episode 4

Night Photography with Photog Adventures

This is an interview with guys from PhotoG Adventure.com. The discussion explains what PhotoG Adventure is and how it came to be plus their journey in photography. PhotoG Adventure comprises of two photographers (Alan King and Brendan Porter) who are involved in landscape photography, Astrophotography and also sharing and teaching everything as they learn it.

See more at http://www.PhotogAdventures.com

Alan King: – We are guys who are learning the skills as we go on and then sharing what we learn. At this point, we’ve become masters in small areas like Milky Way photography where there is so much we’ve done in such a ritual and we feel comfortable saying that we are experts in this area. We are however learning more about landscape photography and challenging ourselves there. What we do is that we have a podcast and YouTube video every week and then add more on our Facebook page to give tutorials and talk about composition and feature people who have followed us until we feel they are friends and heard their adventures and what they are doing and we see their photography and we feature them on our channels. We have a lot of fun featuring the stories of photography.

How did you get there? What was it like getting there? How was the experience? What went well and what didn’t go well? We always try to feature things that if we blow something, are you going to point out the thing and let us know about it and if we do something really well, we show you how we did it. We thus ‘tutorial-ize’ everything and makes sure that everybody knows what it is that really works for us.

Brendan Porter: – The whole thing started by me and Alan having a family dinner (he’s married to my cousin). We would do it two or three times a month and then hang out. One night Alan said, “hey everyone, would you want to shoot the Milky Way with me?” He would ask people in the past but no one would want to go. I got interested to go and was willing to do it.

(Alan) I would go for my Milky Way photography from 1am to 3 am and Brenda would have to come to my place at that time and by the time he went home from 3am to 5pm it was freezing cold.

Brendan – I was ready for the experience and after all, I was used to that schedule and that is how it started. I had not photographed the Milky Way before and I had wanted to do it for the past 5 or 6 years. So when I got the opportunity to do it with a guy that I knew had telescope and had studied the Milky Way and the stars before I was ready to join. So, we went out and after we had a great time freezing our bums off, I was so excited by the pictures we got and I was like “We should do this more often, this is awesome especially if it’s warmer it’d be great”. We started discussing after that point for a month or so and then started going on and off. In our discussion, we thought we should put together a YouTube channel and that is the genesis of all that.

Alan – Brenda has been in marketing in 3D animation, web design and all that but I was in the game industry as a producer working for Disney and thus we’ve always been in the industry of producing content and having fun with it and we always wanted to do our own thing on YouTube since it is an open platform for us to be able to do something we always wanted to do, and I think it was a match made in heaven in that we can marry photography, trips, adventures and going out for Milky Way photography and have all those experiences on camera and share how it goes. Brendan is someone always willing to do it anytime and in any condition and he is the perfect part of it.

Brendan – II have been doing photography since then and my first camera was a DMR-7 and then I bought an 8-200 which was my first SLR digital camera. Ever since that, I have used different models and that is for more than 15 years ago. When the digital film was becoming more of a reality, that’s when I got in there and have been doing pictures since then. I had not gotten serious enough about it to study it as an art or discipline, and would only take pictures of my kids and plants or other cool stuff and experiment like that and I’ve had a huge library. I had tried photography and videos as a teenager and I loved the idea of doing both and this was really cool. I went to Canon because my Sony couldn’t do video and when Canon t2is and t3is came out, I bought t3is as my first Canon camera because I loved the idea of doing videos with it. We also thought that before taking pictures, we also needed separate cameras to take videos while we are shooting photos and so we bought some video pros and we started building content from there.

Alan- The last two years have been wow with trip and trip seeing well over 30 different state run national parks, national monuments and being all over the Western United States and now for the first time ever we are here in North Carolina having a photo adventure. Our most distant photo adventure yet.

Jordan – And I think that is what I enjoy about your channel more than any other because you concentrate on adventure part of it than like settings and stuff. How easily we talk about certain settings and some of the things you can improve when taking photos but you’re obviously concentrating on the actual adventure of doing it because that is what everybody really likes and especially all those landscape photographers, night photographers and nature photographers, where the adventure is the whole point of it and that’s kind of the whole fun part of our channel and your journey videos have seen that whole process.

Alan– We are focused on a story in the videos and on the podcast and people around us who were making landscape photography podcasts kind of died out or slowed down or we’ve caught up with them in the number of episodes because it’s really hard to get enough content to put out there. If you want to teach someone about landscape photography, you will run out of content within a short time and Brenda and I were amazed that no one else had a channel or Podcast that was focused entirely on the story where whatever happens, happens, just go do it and then tell the story. If you blow it because you have your shutter turned on for 3-and-half hours instead of having it turned off, you tell that story and then cry out every time you hear it. That is what we do. We focus on the adventure of the story and I think the best part of it is that we say, ‘get out there and have a photo adventure of your own” and thus we are encouraging other people to tell us their own stories. It’s not just us telling people our stories but we encourage them to tell us what happens when they go out there and we hear people telling us how they got inspired when they went to this or that place to take some shots. We have people all over on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube telling us their stuff and we love hearing this and we would quite often share these adventures on the podcast and it’s all about encouraging others to go out and enjoy an adventure no matter the conditions or time.

Brendan – But obviously don’t do it at the expense of your marriage, it’s not that serious but we brainstormed and figured out what kind of format we would want to proceed with and came up with the idea that we can both go out there and fill up each other and make it more interesting especially when we focus on the fact that we are going out and exploring these cool places and it kind of gets to my inner person coz I like exploring new things and looking at what is next and that is adventurous. The good thing is that you always discover something new even if you’ve been there before and there is always a different way of approaching the same object in Landscape photography especially at night because we get the night settings down and once this is done, it’s always “what can I get that’s cool to go to the next Milky Way?”, What are the dark areas or places we can explore which are unique and of course there are those iconic places especially in the park but what are those places outside the park which are cool and so it’s fun to discover those places and share with others?

Jordan – So, going along with that when you guys are trying to find different things to put in your photos to help enhance them a little bit, that kind of goes with the fact that you are two guys, what are the differences between your individual photography styles coz you guys usually landscapes, nightscape and stuff like that; how do you tell the difference between your two photos, coz you guys are next to each other most of the time? How do you kind of differentiate your photos from each other?

Alan – That’s a very good question and with Brendan’s experience, he has been with the cameras longer than I have. I’m relatively new to the DSRL camera world, as I have only had a DSRL Canon EOS 70D since 2016 January, just so that I can attach it to my telescope and do deep sky imaging and I wanted to do Milky Way photography sometimes with it and it completely frets and I always doing Milky Way photography with it. I have a 60 now and I’m completely new to it and I can see all the time I go to a location I think of a composition and Brendan comes in and he might not figure out what the composition but have an idea naturally as he has the instinct and he hits that instinct and more often than not being just 10 yards away from me, he will naturally bring in a leading line, a curve or something interesting that has shown up in his frame that I didn’t notice because I go through it almost like a checklist, like what most probably some of you listening to this have when you go with a checklist and it’s like ‘I want this and that’ and you try to find those things and when you are there you don’t photograph enough like Brendon in his instinct and you happen upon a great composition and you start taking the shots. So, there is a difference in style and I would say that Brendon has a very good hand for the panorama, a very good handling of the leading line up to a shoot and he is drawn to those first while I am more drawn to a vertical shape that’s going to bring the bottom plane to the top plane and break those plains and give the composition some strength and structure. So, I would lean towards those while he’d lean towards the nice sweeping rivers, leading lines, waters, foreground elements that are plain the subject like tree branches which are plain to the subject. All of that you keep hitting all the time.

Brendan – it’s really amazing to see what the differences even between 3 or 4 figure part and how incredibly different those images just the various angles can produce and sometimes we go through our images and feel like they are almost identical. This is because we are focusing on the same spot or same thing and sometimes, like in the next trip, it’ll be barely 10 feet apart and it will be like a completely different scene.

Alan – I want to say, like several weeks ago we were down on the National Bridges National Monument and we were literally standing 5 yards apart. Underneath this Owachomo Bridge and I’m trying to capture a shoot for a video I am doing and Brendan is there to see it for the first time in Milky Way photography. He is standing next to me and I’m seeing the Milky Way and it’s totally vertical, intersection with this long land bridge above our heads and I am going for this vertical shot or a single frame and Brendan pulls off this 3-tier panorama that stretches from right to the left and the shape of the rock as he gets it and spreads this entire scene out where I thought I couldn’t even begin to do a whole full-wide panel because of the distortion, the angle and everything, Brendan pulls off a shoot that I don’t really want to work on my national bridge on a natural light like that. That’s the better image than what I’m going to pull out and I’m just depressed thinking about it.

Jordan – There is nothing like competition when you guys go out there?

Alan – There is no real competition but there is absolutely a winner. We always see who’s shot one that has completely conceded easily but we never try and fight for the better shot or compete for a wow while there but it’s very obvious when someone else pulls off a thing that is fantastic out of the image.

Brendan- And sometimes Alan will pull out a piece that’ll poke people for their worth but then use my images for thumbnails in the podcast of the videos or something like that because it’s really cool image that is perfect for the thumbnails but clearly Alan got a better shot that day for such and such whatever.

Alan -We feature both images in Alan’s videos, so if we go down to the Canaries Creek Falls, we show both our images and how they turned out, we see our RAWs and you see our finals and can see how we process  complete differently. We had common stock on threshold but we both have different ideas on how to process the Milky Way, even though we both have an object that’s completely 2 or 3 ways to capture and just one image is enough and different process is enough and you can see kind of that. Don’t worry about your own method just go and find your own style, don’t try and mimic anyone else’s and just try to figure out the settings and have fun with it.

Jordan – So, going off with that, you guys as we have been talking it’s like you concentrate on Milky Way photography or that kind of thing, what are like quick steps for those who want to get started? Not that you are technically telling them what to master but what are some quick things to look for when getting started coz I know that histogram is one and how it should look, there’s a particular one?

Brendan – We go with this one first coz that is my favourite one to teach. You sit there with a camera that is a crop factor and it’s an older camera body and you don’t even trust that it’ll be anything but noisy. Don’t worry about it but look at your histogram and make sure that your Milky Way is exposed with a spike and a far black and a gap between the black and the mid tones. Then you want to hunt that tail all the way through the mid tone to the middle line. If you overexpose, you’ll have too much of your illuminate histogram showing up on the right, you want to end and terminate at the middle. You can overwrap a little bit, that’s quite fine but not much, it’s not all. Everything on your histogram is over on the left, from middle over, it’s touching the middle and it’s far on the left with the blacks but then you have a gap and there you have a properly exposed Milky Way.

It’s hard to describe that with an image but you just know you want spike a lower valley and then a hill on to the right. So imagine a mountain with a statue of Liberty next to it, that’s the histogram that you want to see all the way to the left of your histogram. For a properly exposed Milky Way, the noise you might get at a higher ISO to achieve that, we don’t have too much to the statue happening is so worth it and you might not notice it and no one else you show the image to will notice it unless there are pixels people who might have an angle about it.

Alan – Some people might look on the back of the camera and say ‘oh I can see it, it’s bright enough’ but you really get a false reading because you will get an illumination from the back of the camera. It is really easy to pay attention to the dark and get a good image.

Brendan – What a lot of people do is that they take multiple ISO instead of completely taking the shoot and then pull up in-form histogram to see a fore-shoot of that that picture is reading out and then re-adjust the ISO and speed accordingly to pump it more to the right or more to the left depending on what they were getting. So, even live hue histogram could be a false reading.

Alan – I want to talk in the light of the live hue histogram too, normally we talk about a picture taken and reviewing a shoot that has already been cast.

Jordan – So, before we take a picture

Alan – Yes, not the simulation, not the live view one but it’s the histogram that comes back from the captured image.

Brendan – Another tip is that you can’t capture the Milky Way with just any lens. You can use just anybody, anything that’s within 5 years in your world is going to be able to do it easily. And as long as ISO can go up to 12,000, you can get it but the camera kit lenses, well, it just not going to happen.

Alan – We just have a disclaimer … there is a method you can use to fix those lenses that don’t have a great output but those are far more advanced processing techniques that you will need to go through and learn but if you want to go and have it as easy as possible, what Brendan is talking about is the best way to start.

Brendan – Get the first lens, meaning f1.8 to f2.8 or lower. You can do an f3.5, that was my first experience and I left it wide open, I sometimes dialled it down to 4 and if you turn your ISO up and the timer you can get some decent images but really 2.8 and lower is what you want look for a lens and wide. If you want a 15mm or 20mm depending with your camera body, you will need to get a wide angle but if you go to 8mm or 10mm, you will get a very wide fisheye and you’re not going to be too happy with the results. 15mm to 16mm to 24mm seems to be like the suitable option.

Alan – And if you do not have anything faster except for your 15mm, use it in your Milky Way photography because the panorama with that is a better shot than my Tanron 15 to 30 f2.8. 15mm can capture the texture and the widest area of the Milky Way and much better in that you see the grains of sand instead of seeing the whole blown sheet of white. In my Timron I’ll see sheets of white in there a lot of the time while you out there with the 1.8/1.2 with 15mm those can turn out an amazing sandy texture in the Milky Way, so use your 15mm if you have nothing else.

Brendan – If you have a 15mm, this is not the fastest lens but you gonna be doing panoramas and are going to be taking like 30 shots but just know you won’t be getting those wide vistas with that 15 but if you stitch them together in Lightroom you can get something great. Lightroom has great stitch-ability and has never let us down. One advice when it comes to doing panels if you only have something like a 15 is to get a good ball-head with a little separate shovel or get something like a gear-head which is fantastic, heavy and bulky but they are perfect for doing panels.

Jordan – Would you recommend an L bracket?

Brendan – I will definitely recommend it…

Alan – You shouldn’t go for landscapes or outdoor photography without an L bracket because you’ll swerve from vertical to horizontal or will tilt over and over again.

Brendan – And are easy and cheap options of L Bracket these days

Jordan – Those are really great tips and will help somebody out.

Alan – Let’s know how it goes. If you have some shots using a 2.5 with a crop factor of Kurt lens, the best thing is to increase that ISO so you get the proper exposure of the Milky Way and you’ll get some nice shots. Don’t worry about the noise, it’s worth the noise than having to pay $5000 for your camera. Right now we’re starting, don’t care about the noise.

Brendan – Just keep the settings down and get familiar with the process. Practice by getting out there and finding the Milky Way.

Jordan – Do you have any tips for finding the Milky Way?

Alan – Yes, absolutely! If you guys don’t want to spend any money at all and still want to learn where it is, you can understand it’s going to be over South-East-south or south-west-west, you can know where the Milky Way will be at that time. You can also use the Stellarium app which can be used in your mobile or computer at home. This app is completely free in your computer but it’s about a buck or two. PhotoPills is the app you will want to use not only because it not only will tell you where the Milky Way is and how it’ll be, whether the moon is going to be up and on the way of the Milky Way but will also help you know the exact spot on the border where you should stand in and then you can estimate the timeline and know “if I’m there and wait until 2:09am, I can get that core pretty awesomely between these two borders that I want and set up a shoot” and Photopills is practically critical for that.

Brendan – And the great website is DarkSiteFinder.com which is a Google Map and they overlay a dark areas over that map and show you where you live and where the nearest grey, purple or black site is with the lowest amount of light pollution. Light pollution can kill the Milky Way photo since the light can bloom so high from the sky and with your own eyes you can’t see it in the city. So, you go out of the city and as eyes adjust, you can just start seeing it and your camera can see way more than your eyes can see and still you might be getting some light and so you want to look at that map and plan like, ‘if I drive half an hour from here, it’s pretty dark and I can start trying it’ and another good tip is to point your camera in the direction where its darkest. So, if you are a green zone but you’re facing the purple or black zone, that’s going to be your best result coz a facing a known light. There could be a turn of light pushing behind you but in front of you there is nothing and you’re going to have a great shoot.

Alan – Frankly, the key to awesomeness in Milky Way photography, only like two or three tips have to do with your camera and your path but everything else has to do with knowing when to go, where to go and how to take advantage of your time out there. Make sure the moon is not up and that the Milky Way is above the horizon and also make sure you have the spot that’s not going to have the light bloom that’s going to block the Milky Way. Beyond that, you’re going to have great Milky Way shots.

Jordan – At the end of the Podcast usually we put together quick feature item of the week. Anything you guys have that might help photographers?

Alan – This is my absolute favourite recommendation and a must-have because first it’s crazy cheap and everyone needs it because the most difficult thing for a beginner and some of us who’ve been doing it for years, is getting your focus. Sometimes you can’t just focus on an object during daytime and go out thinking you’ve got it set to an affinity on your lens because it gets colder and it changes. You have a range of your affinity because of the temperature. So the best way to get focused on a location and know you’re confident that you have sharpness is a Carson LumiLoupe™ which you can get at Amazon for 8 bucks. It has typically been between 4 and 8 bucks but it’s a 10 times magnifier. The reason why I love this is that it has a cup on it that sets the ideal focus. You can literally set it on top of your LCD panel and look through it and you can see everything 10-times magnified. So the steps are, get a star, a bright planet or something in the middle of your lens, use Light view and then zoom in on it. Your camera might have a magnifying option to zoom in on that star and now you are looking at that star as you’re focusing and you’re seeing it go from blurry to sharp to tiny but then when it’s tiniest, and you’re just using your eyes and the 10 times magnification on your LCD panel, you still can’t see too much of the details then you take that 10 times Carson Lumiloupe, add it to the 10-time digital zoom that you have and then you have a big white ball that you can see little pixels on your LCD screen as you change your focus and are rotating it. You’ll see that the ball is taking over a 4×4 space and before it was a 6 by 6 or 8 by 8 but you can see the little squares of pixels on your LCD panel.

I always use Carson Lumiloupe to get my focus just right. It’s always hard to do and get past it but when you have the Carson Lumiloupe, it changes it into something that is easy to see and awesome and once you do that the images are sharp.

Brendan – One thing I recommend to people is to try a tripod and ball head or a good gearhead or something that is useful to keep your camera nice and still so you can have a lot of flexibility is to have a good tripod. As you go out there, you don’t want something that is flimsy because if you kick it or the sand moves, you want something that is sturdy. Get a good, sturdy tripod and a good ball head like those used in most landscapes and L-bracket is a good addition to that as this is very key for a stable base and flexibility.

Alan – You might think that your tripod is strong enough for 20 seconds and that might be true but most of the time how do you get your foreground looking awesome? You either take your shoot when the moon is up or when the sun is up or take it when it is just getting dark or you are going to light paint so you are going to capture the foreground at different times often, then your Milky Way shot unless you use low level of lighting, you are going to be in a situation where you are composing those two moments together and if your tripod is not sturdy enough to keep it completely still between those two times when you capture those shots, you’re going to lose your easy composite, easy Photoshop work and you’re going to miss it. So, you’re going to need a stable tripod that is going to sit there and be steady the entire time you need it to be in order to capture your shots, your foreground and Milky Way just the way you want it to be.

Jordan – It seems like it’s not that hard to start

Brendan – It’s very easy, you can get into Milky Way photography right now with whatever camera you have just make sure you do the extra techniques and steps that we talked about and other people can tell you about stacking to your panoramas and you can fix that and make sure that you camera has the best output that it can possibly have. But just go out there and get the right exposure and you’ll see the Milky Way and you’ll love it.


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