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Minutes from April 13 NWMNP Meeting

The meeting was kicked off by Vice President, Robert Hanson at 7pm. Mike Cronin gave a brief description of his “Shooting and Stitching Panoramas”. There were 7 people in attendance and it appears everyone got a lot out of the session. Robert updated the attendees about the upcoming NANPA Meet-up on May 7. Harlequins will be the topic, and the meet-up will start at the bridge on North Lake McDonald Road, at the north end of the lake. Participants should meet at 5:15 AM. That is to be there as the ducks start to take off and go upstream. Then the plan is to walk down along McDonald Creek. Dick Walker suggested bringing binoculars, as the ducks are hand to find. Our meeting speaker was David Marx, a professional photographer from Whitefish. Along with photographing, David has produced a very extension video library on Lightroom, Snapseed (app on Iphone and Android to edit photos), etc. David's website is focusphotoschool.com. Take a look. David's presentation was on “Pinpoint Stars – the Fundamentals of Nigh Photography” David said night photography is his favorite, particularly as a landscape photographer. Two types of Night Sky Images:
  • Pinpoint Stars: Images with crisp frozen stars that show no stellar motion.
  • Star Trail: Images that record the motion of the stars moving. The longer you leave the shutter open, the more movement.
The western arm of the Milky Way is now visible, and it's a great time to photograph. Pinpoint Star Photography Equipment
  • Sturdy tripod
  • a fast wide-angle lens
  • duct tape, gaffers tape, or electrical tape
  • Flashlight
  • Optional Equipment
    • Cable Release/Intervalometer – if you don't have a cable release, can use camera timer.
    • Smartphone
Pre-Dark Preparation Pays off
  • You can dial in almost all of the critical camera settings before you go.
  • Get ready long before it gets dark!
FOCUS IS CRITICAL (hard to focus in the dark) Focusing at Night
  • Auto focus does not work well at night – doesn't have anything to focus on
  • Manually focusing in the dark is extremely difficult
  • Focus before it gets dark on something far away. On a wide-angle lens, anything 30 to 40 feet is far away.
  • Lock your focus ring down with some tape before it gets dark.
How to Focus Before Dark
  • Remove all lens filters. Turn off the auto focus and the image stabilization.
  • Set your camera to aperture priority and select your widest aperture setting (i.e., f1.4, f2.8), which will bring in the most light possible.
  • If possible, use your camera's Live View and Focus Peaking options.
  • Manually focus your lens on a distance object (remember, 30 feet with a wide angle can be “distant”) with distinct edges and then shoot a series of test images. Shoot and adjust the focal distance as needed until your distant object is sharp.
  • Gently tape down rotating barrel focus ring (part of the lens that adjusts the focus) so it will not move and change.
    • David uses Gaffers tape – won't leave the sticky residue you find with duct take, and you can use it over and over. David sticks some on the inside of all his lens caps so he will always have, When done, stick the gaffers tape back in the lens cap – the tape is reusable.
    • Gaffers tape only works when it is warm. When it is a bit colder, use electrical tape (good into the 30's).
    • And when it gets much closer, David uses Gorilla duct tape – secret is to put on when it is warm and it will stay stuck. If put it on at zero, it won't stick.
Camera Setup Set your camera to:
  • Capture raw files
  • manual exposure mode
  • dial in a white balance of about 3200 Kelvin with a neutral picture style (cool, cold temp)
  • turn off long exposure noise reduction
  • turn off high ISO noise reduction
  • turn the camera's LCD screen brightness almost all of the way down. Make it darker than ordinary. If pops on, it will be bright and take away night vision. If the brightness is down, have a better sense of a good picture.
Raw files are Essential
  • You must capture raw files to do great work at night
  • All night images will require extensive post-processing using sophisticated software, such as Lightroom
  • The jpeg file format is not flexible enough to handle the color corrections, exposure adjustments, and noise reduction that are required to produce a top-quality night sky.
PROPER EXPOSURE The “exposure triangle” consists of:
  • Shutter speed
  • Aperture
  • ISO
Watch your histogram
  • The histogram for a properly exposed pinpoint star image will place the majority of the captured information slightly to the left of the middle line on the X axis
    • Y-Axis: how many pixels you have. Higher graph goes up, more pixels you have.
    • X-Axis: how bright are these pixels. Bottom left edge is 0% brightness. Right edge is 100% brightness.
  • It's easy to underexpose your night sky images
  • It is also possible to overexpose your images.
  • At night, you want the histogram farther on the left side, but NOT all “inky black”. If get histogram to 30-50% brightness, will be enough light for night star photography.
Aperture (opening in the lens that the light comes through)
  • Wider aperture settings bring in more light
  • Narrower aperture settings bring in less light.
  • Use your widest aperture settings for your pinpoint star shots
  • Many wide-angle lenses loose sharpness at their widest aperture setting.
    • If your images are soft, even after you have dialed in the focus, then try stopping your lens down a little and see if your shots get sharper. If using f2.8, try using f4.
    • Try wide open first – if unhappy, shut down a stop or 2.
Shutter speed
  • Slower shutter speeds bring in more light
  • Faster shutter speeds bring in less light.
  • Need to use a fairly slow shutter speed (i.e., 5, 10, 15 seconds). The problem is that the stars are not stationary objects.
  • If your shutter speed gets too slow, then the stars will begin to streak across your frame.
  • The big question is just how slow can your shutter speed get before the stars begin to appear as blobs rather than crisp points of light.
The “500 Rule”
  • 500/ (your lens length in millimeters) = the slowest shutter speed in seconds that can stop the motion of the stars. (guideline, but not perfect – might want to round down a little).
  • For example:
    • 500/50mm lens = 10 second shutter speed
    • 500/25mm lens = 20 second shutter speed
    • 500/24mm lens – 21 second shutter speed
    • 500/14mm lens = 25 second shutter speed
  • If using a crop sensor, need to take into account the “crop factor” Take the crop factor (i.e., 1.4 on a Cannon) x length of the lens, then divide that by 500.
  • There are apps on your phone or ipad that can do these calculations for you.
    • Photopills.com is one place to calculate the 500 rule. It also includes the declination of the stars to be even more precise as to your shutter speed.
    • To find more, do a Google search for “star exposure calculator” or “500 rule”.
ISO
  • High ISO settings make the camera more sensitive to light
  • High ISO performance varies from camera model to model
  • Good: High ISO settings allow us to use faster shutter speeds at night
  • Bad: High ISO settings produce more digital camera noise.
  • Finding the right ISO setting for your pinpoints star images is always a guessing game.
  • The appropriate ISO setting depends upon the brightness of your scene and the low light performance of your camera's sensor.
  • At night, start out around ISO 3200 for your pinpoint star images
  • If there is a lot of moonlight, or other light sources illuminating your foreground, then lower your ISO until the histogram is proper.
  • Our goal is to keep the ISO setting as low as possible but sometimes raising the ISO setting is the only option left when you need to capture a brighter image in the dead of night.
  • Sometimes you have to make a hard decision between using an ISO setting that will produce lots of visible noise or choosing a shutter speed that will record some streaking in your stars.
  • David's advice: Bring crisp images home and then fight against the noise using high quality software like Photoshop lightroom, Topaz DeNoise (www.topazlabs.com/denoise) or Mik Dfine from www.smartphotoeditor.com.
Composition
  • A strong foreground is essential. Without a strong foreground, a pinpoint star photos look like nothing more than a bunch of white dots on a black screen.
  • We need a visible horizon line and a strong silhouettes especially on moonless nights to add a sense of scale into our nighttime photographs.
  • Limit the inky empty black area in your foregrounds on moonless nights.
Moonlight
  • Moonlight will drown out some of the stars but the additional light will add more detail and color into your foregrounds.
  • Moon lit nights are good with landscapes
Additional Lights
  • Use additional lights to add more detail into your foregrounds. Flashlight in tent, behind a rock, “Light paint” the foreground. Campfire light. Light is cumulative to the camera when using long exposures.
  • As add more light, ISO can go down, exposure time can go down. Can combine light, i.e., moonlight, aurora borealis, firelight together.
Many, many thanks to David for spending his evening with our club. I think everyone learned something. Additional Club Business Passage of revised club bylaws: All paying members of the club received the revised version of the club bylaws and had a chance to vote on their approval. According to the bylaws, 2/3's of the paying members are required to pass. Even votes were received, and the revised bylaws were approved. You can find a copy of the bylaws on our website (www.nwmnp.org) under the member section. Education Committee: Robert reported at the last Board meeting it was decided that there would be an education committee. In the past it has been the responsibility of the VP to find our meeting speakers. Now a committee will work on our meeting programs, the monthly technical meetings, and any other education the club would like to sponsor (e.g., Lightroom workshop). Election of New Officers The bylaws state that in April, nominations will be taken for the officers of the club: President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. The Vice President is automatically nominated for the position of President, but any other club member can run if they so desire. Doug Dye will be stepping down from the President position. He will be traveling much more in the coming years so wouldn't be able to keep up the duties of the president. Nancy Chalmers is also leaving the position of Secretary and Treasurer. Her term is up. Below are the duties of the officers, as listed in the NWMNP Bylaws: President
  • To preside at all club meetings and executive board meetings
  • To appoint committee chairpersons of all committees
  • To act as club spokesperson
  • Supervise and keep in touch with all club activities
Vice President
  • To assume the duties of the President in his/her absence.
  • Act as a club executive board member on the executive board
  • A vacancy of the President shall be filled by the Vice President
Secretary
  • To keep the record of the minutes of all meetings (including adding them to the club website)
  • To notify members of meetings and events (use a tool called Mailchimp, posting notices on the club Facebook page).
  • To conduct correspondence of the club
  • To prepare ballots for elections
  • To act as a club executive board member on the executive board
Treasurer
  • Maintain the financial records of the club
  • Keep custody of the financial records
  • File any documents required at tax time.
  • File the Montana Secretary of State yearly report.
Karen Adams has thrown her hat into the ring for the Treasurer's position. Robert Hanson has an automatic nomination for President. Any dues paying member can place themselves in nomination for any of these 4 positions. If you are interested in doing so, please contact Robert Hanson (h2osports@bresnan.net) or Doug Dye (d_dye@bresnan.net). PLEASE BE AWARE: Nancy and Doug will NOT be back as officers, so someone needs to step up to keep the club viable. We absolutely need a Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer.

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