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).

Svartåmoen nature reserve in Trollheimen

This summer (2014) was unusually hot, and I enjoyed the breeze on the lake Gråsjøen as I paddled from the dam to the southern end of the lake. Gråsjøen is a hydroelectric reservoir. Since the last winter gave very little snow the reservoir was far from full, and the eroded banks of the lake was not a pretty sight as I paddled along. I tried to enjoy the mountains bordering the lake. Among these, the Snota is widely known for its beauty. The view from the top is supposed to be stunning, although I have never been there myself. It took me 1 hour 45 minutes by relaxed paddling to get to the southern end of the lake, and the distance done was 11 km. Going ashore there you are in the middle of the landscape protected area called Trollheimen (home of the Trolls). The mountain lodge called Trollheimshytta is only four km from where I landed, located in the nature reserve protected area called Svartåmoen. This area is best known for the undisturbed forest of pine and its bogs. Everywhere in the forest there are dead and dried out old pine trees, taking strange shapes that in the night may trigger your fantasy and remind you of trolls and “vetter” which the local people in past times  believed existed (and some still do). If you look carefully for these you will see them.

 

Due to the regulation of the lake the banks are barren and wide.

Due to the regulation of the lake the banks are barren and wide.

I put up my tent a little higher up in the valley side in order to get a good view of Snota. The temperature was far too high for hiking with a heavy backpack full of photo gear, so after spotting a fairly flat place for my tent and a small creek nearby, I decided to camp there. I wanted to take some photos in the early morning sun, which would give a nice sideways illumination of the mountain massive. After getting rid of my backpack I felt relieved and set the course for Trollheimshytta and hopefully a good dinner and a beer. During the crossing of Svartåmoen I noticed elk tracks around the small lakes. Elks like to migrate to these lakes during night for a bath and some tasty aquatic herbs. Cloudberries along the way gave refreshments, although the horseflies were nasty in the hot afternoon. Arriving at Trollheimshytta, a cold beer tasted fabulously and for dinner “rømmegrøt”. Much to prefer compared to my dry camping food. After relaxing for a while I headed back to the tent. After all I was getting up early to get my photos of the mountain.

Can you see the troll crying?

Can you see the troll crying?

 

Snota in the morning light, viewed from Svartåmoen

Snota in the morning light, viewed from Svartåmoen

The lazy bird photographer

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) in my garden

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) in my garden

Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

Hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

A remote setup controlled from the kitchen. The 200 mm lens is focussed on the pine branch to the right of the bird feeder.

A remote setup controlled from the kitchen. The 200 mm lens is focussed on the pine branch to the right of the bird feeder.

Why not take photos while sitting in comfort by your breakfast table drinking a cup of coffee. I have tried this while photographing birds visiting my bird feeder. I have erected a pole near the feeder were a proper branch can be nailed in place. Many birds prefer to land here rather than landing directly on the feeder. All you need is a camera, tripod, remote control and some patience. I have made the remote control cable longer (about five meters) so that it can be taken in through the open  window, then the window is closed.  The camera lens must be focused at the branch or slightly in front of it. I use a 200 mm lens on a camera with APS-C sensor. Use a short shutter time, like 1/500 s. Also use an aperture of about 5.6 to blur background but still have some depth of field. If the light is good an ISO value of 200-400 should be OK. I have also made a box for the camera in case of rain. You can see the set-up in my garden and some results by the images enclosed. Both birds are finches and seed eaters. The red bird is the bullfinch and the brown bird is the hawfinch. The latter species is known to have a very powerful beak pressure, enough to crush cherry stones. It is definitely the boss of the bird feeder.

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).

Innerdalen valley

Many years ago plans were proposed for building a large hydroelectric reservoir in Innerdalen. The valley was privately owned by Oystein Opdoel, a farmer who was using the valley for animal pasture. The valley is owned by the Opdoel family since 1740. The surrounding mountains, especially Innerdalstårnet and Skarfjell, were used for climbing by the Mountaineer Club. Mr. Opdoel saw the value of preserving the valley as it was for future generations. After all, a water reservoir would fill the complete valley and ruin the area for ever. He, along with the Mountaineer Club members, fought the authorities. In the end they succeeded. In 1967 the valley (omitting the river) was protected by law. Three years later the Norwegian Nature Conservation Act was approved. Innerdalen, now including the river, was given the status as Landscape Protection Area. Oystein Opdoel’s grandson is now running a guest house, Renndoelssetra, in the old pasture buildings and at the same time caring for milking cows, sheep and goat. The hens provide eggs for breakfast, and you can also have waffles and cream. The guest house is located by Innerdalsvatnet (Innerdal Lake) and is associated with the Norwegian Trekking Association. To get there you have to walk about four kilometers along the four-wheel drive dirt road from the car park at Nerdal (Virumdalen). You will definitely be welcome.

Morning impressions in Innerdalen

Dalatårnet and Skarfjell viewed from Virumdalen

Jotunheimen National Park

Skagastøl mountains (Hurrungane), with Store Skagastølstind on the right.

Skagastøl mountains (Hurrungane), with Store Skagastølstind on the right.

The Creeping Azalea is quite common in Jotunheimen

The Creeping Azalea is quite common in Jotunheimen

This wild flower in on the IUCN redlist. It is endemic to Scandinavia

This wild flower, Primula scandinavica (Fjellnøkleblom), is on the IUCN redlist. It is endemic to Scandinavia

 

The highest peaks in Norway are located in Jotunheimen National Park. The highest of them all is Galdhøpiggen at 2469 m (8230 feet). Although their heights are not extraordinarily impressive, the area is packed with peaks and glaciers. The valleys, however, are flat and easily hiked.  The name of the national park means “The home of the Jotuns” (trolls). The alpine flora is abundant in places. Still, the area is accessible from all corners. A footpath system for hikers and proper accomodation makes hiking trips between tourist quarters possible for the physically fit. Steep hillsides and valleys with lush vegetation make the trips memorable. Waterfalls with clear, tasty mountain water makes the need for bringing drinking water unnecessary. Mountaineers find the area of peaks called Hurrungane irresistible. The Englishman William Cecil Slingsby was the first to climb the highest peak of Hurrungane Store Skagastølstind (2405 m or 8017 feet) in 1876. Traditional sheep grazing is allowed in areas of the park. A drive along the Sognefjell road is mindblowing in nice weather. The road runs close to the northern border of the national park.