Category Archives: Photo tech tips

Posts about technical issues in photography

Bossbu tourist cabin

Autumn came with lots of rain, but the weather forecast for the weekend September 16.-17. 2017 looked good. I had never been visiting the tourist cabin Bossbu, located in Vestheiene, Setesdal. The cabin is run by DNT (The Norwegian Tourist Association) and is normally open for hikers.  It got a major overhaul in 2015. September is reindeer hunting season in the area. Because of this, organized groups of tourists are not welcome to the cabin but others are. My wife and I decided to start from Berg in Setesdal, which implies a 15 km walk on trail. From the parking lot the trail goes trough a valley with moderate increase in altitude up to the cabin Stavskar. Then steeper up through  the Stavskar pass, before the path goes down towards the flat plain and lake were Bossbu can be found.

Lemmings are everywhere

Approaching Bossbu, lemmings started to show up around us. They are easy to spot with their brown and black color pattern. They also make sounds and run fast, sometimes in panic. As I put my foot down a lemming ran under the sole of my solid mountain footwear. Probably it thought the gap was a safe shelter on the path. It was not possible to prevent a quick death of the lemming. The day after, on our return, the same thing happened to my wife. Lemmings are apparently not popular among predators since they give a bad taste when eaten. In some years the lemming population grows to incredible numbers.

Reindeer are hunted

The reindeer herds in Setesdal belong to the southernmost population of wild reindeer in Norway. There is a long-standing tradition of reindeer hunting in this area. We observed two animals running towards hunters on our way to the cabin. The next day we observed a large herd only 200 m away from us. At the cabin we met the hunters. They had butchered the animals and now parts of the slaughter were tied up on the wall of the cabin to dry. The weight of the meat gets so heavy that some hunters require helicopter transport to get the meat down from the roadless area. Some people dislike this form of hunting, but since wolves are not present here, hunting is a way of regulating the reindeer population growth. At the same time, resources are harvested that are natural to the area. Reindeer have been found in Norwegian mountains since the last ice-age.

 

Reindeer meat ready to be transported from Bossbu by helicopter.

Bossbu was crowded

Because of the reindeer hunters and also the many hiking tourists present, Bossbu was crowded. There was barely enough matresses for us to sleep on the floor. However, we slept well and were ready for the retun trip on Sunday. During the night I had set up the camera for a trough-the-night timelapse. I use a drill battery as a power source for the camera, enough to do the several hundred exposures necessary for the timelapse. I used an exposure time of 25 seconds on the interval timer, and mounted the 14 mm Samyang wide-angle lens. The interval was set to 35 seconds. That was enough to ensure that the image files were stored to the memory card. I set the camera on a tripod weighted with a rock to ensure stability. A raincoat served to protect the camera. Because of my error the ISO was set to 800, while it should have been set to 3200. Luckily, because of the raw expose together with exposure adjustment in post, it was still possible to get a good timelapse from the scene.

Bossbu cabin and Botnsvatnet.

Bossbu at night – one image from the time lapse series.

Samyang 14 mm, f/2.8, is not robust against knocks

I have enjoyed my Samyang lens for about a year now. Some months ago I accidentally lost my photo backpack from my shoulder to the floor at home. The Samyang lens was in the bag. The padding was not so thick between the floor and the lens, but there was a carpet. I did not pay attention to the episode and forgot about it. In December I was hiking at Ljosland (700 m) and photographed my tent and the sky at night. After arriving home I noticed that the photos were unsharp. I didn’t remember the camerabag episode and assumed that there was dew on the lens front element. Then, last night, I was off to photograph the night sky. Before going out I discovered that my lens was unsharp at infinite distance. However, when I focused down to about 0.7 m the image was sharp. I could also feel that the distance ring on the lens was harder to turn. Suddenly I remembered the camerabag episode and understood the reason for the unsharpness.

Returning from the photo trip I examined the photos and could conclude that they were sharp at infinite distance with the lens set at 0.7 m. I am happy with this after all, but I will advice all owners of this lens to be careful with it. Possibly the internal lens elements are so heavy and/or so weakly attached that it will take little force to knock them out of position.

Winter camping can be rough in Norway

Winter camping can be rough in Norway. Ljosland in December. This image is unsharp.

Test of night sky photography with damaged lens.

Test of night sky photography with damaged lens. However, the image is sharp since I have set the distance to 0.7 m.

 

Photography in the cold

Christmas day came with nice weather. Snow had already fallen in the Evje district, and the skiing possibilities were good. I decided to go for my first skiing trip this winter, and also would use the opportunity to test some new photo gear at freezing temperatures. I packed my sledge with the necessary equipment and headed for the Evje district and the hill Himmelsyna (not really a mountain) at 649 m. The temperature was around – 8 degrees C, expected to fall towards the evening. After one and a half hours of skiing I fired up my “primus” camp stove and prepared dinner from freeze-dried ready made camp food. I was not far from the top of Himmelsyna, but some steep hills remained. The sledge felt really heavy trying to pull me backwards and downwards. I finally made it to the top, just in time for the sunset. Unfortunately, dark clouds in the west were preparing to cover the sun before the final sunset. There was only a weak breeze of wind, but my fingers soon got cold trying to set up the tripod and camera. I wanted to try the Sony a7r together with the Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 lens. In particular I wanted to test how many shots the battery of the a7r would be able to give me. It soon became clear that the battery capacity dropped precipitously in this cold. The small Li-ion battery of the a7r is kind of an Achilles heel for this camera, so spare batteries must be brought along. It is a good idea to keep them in your pocket. This will keep them warm and they will last longer. I noticed that the battery icon showed 16 % charge after around 20 shots (started with a battery capacity of about 90 %). After coming home and allowing the battery to reach room temperature, the capacity now increased to 67 %. Thus, in the cold the power is there but the low temperature prevents the full effect of the battery. In the future I will bring with me several replacement batteries, not risking to possess a dead camera when the opportunities come along.

I also wanted to test my Samyang lens  in the cold. For the image shown below I pointed the camera towards the sunset and used some mountain birch trees to represent the foreground. The wind had prepared nice patterns in the snow that would function as perspective lines towards the sun. The aperture setting on this lens is fully manual and I set it to f/5.6 (should have used a smaller aperture to get even greater depth-of-field). I used aperture-priority setting on the camera and let the light-meter determine the shutter speed. The distance was set to 3 m in order to exploit the full range of depth-of-field. The exposure turned out to be OK. The sharpness of the lens is very good in the center but diminishes towards the edges of the image. There is also some vignetting. However, considering the price class of this lens it is really a good performer. The was no problems with the camera or the lens in the cold, apart from the battery issues I have mentioned. All Li-ion batteries lose effect in the cold.

Himmelsyna utsikt vestover 2

Astrophotography combined with foreground light painting

In my youth I was very interested in astronomy. However, the interest faded, or should I say it went into a sleeping mode for a long time. Today, new digital cameras with full-frame sensors has made it feasible to get better photos of the skies. In line with this, I decided to give my new camera Sony a7r and ultra-wide angle lens Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 a try for astrophotography. On Friday night I went to a location called Birkelands-vatnet (Birkeland lake) not far from my home in Vest-Agder, Norway. The location is not ideal for astrophotography since it is too close to the city lights of Kristiansand (15 km). But for a test it would do. It was the first clear night for a long time, after weeks of rain and clouded sky. The moon was almost new, which was also a necessary condition. I parked the car and set up the camera with a remote cable release (intervalometer). The night was very dark and I was totally dependent on the flashlight. The view at the lake was against the city, which was not perfect since the city lights would probably dim the stars.

Viewfinder problems

I tried to look through the electronic viewfinder of the camera, but nothing was visible there apart from lots of noise. Apparently, the a7r viewfinder is useless in very low light. The live view monitor was no better. So if astrophotography is your main goal, then a camera with an optical viewfinder is to prefer at present. Left without the possibility to adjust focus and perspective I had to use the distance scale on the lens to set for infinity. The infinity mark on the Samyang 14 mm is not well defined so I had to take a chance. Luckily, 14 mm’s are not very picky on exact focus.

Birkelandsvatn background photo

Birkelandsvatn background photo, View a larger version of this photo on Gallery – Astrophotography.

Birkelandsvatn foreground photo

Birkelandsvatn foreground photo

Birkelandsvatnet composite image

Birkelandsvatnet composite image

I had read posts about astrophotography at the Internet and knew what would be the best settings for the camera. ISO was set at 3200, aperture at 2.8, shutter at bulb (25 secs on the intervalometer) since the lens was at 14 mm focal length. First, I made the background exposure. The stars look like points in normal view, but with magnification it is possible to see streaking. Then I focused for the foreground and made a second exposure set for identical shutter time, but now at ISO 800 and f/8. I used the flashlight to illuminate the foreground while exposing so that the grass would be correctly exposed. This can be called light painting and by moving the flashlight it gives a softer look to the image. I had mounted a diffuser made from white translucent plastic foil (carry bag) in front of the LED diode in the flashlight to get more diffused light.

Making a composite image

Back home, I wanted to make a composite image of the background skies and the foreground lake bank covered with grass. This can be done in Photoshop Elements version 9, which is the version I have. First, I adjusted the two exposures in Lightroom to get proper white balance (auto was fine here) and reduction of noise in the sky (Details, sharpness, luminance). I also had to reduce the foreground exposure a little. Then I opened the photos in Elements and made the sky image background. I also opened the foreground image. Then I dragged this image on top of the background image. The alignment seemed to be done automatically. Elements 9 can work with layer masks, so I opened a layer mask along with the background. Using the gradient tool, I was able to make a horizontal gradient so that the background image was visible in the upper part of the image and showed the sky. The foreground image was visible in the lower part of the composite image. The gradient tool was perfect here since the dark banks at the other side of the lake disguised any possible stitching between the images. The final result was not so bad considering this was my first attempt with this technique. The light beam from the flashlight is visible in parts of the image, so be careful not to turn the flashlight against the camera. I have learned a lot from internet pages, and I would in particular recommend Adam Woodworth’s excellent article (Introduction to landscape astrophotography) and beautiful photos which can be found at the Luminous Landscapes webpage (www.luminous-landscape.com).

Combining several images into one

A nice day in fall the lake surface is completely reflective.

One way to make a panorama landscape image is to tile several images into one. This will boost the number of pixels in the image and make it sharper. One example is shown here. This photo of Tronstadvatn (county Vest-Agder), Norway, is stiched together from several photos with the camera in vertical position. In this way the panorama created will be sharper compared to a single photo. I have used free software from Microsoft called Image Composite Editor (ICE).