Why is the Light Behind Me?

Somedays I get up and want to photograph the sunrise. But I also don’t want to drive very far. This day I decided to head over to Bellevue because I saw a photo of the buildings reflected through water. With a little Google searching, I found the pool and headed off. I worked for a bit trying to find a good composition. As I walked around the pool, the reflection would change and trying to find the right one took some time. I also had to deal with the leaves on the sidewalk and how it all works together.

I finally found the composition and the light happened behind me. There were no clouds above the buildings to catch the light. This happens more times than not. Gets a bit frustrating but that’s photography. Luckily the glass on the buildings reflected he glowing clouds so that helped.

I used my IR camera most of the time since the light was not like I was hoping but worked perfect for infrared photos.

Enjoy the video and see what happened that morning in Bellevue.

Bellevue Falls.jpg

Cold Winter Sunrise at Artist Point

Woke up at 3 am, left at 3:30 am to drive 2.5 hours to Mt. Baker Ski area. From there, I walked up the road for 2 miles to Artist Point to photograph the sunrise. It was cold, sometimes my camera did not want to work, my gimbal was having issues, and I almost fell down a couple times walking on the ice. Once I sorted out my issues, things went much smoother for the rest of the trip. The best part, was that there were only 2 other people at Artist Point.

Although the skies were clear, the first light touching the mountains had a wonderful soft golden color that lit up the snow beautifully. I was able to get out the Tamron 150-600 G2 lens and really focus in on the mountains to the north. American Border Peak, Mount Larrabee and the Winchester Mountain lookout. Looking south, Baker Lake had a nice fog layer along with filtered light streaming towards it. The morning mist and mountains created a nice image that I knew would look good as a black and white. After spending about an hour at Artist Point, I decided it was time to head back and stop at the Wake N Bakery in Glacier for some bakery treats.

On the way to the bakery, I drove up a forest service road that I found on Google maps. There is a nice creek that I stopped and photographed but I will discuss that in a later blog after I go back up and spend more time focusing on the creek.

For now, enjoy the video from the morning.

Mountain Pano.jpg

Using a Solid Color Layer to Enhance Photos

As a photographer, I tend to stick to the same post processing on all my photos. For one, this saves time as I know what needs to happen. However, I come across some photos that need the colors enhanced to match what I saw while taking the photo. One way to do this is to use the Hue/Saturation layer in Photoshop or Lightroom. If you add too much saturation, many colors become blotchy especially blue skies.

I recently learned a new technique by using Solid Color layers in Photoshop. This allows you to enhance the colors, keep the detail, and leave out the blotches. To use the Solid Color layer properly, luminosity masks are needed to isolate the color and area you want. I use a program called Raya Pro but there are many programs out there to use so find the one that works the best for your needs.

Here is the video on how I use this technique to enhance the colors on my photos. Thanks for watching.

 Image taken near Lake Wenatchee this fall. Enhanced using Solid Color Layers.

Image taken near Lake Wenatchee this fall. Enhanced using Solid Color Layers.

Wet and Soggy Photography

I recently went out for a day to shoot some waterfalls and possibly fall color around Mt. Baker and Baker Lake. As I was doing some research on the waterfalls near Baker Lake on https://www.waterfallsnorthwest.com, I found a creek with 4 falls I wanted to check out. When I arrived at the creek crossing, some trucks and trailers were there and looked like people were living in them. Not wanting to approach that, I went up FS12 and found a couple other waterfalls.

The drive up wasn’t too bad but by the time I got to Baker Lake, the rain was pouring down. The best part is that I forgot my rain jacket. That wasn’t very smart but luckily I had my soft shell jacket and an umbrella. In the video you can see how hard it was raining for most of the day.

Waterfalls Pano.jpg

Backpacking to photograph the Milky Way

I recently took a couple days off work to backpack into Tank Lakes in the Cascade mountains. The weather was not looking good for the weekend so heading out Wednesday and Thursday was the best option. It was a hard hike but worth the effort. Only 1 other person was out there, and the weather was perfect for the Milky Way. The trail started off with 5 miles of flat terrain that I was able to cover in about 1.5 hours. Then it went up for 2.5 miles and 2500 vertical feet. I stopped for lunch at the first lake in Necklace valley before continuing on to Tank Lakes. The lakes are about 11 miles 1 way and it took me 5 hours. The views from the lakes were amazing with Summit Chiefs, Chimney Rocks, and Overcoat peaks to the South. Iron Cap mountain was the view to the west.

If you have ever thought about backpacking for photography, just start doing it. If you don’t have experience with this, find someone local that can take you out and show you the best practices for backpacking and photography. The gear can be expensive but spend the money on the best gear you can afford. Some say it is like spending a small fortune to be homeless. This is mostly true but being comfortable in the mountains is important. Good goretex clothing will never be money wasted.

In the following video, there is a section where I go through the gear I take with me. Lightening my backpack was a goal of mine this year so I spent some money on a new tent, quilt, backpack and a few other items. I also have links at the bottom of this blog post with my gear. These are not affiliate links and do not benefit me at all.

Enjoy the video and if you have any questions, feel free to send me an email of leave a comment below the video.

Tanks Lakes Reflections 2.jpg

Failing as a photographer

Failing as a photographer can mean different things to different people. Most would think that you fail because you cannot make a living at it or you tried but failed. When I talk about failing, it's things like forgetting your memory cards, charging your batteries, etc.

How many of us have gone out to shoot only to realize you forgot a key element. Pulled your memory card from the camera to download you photos and forgot to put it back. I have done this one personally but I always keep 4 other cards in my camera bag. However, keeping 1 or 2 in the glove compartment or console in your card would be a good idea in case this happens.

What about not charging your battery? When I first got into photography, I only had 1 battery and if it went dead I was done taking photos. I soon purchased another one but realized 2 was not enough. Eventually I ended up with 6 batteries and always keep them in my bag.

Forgot my remote shutter on a shoot. That really sucks when you want to do long exposure. A camera cannot do more than 30 second exposure without a remote shutter. You can take a lot of photos then stack them in Photoshop but that takes a long time.

That one that really hurts is when you catch your filter holder on something and you watch the new Haida Clear night filter come off the camera and land on the rocks. I least I used it for 1.5 weeks before it broke. 

Failing is something we all go through and if you haven't, you will. Take it in stride and hope you are with others that have the equipment you forgot. If not, make sure you have extras of all the small stuff. Just get out and fill the frame with what you like unless the smoke in the air is so bad that nothing will turn out. That is what we are dealing with in Seattle right now.


Using a Light Pollution Filter

I have been thinking about getting a light pollution filter for shooting astro photography. I asked around and no one I knew has one or used one in the past. After doing some research, I purchased the Haida Clear Night filter. Luckily, I was able to get it delivered before shooting the Milky Way two days later. 

A few of us went to Haller Pass near Mt. Rainier for the new moon in July. We had really clear skies and perfect weather that weekend so it was perfect. While we were waiting for the Milky Way to show up, we set up our tents, ate some dinner and prepared for the show. 

The stars arrived along with the Milky Way so I got out the filter and started getting some shots. The photo on the top is taken without the filter and the photo on the bottom is with the filter. I used my Tamron 70-200 G2 for these photos. All the green in the photos is the air glow we had that night and not caused by the filter.

The photos of the Milky Way are edited exactly the same and the photos of the Space Needle are straight from he camera with no editing.

 No light pollution filter.

No light pollution filter.

 Light pollution filter.

Light pollution filter.

After shooting the Milky Way that night, I wanted to test it on the city at night. I went one night to Alki Beach to shoot the sunset then city lights. While waiting for the city to light up, I knocked the filter off my camera and it landed on the rocks. Needless to say, I had to wait for my new filter to arrive before shooting the city.

Once my filter arrived, I had a good chance to shoot the city. The photo on the top is taken without the filter and one on the bottom is with the filter.


 No light pollution filter.

No light pollution filter.

 Light pollution filter.

Light pollution filter.

Using the filter requires the exposure to be about 0.5 stops brighter, I like the overall results and the editing is much easier. One thing about the filters is they enhance reds so a red building will be more red in the photo and red foliage will be very red.

Overall, I think the light pollution filters are a nice tool to have in my bag. Are they worth the price? That is for you to determine. I like the results and will continue to use it while shooting at night whether it is city or stars.

The links in this article are Amazon Affiliates but will not add any additional cost to you if you purchase anything from Amazon. They simple help me out to keep the content going. 

Thanks for reading and remember to fill the frame with what you like, unless you are being paid.

Tips for photographing the night sky

Mt. Baker Milky Way Vertical 2.jpg

On July 13th, TJ Simon and myself will be leading a Star Photography Workshop around the Seattle area. It all depends on the weather where the workshop will take place. Our options are Artist Point, Haller Pass, Mt. Rainier, and a few others.

I get questions every now and then about how I photograph the stars and Milky Way Galaxy. Using these tips, anyone with a DSLR camera can take the same photos as the professionals.

Sturdy Tripod-The first thing you will need is a sturdy tripod. The exposures need to be long and hand holding the camera is not an option. The tripod I use is the MeFoto Globetrotter carbon fiber. 

Remote Shutter Release-Avoiding camera shake is important and using a remote shutter release will prevent the shake. There are many styles so find one that works for you.

Wide Angle Lens-14mm or 16mm are great lenses for photographing the stars but even the kit lenses will work just fine. I use the Rokinon 14mm f2.8 or the Canon 16-35 f4. I went with the f4 due to price and it is sharper than the f2.8 v2. The new f2.8 v3 is suppose to be better but it is also $1900 and the f4 is only $999.

Once you the tripod, lens, and shutter release, now you need to work on camera settings and lenses. Any lens will work for shooting the stars. The best ones have a wide aperture like f2.8 or f1.4. If you only have an f4 or f5.6 lens, increasing your ISO or shutter speed will be required. Once the lens is set to it's widest aperture, set your focus to infinity. Many lenses have an infinity mark to help with focus. If your lens does not have this, either focus during the day and tape the focus ring or shine a bright light on a subject about 20 feet away and set your focus on that subject.

Now that you have the focus set and your lens set to the widest aperture, setting the shutter speed is the next step. There is a rule for photographing the stars to prevent trails. This rule is the "500 Rule". Divide 500 by the focal length of your lens. For instance, If I'm using the Rokinon 14mm, the shutter speed would be 500/14=35.7. This means I could keep the shutter open for 35 seconds before the stars begin to have trails. A 50mm lens would have a shutter speed of 10 seconds. If the camera you are using is a crop sensor, you must take the crop factor into account for the calculation.

ISO for astro or star photography is usually set high. I usually start at 3200 or 6400. That will usually let in enough light to see the stars and milky way galaxy on the back of the screen. With the 14mm lens, and ISO set to 6400, a shutter speed of around 15 seconds will let in enough light and prevent the stars from having trails. This way I don't have to leave the shutter open for 35 seconds.

Now you are all set to take photos of the Milky Way Galaxy and the stars. Set the camera to continuous shooting, lock the shutter release, sit back and let the camera do the work. Once you have around 20 photos go ahead and change the composition. If you want star trails, take a couple hundred photos unless you want to figure out the calculations for 1 shot that has long star trails but that seems like a lot of work while trying to stay up late to photograph the Milky Way Galaxy.

Check out my gallery of Milky Way photography http://www.randybottphotography.com/astro/. These photos were taken from various location around Seattle like Artist Point, Sun Top Lookout, and other mountains around in the Cascades.

Now that you have the basics on how to photograph the night sky, get out and try photographing the stars and Milky Way Galaxy.

All the links in this post are Amazon Affiliate links.

Photographing Mashel Falls

I recently learned about Mashel Falls a couple weeks back and decided to go last Friday. Unfortunately the flow was lower than I was hoping. However, this will give me a reason to head back in late winter-early spring when the flow is greater. It is only around 2.5 miles to walk to the falls on a road and a short trail. Check out the video of behind the scenes on how I got some of the shots.


Mashell Falls 1.jpg

Photographing the Palouse

For the last couple years, I have been heading to The Palouse region of Washington state in the southwest corner. The best time of year to photograph these picturesque hills is from May through June. The rolling fields of green, brown, and yellow draws hundreds of photographers every year. Although the sky was quite hazy when we arrived and we had rain for an entire day, The Palouse region did disappoint.

This year I rented the Sigma 150-600 sport lens for this trip. Using a telephoto lens is one of the best ways to capture the scenery. Whether you are perched high on Steptoe Butte or just looking for image compression, a telephoto lens is an important tool.

Check out the video to see what I was doing and how I was photographing this amazing place.


Palouse Light Rays.jpg

Here are the links to the equipment I used during this trip. These are Amazon Affiliate links but no additional cost is passed on if you make a purchase after clicking the link. This helps with the costs of providing these photos, videos, and blogs.

Sony A7Rii http://amzn.to/2HJoBUR

Go Pro Hero 5 Session http://amzn.to/2GIyjFL

Mefoto Tripod http://amzn.to/2F1XuWx

Zoom H1 microphone http://amzn.to/2BMNmz0

Go Pro 3 Way Mount http://amzn.to/2GGeEGl

Telephoto Lens http://amzn.to/2Fv8mdw

Tamron 24-70 http://amzn.to/2BQajBx

Tamron 70-200 https://amzn.to/2LYd4Cz

Sigma 150-600 https://amzn.to/2JJRBk

Photographing Oregon

Decided to drive down to Oregon and visit places like Smith Rock, The Painted Hills, and look for some old farm houses near the The Dalles and Hood River. In all we traveled 1000 miles in a weekend and had a wonderful time. Photographing Oregon is an amazing experience. With all the waterfalls, old farm house, orchards, etc. it should be on every photographer's bucket list. Here is the video of our trip. It appears some of the video clips did not record like I thought they did but that is the joys of the process. Sit back and enjoy the video.

False Color Homestead.jpg

Waterfalls and wildflowers continued.

Took a trip to the Mt. Baker wilderness for more waterfalls and wildflowers. A day full of sunshine and amazing views. The trip was around 11 miles round trip to the waterfall but worth the effort. 

Using a Telephoto Lens to Compress an Image

When I started in photography, my camera came with the kit lens 75-300 mm. Everytime I used this lens, the images were terrible. I would zoom in on a scene and take the photo. This worked great when I go to the Palouse for the wide landscape images that are known for the region. I purchased a Tamron 70-200 mm G2 lens thinking that if I had a better lens I would use it more.

One great aspect of the telephoto lens is for image compression. Once I figured this out, I started using my 70-200 mm lens a lot more. What I mean by image compression is the ability to bring the background close to the foreground. The lens does not really compress the image, but gives the illusion of compression. You can get the same affect using a wide angle lens if you crop the image to match the image taken with a telephoto lens. However, you have to leave the tripod in the same location used with the telephoto lens when using the wide angle. By doing this, the subject and background appear far away so when you crop the photo, they appear close to each other. Cropping the photo causes image quality issues so it's better to use the telephoto and not crop.

You can see in the images below, the distance from the subjects to the Space Needle appears to change while the subjects stay close to the the same size. These were hand held shots at Kerry Park so the size of the subject is a bit different. The image on the left was taken at 70 mm and the image on the right at 200 mm.

Just remember to move back from your subject when using the telephoto lens. This is what I really struggled with as well. I would put the telephoto on my camera and stay in the same location as when I would use my 16-35 or 24-70 lens. This does not work. You must move back for the lens to work properly. 

When using a telephoto without a tripod, remember the shutter speed must be at least the same as your shutter speed. It is preferred to be at least double. If you are zoomed in at 200 mm, the shutter speed would be 1/200 sec but preferable at 1/400 sec. This may require increasing the ISO or changing the aperture depending on what depth of field you need or want.

So, for a change in your photography, put on the telephoto and get out there and practice. See what you can do with it and what the limitations are. Here is the Amazon Affiliate link to the lens I use. Tamron 70-200 G2. http://amzn.to/2Fv8mdw 

Most importantly, fill the frame with what like and have fun.

Wildflowers and Waterfalls 2018

Spent a couple days in the Columbia Gorge photographing some wildflowers and waterfalls. I was a little early for the lupine and the balsam root was partially withering while others were starting to bloom.

Columbia HIlls Sunrise_.jpg

Why do photographers use Photoshop or Lightroom?

A question I get asked a lot when I show photos is "was that Photoshopped?" What people don't realize, is when you shoot a photograph in JPEG, the camera does a small amount of post processing. This adds some saturation, contrast, etc depending on how the company set up the camera. The camera essentially "Photoshops" the photo for you. Photographers shoot is RAW mode. Shooting in raw gives you all the data possible but the photo is very flat looking. A standard jpeg file is around 3 to 8 megabytes in size. I use the Sony A7Rii and the raw photo is 82 megabytes. This allows a very large amount of data to be present in the file for post processing. The photos below show the difference between raw and edited.

In the days before the digital dark room (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc) photographers were in a normal darkroom doing the same post processing techniques only with chemicals and other tools. All the greatest photographers such as Ansel Adams did a lot of post processing to their images. Using "dodging and burning", Ansel was able to create the amazing black and white photos he is famous for. Dodging and burning is used to lighten and darken certain areas of a photo. For saturation, you would add some color filters to the light that is making the print. The artist had to learn which colors of light canceled others to get the proper color on the photo.

Aside from the saturation, contrast, etc, we are now able to blend images together for the proper exposure. While dynamic range of cameras is getting better, they are no where near the human eye. When you look at a nice sunset, everything is exposed properly, the sky colors are perfect, the foreground is perfect, etc. The camera sees the perfect sky or the perfect foreground. It cannot see both. Here are some examples of this. The one on the left is exposed for the foreground, the one in the middle is exposed for the sky. The image on the right is the 2 images blended together. To do this in film, you would need to use graduated ND filters then some dodging and burning to get the detail in the buildings. Blending exposures makes this process much easier and faster. 

Another real advantage to Photoshop is the ability to focus stack. Focus stacking is when you take the same photo but move your focus through the photo. With film, the photographer had to decide what part of the photo needs to be in focus. Now with digital, the entire photo can be in focus. With this technique, the artist can really emphasize the foreground element while keeping the background in focus. These 9 photos were used to make 1 image. You can see in each photo there is a different part that is in focus.

 Final Image

Final Image

Now you can understand why photographers process their images using a variety of different programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, and many others. The RAW files are bland but have all the data, some images need to be blended for the proper exposure, focus stacked, remove unwanted distractions, and many other reasons. There is nothing wrong with altering your own photos. Remember, it is art and your photo needs to match your vision. If you want to shoot in JPEG and not process your photos, great, if you want to spend hours on each photo making it just right, then do it. It is all up to the artist. 

Until next time, remember, fill the frame with what you like and forget all the rules.

Photographing the full moon at Colchuck Lake

I went for an overnight backpacking trip to Colchuck Lake just outside Leavenworth. It was a full moon that night and I wanted to capture the moon rising above the Enchantments. Of course, the moon did not come up until almost 11:30 at night so it was a long day. After hiking up 7.5 miles then staying awake to shoot the moon, I went to bed around midnight only to have the wind pick up around 1 am and keep me wake the rest of the night.

Checkout the video and see the beauty the PNW holds.

Colchuck Moonrise.jpg

The Exposure Triangle

Now that we have covered ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed we will examine how they work together for the proper exposure.

 Exposure Triangle

Exposure Triangle

You can see by the illustration, if you increase or decrease one of the elements, one or both of the other elements much change to correct the exposure.

Let's say you want to shoot action sports. In order to freeze the action, a high shutter speed is needed. You determine that a shutter speed of 1/500 sec is needed but at ISO 100 and Aperture of f8 (sharpest aperture of your lens) the photo is very under exposed. Changing your aperture to f2.8 will allow more light into your camera and will brighten the exposure by 3 stops. This will also blur the background by changing your depth of field. When shooting action sports, having a sharp subject and a blurred background looks better in my opinion. 

Now you decide that you want f8 for maximum sharpness and still need 1/500 sec for freezing the action. Increasing your ISO from 100 to 800 (3 stops) will allow a brighter exposure. This will however increase noise/grain in the photo but not enough to be an issue.

What about trying to add motion blur to your photo for water movement or streaking clouds. With your ISO at 100, aperture at f8, and a shutter speed of 1/20 sec is not slow enough to create water movement but the exposure is correct. Change the aperture to f22 (3 stops), now change your shutter speed by 3 stops to 1/2.5 sec.

Remember a STOP is a doubling or halving of the current number. Starting at 1/20, 1 stop is 1/10, then 1/5, then 1/2.5. Since cameras don't have a 1/2.5 sec using 1/3 of a second or 0.4 sec will be your options and will work just fine.

Now that you have a better understanding of how the 3 elements work together, get out shooting and adjust your settings to see how they affect the image and each other. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me with questions and I can help you understand the concept.

Here  is my list of equipment I use. These are affiliate links and help me out if you make a purchase after clicking on a link.

Sony A7Rii http://amzn.to/2HJoBUR

Go Pro Hero 5 Session http://amzn.to/2GIyjFL

Mefoto Tripod http://amzn.to/2F1XuWx

Zoom H1 microphone http://amzn.to/2BMNmz0

Go Pro 3 Way Mount http://amzn.to/2GGeEGl

Telephoto Lens http://amzn.to/2Fv8mdw

Tamron 24-70 http://amzn.to/2BQajBx

Canon SL1 http://amzn.to/2Fv8v0y

Kenko extension tubes http://amzn.to/2oHJnwp

 Macro Slider http://amzn.to/2oGBnLQ

Canon flash http://amzn.to/2oFTXUG

What is Shutter Speed?

In short, shutter speed is the time the shutter on your camera is open at any given moment. Many elements come into play when determining what shutter speed to use for a photograph. Do you want smooth water, streaking clouds, are you shooting action, etc? One thing to remember is the average person with real steady hands can hand hold a camera with a shutter speed no slower than 1/20 sec. Any slower and you cannot hold the camera steady and the photo will not be in focus. 

Using a fast shutter speed allows you to freeze the action. This next photo was taken at 1/640 of a second. If the shutter was around 1/100 of a second it would show too much movement in the wave.

 1/640 second shutter speed

1/640 second shutter speed

Using a slow shutter speed has many advantages. Photographing streams and waterfalls with a slow shutter will add some motion to the water. In this photo you can see how the water appears to be moving and lead your eye from the bottom right corner to the upper left corner. The shutter speed was 0.8 sec.

Lower Spirit Falls.jpg

If a fast shutter speed was used, the water would not have motion and your eye wouldn't move through the photo. When shooting water, I try to keep the shutter speed faster than 1 second. You will reach a point shooting waterfalls and flowing water where a longer shutter speed does not change the photo. The water can only become so smooth so weather the shutter speed is 15 seconds or 5 minutes, the photo will look the same.

These next 2 photos show the same location at different shutter speeds. The first one is at 0.7 second and the second one is at 111 seconds.

 0.7 second shutter speed

0.7 second shutter speed

 111 second shutter speed

111 second shutter speed

To get the correct shutter speed, you also need to understand how to use the histogram in your camera. This will let you know if there are blown out highlights or black shadows that are not recoverable in post processing.

Learning to use different shutter speeds can take your photography in new directions. One way to achieve long shutter speeds is with the use of neutral density (ND) filters but that is a topic for another post.

Now that you have the final part of the Exposure Triangle with Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed you can learn how they work together. Stay tuned for the next post and it will explain how to use the triangle for better photographs.

Randy Bott Photography