AstroPanel 4.1.0

I got an advertisement the other day for AstroPanel 4. The software was intriguing and the price was right so I clicked the button. The software is a plug-in that works in your Photoshop.

Star Trail with my usual processing.
Star trail with AstroPanel processing. This has a feature called “Comet Star Effect” turned on. There appears to be an emphasis on the first star trail in each series.
Star Trail with my usual processing.
Star trail same photos as above with AstroPanel processing. No “Comet Star Effect” turned on.

After a few hours of playing — excuse me, working — I’ve think this is a plug-in worth exploring.

  • Download was quick.
  • Install was pretty simple. There’s a YouTube video in case you get stuck.
  • The user’s manual is a PDF.
  • Instructions are clear and simple.
  • I was up-and-running in less than an hour.

My only negative is that the final photo is delivered as a flattened TIFF. I usually work on individual layers before flattening my star trails. This is my chance to remove a stray light in one frame, for example. With AstroPanel, I’ll need to do that work prior to letting the plug-in do its work.

I suspect there are a lot of other features in this plug-in. Watch this space for updates.

AstroPanel 4

Flower Photography Gadgets

Azaleas are the first major bloom of spring where I live in east Texas. Every year in mid-February the azalea bushes start setting buds and then blooming. Bare, wintery-looking yards suddenly have lovely mounds of pink, white, or red blooms. It’s a sure sign that spring is around the corner.

My neighbor’s backyard is lined with azalea bushes. I can see them from my living room window. For a week, the huge pink flowers have been calling me.

“Come photograph me” they seem to say. “Get out here and photograph us!” they started shouting as the blooms became more profuse. My brain responded with the usual “it’s to cold” and “it’s too windy today.” But those amazing flowers kept calling to me to get out there and photograph them.

Yesterday I grabbed the camera and tripod to head outside. It was breezy so I grabbed some handy gadgets from my friends at Wimberley.

Below are all my gadgets.

F-2 Macro Flash Bracket on camera.

The Macro Flash Bracket is attached to the base plate on the camera. Both are then hooked to the MeFoto Globetrotter tripod.

Wimberley’s P-5 Universal Camera Base Plate is on the camera.

F-2 Macro Flash Bracket

Installed next to the camera. Three adjustable sections allow me to position the flash in almost an position.

Reflector to the rescue

I needed a reflector to get some light under the bloom. PP-200 The Plamp II clamps to my tripod leg and Plamp Clip grips the edge of the reflector.

PP-400 The Ground Plamp (right) and PP-200 The Plamp II (left)

The Plamp is holding the flower in position. The Plamp II (left) is holding a background flower in position.

PP-400 The Ground Plamp stuck in the ground with the spike

PP-210 Plamp Extension Rod was needed to get the bloom into position.

Clips Don’t Squeeze Tender Vegetation

The PP-211 Plamp II Thumbscrew Clips have a groove that secures around the plant stem.

Basic set-up. Camera on tripod. Macro flash bracket (F-2) holding the flash off to the left side. Bloom held in place with The Ground Plamp (PP-400).
Same as above but The Plamp II (PP-200) holds the reflector under the bloom.
Basic set-up with camera on tripod. Macro flash bracket (F-2) holding the flash off to the left side. Bloom held in place with The Ground Plamp (PP-400). The Plamp II (PP-200) is pushing a bloom into the bottom-middle of the frame.

Could I have done the photography without the Wimberley gadgets? Maybe — if it wasn’t windy or if I had an assistant to hold things. But, it was great to be out there alone with my camera and gadgets.

Crystal Ball Photography — Quick Thoughts

Photographing through a crystal ball is a lot of fun. There are some basics that have to be mastered and then you’re free go wild and be creatives.

F/stop makes a difference in the photograph. Here’s the skyline of Houston photographed with f/5.6. Notice that the edges of the crystal ball are soft. Nice bokeh, though.
Same set-up but the f/stop has been changed to f/22. The edges of the crystal ball are sharp and defined. Notice that there’s more detail in the buildings in the background.
We get so caught-up in photographing that we don’t notice distracting lights in the background. The bright white lights in the upper left are caused by car headlights on a nearby road.
Same shot as above but I’m paying more attention to the moving traffic in the background.
The image in the ball has to be in focus. Some lenses or cameras don’t focus well in the dark. You’ll have to manually focus when this happens. Try using one focus point and put that point on something contrasty. Many cameras/lenses need this to help lock focus.

All photographs taken with a Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 24-105mm lens.

Nature Photography Event

NANPA is the North American Nature Photography Association. It’s a leading organization for nature photographers. NANPA events should not be missed.

I’ll be leading the birds track at NANPA’s Nature Photography Celebration in Asheville, NC, April 19-21.

Join me and my colleagues in bird photography, night photography, landscapes, flowers, fine art, and conservation for an unprecedented amount of field time with other photographers as well as classroom sessions and opportunities to share images. 

My friends save $75 on registration with the FriendOfKathy promo code. More info: nanpa.org/celebration

Northern parula might be a migrant we find during the NANPA Celebration in Asheville, North Carolina.

Fixing a Crooked Horizon

I’m working through a folder of photos I took on a recent photo tour to the Lofoten Islands. We were at Haukland Beach late in the afternoon. The weather was mild, wind was calm, and the sea was spectacular.

At one point, I found a large rock out in the surf that was stable enough to stand on. I extended my tripod legs to the max, stabilized the camera, and then let the incoming waves wash around me while photographing. It was an exciting experience.

Yet, when I looked at the photos on my computer there was no escaping the fact that the horizon was crooked in each shot. I made a novice mistake of framing the photo with a slanted horizon.

The usual correction would be to use the straighten tool in Adobe Camera Raw or Lightroom. In this instance, though, that would cut-off part of the mountain at the top of the frame.

Slanting horizon in the original photo. Straight horizon with Crop and Content-Aware Fill.

Crop with Content-Aware to the rescue.

Adobe software allows us to crop with Content-Aware. Content-Aware fills in gaps created when we crop. Amazing tool! Here’s how to do it.

Open the photo in Photoshop. Click the crop tool on the left toolbar. Click the top left corner of the photo and drag to the bottom right corner. Make any adjustments by pulling the little guides on each corner.

Click the Straighten tool on the top tool bar and check the Content-Aware box.

Drag your cursor along a part of the horizon you want to straighten. Let go and your photo straightens. (The background color shows behind the photo.)

Now, click the check mark on the tool bar at top right. Wait, wait, wait for the process to finish.
Viola! Horizon is straight and the gaps caused by cropping have been filled in. Intelligent software almost always makes the right choice.
The last step is to save the file as a TIFF, JPG, or PSD.

Crop with Content-Aware. This is a handy tool!

I office Photoshop/Lightroom classes in the Houston area. Check out my schedule on my website.

Moving Toward Mirrorless — Hummingbirds

Thanks to the nice folks at Olympus and Hunt’s Photo & Video I got to test the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and a 300mm lens with a 1.4x extender. My regular camera is a Canon 1DX with the Canon 300mm f/4 and a 1.4x extender.

So what would happen if I shot the cameras side-by-side?

I went to my friend Lee Hoy‘s house in Ft. Davis Texas. Lee had some hummingbird feeders that were pretty active thanks to fall migration. Hummingbirds were buzzing the feeders like crazy.

My test was to set both cameras on the most fancy fast focusing settings. Lee knows Olympus so he double-checked all my setting on that camera. I know Canon so had everything set on that camera.

Both cameras were set to f/7.1, aperture priority, at ISO 500, continuous auto-focus, and rapid release.

I picked-up one camera and fired. Then I put it down and picked-up the next camera. This went on for a little over an hour. Canon then Olympus then Canon then Olympus until I was exhausted.

In the end, I took 267 photos with the Olympus and 159 with the Canon. The Olympus has a higher frames-per-second rate so there will be more photos to edit. More opportunities to capture the precise moment of action, too. That’s the plan anyway.

Both cameras held and maintained focus on the hummingbirds. I was pleased to see that the Olympus kept-up with the Canon. Both cameras also failed to focus on a hummingbird about the same rate usually thanks to operator error.

Winner? Not one over the other. They Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II held in there against the Canon 1D X Mark II. That should be good news for any bird photographers looking to buy the Olympus system.

Norway Trip Recap

The Aurora from Lofoten Islands in Norway.

I had the pleasure in September of leading a photo tour to the Lofoten Islands of Norway for Strabo Photo Tour Collection.

Norway was amazing.  It’s a pretty easy flight over to Oslo.  Then you have to overnight in Oslo and take two flights up to Leknes.  It’s above the Arctic Circle so takes some time to get there.  Luckily, the Norwegians run a super-efficient air travel system and all the flights were right on time.  

The Oslo airport, by the way, is quiet.  There are large halls typical of any airport.  People are quiet with their voices in low tones.  Conveyor belts and people movers are quiet.  Overhead announcements are quiet.  It was so amazing.

The Lofoten Islands form a peninsula that goes out into the Norwegian Sea.  There’s a road system connecting the larger islands so travel is quick and efficient.  Our hotels were near Hamnoy, Leknes, and Svolvaer. All the hotels were rorbuer-style or styled like a fishing cottage community.  Little red houses clustered around the rocky shoreline.  Made for great photos.  The little fishing cottages had two bedrooms, a shared bathroom, with a living room and kitchen.  Very cozy as long as you don’t mind sharing a bathroom.  One hotel had two bedrooms in one house and each bedroom had a private bathroom.  That was my favorite arrangement because we had private bath but still shared a living room and kitchen.

During the day we tooled around the area photographing towering mountains over crystal clear water.  The little villages were usually filled with real fishing cottages with boats, nets, buoys, etc.  That meant we always had something to photograph from a grand landscape to tiny details.  We went to an old whaling village that’s now a UNESCO site.  Lots of neat stuff from the late 1800’s and early 1900s plus museums all in a tiny village setting.  I went nuts photographing the general store with all the old tins, advertisements, and cash register.  

At night we shot based on the aurora activity.  Our first night out was pretty good.  It was especially nice since we didn’t have to leave the rorbuer to shoot.  We just walked across the parking lot and stood on the rocky shoreline.  Everyone got great photos of the aurora that night and worked on their skills.  We had a visible aurora in the middle of the trip but activity wasn’t predicted until after 11:00pm.  Several people decided to stay back at the rorbuer but the rest of us loaded in the van and headed off to a wide, sandy beach.  We had great aurora activity and got to play with reflection of the lights in the ocean.  Our third chance at the aurora was our best night.  Predictions were for spectacular lights and they began right about twilight.  I saw them on my way to dinner and had ants in my pants the whole time we were eating.  After dinner we drove to a nearby beach and stayed for several hours.  It’s amazing how you don’t get tired when green lights are waving across the sky.  Our guides said it was one of the best nights they’ve seen.  We quit shooting about 2:00am and that was because batteries were dead and cards were full.

Temperature the entire trip were in the 30-degree to 70-degree range.  We had rain on our last day as we drove to the airport.  I wore my down coat as an outer layer almost all the time.  Longjohns as a base layer and then pants and a long-sleeved shirt as a middle layer.  I only wore gloves at night when we were shooting the aurora.  

Food was amazing.  I thought it would be gross things or super bland stuff.  The fish wasn’t fishy tasting.  The meat, pork, and lamp the others had looked really nice and tender.  We had plenty of root vegetables with familiar carrots and potatoes.  Breakfast was the basic European buffet of sliced meats, cheese, fruit, eggs, and breads.  The breads were all hardy, whole-grain that I added fresh butter and jam to.  The coffee was weak but we learned to make strong coffee in our rooms.  

Thanks to Christian Hoiberg for being such a great guide. Same to Odd-Are Hansen. He’s also an awesome Aurora Dancer. Check out this video on my Facebook page.

Moving Toward Mirrorless — Magnification Factor

Rufous hummingbird photographed with Olympus EM1 Mark ii with a four-thirds sensor.

A full-frame sensor camera has a sensor that is 35mm on the longest side. A cropped sensor camera (APS-C) has a sensor that is smaller. A four-thirds sensor is even smaller at 17.5mm on the longest side.

Those smaller sensors give us what is called a crop factor. An image on a full-frame camera looks the same as if the image was taken with a film camera. Take the same photo with a APS-C camera and the image would appear to be cropped. Take the same photos with a four-thirds sensor and the image would appear more cropped.

That cropping is 1.5x on a Nikon and 1.6x on a Canon camera. The cropping is 2x on an Olympus or other four-thirds sensor camera.

Using that 2x magnification, a 300mm lens is now a 600mm lens. Add a teleconverter on that 300mm lens and you have a 420mm lens. Put that lens on a four-thirds camera and it is now equal to 840mm on a full-frame sensor camera.

Below are three different cameras all with a 300mm lens with 1.4x extender for 420mm from the same location.

The full frame is photographed with 420mm. The cropped is photographed with the same lens but because the sensor is smaller the lens is equal to a 672mm lens. The four-thirds sensor is magnified even more for a lens equal to an 840mm lens. (As was pointed out in an earlier post, all the camera set-ups weigh roughly 4.9 pounds but the view with the four-thirds is equal to a much heavier camera with lens.)

So the advantage of a four-thirds sensor camera is our subject appears bigger when using a telephoto lens with a lighter camera.

I was curious if the quality would be acceptable since the sensor was smaller.

Above is a photo of a female rufous hummingbird perched outside my kitchen window. This was photographed under horrible conditions. I’m shooting through a dirty window. I’m hand-holding the camera at ISO4000 and the image was shot in jpg versus raw. (I was cooking dinner at the time so give me a break.)
Same image as above and cropped to 100%. Notice the fine details in the feathers. No smooth, blotchy colors but actual fine details.

“Expert” opinion has been that the smaller the sensor the worse the quality. I think the fine engineering put into APS-C cameras like the Canon 7D Mark II and Nikon 500 really put an end to that thinking. My brief tests with the Olympus OM-D EM1 Mark ii shows this four-thirds sensor can stand up with the best.

As usual, give me your thoughts. It’s always fun to read your experiences. Thanks again to Hunt’s Photo and Video and the folks at Olympus for making this test possible.

Moving Toward Mirrorless — Camera Features

It’s a great time to be a photographer! Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Fuji, and Sony are pushing the engineering envelope. Each company gives us something new to keep ahead of their competition. We benefit, as photographers, with great new gadgets and features.

Problem is, though, there is no camera with every amazing feature. We have to settle on the features that are important to our shooting. My important features are not going to be the same as your important features. We each have to find the machine that works for us.

I’m testing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 ii and OM-D M1X for a month.

Each of these camera bodies has interesting features that I might use in regular shooting.

Here’s my opinion and some test results:

Focus stacking – This is nice! I’ve done focus stacking with software and love the results. Focus stacking in the camera, though, is something I’ve wanted to try for a long time.

Both the OM-D E-M1 ii and OM-D M1X gave amazing results.

Below are the individual pieces of the stacked morning glory.

Below are the individual pieces of the stacked dayflower shown above.

Lessons learned when working with both cameras. (1) Be sure to click OK to each option in the set-up process. There are several steps. (2) Confirm you’re in Focus Stacking by looking for the BRKT icon at the top of the view finder. (3) Turn off RAW/Jpg since this causes the camera to work extra and takes longer to process the finished picture. (4) The finished picture is a large Jpg. (5) In-camera focus stacking is lens dependent. Doesn’t work with every lens.

Below is a photo of a gemstone loaned to me by a friend.

This image had to be stacked in Photoshop because I used a lens that was not compatible with in-camera lens stacking.

The individual photos that made up the above image are show below.

There’s a bit to learn with Olympus focus stacking but it’s pretty easy. The camera settings include how many photos to take and focus differential. A large subject like the ruby needs a wider differential.

Silent shooting – This is a nice feature and on the Olympus it’s really silent.  I’ve used this at two weddings during the vow exchange. There’s no sound from the camera. Beware though — This is a great way to fire off 50 shots without knowing it.  Heck of a time deleting those buggers.

HDR – The cameras do this. In-camera HDR has become standard these days.

Handheld High Res – use f/2.8 to f/8 and fire off 16 shots.  Gives tons of DOF.  I tried in the office and worked well.  I’ll post more results once I get out in a grand landscape. Stay tuned!

Keystone Composition – like using a tilt-shift lens.  Adjust the foreground or background to move forward or backward.  Straighten the sides from left to right.  Worked well in the office but I need to test on a grand landscape. Watch this space.

Thank for reading and subscribe so you’ll see my next post. Feel free to ask questions or make comments below.

My thanks once again to the folks at Olympus and Hunt’s Photo & Video for letting me borrow this equipment.