Florida Brown Pelican
A Florida Brown Pelican sitting on a pier preens in the late afternoon sun.
The relatively flat Captiva Island landscape means that the warm late-day sun reaches the island's eastern/bay-side dock piers - providing great lighting for photographing the pelicans that like to sit on these piers.
I carried the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens with the Canon EF 2x III Extender for my lightweight bird lens on this trip. The f/8 image quality this combo delivered is impressive.
600mm f/8.0 1/640s ISO 400
Christmas Cactus Flower 2x
To get more magnification from the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Lens, add a Canon EF 2x II or III Extender. The resulting 2x magnification is quite impressive.
360mm f/11.0 1/160s ISO 100
Shooting Sports with Extenders
There are few lenses that work as well with extenders as the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8 L IS II USM Lens. This shot was taken with a Canon EF Extender 2x III mounted for a 600mm focal length.
The results are remarkable.
600mm f/5.6 1/2000s ISO 320
How to Process Solar Eclipse Exposure Bracketed Images – A Simple HDR Technique
How to Process Solar Eclipse Exposure Bracketed Images – A Simple HDR Technique Like scores of others, you (probably) and I photographed the solar eclipse this year. While partial solar eclipse images are easy to process (simply make them bright without blowing the red channel), the total eclipse images when bracketed, are in a different league in terms of complexity. So, like me, you are probably now asking, "How do I process the exposure-bracketed total eclipse pictures?" While there were many articles teaching us how to photograph the eclipse, those telling us how to process the images we captured during totality are scarce.
A great solar eclipse photography strategy is to extensively bracket exposures during totality, when the corona becomes visible. While the corona is relatively bright just outside the edges of the moon, it becomes very dim far away from the sun. Of course, with the sun being 93 million miles away, the word "far" takes on a significant meaning.
While I hoped I could simply load a set of bracketed-exposure images into my favorite HDR software (Photomatix or Photoshop) and be finished, the results returned were not acceptable to me for a couple of reasons. The primary problem was that the software did not properly align the moon (it moves across the frame in subsequent images), creating ghosting and still did so even if I pre-aligned the moon in each image. I could have overlaid the moon from a single frame, but ... I still wasn't satisfied with the overall look of the results.
In the end, after numerous trial and error attempts, I settled on an easy, relatively fast way to merge the results in Photoshop as my solution. Note that there are many techniques that can be used to process a stack of bracketed total solar eclipse images, so don't think this is the only option. But, this technique is easy and it produces a nice result.
Hopefully you captured your images in RAW format for the highest quality and in that case, processing those RAW files into 16-bit TIFF format is the first step needed.
Next, the images need to be loaded into layers in Photoshop. I use Adobe Bridge for this task, browsing to the folder the files are located in, clicking on the first of the series and shift-clicking on the last to select them all. Then select the "Tools" menu, "Photoshop", "Load files into Photoshop Layers ..." and a new Photoshop document will open with all of the images stacked in layers.
Unless you were using a tracking mount, the moon disk will need to be aligned in the layers. I simply moved each layer into identical position. Click on the layer and move it using the move tool. Toggle layer visibility of the image containing the targeted moon position for use as a guide and use the arrow keys to slide the layer being adjusted into position.
Once the images are properly aligned, crop the image as desired. Trimming away the missing edges and centering the sun was my decision.
Next, Order the layers from top down in darkest to brightest sequence. Because I set up the camera to shoot brackets from darkest to brightest (using three custom modes), this sequencing happened automatically for me.
Select the first/top layer and shift-click on the second-to-last layer. With all except one layer selected, reduce the layer opacity using the "Opacity" box at the top of the layers palette. Try starting at 20% and adjust to taste from there. I suggest keeping the image on the bright side at this point.
Making the opacity adjustment (likely) immediately produced an image that looks decent, but one ready for some contrast adjustment. Click on the top layer and create a new adjustment layer. The adjustment layer type you should select depends on your Photoshop skill level, but it needs to be a contrast-adjusting layer type that you are comfortable with, curves being the most powerful and levels being very easy. Use the adjustments the selected tool offers to bring life into the image. If using curves, try selecting two points to create an S-curve that darkens the darks colors and brightens the light (though likely only slight brightening is needed if the layer opacities were set low enough). If using levels, try reducing the mid adjustment slider. You may find that adding multiple adjustment layers is helpful. The beauty of adjustment layers is that they are non-destructive and can be created or deleted at any time.
Because the edges of the moon become brighter as the exposure becomes increases, the edges of my moon were not as crisp as I liked. Also, Baily's Beads were one of my favorite aspects for the solar eclipse and they were only found in the images captured just before C2 and just before C3. So, I incorporated an additional layer into the top of my layer stack and used a layer mask to make only the lunar disk and Baily's Beads visible. This means a black mask (use CTRL-I with a newly-created mask selected), with the desired visible attributes painted white (I used the paint brush). Another option for sharpening the moon is to duplicate one of the existing layers (CTRL-J), likely a darker one, giving it a 100% opacity and a layer mask with only the lunar disk made visible.
A technique that can be used to bring out some contrast in the corona is via Photoshop's High Pass filter. There are a number of ways to do this, but here is one of them:
Select and combine all layers by clicking on the topmost layer, shift-clicking on the last and pressing CTRL-E. Then copy the combined layers to the clipboard by press CTRL-A to select the entire image and then pressing CTRL-C to copy it. Next, undo changes until one step back past the layer-combining step. Select the top layer and press CTRL-V to paste in the copied combined layer.
With the new layer selected, desaturate it by pressing CTRL-SHFT-U. Implement the High Pass filter selecting from the menu: "Filter" > "Other" > "High Pass...". From the High Pass filter dialog, adjust the radius until it seems like the results will work well, with a low value being good for sharpening hard edges such as the border of the moon and a high value being good for adjusting overall image contrast, such as the corona.
The next step is to change the blending mode of the High Pass layer to "Overlay" by using the blending mode drop-down list founds at the top of the layer palette. The opacity of the High Pass layer can be adjusted to reduce the amount of effect and a mask can be used to hide undesirable portions of that layer. You can create a second or even third High Pass layer if you think it will help.
Adjust individual or smaller groups of layer opacities is another step that can be taken to optimize the final appearance.
For the total solar eclipse HDR image shown here, I combined eight 1-stop-bracketed exposures (out of 14 captured) using opacity values of 100% on the bottom (the brightest frame), 25% for the next three up, 20% for the next three up and 30% for the darkest layer on top. The top layer has a layer mask that allows only the center of this frame to show with a strongly-feathered border creating a natural transition to the layer below (one click in the center with a very large, totally-soft paint brush tool selected).
With so many options available, you may decide it worthwhile to create multiple versions of your HDR image and that is a great idea. You worked hard to prepare for and capture the solar eclipse, so having multiple images processed differently simply increases the reward.
1200mm f/8.0 1/1250s ISO 100
Drying Brown Pelican
A Brown Pelican dries itself in the warm late-day sunlight.
For ideal bird photography lighting, I oriented myself so that I was between the sun and the pelican (or nearly so).
600mm f/8.0 1/250s ISO 160
On August 21st, 2017, over much of North America, the moon is going to cover the big fireball, creating a spectacular sight (weather conditions permitting of course). Start preparing now – photographing the sun is not difficult and likely is affordable to you.
Read through the Solar Eclipse Photography Tips posts and don't miss the Meade Glass White Light Solar Filter review to learn how this image was created.
This image is moderately cropped from a 1200mm full frame capture.
1200mm f/8.0 1/400s ISO 100
Partially Cloudy Partial Lunar Eclipse at 1200mm
It seems that, every time there is an astronomical event scheduled, the sky turns cloudy where I am. I'm sure that this is one of Murphy's laws, but ... sometimes everything works out anyway.
This particular lunar eclipse was happening early in the morning and I setup my gear the evening before. After checking the weather report immediately prior to going to bed, I turned off the alarm. The odds of the cloud cover clearing were very low and I decided that a clear mind from a solid night of sleep was the wiser decision.
Fortunately, my Mother-In-Law was wiser than I was (or more excited about the event) and, upon seeing some clearing in the sky, she called me at 4:30 AM. I crawled out of bed, dressed warmly, hauled the ready-to-go gear out to the front yard and found a chair to sit on. I established the focus distance and changed the lens to MF. I then established the exposure needed to keep the moon very slightly darker than blown (mostly avoiding pure white/blinkies on the LCD). The clouds indeed cleared (mostly) by the time of the event and I was able to capture many good shots.
As is generally the case with landscape photography, I had to embrace what the weather provided me and in this case, some remaining clouds moved across the moon at times during the eclipse. The brightness of the moon was much for the clouds to remain visible in the frame most of the time (except when the moon was very obscured), but I wanted to show the clouds in some images with the moon only slightly obscured. Thus, I used an HDR technique involving two exposures stacked and merged in Photoshop.
The result of this particular image is that the eclipsed portion of the moon is not as dark (due to the presence of the clouds) as those captured without clouds, but the clouds appearing to radiate from the moon yields a different look to this infrequent occurrence.
Obviously, for this lunar eclipse, I opted to fill the frame with just the moon vs. including a landscape in the frame. The 600mm f/4L IS II is a much-appreciated part of my kit, and this was an instance where the 2x extender proved useful.
1200mm f/8.0 1/200s ISO 500
Little Blue Heron in Corkscrew Swamp Wildlife Refuge
Corkscrew Swamp Wildlife Refuge is a great place to photograph wildlife - from Painted Buntings to butterflies to alligators to Cottonmouth Water Moccasins to various wading birds and much more. This Little Blue Heron was intently hunting below the boardwalk.
I carried the 300 f/2.8 L II and 1.4x III combination while exploring the boardwalk. And I carried them in a Think Tank Photo Glass Taxi when not actively shooting. Not long after this shot, I opened the pack - and a camera body cap with a rear lens cap attached rolled out, across the boardwalk and into the alligator-infested water below. While I was not happy about the loss of the caps, I was even more disturbed to have put litter in the water. at this great place. After finding a refuge worker, I was given permission to hang over the edge of the boardwalk (while being held onto) and retrieve the still-floating caps using two large, dead sticks (that I had to also-retrieve) as chopsticks. The retrieval was successful (and entertaining to those watching I'm sure). Phew.
600mm f/8.0 1/100s ISO 1250
Great Horned Owl in Nest Cavity
This mother great horned owl may be the most popular and most photographed of its species in the Mid-Atlantic states at this time. Being able to photograph a primarily-nocturnal bird, very visibly sitting in its nest throughout the day, is an unusual situation and MANY photographers took advantage of this opportunity. I made this opportunity a priority and carved most of a day out of my schedule to get my great horned owl photo.
The viewing area of this nest is in a public park with a significant bank and stream separating viewers and the owl family (two owlets are deeper in the cavity). This meant as much focal length as possible was needed in front of a full frame camera (and a significant amount in front of an APS-C model). For me, this meant the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens in front of an EF 2x III Extender along with the ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R.
While this uncropped image indicates a clear view on the nest cavity, that was not completely the case. Getting the right position for a semi-clear view of this owl was challenging and I spent much of this day leaning to the side so that I could use a tripod position immediately next to another cooperative photographer for the best-available view. My primary concern was getting a clear view through the tree branches on my side of the creek as these branches became very defocused and lowered contrast over a significant portion of the image if in the frame. The branches on the nest tree were of a lower concern as the healing brush in Photoshop made branch removal a trivial task.
While the owl spent most of the day sitting nearly motionless, it occasionally changed positions. When a loud motorcycle came into the park, the mother great horned owl showed her personOWLity, making for one of my favorite shots of the day.
1200mm f/11.0 1/500s ISO 800
How to Create a Solar Eclipse Phase Composite Image
Most of those who photographed the solar eclipse captured images from the beginning until the end, from C1 through C4. While every one of those images may be intriguing, showing all of the stages of the solar eclipse in the same image can take the intrigue to a new level. So, plan on creating at least one solar eclipse composite image. Fortunately, the process is easy. Here are the steps necessary:
First, visualize the composite image you want to create. In this case, I went with a single row, but curves, multi-stacked rows, etc. can also work well. Consider searching for results others have created, or just let your imagination go wild for a completely new take on this event.
With a design in mind, select the individual images to be included. You likely want a near-equal time period between the partial eclipse selections and that means breaking out your math skills.
Use the EXIF information in the images you captured to determine the precise time of totality (or maximum coverage within totality) (or use a reference to find this information). Then look at the capture time of the first image you want included. This gives you a timespan that can be divided by the number of partial eclipse images you want included on either side of totality/max. Select images captured at each of the timespan milestones you selected. Having equal time periods between images is not a rule and I veered slightly from it in my example (partially to avoid some clouds encountered).
To cleanly merge into a black background, each image being included in the final composite should have a completely black perimeter. While partial eclipse images most likely already have this attribute, a tightly framed HDR image of totality may not. An easy way to darken the border of these non-conforming images is to darken the darks. Adjust levels or curves to make the dark colors darker until they turn pure black along the entire perimeter.
Each image being included in the final composite should be cropped relatively tightly. This facilitates image position adjustment in the composite image without having frame borders overlaying lower layers.
Next, the images should be loaded into layers in Photoshop (or a similar app). I use Adobe Bridge for this task, browsing to the folder the files are located in, clicking on the first of the series and shift-clicking on the last to select them all. Then select the "Tools" menu, "Photoshop", "Load files into Photoshop Layers ..." and a new Photoshop document will open with all of the images stacked in layers.
Once all images are loaded into the PS file, they will likely be stacked directly on top of each other with a canvas size equal to the largest individual image loaded. So, the next step required is to increase the canvas size (press CTRL-ALT-C) sufficiently to hold the visualized layout. Don't worry if you get this setting wrong as it is easy to further increase the canvas size or crop the image later. My preference is to go big and opt for the crop.
The increased canvas size results in insufficient border color with the newly added space likely being transparent. This is an easy problem to fix. Create a new layer (click on the new layer button at the bottom of the layers palette). Select the paint bucket tool (press G, or SHFT-G repeatedly until the paint bucket is the selected tool). Then change the selected color to black (press D, then X). Then click anywhere on the canvas with the new layer selected. That entire layer will turn black. In the layers palette, drag the new layer to the bottom of your layers stack to make it serve as the background.
Next, move the image on each layer into place using the move tool (press V, or SHFT-V repeatedly until the move tool is selected). After selecting the layer to be moved (turning off the move tool's auto-select feature might be helpful), drag it into place. Repeat Consider using a grid (View > Show > Grid) with the grid size adjusted (Edit > Preferences > Guides, Grid & Slices...) to something that works for you to help with the alignment process.
Massage the design as desired and then publish it to the world. Consider creating multiple layout designs as most of the work has been done at this point and new designs require only minimal effort. Simply drag the layers around as you like, saving a new version of the file each time you create a design you like.
While I had three complete camera setups in operation during the eclipse, it was the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS II USM Lens-based setup that I relied most upon. When I need the most focal length possible, this lens is my go-to option. Yes, the 600 f/4 is big and expensive, but the combination of the impressive image quality it delivers and the frequency in which I use it makes the cost a good value to me. In this case, I relied heavily on the focal length and image quality attributes as a 2x Extender will magnify any aberrations present and there were already enough of them between earth and the extreme-distant subject.
Back to the main point of this article: make the effort to create some composite images and you will be rewarded by the results. It has been over a month since the 2017 total eclipse event captivated us, and simply looking back into the images captured on this day will bring back great memories, helping you to re-live that rare experience.
1200mm f/8.0 1/400s ISO 100
Airplane Over Harvest Moon at 1680mm
I decided that, with a clear sky, I was going to stack a pair of extenders to the back of my Canon EF 600mm f/4 L IS II USM Lens and capture the "Harvest Moon" (the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox).
Stacking a Canon EF 1.4x Extender with a Canon EF 2x Extender requires a 12mm extension tube to be mounted between the two – to make the fit possible. The result is 600mm x 2 x 1.4 = 1680mm = Wow!
While you should not expect amazing image quality from this setup, the tight angle of view delivered by 1680mm is quite amazing. So tight that tracking the moon through the frame is a constant task. And, avoiding vibrations is a challenge. I opted to use mirror lockup with the 10 second self-timer to make sure that the camera fully settled down before the shutter release.
I was trying different exposure settings and verifying the results on the LCD. During one such check, I saw a black spot on the moon. My first thought was that I had a piece of dust on my sensor. Zooming in revealed otherwise.
I live well over an hour from the nearest large airport. The sky was black and I had no idea that there were any airplanes in the area. Using the 10 second timer, with the narrow angle of view, meant that I was predicting where the moon would be in the frame at shutter release. Not only did the airplane happen to cross the moon at the exact time of the shutter release,, it happened to be in a perfect location over the moon. The timing was divine.
This image is an un-touched and uncropped (but reduced in size of course) conversion of the Canon EOS 5D Mark III RAW file. Photography is so fun.
1680mm f/11.0 1/80s ISO 800
Florida Brown Pelican on a Pier
The piers on the east/bay side of Captiva Island are great places to find Brown Pelicans - and late in the day is the ideal time to photograph these very interesting birds hanging out there.
With a mostly-still bird and adequate time to capture the shot, I was able to handhold this 600mm-effective lens and extender combination at a shutter speed of 1/30 second.
600mm f/11.0 1/30s ISO 200
Going Hyper-HDR with the Partial Solar Eclipse
OK, perhaps calling it a composite would be more accurate, but "Hyper-HDR" makes a more-dramatic title, right?
During a solar eclipse, the moon moves between the sun and our viewing location, taking, minimally, a bite out of the solar disk. While it is possible to use an exposure that captures a small amount of detail in the moon during totality, I am not aware of anyone able to do so during the partial phases and, even during totality, the moon is poorly lit with the perimeter of the moon quickly becoming too bright. So, to get a perfect moon exposure, a composite is needed.
Remember us suggesting that you capture an image of the full moon just-prior to the August 2017 solar eclipse? Well, this post is about what you can do with that image.
Start by selecting one of your partial solar eclipse photos to use as the base image. The moon is going to show full regardless of the sun image selected and that means the balance between the amount of sun and moon showing is going to be determined by the sun image. I opted to show a significant portion of the sun in this composite. Hint: error on the side of showing too much sun because the moon can be positioned over more than just the missing portion of the sun.
Because my moon image showed a very slight amount of shadowing on the top right (clouds prevented me from getting an image on the night of the fullest moon), the bottom-left side of the moon blended better with the sun, driving my option to select a sun image with the top-right being eclipsed.
Process both of the images (if captured in RAW format) and open them as layers in an image editing program (Photoshop is perfect). Position the moon image on the top layer and use a layer mask to allow only the moon itself to remain visible (masking out all of the black). Reposition the moon layer so that it aligns properly over the sun and make any layer mask edits necessary for ideal blending.
That's it. The perimeter of the image will be pure black, so feel free to adjust the framing or cropping or even increase the canvas size to create the final image desired.
OK, so you missed one or both of these events? No problem. Get your solar filter and take a picture of the sun on the next clear day. Then, on a clear night during the next full moon, capture the moon image with the same lens (sans solar filter of course). Process both images and position your cut-out moon partially over the sun, creating a fake solar eclipse. Very few will spot the difference.
1200mm f/8.0 1/400s ISO 100