30 Foot Jump Into The Swimmin’ Hole! Yeeeeeeahhhh!!!!!

It’s a hot day…time for a swimmin’ hole! Tar Creek, Ventura County takes a bit of getting to if you’re in Los Angeles. Get to Fillmore, drive up a dirt road for 3 miles, then hike down for 2 and a half miles. But you’re rewarded with natural water slides, 30-ft. cliffs to leap from, and beautiful scenery.

Tar Creek, Sespe Wilderness, Ventura County

We had seen Seun Kuti the night before, and now, hiking down to these water holes and waterfalls on a perfect day made for a fantastic weekend.

After the hike back up, we washed it down with micheladas (beer, limes, Tabasco sauce, and tomato juice), lots of ice-cold water, and carne de su jugo (a delicious hearty Guadalajaran soup with beef, pinto beans, and bacon in a tomatillo and cilantro soup) at La Fondita in Fillmore.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon

Featured Photo: Trinity, Joshua Tree

Trinity - Joshua Tree

Nearing sunset in Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park. I liked how this photo looked more in color, so there is no black and white version of this. I love the shape of the three trunks, and also love the buttery glow of the setting sun. Everyone I ran into was trying to take photos of the sun setting. I was far more interested in photographing the sun using its warm rays to “paint” the fantastic landscape.

Allegedly, the Joshua Tree was so named due to pilgrims feeling that it looked like the prophet raising his arms toward heaven. This tree seems to evoke that feeling.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon

The Infinity Pool of California

The Infinity Pool of California

California’s natural infinity pool.

The remains of a pier, Bombay Beach.

The Salton Sea – California’s largest lake

This lake is a shallow, saline, endorheic rift lake located directly on the San Andreas Fault, predominantly in California’s Imperial Valley, and is about 226 ft (69 m) below sea level. The deepest area of the sea is 5 ft (1.5 m) higher than the lowest point of Death Valley. The sea is fed by the New, Whitewater, and Alamo rivers, as well as agricultural runoff drainage systems and creeks.

It’s this agricultural runoff and drainage, along with the high salinity of the rivers, that make this water rather putrid. Tons of tilapia wash up on shore, and the water has a peculiar odor.

The lake hasn’t been around for long, though. The Salton Sea as we know it began in1905, when heavy rainfall and snowmelt caused the Colorado River to swell, pouring over headgates for the Alamo Canal, gushing down the New River and Alamo Rivers, rushing over an Imperial Valley dike, and carrying the entire volume of the Colorado River to create the Salton Sea in two years.

The Salton Sea, however, has no outflow, so all the salt, all the runoff, and all the drainage stays in this salt-encrusted water.

Geek Talk  This is a long exposure shot taken with the Nikon D90 and Tokina 11-16mm f2/8 lens and a B+W ND1.8 filter, keeping the shutter open for several seconds at f/22 to create the milky effect from the water. Shortly after I took this photo, while switching lens, one of the legs of my Feisol tripod suddenly shortened after it had been standing for five minutes, sending my camera plunging lens-first into the sand. Nothing appears permanently damaged, but it took a long time to brush the sand out of the lens, filters, and camera.

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Tokina AT-X 116 Pro DX AF 11-16mm f/2.8 Lens For Nikon

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like).

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!

The Tomb of Jesus…in India????

This is an unusual post about a most unusual place that has created great controversy.

The Alleged Tomb of Jesus...in India???

Khanyar Rozabal is a tomb in the Khanyar (Khan Yar) District of Srinagar, located in the Old City.  The tomb is the final resting place of revered prophet Yuz Asaf, who died over 1900 years ago.

However, many of the locals, as well as numerous Biblical and religious scholars, believe that Yuz Asaf may be none other than Jesus Christ.

How could this be?

During the “Lost Years of Jesus” (between ages 13-29), the Bible is rather vague about the whereabouts of Jesus, simply mentioning that he went into the desert and “increased in wisdom and stature”.  However, ancient manuscripts written in Persia, India, Tibet, and Ladakh tell of a light-skinned man who was born of a virgin and left Palestine to teach and learn the Vedas, eventually returning to teach.

But this is where the story gets stranger.

There are Buddhist, Islamic, and Hindu manuscripts indicating that Jesus survived the crucifixion and left for Kashmir to seek the “Lost” Ten Tribes of Israel, who had scattered to Afghanistan, Kashmir, and beyond (genealogical DNA testing has facilitated the assertion that certain populations of Afghanistan and Kashmir share common ancestry with Israelis).  There are dozens of villages in or near Kashmir bearing the name of Jesus.  And when Khanyar Rozabal researchers investigated the tomb and scraped hundreds of years of wax off some stone, they discovered carved footprints with the marking of a crucifixion scar etched into each print, as well as a crucifix and rosary.

So do I believe that Jesus rests here?  I have no idea.  I just try and keep an open mind.

Before leaving for India in 1997, my Indian friend’s mother showed me an old book about an explorer who had discovered this alleged tomb of Jesus and implored me to visit this strange place if I had opportunity.  I was lucky and managed to visit Kashmir, and, becoming close friends with a family there.
In 2005, I visited my friend again.  He took me to Khanyar Rozabal (Kan Yar Rosa Bal or Rauza Bal), the tomb of Yuz Asaf, again.  These are two of the photos I took.

The Sarcophagus of the Alleged Tomb of Jesus in Kashmir

This two photos are from my second visit here.  The first time, in 1997, I was able to walk around inside, and I was able to videotape the interior.

This time, no.  The locals were afraid of tourists, and it was only due to my Kashmiri friend, telling them that I was like a member of his family, that allowed me, a foreigner, to venture inside and take photographs.  We had found that foreigners are no longer allowed inside here, and photography and videography are prohibited.  My friend asked why. The locals were afraid of foreign scientists desecrating the tomb.  But we assured them this would not happen with us.  We understood, and we’d be respectful.  My friend told him that I was like a brother to him, that I was his family.  The local merchant smiled, and said I could pay my respects and even take photos.

If you want to know more,  please visit my site.  I have photos from 1997 and 2005, and have more information about this intriguing site.

Video of the tomb from 1997.

Equipment:  Nikon N70 film camera.  I can’t remember the lens.

Break On Through

I was too young to have seen The Doors. But more than seeing John Densmore perform in Topanga, this was as close as I’ve gotten…and it was from my friend’s band!

 "Jim Morrison" Breaks On Through

My friend Brian formed Doors tribute band Break On Through in Los Angeles with singer Ray Porschien (Jim Morrison – Vocals), The Fish (Robby Krieger – Guitar), and Derek Smith (John Densmore – Drums), with Brian playing the part of Ray Manzarek.  The first time I heard them, I was mesmerized.  Ray sounded eerily like Morrison. I don’t often go in for tribute bands, but this was really something.  The crowd responded.  They knew they were seeing something special, not just people playing cover songs.

I’ve been recording them at Blueberry Buddha Recording Studios (I’m also a recording engineer…there must be some psychological reason for me always wanting to document things!) and photographing them when they play…if I’m not utterly entranced by them.

For concerts, I’ve been using a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 prime lens.  Good and fast and sharp.  But even with this lens, photographing someone who is constantly swaying, moving, leaping in very dark light is extremely challenging.  Now that I’ve since purchased a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 wide angle, I’ll try that as well.

So how did I get this shot?  I was on stage.  If I can, I like to get as close as possible. Being on stage is really close.  Like those black and white photos by Charles Peterson, who shot Seattle SubPop artists such as Nirvana in the late ’80s and early ’90s, getting up close so you’re sprayed with sweat and banging into microphones is the best way to get visceral images of rock performers.

Now I need to convince other rock stars that I need to get good and close to take their photos!

Page Lee White G3 Guitar Gods

Photographer Ken Lee with Ronnie James Dio

….I meant on stage.  😀

Equipment:  Nikon D90, Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras

Featured Photo: Rock and Tree

Rock and Tree, Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree is otherworldly, and sometimes looks to me like a planet Captain Kirk and Spock might have beamed down on.  But I think this is rather captivating even by Joshua Tree standards. I shot this with a fairly small aperture to make certain both the narrow balancing rock and the lone tree, which is considerably closer to the camera, were both in focus.

Yes, this is another photo from my 28 April 2012 photographic trip to the desert, a 24-hour excursion for taking photos during both the day and night. This month we’ll be featuring many of these photos, and on June 1st, will discuss in detail the process of how the star trails photo from a couple of posts ago was created.
Equipment:  Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like).

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!

How Do You Take Photos of the Stars (but not a star trails photo?)

So I’ve gotten a lot of positive response to the star trails article, although curiously not in the Comments Section!!  Aside from asking about details about star trails photography, the most common question has been:  “how do you take photos of the stars”?

joshuatree0213_455threetrunk30sf4iso500-ALSOUSEASBLENDFORSTARTRAILS

Title: Trinity Stars
Info: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Dorcy LED flashlight for “light painting” the rocks and the trees. 30 second exposure, f/4, ISO 500.
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Joshua Tree National Park, CA USA
FOCUSING AT NIGHT:  First, we’ll discuss focusing.  That’s the hardest part of night photography, so I’ll start off with this and scare off the timid.  😀

There’s going to be some variability depending on the camera and lens you use, so it’s not just a simple matter of saying, “Do this, then do that.”

I focus on the stars by setting my lens to “infinity”.  But wait….it may not be quite as easy as that.  Why?  Because not all  lens indicate “infinity” in the same manner.  The easiest way to do this is to go out some time when there’s some daylight and focus on something extremely far away, like some mountains or the clouds or something and see where your lens perceives “infinity” to be.  It may be right at the lens’ Infinity marking.  Or slightly to the right.  Or slightly to the left.  With one photographer’s Pentax lens, it was between 11-14 ft.!!!  Now, I’m rather lucky because the “infinity” setting on my Tokina 11-16mm is right in the MIDDLE of the infinity symbol.  Beautiful.  Regardless of where it is, mark that setting.

1joshuatree1212_160f8_25sarchrock

Title: The Guardian of Forever
Info: Nikon D7000, Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod. Exposure time 25 seconds at f/8, ISO 200. Light painted with flashlight and red headlamp. That is the moon peaking through the middle of the arch!
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Arch Rock, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA.

If you are shooting at night and haven’t tested for infinity yet, try and focus on the shots as best you can, setting it to where you believe infinity is based on the markings on your lens or, if you can, manually..  Then take test photos of the stars  and view ’em in your LED, zooming in on the stars.  Then adjust your lens accordingly, zeroing in on where the stars look the sharpest.  This may take a while.  Be patient.  You want the stars to be as sharp as possible.  It looks great.  After the first time you do this, it gets much faster and easier. Using a flashlight, or better yet, a small headlamp with red light so you don’t constantly zap your eyeballs with white light, is the easiest way to view your lens and camera settings.

When you find your focus, switch your lens and camera off “auto focus” and on to “manual” so it won’t get moved again.  This is your infinity focus that you’re going to use from now on.  Some people use gaffer’s tape or blue painters’ tape to hold the lens in place, a good idea I picked up from Dennis Mammana, a night photographer.

If you can nail focusing at night, everything else is comparatively easy.

EXPOSURE:  Since you want the stars to be pinpoints, you need a relatively short exposure…at least, by night sky photography standards.  And that means keeping it under 20-30 seconds, depending on what lens you have.  A wide angle lens tends to show trails less than a telephoto lens.  I’ll let you figure out why.  😀  Much longer than 30 seconds, and your photo will likely show your stars as a very short line and not a pinpoint of light.

Use a lens at a fairly wide aperture, something like f/2.8 is nice.  Something that is good and wide to let as much light in as possible since stars don’t give off all that much light.  You can set it to smaller apertures but then you won’t let in as much light, and you’ll have to kick up your ISO.

Hidden Valley Nights

Title: Hidden Valley Nights
Geek Stuff: Nikon D90 with Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens, Feisol tripod; 30-second exposure, f/2.8, ISO 800. 26 March 2012. Everything is lit solely by moonlight.
Photographer: Ken Lee
Location: Hidden Valley, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Now, set your camera to the lowest ISO you can get away with while still having your stars show nice and bright.  Why the lowest ISO you can get away with?  Because higher ISOs, while more light sensitive, also introduces more noise.

On my camera/lens combination, my widest aperture was f/2.8, good and wide, and with that wide of an aperture, I could get away with an ISO as low as ISO 800 for a 30-second exposure, which is quite good.  ISO 800 on a relatively modern digital camera doesn’t introduce too much noise.  If I wanted, I could have probably used a higher ISO such as 1600 if I wanted a 20-second exposure, which would have had less star trails, but I was satisfied with the lack of star trails on my 30-second exposure and chose to keep those settings.

If your image is too dark, make it brighter.  Widen the aperture.  Kick up the ISO. Or if you must, lengthen the exposure time, but remember that past 30 seconds, the stars may start to appear as very short lines, although I’ve seen people do exposures of 40 seconds that still looked like pinpoints because the used an extremely wide angle lens or just managed to get away with it somehow.

If your image is too bright, make it darker.  That’s easy.  Lower the ISO.  Make your aperture smaller.

Exposure is fairly simple.  Darken or brighten using the same tools you do during the day. Focusing is a greater challenge, but if you’re patient and take some test shots, you’ll nail those too.

Featured Photo: Mystic Pier

Mystic Pier, Ventura (black and white)

This mystic pier photo is an early morning photo of the Ventura Pier in Caifornia.  Opening the shutter for a long time gives the ocean water a beautiful ethereal misty sort of feel, which I really love.

Ventura Pier, Nikon D90, 11-16mm f2/8 Tokina, f/22, 6 second exposure using B+W 1.8 ND filter. – at Ventura Pier, California

Photo Tip: 5 Steps To Creating Star Trails Photos (Includes Stacking in Photoshop)

If you take night photos, you’ve just doubled the amount of time you can take photos.  I’ll tell you how I created these star trails photo through “stacking”, or combining multiple images into one.  It’s not the only way.  There are even easier ways.  But this method gives you a lot of control and quality that dedicated star trail stacking programs don’t seem to offer.

startrails-templetreezion3-kenleeblend2-700px

Above:  Temple Tree Star Trails.  While this also uses the stacking process described here, I’ve also altered the opacity of the layers to give the star trails a comet-like effect. I will describe this in a May 2013 post. Zion National Park, Utah. This photo was selected as one of the Daily Dozen by National Geographic.

Trona Glow Star Trails

This photo was taken in Trona Pinnacles in the Mojave Desert in California, and was featured in a number of places, also winning the Los Angeles Times Photo of the Year in the Travel Section as an Editor’s Choice. It is a 50-minute exposure in total, stacked in Photoshop CS4.

STACKING
Noise is the enemy of night photography.  Keeping your shutter open for long periods of time is more likely to introduce noise.  Stacking photos was originally developed as a technique in digital astrophotography to reduce noise, but of course, as more artistic photographers can use this technique too.

WHAT YOU WILL NEED
* A camera that with a manual exposure mode that lets you set shutter speed, aperture, and ISO with a Bulb Setting, or at the very least, allows you to set the shutter speed for 30 seconds, and preferably, a camera that shoots in RAW so you can control the processing (but if you can’t, shoot at the highest resolution JPG setting you can).  Most DSLRs will fit the bill, but there are some compact digital cameras that also have these features.

* Lots of batteries for your camera.  Long exposures can really wear down your batteries.

* A remote cable shutter release so you don’t shake the camera by pressing the button

* A tripod for keeping the camera as still as possible.  I used my Dad’s heavy 1970s Sears tripod, which was hard to lug around and got really cold on winter desert nights, but finally got a Feisol carbon fiber tripod with a Photo Clam ball head, which is easier to set up and adjust.

startrails-horses-27min-30sf28iso400-960px

This is a star trails, showing the celestial movements of the stars over Borrego Springs, CA. The total exposure is 27 minutes, using stacked photos, each of them 30 seconds in length. The horse sculptures were created by sculptor Ricardo Breceda.

WHAT’S NICE TO HAVE
* A wide-angle lens.  While you can photograph star trails with just about any lens, a wide angle shows a broader view of what we are seeing, are a bit more forgiving about focusing (which is challenging in night photography), and shows more curvature in the star trails, something I absolutely love. But I’ve shot with other lens too.  Depends on what you are going for.

* a red LED light so you can fiddle without adversely affecting things or experiencing glaring white light.

* An interval timer for your camera.  Really, this should be considered equipment that you need.  Why?  It’s difficult to create a set of images that can be stacked without one of these due to not being able to time your exposures accurately enough over a long time manually. I’ll tell you how I got around this even though it’s probably not considered ideal. Also, since I wrote this in June 2012, I’ve also begun using an app called TriggerTrap, which runs in Android and iOS smartphones, using the smartphone as an intervalometer, among other things. It’s super easy to use.

* Mag lights, flashlights, LED lights, ProtoMachines LED2, or other light sources for light painting the foreground.  Sometimes you might not want a super dark foreground.  Consider “light painting” the foreground!  It’s also a lot of fun and passes the time quickly!  But having the foreground as a silhouette can often be quite striking as well.  You’re the artist.  It’s your call!

STARTRAILS-trinitystartrails-f4iso50030s44-22min-960pxFB

Above: Trinity Star Trails.  While this uses the stacking process described here, I’ve also altered the opacity of the layers to give the star trails a comet-like effect. I will describe this in a May 2013 post. Joshua Tree National Park, California.

SCOUTING THE LOCATION
I look for an interesting foreground.  Star trails are not so interesting artistically by themselves, in my opinion.  Like any photo, it should be about the overall composition.

I often like to face the camera north.  This is because I like to capture the star trails swirling around the north star.  Polaris, or the North Star, remains stationary and in a star trails photograph, the stars will appear to swirl around it.  If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, locate the North Star by finding the Big Dipper, the grouping of seven stars that looks like a ladle.  The two stars forming the end of the Big Dipper’s bowl point directly at the North Star.  The North Star is the end of the handle of the Little Dipper.  Or you can use your iPhone GPS or a compass.

I try to make sure that if the moon is out, it won’t shine into my lens for the duration of my shot.

And finally, I try to choose a location far enough from the road so cars wouldn’t shine their headlights on my foreground or be interrupted.

And it probably goes without saying that the less “light pollution” from light sources, the better you can see stars.  You can scout locations in the United States from this website, the Dark Sky Finder.

SETTING UP
I use my Feisol tripod, double-check to make certain everything is tight and locked down, and if around sand, jam it down into the sand hard.  After all, we certainly don’t want any movement from the camera. If it’s windy, I’ll hang one of my packs on the center hook to give my setup more weight.

FOCUSING IN THE DARK
There’s a few ways to focus.  One obvious way is to set up while it’s still light and use your Auto-Focus.  You can also take some photos now and blend in the twilight photos with your star trails.  If you focus while it is dark, you may shine your flashlight at the foreground object, use your AF as usual, then switch to manual so your camera doesn’t “hunt”.

And yet another way is to try and find true infinity on your lens.  This method is excellent for getting the stars as sharp as possible, and is particularly good if the foreground elements are 20 feet (7 or 8 meters) away.  However, each lens is different, and finding true true infinity may sometimes not even be on the “infinity” mark, or may be on different parts of the “infinity” mark.  If using this last method, you may need to take multiple photos and zoom in on them on your LED to determine what is the sharpest, or use Live View and zoom in on the stars if you can to make certain they are the sharpest.

PHOTOGRAPHING
Remember before I told you that an interval timer should probably be considered essential equipment?  Sure.  But they can also be expensive.  Getting a good one can often be $100 or $200.  At any rate, I didn’t have one, but needed to time exposures accurately so the exposures would be consistent.  What to do?  Well, it turns out that when my remote cable shutter release is locked and the camera is not in Bulb Mode, the camera will keep shooting over and over if set to continuous drive mode.  So I set my camera for 30 seconds, the longest shutter speed it allows before Bulb Mode, then lock the shutter release. (note: since I wrote this in June 2012, I’ve also begun using TriggerTrap, an app that runs in iOS and Android smartphones, using the smartphone as an intervalometer, trigger, and other things. It’s super easy to use, connecting to the camera with a dongle. Google this for further information).

Click….click….click….click….time to lay back, look at the stars and soak in the beauty of it all.

I also make sure to shut off the in-camera long exposure noise reduction when shooting for “stacked” photos.  Why?  It takes the same amount of time to reduce the noise in the photo as the exposure.  In other words, if I shoot for 30 seconds, the camera takes an additional 30 seconds to apply noise reduction.  This would leave gaps in the star trails. But as I mentioned, the process of stacking photos reduces the amount of noise, so I didn’t get worked up about this.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that I love this Michael Kenna quote: “Getting photographs is not the most important thing. For me it’s the act of photographing. It’s enlightening, therapeutic and satisfying, because the very process forces me to connect with the world. When you make four-hour exposures in the middle of the night, you inevitably slow down and begin to observe and appreciate more what’s going on around you. In our fast-paced, modern world, it’s a luxury to be able to watch the stars move across the sky.”

If you wish, you may also take a dark frame image by putting my lens cap on to make sure no light was coming in and took one photo.  Why? Noise reduction.  In Photoshop or another photo editing program, you can add the dark frame photo as a new layer, then change the blend type to “difference”. Next add your foreground image as a layer, create a black mask and paint in the foreground, and adjust to taste. I haven’t really used this, but it’s something you could do if you find it helps.

Big Bend Star Trails

Above:  Big Bend Star Trails.  While this also uses the stacking process described here, I’ve also altered the opacity of the layers to give the star trails a comet-like effect. I will describe this in a May 2013 post.  Zion National Park, Utah.

5 STEPS TO STACKED STAR TRAILS SPLENDOR!
Now, back in the digital darkroom, it’s time to make our star trails photo come to life!  Here’s how I’ve been processing my photos in Photoshop CS4 so far.

1.  PROCESS AND CONVERT NEF FILES TO TIFF: I typically batch-process RAW (NEF) photos in Nikon ViewNX 2 and output them all to TIFF 16-bit files, but of course, process your RAWs however you need to.  I select all the photos, apply adjustments and settings, processing them all the same, sharpening them slightly and adjusting the white balance.  I also rename any photos that had something different about them, marking them if they have a line from an airplane to call attention to it later in the stacking process so I could spot them and adjust or erase them if I wish.

2.  CREATE STACK: In Photoshop, I select File > Scripts > Load Files Into Stack, and then select my PSD files I wanted to stack.  I do not have Photoshop Extended, which has a “Statistics” option that offers greater variety).  This results in an absurdly large file of something like 6G.  When I do this, I have many PSD files that are 73-77MG each, after all!  Relax.  The computer may take a while to process this large of a file.

3.  ADJUST LAYERS:  In the MODE PANEL WINDOW (which is the window that controls the Layers, etc. at the bottom right), I change each layer from “Normal” to “Lighten” or one of the other ones (such as screen, color dodge, linear dodge, lighter color).   You can also create a Photoshop Action to do this if you wish to lessen the chance of carpal tunnel!    I use a Layer Mask and use the Brush Tool on the left to brush away anything I do want.

4.  OUTPUT IMAGE AS FLATTENED HIGH-RES TIFF:  After adjusting layers to your artistic satisfaction, you can output the image as a flattened image with no layers, preferably a high-res TIFF.  From here, you can perform the usual adjustments if you wish, such as dodging, burning, sharpening, or final color adjustments if you wish, just like any other photo.

5.  SAVING THE ORIGINAL .PSD LAYERED FILE:  I’m going to mention this in case it applies to you.  Photoshop CS4 cannot save this large of a group of files if it’s over 2G, so I chose to merge the layers (Image > Merge) to keep it.  I merged four layers at a time.  Since each was a 30 second exposure, merging four layers equaled 2 minutes, still rather manageable, reducing the file size to a quarter of it’s original size of 6G.

StarStax: Since I originally wrote this in June 2012, I’ve begun using StarStax, freeware for Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows. It creates star trails with comet-like tails, and offers gap-filling. It’s also absurdly easy to use. Take the photos as described above, throw ’em in here, and see what it can do. I now try this first, and if I can’t produce what I am envisioning, then I go to Photoshop and stack using the process described above.

If you have suggestions for how I did it, please leave a comment!  I’m not approaching this as an authority, but more as a photographer who has now done it and is really happy with the results!   If you use this technique from reading this blog, please feel free to leave a link to your star trails photo in the comments section! Thanks so much for reading!!

EXTRA: Just because I’m utterly sweet, I am going to show you with an example of a 33-minute exposure at ISO 200, f/11.  You can clearly see the noise. The discoloration is due to the camera sensor overheating since I was shooting on a hot night.  This is what stacking can avoid:

Noisy 33-minute f/11 ISO 200 exposure of star trails

The evening was fairly warm, which accounts for some of the overheating of the sensor.  Some photographers put ice packs wrapped in plastic or other things to prevent the sensor from overheating and thus creating extra noise and discoloration.

The photo below is much better, a far less noisy 14-minute f/2.8 ISO 200 photo:

Joshua Tree Star Trails, Single Long Exposure with Light Painting, 28 April 2012

Single exposures can be beautiful.  It has a lighter ethereal quality that the stacked photo doesn’t have, and also doesn’t have noise issues due to the shorter exposure time.

Noise is the enemy of night photography.

There have been times in which I’ve been able to get away with longer exposures, having done 34-minute exposures without much of an issue in colder weather.  Like anything else, there are many variables.

I hope this helps.  If you have questions (or corrections), please ask in the comments section below!  Thanks for reading!!!!

RELATED ARTICLE:  HOW TAKE PHOTOS OF THE STARS (BUT NOT STAR TRAILS)

Equipment:  Nikon D7000 and a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 lens for Trinity Star Trails and the photos from Zion National Park.  Nikon D90, Nikon 18-200mm VR II Nikkor Telephoto Zoom Lens for all else.

VISIT ME, VISIT ME!
You can see more of these photos here  on my Ken Lee Photography Facebook Page (poke your head in, say hi, and “like” the page if you would, uh, like).

And you can go to the Ken Lee Photography website, which has more photos from Ken Lee.  Thank you very much for visiting!