a matter of cropping in on the flower, extending the canvas downward using a black background color, and adding a layer to extend a cloned version of the stem.

[Nikon D300, Sigma 50mm f/2.8 macro lens (75mm in 35mm terms), 1/5 of a second and 4/5 of a second at f32 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Related images: Asiatic Lily Bouquet, Sunflower.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Anemone and Bicycles


Anemone, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a close-up of an anemone, a flower in the buttercup (Ranunculus) family named after the Greek word for wind.

Technically, there’s a good comparison to be made with my extreme wide angle Lupine along the Trail, because both photos are composites of two exposures. So I was going with a story title like “an anemone is to a wide angle as a fish is to a bicycle” until I realized the whole title was too complicated, wouldn’t fit in the space I have for titles, and conveyed the wrong thought. So please consider “Anemones and Bicycles” a compaction of all that, even though there are no bicycles evident.

I exposed the anemone at 1.3 seconds for the background of the flower, and then layered on top a 4 second exposure of the flower core.

[Nikon D300, 200mm f/4 macro lens (300mm in 35mm terms), two exposures (one at 1.3 seconds, one at 4 seconds), both f/36 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Other anemone images: Anemone, Core of the Anemone, Anemone Japonica.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Shine a Light on Digital Photography

The time has come, the walrus famously said, to talk of many things (thanks, Lewis Carroll). Rather than shoes, ships, sealing wax, cabbages, and kings, I tend to talk about digital photography.

When I came back to photography, I had no idea that the techniques and aesthetics of this wonderful new medium would take over my life. I used a crazy-quilt combination of methods to communicate with literally thousands of you who are passionate about digital photography, by writing this blog, adding contacts on Flickr, sending emails to people who were interested, and by writing books (like Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers). During the last few years, I have literally written thousands of blog stories and emails about the aesthetics, techniques, and technologies of digital photography, and about lving the photographic life.

Just as kids grow up, so do interests and endeavors. The time has come where I’ve had to formalize my communications process (at least a bit!). So if you are interested in keeping abreast with what I’m doing in photography, the techniques I’m trying, my books, my workshops (not to mention the rest of packed life) I urge you to sign up for my photography newsletter. I promise back stories and information about my photos, delivered in a convenient email format. You’ll also receive special information, offers, and techniques just for readers of my newsletter.

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Night at Point Reyes Lighthouse

View this image larger. Read the back story featuring this image.

Posted in Photography

Each Apple Pear

Pear Blossom Special

Pear Blossom Special, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Obviously, I have a fondness for small aperture, fully stopped-down flower macros that use high depth of field to convey sharpness. (I explain the relationship of aperture to depth of field in Chapter 2 of Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers.) For example, take a look at Echinacea Harvest Moon, Rose Study 11, and Lily in a Green Vase.

But sometimes the high-depth-of-field approach won’t work, either for technical reasons or because having the entire photo sharp doesn’t give the desired visual and aesthetic impact. In fact, selective focus can be so attractive that there are special tools you can use, like the Lensbaby, intended for just this purpose.

The apple and pear blossoms in this pair of photos are espaliered along a fence with our western neighbor. These trees have multiple varieties (five in the case of the apple, three for the pear) grafted onto a single trunk, with the varietal branches spread across the fence. It’s an interesting tangent that any apple you are ever likely to eat will have come from grafted stock rather than seed. Apples seeds simply don’t reliably reproduce, so once you get a good eating apple what you do is reproduce it over and over again by grafting, which essentially means genetic cloning.

I do generally believe that a tripod is the photographer’s best friend. But in this case, the blossoms were high up the fence, so I wasn’t going to able to bring a tripod to bear. Besides, there was a steady breeze. So I made the best of it, and hand held these photos using image stabilization at a fast enough shutter speed so that the subject motion wasn’t much of an issue.

The trick here is to get the plane of the camera as parallel as possible to the area of the subject that you care about. Also, you need to press the shutter release at exactly the right instant, because even slight subject (or camera) movement can spoil the focus. But if all the stars line up, selective focus can make for very nice images.

Apple Blossom Special

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[Both photos: Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens, 36mm extension tube, +2 diopter close-up filter, ISO 100, hand held with image stabilization enagaged; Apple: 1/250 of a second at f/8, 95mm (142.5mm in 35mm terms); Pear: 1/160 of a second at f/6.3, 82mm (123mm in 35mm terms)]

Related stories: Cherry Blossom Special; Botany of Desire.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Lupine along the Trail

Lupine along the Trail

Lupine along the Trail, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Coming back from Alamere Falls, I photographed this lupine bush with two exposures, one for the sunset in the background, and one for the foreground which was already deep in twilight darkness. Within the curve of the sky, you can see the far end of the Point Reyes peninsula, silhouetted against the sunset.

Related story: Hike to Alamere Falls.

[Nikon D300, 10.5mm digital fisheye, 1/5 of a second (sunset background) and 3/5 of a second (foreground) at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Flowers, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Great Basin Spadefoot

The good people at the Kanab Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management collected this fellow when he was merely a tadpole from a rain puddle in the slickrock. Now this Great Basin Spadefoot Frog lives in a terrarium in the office.

When I visted the BLM following my visit to the Wave, they were nice enough to take the little guy out for me where I photographed him on a hand. He’s a shy one, so I didn’t have too much time. I put my 200mm macro lens on a tripod, and boosted the ISO to 1,000 to use available light.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Lake Tenaya at Night

On a memorable evening close to the 2007 summer solstice, I climbed down from the top of Lembert Dome as the sun set. On my way to the Olmsted Point area to photograph star trails over Half Dome, I stopped to photograph the shores of Lake Tenaya by starlight. This was a 3 1/2 minute exposure with the ISO boosted to 640.

The photo below shows the view of Lake Tenaya from more-or-less the same spot in daylight hours.

Besides ambient starlight, you can see a couple of exogenous light sources in this photo: car headlights in the distance on Route 120, and the light trail of a satellite traversing up the right-hand side of the sky.

[24mm in 35mm terms, 210 seconds at f/4 and ISO 640, tripod mounted.]

Lake Tenaya

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Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite