Yukon, BC, and Alaska in August

This past August I took a trip. A trip to the Great White North to visit Emily (and Brad and Leika). A trip of a lifetime, really. How often does one buy a flight to Whitehorse on a whim for 10 days of road tripping, camping and hiking?

I brought along with me the Fujifilm X100s with the WCL adaptor and the Nikon D750 with AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5, AF-S 70-200mm f/4, and AF-S 85mm f/1.8. Choosing what to pack for an extended trip is always a challenge but this combination has treated me very well in the past. For the most part on this trip, the X100s went up the mountains and the D750 did everything else.

On the first leg of the trip, we stuck around the Whitehorse area with a day trip to Carcross and climb up Caribou Mountain, a day trip to the Yukon Wildlife Preserve and Gunnar Nilsson & Mikey Lammers Research Forest, a visit to Miles Canyon and putting around downtown.

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Emily, the dog and I then started our road trip with a night camping at Paint Mountain (on Pine Lake near Haines Junction). I got some great shots of the lake and mountain at both sunrise and sunset.

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We then headed south into BC, camping at Million Dollar Falls and taking by far the best hike I’ve been on, to Samuel Glacier. Middle of nowhere, 10km out to the glacier and 10km back. The views were spectacular, but what really struck me was the dead silence once we got away from the highway.

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After the long hike we continues south into Alaska, camping at Chilkat State Park in Haines. I’ve never been to such a good looking campsite. The mountain views were beautiful and the mossy rainforest nook where we set up our tent was totally secluded.

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The next morning we caught the ferry from Haines to Skagway and after exploring the tourist town (while navigating the ridiculous crowd of tourists) we made our way back up to Conrad, Yukon to meet up with Brad and the trailer. The mountain right across the Windy Arm lake had been on fire for a while but luckily the wind was blowing all of the smoke away from us. I got some spectacular fire shots and my new favourite Milky Way.

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We hiked up the Sam McGee trail the next morning and got some great views of the lake and forest fire.

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And that’s pretty much it. An amazing trip and one I’d happily do again!

 

A Day at Carcassonne

While in Toulouse for work I used one of my days off to visit Carcassonne, about a 1hr train ride away. The walled city is very old, founded by the Romans, and changed hands many times before being faithfully restored in the 1800’s. I arrived early, and walked the cool and drizzly walk from the train station to the castle. In the off season, on a weekday morning, and with mediocre weather there were very few people and I had no trouble taking photos of the building alone, or waiting to position a single person perfectly in the shot.

The inner ramparts opened after lunch (although they were supposed to be open in the morning too) so after a hot cassoulet and local beer I paid the admission and got up high. The weather did eventually clear somewhat but not so much that I lost the dreary look to photos. Here are my favourites, with the D750, AF-S 85mm f/1.8G and Sigma 35m f/1.4 Art.

A Week in Toulouse

For the second time, my job sent me to Toulouse, France to speak at an image sensor conference. I had a few days off after and was able to explore the city.. For the most part I used the X100s, shooting only in JPG. I had the D750 as well, with AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 G, AF-S 50mm f/1.8 G and AF-S 85mm f/1.8G.

 

Whistler-Blackcomb – July 2017

During my trip to Vancouver in July I took a few days to drive up the Sea to Sky Highway to Whistler-Blackcomb, with some stops at Murrin Park, Shannon Falls, Nairn Falls and Pemberton. A highlight of the trip was the Peak-to-Peak gondola between Whistler and Blackcomb.

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A Trip to Vancouver – July 2017

A perk of my job is that occasionally I get sent to Vancouver to do testing at UBC. This year I was lucky enough to visit in July and had perfect weather for the whole trip. I brought along the D750, 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5, Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art, and 70-200mm f/4. Here are my favourite images:

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Multiple Exposure Mode with Nikon D810

A couple of months ago I was researching neutral density filters for long exposure landscape photography when I came across a forum post describing an alternative. I learned that Nikon’s DSLRs will add a number of exposures together (the maximum depends on the body) into a NEF RAW file with what they call “Multiple Exposure” mode. The summation of the set of images into a single file has an effect similar to a long exposure. In some cases it has an even bigger effect because you can control the delay between each exposure, something useful when blurring moving clouds, for example. The advantage of doing this in camera is that the output is a RAW file, making it much more editable (or so I’d expected).

I first tried out the mode in Elora, Ontario in the gorge where the Irvine Creek meets the Grand River. I brought water sandals so that I could stand in the river and my tripod with ball head for quick and easy framing. I mainly used the AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5g on the D810. I added a circular polarizer to cut down on glare, remove reflections from the water and slow down the shutter speed by a couple of stops.

I shot at in aperture priority, f/11 to f/16 at ISO Low 1 (ISO 31). Shutter speeds varied from 0.5 to 1.6 seconds. After framing and taking a test image I  set the camera to sum 10 shots with auto gain on. With auto gain the camera takes 10 shots, each at 1/10th of the total exposure (I assume shutter speed) and then adds them together to match the total exposure as if it had been one shot. In fact, the EXIF data reports the conditions as if it had been one photo. I was pretty happy with the way the photos looked! The water was blurred but the non-moving scenery was nice and sharp. After downloading the images to my computer and trying some edits in Lightroom my happiness faded.

The first thing I noticed was the that blacks were heavily clipped and stayed totally black with adjustments. Later I found that sections of water were posterized. The D810 is a camera with fantastic dynamic range and this was something I’d never seen before. Here is an example:

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Above is the NEF using just Lightroom’s default import settings. Below is the image after some normal edits.

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Here are a couple of crops, showing clipping at the top left and posterization on the bottom left.

I had a hunch. I checked the image settings and confirmed that I was shooting in 12 bits. The D810 is capable of generating 14 bit files but I don’t use them because I’ve honestly never needed to. However, in multiple exposure mode each of the images that make up the final image is shot underexposed.

In 12 bits images there are 4096 DN (digital numbers, or signal levels). Let’s say a very dark object uses 10 DN in a 12 bit image. Now, when shooting in multiple exposure mode with 10 images, that 10 DN object is only going to be 1 DN in each of the images because the exposure is 1/10th of normal. 1 DN is well into the noise floor and could even show up as 0 DN (i.e. clipped). When adding the 10 images together, all those noise-limited pixels remain clipped or at least heavily affected by noise. 14 bit images have 16384 DN worth of information. The same dark object that was 10 DN in 12 bit mode would be 40 DN in 14 bit mode. At 1/10th of the exposure you’d have 4 DN of signal, which is much less likely to clip.

Likewise, smoothly varying features like water and sky lose a lot of data when underexposed and can become posterized.

To test my theory I took a series of shots, all underexposed by about 3 stops. They all started off like this:

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I then brightened each image to a normal exposure. First I’ll show the two images that were not multiple exposure (left is 12 bit and right is 14 bit):

Apart from slight exposure difference, they’re pretty much the same. Now, the 10 shot multiple exposure images (again, 12 bits on the left and 14 bits on the right):

The 12 bit image is horrible! The 14 bit image is pretty good. Looking closely it’s still not perfect compared to the single 14 bit image but still passable. I haven’t found any discussion of this condition online which is why I’m writing this post.

With my newfound knowledge, I returned to Elora a few weeks later and this time shot entirely in 14 bit mode. I think the outcome was much better!

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Thanks for reading!

Photographing the Milky Way

As much as I loved the D700, and I really did love it, the excellent high ISO of the d750 has opened up some new doors. One of these doors, a completely new one to me,  is night sky astrophotography. Specifically the Milky Way. Although only subtly visible to the naked eye, a long exposure brings out all of the rich texture and hues that can span from horizon to horizon. Southern Ontario for the most part isn’t particularly dark but even a couple of hours north of the 401 corridor the light pollution dies down enough to get a decent shot.

The trick to getting a good capture of the milky way is to keep the signal to noise ratio high, with a wide aperture, long exposure and clean high ISO performance. As with all photos of objects in the night sky, the exposure must be short enough to keep them from being blurred by that the rotation of the earth. Fortunately there is a simple rule of thumb. Divide the number 500 by the lens’ focal length to get the maximum shutter speed to avoid blur. For example, when using an 18mm lens, the longest shutter speed is 28 seconds. This formula applies to full frame cameras. With an APS sensor, divide the shutter speed further by 1.5.

A steady tripod is also critical to getting sharp photos. For focusing, set the camera to live view, manual focus and zoom the display to a bright star or planet. It’s best to shoot with a cable release or at least in self timer mode to minimize camera shake.

Don’t expect an epic photo straight out of the camera, this type of image takes some extreme post processing. Here’s an example before any editing, followed by the finished product. The shot was taken with the D750 and AF-S 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5 G (18mm, f/3.5, 25 seconds, ISO 6400).

f/3.5, 25 seconds ISO 6400 (out of camera)

f/3.5, 25 seconds ISO 6400 (out of camera)

f/3.5, 25 seconds ISO 6400 (after extensive edits)

f/3.5, 25 seconds ISO 6400 (after extensive edits)

There will always be a colour caste in the original image due to light pollution, high ISO noise and white balance settting. After adjusting colour, the image will need some heavy contrast enhancement and careful use of shadow/highlight sliders (if using lightroom) and a good dose of saturation. Careful noise reduction and sharpening is key too.

Now, of course I’m finding some limitations with my equipment (surprise surprise). My brightest wide lens is f/3.5 at 18mm. Nikon makes an outstanding 20mm f/1.8 that’s pretty tempting but I don’t think I can justify getting a new lens just for taking photos of stars!  Anyway, I’ve been getting great results with what I already have in my bag. Here are another few examples, all with the D750 and 18-35mm at 18mm. The first is a panorama of 6 shots.

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