Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tripod use banned on Zion National Park trails

Zion's "Little Tree" photographed with the Milky Way. It's single, 25 second exposure and Low Level Lighting required the use of a tripod.

Tripods are not allowed in Zion National Park —but only if you are in a photography workshop, and the restriction only applies to park trails and trailheads. The new 2018 rules for Guided Photography Workshops, do NOT apply to individual photographers who are on their own and not traveling with a commercial business.

A recent photography blog article may be misleading. The real issue is not so much a restriction of tripods in Zion park photo workshops, but the ban of tripods on trails. Tripods are allowed in Zion park workshops, just not on trails —and to many visitors this is a good ruling. The CUA operating plan is written in a way that can be quite confusing to some.

In previous years, photo workshop operators were given a complete list of where tripods were allowed in Zion, but now even these areas are off limits to tripods. For 2018, no tripods can to be used on any trail within Zion. "No two groups from any one company are authorized to guide (or be on) on any one trail at the same time. [However,] Groups may travel on foot up to 100 feet off of designated trails, using existing disturbances or staying on hardened surfaces." Most of the photographers I interviewed agree that getting groups off the trails will help improve park access for everyone.

Why the change? Quoting section 7 of the 2018 Operating Plan For Guided Photography and Painting Workshops: “The use of tripods on trails is prohibited by permittees or clients (monopods are authorized); [because] Tours must not interfere with the general visiting public. [Furthermore] …Due to the sensitivity of nighttime resources in Zion National Park, all requests for nighttime photography must be made at least three weeks ahead to time. All requests must include all proposed locations and dates/times of proposed nighttime activities. Since nighttime photography requires the use of tripods and tripods are not authorized on park trails, nighttime photography is not authorized on park trails.”

As you can see from that last statement, photographing at night is becoming a more sensitive issue in the park, and will probably require even greater planning (and maybe even additional permits) in the future. Currently, workshop operators are only permitted to guide in 16 specific areas and trailheads/trails within the park (see section 11).

My opinion: Prohibiting groups of photographers from blocking trails with their tripods is a good idea. From the feedback I'm getting, trail congestion from workshop groups has happened in the past. However, I've noticed that most of my workshop operators friends spend a lot of time educating and setting the example for best practices. I believe the park would do better by concentrate more on the large foreign tour operators who seem to allow their participants to do most of the trail blocking—not only clogging trail access, but also running ahead and blocking the view from other tourists and photographers who came before them.

Maybe the park service should consider an educational brochure on photographer ethics and park regulations, printed in the most popular languages. In light of current budget shortfalls, they might also consider raising the entrance fee rates for large tour groups, who currently only pay less than $7.31 per person, compared to the normal $15/person or $30 per car. Fees might also be increased for foreign visitors, who do not pay taxes to support our national parks.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

'Starry Night Quotes' 2018 Wall Calendar

Starry Night Quotes - 2018 Wall Calendar • 13-month • Jan 2018-Jan 2019 • click to enlarge


1. FREE Download - You can download a mini PDF version of this calendar to view on your hand-held device or to print out from you own inkjet or laser printer (15 - 8.5" x 11" sheets). I can also email this PDF directly to you, if you want to sign up for my NightScaper newsletter:

Get my FREE 2018 calendar

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2. Order a Pre-printed calendar from my Etsy website for $24.99 - This spiral-bound, 28-page wall calendar looks similar to the above photo and is printed on beautiful glossy coated card stock. Folded, it is 11" x 8.5". Hanging on your wall it is 11" x 17". Because it is a 13-month calendar (January 2018 thru January 2019), you can order through January 2018 and still have a full calendar year!

$5.00 of your purchase is will be donated to the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) to help preserve our dark sky areas. (Your name and address will not be shared with IDA, unless you so designate.)

Inspiring quotes. Each month of my calendar includes quotes from great thinkers in our world's history that inspire us as we contemplate our relationship with the universe above us.

The above quote is from the rarely sung fourth verse of "Home on the Range" (click to enlarge).

Finding Darkness in rural America. The "Starry Night Quotes" calendar is part of my Finding Darkness project —a quest I am on to help find and protect our dark skies. These are places where we can still clearly see the night stars. My goal is not to be an alarmist about light pollution, but to promote the use and benefits of dark sky areas as sanctuaries for creativity and solace —areas where we can remove the noise from our busy lives, to think, dream and be inspired.

A Santa Fe astronomer has said, " light pollution spreads, we are slowly losing one of the oldest and most universal links to all of human history." As late as 1889, Van Gogh was able to experience and paint his famous “Starry Night”. If he were alive today, there would be nothing in the night skies over Saint Rémy, France to inspire him, as the Milky Way can no longer be seen from there.

Can you really see the Milky Way at night with your naked eyes? I'm often asked this question by people who have never seen the Milky Way —and over 80% of people in the United States have not had this amazing experience because of increasing light pollution. Here's an article wrote on the naked eye experience vs. what the camera sees under a Bortle class 1 to 3 sky.

Light pollution affects how we see the starry night sky. Persons in a bright suburban area or a city like Salt Lake City (Bortle sky class 7-9) can only see a few of the brightest stars. Those who are far the from city lights can often see the Milky Way and millions of stars (click to enlarge).
Our ability to see stars in the night sky lessens as light pollution increases. Feel free to download and share this image on social media (click to enlarge).

Press Release: Please feel free to share my Finding Darkness press release with your local media.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Sequator is a PC Star Stacking App Alternative to Starry Landscape Stacker

"Bonsai Rock Under The Stars" is a 5-image stack with Sequator to reduce noise in the sky  ~ © Michael Ver Sprill‎ (this is a cropped version - original can be seen on the NightScaper Facebook group)

Sequator is a free Windows / PC software which can track stars on multiple images, align stars and stack them. According to Michael Ver Sprill, it is the first PC software he has found that favorably compares to Starry Landscape Stacker for the Mac!

“I typically use my iMac for editing stacked images and a program called Starry Landscape Stacker which really helps reduce noise and maintain sharpness. However it is for Apple computers only until I came across SEQUATOR. This program is very similar to SLS. The results were practically identical and this seems to be a great alternative for PC users,” says Mike.

“This program is very similar to SLS. The results were practically identical and this seems to be a great alternative for PC users.”

Video Tutorial: Mike has put together a YouTube tutorial that will help you properly install and use Sequator.

Sequator vs. Fitswork: Ralf Rohner has done a nice job comparing Sequator with Fitswork, another popular Windows based star stacking program. He highly recommends Sequator to process an untracked image sequence. "On Windows, it is by far the easiest to use and fastest stacking software for nightscapes and produces very good results. Even beginners can immediately produce excellent results. There are no excuses anymore for noisy single shot nightsapes," says Ralf.

Ralf found Sequator “...really easy to use and it took me less than 5 minutes to produce the result, while my normal workflow in Fitswork takes about 3 hours to arrive at the same stage…The only point where I disagree Mike, is that for better sharpness and less no burned highlights, I recommend to use HDR instead of Auto Brightness.”

For a more detailed comparison, refer to Ralf's Flickr post ~ © Ralf Rohner

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Notes from the Stars

Click image to enlarge

Notes from the Stars is a new hardcover book, written by ten award-winning world-class night landscape photographers, each teaching us about what they do best. This is a KickStarter project that should be totally crowdfunded by December 10th, with a January 2018 delivery date. The minimum pledge to get this "dream team" book is $50. Pledge here to get your copy.

FUNDING UPDATE: On November 30th, This KickStarter project reached it's $25,000 funding goal, and is now totally funded!

There are many books and tutorials that teach nightscape photography techniques. However, no photographer can master every facet of nightscape photography, so readers are often left with useful but standard procedures and perhaps a taste of the author's own take on all those techniques. In Notes from the Stars, each subject is covered from a personal perspective by an expert and acclaimed nightscape photographer - an authority and inspiration to many in the topic they chose to write about.

Here are the 10 authors and their topics:
Yuri Beletsky: Capturing the Airglow
Mark Gee: The Art of Nightscape Timelapses
Brad Goldpaint: Photographing the Milky Way with Moonlight
Mikko Lagerstedt: Vision of Depth (elevating nightscape photography to the level of fine art)
Babak Tafreshi: Deep-sky single-shot nightscapes
Jack Fusco: Photographing the Northern Lights
Mike Taylor: Exposure blend nightscapes
Wally Pacholka: Capturing National Parks at Night
Paul Wilson: High Resolution Nightscape Panoramas
Rogelio Bernal Andreo: Meteor showers and abstract nightscapes.

Rogelio Andreo is the creator of this KickStarter project, and has successfully funded two other books in the past, Deep Sky Colors, The Book and Hawaii Nights.

A note from Royce: I was offered one of the authorship positions in this book (to write about my expertise on low level landscape lighting), but the deadline for the manuscript came at a time when I had several other projects in the works, so I had to decline. I'm really looking forward to getting a copy of this book and expanding my expertise in other areas. One can never have enough nightscape knowledge!

Special eBook DISCOUNT: If you help fund the "Notes from the Stars", you can get
a $5.00 discount when you purchase my MilkyWay NightScapes eBook!
Just enter the discount code TWAN at checkout.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Tools to Help You Photograph the August 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse

The great American Solar Eclipse will pass across 12 of the United States on August 21 at the speed of about 2,000 mph! PhotoPills recently published a 116-page eclipse guide on their website. In it, you’ll learn how to turn your eclipse photo ideas into real photos—from planning the eclipse with the new PhotoPills Eclipse tool, to the gear and camera settings you need.

Photog Adventures has also produced a YouTube video tutorial on how to use the PhotoPills Eclipse update to plan for the 2017 Solar Eclipse!

If you are not able to travel to one of the areas of eclipse totality, here's a website that will show you what the solar eclipse will look like in your area—just type in your Zip Code!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Creating Natural NightScape Photographs

Creating Natural NightScape Photographs is a free 90-minute seminar I presented with the help of some of my friends, Ralf Rohner, Manish Mamtani, Eric Benedetti and Clarence Spencer. It was given on March 14, 2017 in the West Jordan, Utah Viridian Special Events Center before a group of 240 people. The tips in this tutorial will expand the knowledge you've gained from my Milky Way NightScapes eBook. For the best experience, go full screen and change the video settings to the highest quality. You can also share this YouTube video, using this link:

Our thanks to Adobe Systems for their generous sponsorship for this free event.

5 Ways to Produce More Even Artificial Lighting was discussed, but the main presentation was about techniques to Reduce NightScape Noise, increase image resolution and quality.

One of five ways to produce more even and natural NightScape lighting is to increase the lighting distance in order to reduce light fall-off. Four other techniques are presented in the seminar.

Most of the seminar was about using these 6 techniques to decrease digital noise and increase NightScape image quality and resolution.

MULTIPLE IMAGE STITCHING: Instead of shooting ONE wide angle image (24mm on left), you can use a 50mm lens (with the camera in the vertical position) and shoot several overlapping images to create a simple panorama that can be cropped into an image that looks like the 24mm image, but now has about twice as many pixels, greater detail, and less noise.

Enlarged detail from the above two images. Even though the 24mm image was a stack of 8 exposures (which greatly reduced its noise), the 7-stitch image on the right has much more detail and resolution. See the next two images below to see how "exposure stacking" reduces noise. Click image to enlarge for detail.

EXPOSURE STACKING is another method of reducing digital noise and improving image quality. Instead of taking just one exposure of a night scene, you can increase your ISO by 33% to 100% and take many shorter exposures and then combine or "stack" these exposures together into one final image —using Photoshop or a variety of free or inexpensive stacking apps. Click image to enlarge for detail.

Exposure stacking not only reduces noise, but allows you to use shorter exposure times, producing sharper stars and revealing smaller stars that were obscured by noise! Click image to enlarge for detail.

Guest presenters, Eric Benedetti and Clarence Spencer finished the seminar with additional information about tracking and astro modification options for your camera's digital sensor.

Resources, Products and Software mentioned in this seminar presentation:

Star Stacking Resources:
Starry Landscape Stacker app (Mac) used by Royce & Manish Mamtani
Fitswork (Windows) app use by Ralf Rohner
Photoshop tutorial for stacking
Sequator is a new PC software (not mentioned in the video) that compares very favorably with Starry Landscape Stacker

Star Trackers:
Sky-Watcher Star Adventure used by Eric Benedetti
Vixon Polarie Star Tracker used by Royce
iOptron SkyTracker - most popular & least expense
Low Level Landscape Lighting organization
Astro camera modification by Spencer Camera

Royce's "Milky Way NightScapes" eBook
Photog Adventures - produced & edited the video of this presentation

Future Video Tutorials: This seminar is a spring-board for the future production of many short and highly concentrated video tutorials on specific topics, i.e. exposure stacking, tracking, multiple image panoramas and advanced lighting techniques. Each 10-minute video will move along quickly, with plenty of detailed and illustrated information on that topic. Your feedback and suggestions are appreciated in the comments below...

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

PhotoPills now available for Android

PhotoPills goes Android! The best selling iOS app for planning photo shoots with the Sun, Moon and Milky Way is now available for Android!

“Hey Royce! - I just wanted to tell you that after 1 year of hard work, we've just released the [Android] Beta version for PhotoPills,” - Rafael Pons, The Bard, at PhotoPills.

Rafael had confided in me about a year ago that they were working on this, and I’m so excited for them! Keep in mind that this is a beta, unreleased app, and it may be unstable. Android users are finally going to experience what only iPhone and iPad users have enjoyed for several years now. This is one AMAZING app (and I’m not getting any renumeration for recommending this).

At $9.99, this may seem a little expensive for an Android app, but this is the same price that iOS users have been paying for years. The app is very versatile and has so much depth, you'll be amazed at all the things it can do. Unlike most apps out there that provide very little instruction, PhotoPills provides a complete library of user helps, including video tutorials for every function.