Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Today is the day!

Yes. I am embarking on another pinhole adventure!

This time around I loaded up 8 pinhole camera's and I am planning on getting them out tonight. I kept the shapes of the boxes fairly simple this year.

One thing I learned from last year was that long rectangular boxes did not provide the view I was after. So this year I'm keeping it simple. 5 round tin cans and 3 square tea boxes. Also this year I'm making notes on what paper I'm using in what camera's. Last year I was pretty conservative. Choosing between Kodak Ektalure (I'm not sure about this anymore) and Ilfords RC and FB Multigrade papers. This year, I'm going a bit more exotic. I loaded up 2 camera's of each with:

  • Kodak Ektalure
  • Ilford Ilfobrom 3.1K
  • Ilford Ilfobrom 2.1K
  • Ilford Ilfospeed 3.1M

This paper was all so old, that I had a hard time opening the envelopes. The glue was fused to the cardboard. It was THAT old. O and this time around I wore gloves and was very careful with dust and other residues that could leave prints on the paper.

I am already looking forward to the results!!!

Also this year I am planning on using good foregrounds in the photographs and I need to remember to face the cams due south. So I'm bringing my compass tonight as well.

Wish me luck!

Friday, December 9, 2011

2012 Calendars

I finally bit the bullet.
For the first time EVER I went ahead and made a calendar with some of my favourite photographs I've made in 2011.

This is a huge step for me. But it is a lot of fun to make these. And simply knowing that people will be able to purchase them and look at them for months on end gives me a big boost. Baby steps right? But it kinda feels good.

On to the calendars. They are large format, professionally coil-bound and printed on high quality photo paper and the photography is all black and white. The calendars are 13.5 x 19 inches high. And will ship within 3 days of the order.
They will be sold for $29.99US. Yes I know. US dollars right. But I did not have another option so bare with me.

I have 3 versions of this calendar for sale. And they would make a perfect gift for Christmas. :)

A Canadian Version
Canadian Version

 An American Version
American Version

And an International Version
International Version

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Some more exposure

Since I've joined Google+ a few months ago things began to snowball out of control for me. Well not really out of control but I can say I receive a lot more exposure and I am able to share my work with a bigger audience. Which is awesome of course!

I'm happy to announce that my work is being featured in the newest edition of Camerapixo. A very nice digital magazine. Download the pdf now and get inspired!

Also I have a little feature on Máximo Panés' blog. Check it out here.

On the film side I've finally bought some chemicals. I went with Ilfords' Ilfosol3 developer.
I still have to start developing though. But I like to plan things out before I start...
I will keep you guys updated on the progress I'm making with this film project of mine.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Small Interview

A few weeks ago I got approached by somebody on Google Plus who wanted to feature me on their website. Who ME?! Euhm... alright. 

Nancy Messieh is an Egyptian writer and photographer from Cairo, Egypt and every week she hosts an interview series with a photographer from around the world called 'Chasing Photons'. I must say, I felt very honoured she picked me for this week's feature.

I guess being on Google Plus is starting to make it's mark in my social behaviour on the net. With over 25K (yes 25 thousand!) people that follow me on there, I can only say that this platform has become my main tool in getting my stuff out there and interact with the people that enjoy my work. But then again I though that about Twitter too once I started to use it.

On a side note I have some more exciting news to share in the coming weeks. But we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Chasing ghosts (and dreams)

So for the last couple of weeks I've been shooting film.

I am finishing my second roll of film in a few days now and I am starting to look into developers ant their characteristics.

Back at photo school it was simple. We used T-Max 400 asa film and T-Max developer. Easy combo as a student. But 12 years or so down the road, expectations have shifted quite a bit.

My goal is to achieve the most perfect negative as possible with the smallest amount of grain as possible.
When I talked to a friend here at work, she immediately said the magic word 'Rodinal'.
Now I know the whole history of Rodinal and why and how it became the preferred 'elixir' for a lot of photographers. It produces sharp negatives and leaves the grain structure of the film alone. Plus it has a tremendous long shelf life and you only have to use Rodinal in small amounts.

I started my search for Rodinal only to quickly discover that Agfa doesn't produce Rodinal anymore. Hell Agfa sold the whole Rodinal factory to first a&o Imaging Solutions GmbH who sold it to Connect Chemicals. Today though Rodinal is still available under the name Adonal. And for some WEIRD reason, Rodinal is available under the name Blazinal in Canada. It IS the same chemistry as the pre-1940 Rodinal developer. And just to make your head spin even more, there is also something called R09.

All of these developers are all Rodinal. The only problem is GETTING THEM! Maybe I just need to stop chasing ghosts and go with ILFORD's ILFOTEC DD-X instead. This is a fain grain developer and produces very good results too.

Maybe you could help me find a solution. Do you have any sample scans available online using Ilford films in either Rodinal (or it's equivalent) or DD-X. I would surely appreciate that A LOT!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Mamiya RB67 update

Time for a little update. How are my adventures with the RB going so far?
Let me tell you it is an eye opener. A real wake up call if you ask me.

The whole reason behind my purchase of the RB was that I want to get more conscious about my photography and I want to print my own images in my future darkroom. But first step one. Film testing and finding a rhythm for the camera.

Finding a rhythm is a real interesting experience. Instead of grabbing the 5DmkII, composing and letting the camera determine exposure time (reviewing the instant preview and go from there). This time around I need to figure it out all by myself BEFORE I take the shot. Let me tell you. I've wasted some film so far. But so far I always know when I did something wrong.

Just as an example, the RB rhythm goes something like this.
  1. Setting camera and tripod up. You want to get this right.
  2. Opening the viewfinder and cock the camera and lens. 
  3. Decide on the focal length of lens you'd like to use. If necessary change out lens. Fire shutter on detached lens and put that away. Pull out dark slide until arrow shows, advance little lever on the 120 back to multiple exposure, fire the shutter and re-cock camera. Now I'm ready to shoot with the new focal length.
  4. Attach cable releases (be sure to use mirror up more).
  5. Focus and compose.
  6. Measure light.
  7. Set desired aperture and exposure time.
  8. Look at bellows and double check to see if bellows adjustment factor is going to alter exposure.
  9. Advance film.
  10. Remove dark slide.
  11. Re-measure light if necessary.
  12. Press mirror release.
  13. Press cable release.
Those are 13(!) steps I need to check and double check before I can take a shot (ONE shot). Throw in some changing light and I'm F'ed!

It is definitely a challenge and it makes me very humble. A lot of people call themselves 'professional' 'skilled' these days but don't have a clue how to operate a camera like this. Do they still sell film?

Friday, October 14, 2011

New addition to the family!

I know, I know, I've been slacking on the blog but I had some things to take care of in the last week or so.

So last week I found a killer deal on a Mamiya RB67 Pro SD. I had a hard time ignoring it. It was so good I could NOT refuse it!!! But long story short. When I told Sarah about the fact I saw an awesome deal on a Mamiya she immediately said 'Buy it! That's what you always wanted to have. Do it! And then you can build your darkroom in the basement!'. I looked at her and I saw she was even more excited than me. And in turn I was in awe because I did not had to beg on my knees this time to get something I really really wanted! Aaaah love, isn't it beautiful?

So today I bought the camera! The kit consists of a Mamiya RB67 Pro SD, 2 120mm Pro-SD film backs, a Mamiya 67mm ƒ4 K/L lens, a 127mm ƒ3.8 Mamiya-Sekor C lens and a 180mm ƒ4.5 Mamiya-Sekor C lens. All in awesome working condition. The kit came with some more nick-nacks like a grip and holding strap etc.

Yeah I'm pretty excited to go back to film. At least for some of my black and white work at least. The plan is to shoot some of my black and white landscape stuff on film again, develop it myself and eventually PRINT it myself as well. Plans are already underway (at least in my head) to build that darkroom in our basement. Talk about striking the metal while it is hot and all huh... ;)

Anyhow. I've been sharing this news a bit on twitter here and there and some friends already knew about what my plans were too. I got reactions ranging from:

  • Do it! 
  • Welcome to the club! 
  • You are a very brave photographer! 
  • You are an environmental polluter (I'm not kidding)

So anyhow. I am very excited to get started shooting some rolls of Ilford Pan F Plus (or maybe Tri-X 320) in the next few weeks.

But without further ado, here's my new baby. :) Isn't she beautiful?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Series: Volts

A few weeks ago I started a new series called 'Volts'.
It started with me going out on a cloudy overcast Saturday and I was looking for something to do. That was when I got a vision.

An image popped into my head. I had to shoot an electricity pole. Square. Black and white.
Euhm, wait a minute, I thought I was a landscape photographer?! Before I knew it I was on my way to do some test shots.

A few minutes from my house there is a – believe it or not – deserted community. Deserted as in: the streets are in and so are all the light poles and a few show homes, and then the developer went out of business. It's a huge eye sore I think but wonderful for this series. I could do some photography in the middle of the street without being on the look out for cars.

These are the images from that session.

When I drove back into my community, I noticed the light poles. Since I was still 'in the zone', I decided to take a closer look at them too. Turns out they were wonderful subjects.

A week went by and last week I had to shoot a building for work. It's a semi modern building that is still in the middle of construction. I parked the car and the first thing I noticed was how simple their light poles were on the parking lot. OK OK I HAD to shoot them!

And then I noticed this sad looking light pole.

Yesterday I did 2 more. It is a great break from shooting landscapes for me. I am feeding my creative/linear eye right now. I've always loved lines and symmetry. I think this series is a great way to step back a little and step right out of my comfort zone and do some more graphical/art photography.

The plan for this series is to make at least 120 of them. And the series would then be called '120 Volts', get it? Or if I find a huge amount of inspiration, I will do 240... For now, it is a great way to fine tune my compositional skills even further. I like simple photography. And when it all comes together, it just gives me a very satisfied feeling. Have you ever had a similar experience? Are you working on something that is completely 'YOU'?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Talk was a succes

I just came home from giving a talk for The Camera Store in Calgary.
According to my pal Jim of The Camera Store, my little seminar at the Digital Expo was sold-out and I was going to speak in front of 100 people. A hundred people?! Holy cow.

I had prepared a handout but – like I said – I did not anticipate the big turnout.
Which meant, I had to disappoint quite a lot of people because of the fact that I ran out of handouts very quickly....

In the end I had a really good time and I hope everybody there took something valuable home.

I'd like to make it up to folks so I uploaded the PDF version of this document to my Google doc account.
The PDF explains some of my photoshop techniques I use to create my black and white photos.
I hope it is insightful and helps you create some stunning work of your own.

Thank you again for all of the support!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Another talk for The Camera Store

At the end of the month (Sunday the 25th of September) I'll be giving another talk for The Camera Store at their anual Digital Photo Expo. I'm up at around noon (11:30am – 12:30pm) and I will be talking about my photography and what makes me tick when I'm doing my work. How you can improve your way at looking at the – for a lot of people – boring Prairies and Foothills. And how you can improve your photography by concentrating on shooting close to where you live.

I'm in the middle of building the keynote presentation and I'm starting to think about what I'm going to say. It's going to be a busy couple of weeks but I think it is all very well worth it. Last time when I did something similar I was very biased in the beginning. Personally I did not like to attend seminars like this. But after doing them, and seeing how rewarding it was, I turned around. It is actually quit fun (once you stop letting your nerves get in the way). Talking about what you love doing shouldn't be too hard.

So as of this morning there are only 6 passes left so hurry to get yours. I would like to meet some of the local people and photographers that are following me on all the different social networks. Let's meet up afterwards for a quick chat. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Why I hate Instagram/Hipstamatic 'photography'

A few months ago the iPhone became the most used camera on Flickr. And it's not even a CAMERA pur sang! I mean seriously it's a phone people, not a camera!

Some would argue that this is the best thing that ever happened to photography since the invention of film or something. I agree to a certain point with that argument. I agree that it opened up the photo world as a hobby and made it accessible to a lot more people. And let them encounter the joy of photography with their own camera phones.

Camera phones have come a long way. I remember my first 'smartphone' back in 2002. The Nokia 7650 with a 0.3Mp camera. Yes 0.3, you've read that right. With a whooping resolution of 640x480 blurry VGA pixels. Up to today, it was the most expensive phone I've ever owned.

Fast forward 9 years. I now own an iPhone 4 with a 5Mp camera. Still nothing fancy in pure camera terms. Hell, my old Canon Rebel XT has an 8Mp sensor and would still make far better pictures then the iPhone (even if it had 8Mp). And yes before you say anything, I do use my camera on my iPhone. I use it mostly as a resource tool for future shoots. Every time I come across something interesting I take a quick snap. And that's what they are, snapshots that serve me and my 'memory' months later. But that is not the point.

With iPhone users being able to download apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic, the art of taking real 'candid shots' (yes I think it is a real art form) went down the drain rather quickly.
In my opinion it allows every uncreative individual to turn his/hers uncreative and bad framed shots into shots as if made by a 'Creative Genius', at least those people think they are creative by using these apps. Because in the end 'it looks funky right?'.

Of course the real creative person here is the graphic designer/photographer that came up with these filters and effects in these apps. And in essence those 'uncreative people' are copying a processing style or look from those who were creative (and smart, cause they saw the potential and they are cashing in).

I have a big problem with that. As a photographer who finally found his own voice, I am quick to say that I had a hard time figuring out how I wanted to make my photo's look like. After about 12 years or so of photography I think I am really close to what I personally like.

These apps just apply some cliche filters to your shot, make it all look like some sort of 'retro' colour wash fiesta and then, they put the cherry on the pie by adding a 'fancy looking' border to the photo. Tell me, what is so 'artsy' about that? That's not being creative!
I'm sorry to say it but using these apps don't make you a photographer, at all. By the way, most of the photo's I've seen using these apps still look bad, but at least it looks 'retro' and we all know, 'retro' is big business these days.

There is nothing 'retro' about those filters though. Maybe this is a news flash for you but shots from 'back in the day' where not blurry at all (look at this shot for example here made well over a 100 years ago, look at that amount of detail in this, look to the right to that hay stack! That is crazy sharp!). Do you really think Ansel Adams lugged his 8"x10" camera's up mountain slopes to get a blurry shot of a spectacular vista? I don't think so.

I don't think Instagram/Hipstamatic users are doing the photo world any benefits. I really hope it's a trend and all the shots EVER taken by Instagram/Hipstamatic users will self destruct. But I think that would be like believing in an ideal world.

Go buy a Lomo or a Holga instead and do some real photography! These things put those blurry effects and borders, light leak streaks and so on, genuinely on there. This is where it all came from. It is a by product from their 'design'. Even better – if you're really interested in this type of photography – try to find a processing style that suits your eye. It will be far more rewarding then using apps like these. Check out this site for some ideas on this type of photography.

O and stop calling yourself 'iPhonographers'. It just tells me you're either too lazy or to creatively challenged to make your own art.

You! Hey you out there! Yes you, you know who you are. Just stop it.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Online critiquing is all a joke

Yesterday was a busy day on Google+. Oh yeah I was able to join Google+ (since it is still on an invitational base only) and I love it.

Somebody in my circles posted a question 'Does owning a camera makes you a photographer and does being a photographer means you need to have the skills and resources to efficiently document others lives?' I had to chime in. Because I do have an opinion about this. SO I reposted the question on my page and we got a decent discussion going.

And then I saw the invite to join Scott Jarvie's and Colby Brown's online real-time critiquing event. So I joined that. Both Scott and Colby are masters in what they do. Both are full-time professional photographers. Scott shoots people (well that's what his Google+ account says) and Colby is a landscape photographer. It was a very interesting event. I could find myself mostly in the well formed arguments when they found something good or bad. But here was the eye opener for me. When they where done critiquing, they invited everyone on the feed to post a link to some of their work and they would randomly pick some and critique those. The guys got bombarded with links (so I guess people really need the criticism). The pictures where far from spectacular. And the critiques where very polite to say the least.

That got me thinking and after some googling I bounced onto this link.

When I read the criticism on this picture it gets me so angry and sad that I just wanna hit something. Like serious people. This is one of the great shots by Henri Cartier-Bresson. One of the great masters ever. If you are starting out in photography. Buy a photo book or two. Learn about the masters. Learn about the history of photography. It will widen you horizon and it will make you respect the hard work by photographers today even more.

When I posted the link on my twitter page, Sarah Fischler – who is a landscape photographer herself and who I am following for quite a while now – posted two more links similar to the previous one. Here they are.

This just makes me even more sad. What are these people thinking? Who do they even think they are?
I'm just glad I did my time at art school. Studying the greats in painting, art, architecture, etc. And then doing it all again in photo school and study all the great masters.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

OtterBox Defender saved my phone

While shooting in Nova Scotia I almost trashed my iPhone4!

When I upgraded a few months ago from the iPhone3G to the iPhone4 I contemplated buying a heavy duty case. Since I am always out in the field and the phone is often my lifeline I needed to protect it a bit better then the previous iPhone. Mind you I don't care about this piece of gear too much. If you knew how many times I dropped my 3G int he snow you would be amazed that it worked as long as it did. But it is still a phone. A phone is a tool. I toss it around a lot.

So after some research I ended up with a company called OtherBox. I was particularly eye balling there defender series. This is – according to them – "some serious protection for serious super-users".

I'm glad I spend the dollars on this case because this is what happened.

Coming back from a morning shoot I came back to the car. I tossed the phone on the roof of the car, threw my backpack and tripod in the backseat and got in the car.
Started driving when all of the sudden I hear something falling from the roof of the car on the decklid. I look into my rearview mirror and I see something square and black flying in the air, tumbling, crashing onto the pavement and finally landing in the ditch (I was doing 70km/h).

I was like 'hmmm I wonder what THAT was?! I sure did not hit anything or drove over anything... hmmmm. Maybe I lost something from the undercarriage...'. So I decided to turn back.

It was only when I got out the car and saw the phone in the grass that I put 2 and 2 together.
I was SURE my phone was dead. But nope I was wrong. The case held up and saved the phone.

This is by far the best phone case I've owned...,default,sc.html

Monday, August 29, 2011

Trip to Nova Scotia part 2

So I had an awesome time in Nova Scotia. What a beautiful place.
Here's a slideshow of the photos I took there. I concentrated on the rocky shores and the sea. I tried to portray a different Nova Scotia.... without the obvious touristic attractions.

Nova Scotia - Images by Olivier Du Tre

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

OK now that is weird

So before I give you all an overdose of Nova Scotia stories I'd like to write a short but very sweet blog entry.

Coming home yesterday on the airplane, I was watching the 2011 movie 'Unknown' starring Liam Neeson. When all of the sudden I got a flash of a weird looking camera! The geek in me immediately took over. I paused the movie, rewound and looked at the scene again. Yes there was no mistake. My eyes had not fooled me. I was looking at the worlds first left handed Canon Camera!

Now I don't know if this was a mistake in the movie or not, or this was a one off prototype or a new camera all together. Doing some digging on the intrawebs did not result into anything concrete. But my gut feeling would be they screwed up.

So here are some screen shots I took with the iPhone. You can kind make up the 'Canon' brand name under the LCD screen so the scene was not mirrored in post...

Weird or what?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Trip to Nova Scotia

I am about to embark on a two week trip to Nova Scotia.
Me and the misses have to go to a wedding there. I consider the wedding as a minor hick up in – what is going to be – one of the best photo opportunities ever.

Our plans are to drive along the shores and do the whole tour around the peninsula. It's gonna be epic.

Since we will have very limited internet access, don't expect a lot of updates/tweets/facebook updates though. I think I am going to go through internet 3G withdrawal the moment I land. 2 weeks without the intrawebs?! How do people live over there?
Friends keep saying that life over there is so much different then life in the big city. I am very curious to see and experience that!

Also last Friday we had a HUGE aurora outbreak over Canada (and the rest of the world). If you have not seen any pictures of it by now, here's a slideshow of what I photographed.

See you in two weeks!

Aurora Borealis 5 August 2011 - Images by Olivier Du Tre

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Star Trails How-To

I've always been interested in astronomy. Since I was a little boy. So I guess I know a fair bit about stars, planets and that sort of stuff. Anyway.
I read a lot of misleading stuff about photographing stars and doing star trails on the internet. So much that I decided to do my own how-to on how I make them. So here goes. Bare with me because this is going to be the longest post EVER!

Some background info.
Back in the days of film, doing star trails was relatively easy. You would pick a film (preferably a faster film) and with the help of a lockable cable release you would open the shutter for hours and hours. The only thing you had to worry about is film reciprocity. You would make 1 exposure for your star trails and that was it. Now this workflow does NOT work in digital any more! Contrary to what a lot of people think. It just does not work. Sensors are not like film! Let me explain.

Why one single long exposure doesn't work anymore?
The biggest reason is called amplifier glow. Ampli-WHAT?! Simple explanation. If you leave your camera 'open' for a long period of time your sensor and your camera's internals will start to heat up. That heat is – in turn – picked up by the sensor. You will start to notice hot spots in the corners first. They can turn up as magenta areas in your photo. Every camera has this. One is more sensitive then the other.
The other reason would be called light pollution. You are better off to take a lot of shorter exposures then one long exposure to do your star trials because when you do short exposure on a high ISO your sky will stay dark(er) then doing a long exposure on low ISO.

What equipment do I use?
  • Canon 5DmkII. You want a camera that is good at shooting in the dark. With a good ISO range and an even better signal to noise ratio. The Canon 5DmkII is a really good camera for photographing stars. It has a big ISO range and an easy noise pattern to get rid of in noise reduction software. Another good camera would be the Nikon D3x or D3s. Both have superb low noise ratios. Of course you can shoot star trails with any DSLR you want! 
  • Fast lens. I use a 24-105mm ƒ4 L cause that's all I got. Anything ƒ4 and faster works perfect. Also wide angle lenses give the best result because they will simply show a bigger area of the sky.
  • Tripod. I guess I don't have to explain why.
  • Remote release or intervalometer. Remote releases for star trails and star photography work just fine. Intervalometers are more used if you want to do time-lapse photography during the day. It is not really necessary during night photography (I'll tell you why in a minute).
  • Maybe a head lamp. But bring a RED one. It won't hurt your eyes as much in the dark and is better at NOT ruining your night vision. 
  • A full (warm) battery. Very important to not run out of juice.

How to set up your camera.
  • High ISO. Usually I use ISO 1600 or ISO 3200 on the 5DmkII (my standard setup is set on ISO 3200). I've even read reports of people using ISO's up to 6400 and get awesome results with the 5DmkII. I've never dared to go that high but I will try that out though.
    Stars are not the most bright elements in the sky (plus they are super tiny). So it is important to use a high ISO to get as much star light registered as possible in the least amount of time. Of course we know, high ISO's bring higher noise ratios. But low ISO will give less stars. So just go with the noise. When we will start stacking all the images you will see, the noise will be a lot less then you would anticipate in the first place.
  • Biggest ƒ-stop available. Turn your lens wide open.
  • Mirror lockup. Once your mirror is locked the only thing that needs to be tripped is the shutter. It cuts the vibrations down a little all though it is not that important in long exposure shots. But every little bit helps.
  • Noise reduction. Turn it off. Just turn it off. It's useless. Why? Well you need to understand what your camera does when you put noise reduction on. When you take one image of let's say 20 seconds long. With noise reduction ON the camera immediately takes ANOTHER exposure of the same time (so 20 sec) without opening the shutter after the first shot. So basically it takes a dark frame. And subtracts that frame from your original photo. So that means you are waiting 20 extra long seconds for your camera to finish what it's doing before you can make another shot. This will give your star trails a dotted appearance. You want one continuous star trail. So you can not afford 20 second pauses. BUT at the end of your run, put the lens cap on and take a few pictures (of the same length as the shots you were doing previously). The only thing that will show up on those dark frames is system noise and hot and cold pixels. Once we start the processing you'll see that they come in handy.

Noise on the 5DmkII at ISO 3200 is easy to control (left before, right after Nik Dfine noise reduction).
100% crops.

  • Shutter speed. Now here comes the first tricky part. We all know the earth turns on it's axis once every 24 hours. So stars move. Glad we have that down. But stars don't all 'move' at the same relative speed in the night sky. Stars close to the horizon move much faster then stars overhead or even the pole star (which hardly moves at all). So if your doing single shots your exposure time can vary a little when you're shooting close to the horizon or straight overhead. Personally I know doing 15 second shots at ISO 3200 and with my lens set at 24mm at ƒ4 will give me a good result.

    You  might want to try and pick a night without as much moonlight as possible. You can shoot during full moons, just be prepared to turn your exposure times down even further to avoid overexposure of the sky and foreground.

    There is a simple 'formula' to calculate your longest possible exposure time (the time where stars still appear as dots and not as streaks).

    The formula I use for stars overhead 
    600 / focal length*
    The formula I use for stars near the horizon 
    400 / focal length*

    * keep your crop factor in mind though.
    You want to calculate the focal length for a 35mm equivalent.

    When you are doing star trails, pinpoint stars are not really a necessity. Cause after all, we want them to streak up. So do you NOW understand why a simple lockable  remote release is sufficient? Since 30 second shots are more then we need. We do not need to make longer then 30 second exposures! And after all every camera has the ability to set exposure times up to 30 seconds before it switches to bulb mode.

Comparison between 30 seconds overhead and 30 seconds of exposure at the horizon.
Notice the stars streaking up in the right shot. 100% crops straight out of the camera without noise reduction.

  • White Balance. Another tricky subject. Make sure you DO NOT set it on auto. Cause then the WB can shift between exposures and we don't want that. I usually set it around 2500K – 3500K. Your trying to outbalance any stray man made light that could shine into your sky. In heavily light polluted areas you can still do star trails! 
  • Autofocus OFF! And IS too. Just put your lens manually on infinity. I've read a lot of reports that lenses can focus 'past infinity' but after some testing I concluded that for my setup, right on the infinity mark works best. You want your stars to be as sharp as pin pricks. Blobs are not as nice. 
  • Set your camera to make continuos exposures. This way by locking your remote you take a perfect 20 second star picture EVERY 20 seconds. 

OK so NOW you are ready to tackle star photography! Go outside and find a dark spot. Setup your camera and start shooting.  You can do single exposures or multiple exposures and create your very own star trails.

Processing your pictures.
SO you've shot 100 pictures of 30 seconds each. The first thing I do is I select one frame and do some basic tweaks. I adjust colour temperature, contrast, exposure (I often boost my exposures up to 1.5 steps),  black point, a little bit of definition and so on. Then I select the whole series and apply the same tweaks to all of them (easy to do in Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop).

At this stage – when your doing singles shots – you want to use your preferred noise reduction tool. I like Nik Dfine. But any other tool will work. Add some sharpness et voila, you have yourself a beautiful image of the night sky.

If you want to do star trails there are a couple of options. First you need to export the images to let's say high quality jpegs and put them in a folder (don't forget your dark frames!). Now you can go 3 ways.

  • If you're on a MAC platform you can download the free StarStaX program by Markus Enzweiler. You can find it here. This program basically does the same as Startrails (for PC), which you can find here. It combines all your shots into one picture. You can subtract your dark frames and it's all pretty easy and intuitive. 
  • You can use a batch process in Photoshop and apply an action to combine them all. You can download that action here. At the end make a new layer and copy your dark frame in it. Set the blending mode to subtract. And go from there.
  • Or you can do it manually (it's a lot of work) but here is why. The blending mode that is being used by the programs above is the equivalent of the 'Lighten' mode in Photoshop. What that mode does is it shows only the lightest pixels of each frame thus creating the star trails. But one of the characteristics of this mode is that it creates gaps in the star trails. The gaps are NOT there. It is just a side effect from the blending mode. 

Combination of shots using with StarTraX. Notice the gaps in the star trails.

Now you can do 2 things. 
  • Either clone out the billions of gaps. Good luck with that! (that was a joke).
  • Or use a combination of the 2 blending modes 'lighten' and 'screen'. Do the following. Load your files into a stack by using file>scripts>load files into stack. Don't convert them into a smart object cause that would beat the purpose. Now you are going to a very boring task. You are going to duplicate a bunch of layers and alternating the screen and lighten modes to blend the layers together.
    This is what you do. Turn all the layers off except for the bottom 2. Now set your second layer to blend mode 'screen' and merge layer 1 and 2 together. Set this new layer to ‘lighten’ mode. Now do the same for each pair of layers. Set your third layer to blend mode 'screen', and merge it with the copy of the second layer, then set that new layer to 'lighten'. And repeat. It is a boring task. But once you get the hang of it you'll see it's quite fast.
 And the above Photoshop blending mode trick in the shot above produces NO MORE GAPS. Yes the two shots are different because I was lazy and only combined 20 frames in the image above just the illustrate the result.

All you need to do is apply some curves on the above stack and save your image. OR you could have taken every image and turned the exposure down just a fraction. The above technique basically adds exposure (thanks to the screen mode) to the image. So if you take it down 1 step. Combine 2 images that are 1 step underexposed, will produce a normally exposed frame.
Confused?! Don't be. It's pretty easy.
If you want to read up on this trick I would suggest to read a good how to on Click here to read it.

Shooting Auroras
If you are lucky enough to live in a place where you can see the auroras and you want to photograph them (like me) you can use the single exposure technique. For my shots I use a predefined setting on my camera. I start with exposures of 15 sec. When the aurora spark up I often go to as low as 6 seconds. I am not changing the ISO. Because if the auroras are fast moving, I want to record as much detail as possible thus I use a short exposure time. It's not rocket science. Just a little bit of logic that's all.

I hope this 'tutorial' is helpful to some of you. If you have ANY questions please do ask. I will answer them in the comments below.
Thanks for reading and now go out and shoot some stars! And please do share! I love looking at night sky pictures.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What a busy weekend

Long weekends. You gotta love them.
Last Friday Paul Zizka, the whole Caffeine and Cameras group and I, went to Bow Lake to photograph us some star trails.
Long story short. I was home at 5am. ;) Wonderful night. As if the night couldn't be any better, on the drive home I saw beautiful patches of thick heavy fog. I didn't stop I just enjoyed the views I was getting.

For those who are interested in doing some star trails. I am planning on doing a how to very soon. Hang in there. :)

Then on Saturday (just as I was making plans to sleep in) I got a heads up on some possible aurora activity. So I went out again. Every time I see the Northern Lights, they are so different. This time around the colours were the weirdest I've seen so far. From pinks and purples to light teals(!) and deep greens. AWESOME!!!

Aurora Borealis 30 July 2011 - Images by Olivier Du Tre

Also one of the images got featured on the official Nasa '3D Sun' iPhone app. All though – thanks to my quirky accent in my last name – my name showed up weird. But I'll take it.

And then on Sunday I simply had to cross the street and shoot the fields in front of my house. We were getting some awesome clouds. I couldn't miss that!

Perfect clouds

And yesterday (the statutory holiday) I DID NOTHING! ;)

Thursday, July 28, 2011

I found myself this week

Ever since I started out with photography I knew I wanted to do landscape photography.
When I was still being schooled as a darkroom black and white photographer, my teacher was always complaining about how dark my skies and pictures where. I'm happy that I did not listen to him all the time. It just felt natural back then to burn skies really heavily. I did it instinctively. Not because somebody told me to. It's a bit hard to explain but I guess you could say it came from the inside, from the heart. I guess people call that vision.

Fast forward 10 years. I am now living in the most beautiful part of the world, Canada, where I can pursue that vision even further. And I am happy to say that I found my little niche where I can be who I am and I can do what I love doing. Even where I am proud of doing what I do.

Sure my landscapes are not photographed in the most scenic spots of Alberta and they are not taken at sunrise and or sunset. Yes they are dark and full of blacks with a lot of contrast. They do have a particular look. But that look just came naturally. This is what I like to look at.

For me it is more about the light itself. How light interacts with the sky, with clouds, with air even. Not how spectacular a mountain scene is.

I leave you with my favourites from this week so far.

Wonderful Mammatus

Hazy Rockies

Something's Brewing

Monday, July 25, 2011

Aurora Activity July 20th

So, last week a few shots got de-watermarked and re-uploaded to Twitpic.
I just like to share the album I've made yesterday with all the shots I took that night.
Just so you all have an 'official' link to share. And please DO SHARE!

As you notice, I am still very p*ssed there are actually people that lower themselves to the point of stealing someone else's efforts and claiming them for themselves.

Aurora Borealis 20 July 2011 - Images by Olivier Du Tre

Friday, July 22, 2011

Copyright anyone?

This morning I went through my Twitter account and saw – just by luck – somebody posted pictures of 'auroras boreales en Canada'. I was like 'hey, somebody else took shots last night! Let's check'em out'.

My stomach turned a little when I saw that as a matter of fact it were MY images I took on the night of July 21st, but with no watermark! I could swear I watermarked them before uploading them to

After checking that (I did in fact watermark my 4 shots and you can see the original post here), and some more digging, I ended up at the 'original' posters' Twitter account. A – what looks like – a genuine science and technology site.

Now I do LOVE science and I would do almost anything to help these usually under funded people out. But grabbing shots and removing watermarks (and NOT giving ANY credits or link back) is just plane old stealing in my book.

I sent a tweet out to them asking them to remove the photos from Twitpic but haven't recieved anything back yet.
I don't mind sharing pictures. As a matter of fact how would you otherwise get your work out?
But when I am missing out on potential clients that have no clue where pictures came from, that is another thing. Then you are pushing me into a corner and I have no clue how I will react.

If you look at the stats of these two images you'll see those shots got viewed approximately 9,000 times and got retweeted in about 1/10 of the views it got.

And to top that, they felt that they could repost this to their Facebook page as well.

SO here is my question. How would you handle this? Would you let this slide? Or would you sent them the bill? This is copyright infringement right? But I have no clue what I can do to people like this. Do I contact TwitPic?

Update 1
Here's the issue I am having. Thanks to all the privacy laws in place I can't see Twitter or Facebook page owners email addresses. I rather handle this through email though than shouting it in Twitter-space. So far they are not quick to react.
I got one tweet back saying, and I quote "we didn't remove it, our followers send us all the pictures, we just post them, send us the originals and we'll post them". So who did remove the watermarks then I question?
I tweeted again asking them (for the 2nd time now) to remove these shots. I am also filling in the Twitter Copyright Infringement form, but I'm not sending this off for now.
I like to believe these guys will remove the pics before I am forced to use more drastic measures.

Update 2
The owner of the page took the images down. SO that part of the issue is solved.
They claim they received these from an outside source and they were not the once that cropped the watermarks out. Could be, but how are we going to prove that?
I still like to find out who that 'source' was and go after them.

Update 3
The two pictures from yesterday were taken down. BUT I just found another one of my shots on their Twitpic page. This time around I sent them a simpler email. Asking them to take them down in 24h or I am filling a complaint through Twitter, and filling a complaint with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.

Update 4
After 24h the picture is still up and I am putting the wheels in motion. Yes it is a weekend (but I don't give a damn). I gave them 24h to comply OR...
So here goes.

Update 5
I just got a reply from the CEO of Twitpic notifying me that as of 7:30pm the photo has been taken down.
I also filled a complaint with Twitter. Awaiting the response of that.