[Snapshot] Project Neowise

As everybody and his uncle is now posting images of the comet Neowise online, I had to get a go at it. Light pollution where I live is heavy, and cloud cover frequent, but in the past week there were 2 clear nights in which to capture the phenomenon. It took a while to find it, but once you know where to look it gets easier.

[Fujifilm X-T4 | Fujinon XF 16-55 mm f/2.8 | 16.5 mm | f/4 | ISO500 | 30 seconds]
I found I liked a landscape shot with the comet in it much better than a shot of just the comet with a bit of foreground, so the comet is quite small in the photograph. The shutter speed is on the long side, and the comet is showing a bit of a trail because of it.

[snapshot] Zeevonk/Sea Sparkle at Katwijk

Sea Sparkle in the waves. Unfortunately there was too little Sea Sparkle to make it very spectacular, and too many people to make it very comfortable to be there. Fujifilm X-T4, XF16-55 mm f/2.8 at f/2.8 and ISO6400. Shutter speed around 1/10th of a second.

Yesterday a friend enthusiastically apped me that it was the perfect day (night) to go to the beach and photograph Zeevonk, or Sea Sparkle, a small sea creature that exhibits bioluminescence when disturbed. Never having seen the phenomenon in real life, I signed on to a late night trip to the beach.

Unfortunately, we were not alone. I guess half the local residents and a lot from places farther afield were there as well, in a swim, walk and disturb frenzy, hoping to see the beautiful blue glow appear. It was there, but not in very great quantities. Sometimes you could see a wave appear blue. Just as if it was lit up from below. Pretty enough, but not entirely spectacular. It was nice to see it for the first time though! And a nice place to test the X-T4.

I read a news article that the Sea Sparkle is appearing more often than before, so maybe again soon?

An overdue update, June 2020

My latest post on this – my unofficial weblog – was from Februari 2019, over a year ago. It would be easy to say that I’ve been busy, it would be easy to say that I had more important things to do – and to be fair, we did buy a house, which did take up a few months of my spare time – but the truth is mostly that I didn’t search for time to spend on writing. That, and the fact that somewhere in the last year, a php-update error transformed this site into a white page with error lines, and technical me didn’t know how to fix it (and couldn’t care enough to ask for help).

I recently did that, and lo and behold, it is working again. Time for a long overdue update.

With the world upside down due to the COVID-19 outbreak, my photography assignments cancelled, our (social) calendar empty, and a new appreciation for ergonomically sound chairs to work in (which we do not have in our home office), I’ve been able to focus more on personal photography work. I’ve also been contemplating a bit where to take my photography in the coming times.  A topic maybe for some other time.

Suffice it to say that we are fine. We’ve moved into a new (larger, thankfully, with this work-at-home situation) house, we’re able to work from home quite a bit, and we’ve had relatively little direct trouble from the epidemic that is raging outside, apart from not going on our planned holiday (northern Italy, not the best destination at this time) and not seeing our parents and friends. We can survive that, surely. 

I’m hoping to add regular posts here in the near future, but in order to not say goodbye without some photographic content, I’m adding some images from a personal project that has helped me through these corona-times. 

We’ve made it a habit to take a daily walk through the small bits of nature close to home, and we regularly hear and (fleetingly) see pheasants. I’ve made it my quest to photograph them with old analog telephoto lenses. Over time you get to know their habits and habitats, and I was able to get some decent exposures these past few weeks. I hope you enjoy these photograhps as much as I’ve enjoyed taking them!

This male pheasant was parading quite some time in front of me. Almost too close for the Leica-R Elmar 180 mm f/4 that I was using this day. I was quite pleased with this images rendering.
Also with the Leica-R 180 mm, this male pheasant was a bit more shy and stayed close, but didn’t show itself and only peaked through the leaves at us.

Top 18 of 2018

A few images from the trip to the island of Texel, in the north of the Netherlands. In February 2018 it was cold and snowy (-9 degrees, but a strong north-easter made it feel like it was twice as cold), and the circumstances for photography were great!

Texels prominent lighthouse at the Cocksdorp.
Dramatic skies were a theme of the week, as here on the beach at the Cocksdorp.

Stargazing in Leiden

Somewhere this summer I started developing the idea for a new photography project. My attempt to photograph the Perseids in august showed that it was possible to see at least a few stars, despite the light pollution, in Leiden and surrounding area. In addition, a successful attempt to photograph the milky way in Spain also rekindled my interest in astrophotography.

I decided to see if it was possible to photograph the stars in the centre of Leiden city. The location that I wanted to try this was the Leiden Observatory, as this was a beautiful place on its own, but also closely connected to the stars. Photographing the stars at high ISO, large aperture, and long shutter speeds as I had done in Spain to capture the milky way was not possible in Leiden as it would lead to severe overexposure of the observatory in the foreground. Reducing exposure to an amount not overexposing the foreground would lead to loss of stars in the background. I decided the best course of action would be to do startrails.

The question of timing was also important. During summer and autumn sunset was late, which meant having to wait very long until it was completely dark. The warmth also kept a lot of moisture in the air, which often resulted in a haze above the city. Needing a clear and moonless night also added to the problem of finding the right night. However, last week the temperature suddenly dropped drastically and as the sun set at around 16:40 PM, the sky was sufficiently dark at around 17:30 to start with startrails.

My last startrail attempt had been quite a while ago, and I therefore assumed I would make a lot of mistakes and was glad I had a backup attempt the day after (which was also clear and cold, after that the clouds and warmth would start creeping in again). As a one-and-a-half-hour exposure would also lead to over exposure of the observatory, and in addition cause a lot of noise on the image, I decided to take individual 30s exposure images and stack these later in photoshop.

My setup was the XT-1 with Samyang 12 mm f/2.0. This meant manual focus, but as I was working on tripod and only had to focus once, this wasn’t much of a problem. After some test shots, I set the Samyang to f/4.0 and selected a shutter speed of 30 seconds at ISO 200, set the camera to continuous, attached my remote shutter release, locked the shutter button and prepared myself for 90 minutes of waiting in what turned out to be the coldest November night since 1998.

As my feet slowly froze to a state of numbness I started to see more and more stars and decided that my attempt might actually work out well. Until this moment I had seriously considered that light pollution could ruin the entire exercise. It didn’t, but I did start to notice other problems. In my enthusiasm to photograph the observatory I hadn’t really considered in what direction I was pointing the camera, I had just chosen the best viewing angle. By fortunate coincidence the direction I chose was north, meaning that Polaris was in my image and the stars started circling nicely around it. I was saved by the stars, so to speak (note to self: always check a compass). However, as the minutes on the timer creeped by, one problem that I hadn’t considered presented itself: Schiphol Amsterdam Airport is just north of Leiden, and one plane after another started to make its descent right through my frame. After the third plane went straight overhead and curved gracefully to the northwest, I decide that cursing didn’t help much, and resigned myself to an image filled with not just startrails, but planetrails..

One hour and 15 minutes later found my toes non responsive and my fingers numb, despite the double gloves, so I decided to call it a night. Getting home, my toes slowly returned to a normal temperature while I loaded all images first into Lightroom to convert the raw files and then into photoshop to create the startrail. Google was my friend and after checking up the stacking procedure I started to work. It is possible to merge all images at the same time, but this would also include all trails made by airplanes, so instead I opted for the more time and effort consuming course of merging all images manually after removing the airplanetrails. I also chose the best foreground and made sure that during merging all other foregrounds were lost. In the end I created two images: one with the planetrails, and one without. A very time consuming process, which, to be honest, I had to repeat twice to create an image I was satisfied with.

It was very satisfying to finally being able to complete an idea that had been months in the making and then to see it completed well! When I started in the cold, I had no idea if it would work, and even during the recording there is no way of knowing how the image would work out, as all you see are individual 30s exposures. The final result was worth every bit of effort and time however!

A few notes for next time: do not forget a flashlight. Do not forget to put a lens hood on the lens (I had forgotten to put it in the bag), as light may reflect on the wide angel lens, causing ugly reflections on the photo’s that are difficult to remove. Check the direction to shoot (north is of course best because you see the stars circle around Polaris). Check the lunar calendar: no moon is best. I had a lot of help planning this shoot from the TPE and PhotoPills apps. Also, wear snowboots. And take something with you to keep you occupied during the long exposure. Check the direction of the wind (windless is of course nice for reflections in water) in connection with the runway direction of Schiphol.
I did go again next day, but the image was not as nice as the first one, which is still my favorite! Less wind however, so better reflections and less airplanes. However, this time I was disturbed by a few boats full of people that sailed every 30 minutes through my frame. It can’t be 100% perfect I guess..

Yes, of course I’m going to show you the images, they’re below!

First day, planes removed
First day, planes removed

First day, with planes
First day, with planes

The second day
The second day

 

Perseid Payback

After my not so successful attempt at capturing the Perseids, I decided a little payback was in order. As it happens, I am currently residing in the beautiful village of Sa Tuna, at the Costa Brava. It turns out there’s much less light pollution here (no sh*t), and this week the clouds have only been conspicuous by their total absence. The only drawback: the best view and the least light was at the top of the local 170 meter hill, and I had to assemble the courage to climb it after a copious three course meal, including wine and a dessert containing whisky. Yesterday I finally did it, after putting it off for a few days. I definitely enjoyed the trip, and the results!

Midnight selfie!
Midnight selfie!

Chasing de Perseids

Saturday, 2:30 am. The moment the alarm goes of I heartily curse my notion to go out to see and hopefully photograph the Perseids. For one moment I hope that the weather conditions have suddenly changed, that there is now cloud cover, and that I can go back to bed. A quick look out of the window shows it is not to be. I’m awake now anyway, so let’s do this!

According to the internet, the meteor shower called the Perseids would be on its peak on the night of thursday august 12. Heavy cloud cover and rain ruined any plans for a nightly expedition, but now, 24 hours later, all clouds have disappeared and conditions are much more favourable. A table I found showed that around 3-4 am the meteors would be highest in the sky at around 55 degrees east.

Even at 3 am, the night was pleasantly warm. In the region around Leiden, light pollution is always a major problem for night time photography, so I decided to go to the nearby lake in the hope that light pollution would be minimal there. I was pleasantly surprised that I could see some stars, but not near the horizon, where light was indeed an issue.

During the time I was there I saw perhaps 5, maybe 6, falling stars. It was pretty impressive. Capturing them on a photograph was another matter unfortunately. As this was the night before our holiday, my trusty XT-1 and 12 mm Samyang lens, which I would normally use, were already on the way to northern Spain. So I decided to try out my new Fuji X100..

After some experimentation, I decided to set the camera to around 25 seconds, f/4 at 5000 iso. This did result in star movement, but as I was interested in falling stars I considered this not to be a problem. After setting it to continuous, I could sit back and enjoythe stars.
In all, the camera performed very well. Even in the dark (I did have a red flashlight) I could find most settings fast, and the camera reacted quickly. However, the 35 mm lens is obviously not the best focal distance for astrophotography. Pointing the camera to a section in the sky where the last falling star was seen, did not result in succes, as the next star always fell in another section.

As early next morning I would follow my XT-1 to Spain, after an hour or so, I decides to call it a night and get some leftover sleep. One final shot from a light polluted windmill became the hotshot of the night. In all, it was a useful night to get to know the Fuji X100; not so useful for the photography of falling stars. Let’s try some more in Spain, where there are bound to be more stars visible!

DSCF2166-l
Light pollution can be a beautiful thing

A new FOP portrait

As of this spring, I’m busy with a personal project involving portrait photography. I’ve entered the ‘Dam tot Damloop’, a running competition in Amsterdam, to raise awareness and collect money for the disease FOP (www.fopstichting.nl). By photographing friends in return for sponsorship, I hope to increase my portrait skills (which are near to nonexistent at the moment) and achieve this sponsoring aim at the same time. A few portraits have allready been done, and yesterday another was added: Elise. All portraits can be found here here.

Elise
Elise

Becalmed

Last weekend we encountered some unusual weather while sailing on the Markermeer, near the city of Hoorn. While the original forecast was for sun and zero wind, when we sailed out of the harbour, instead of clear skies and sun we sailed right into a pearly white foggy landscape. The water was like a mirror and almost the same colour as the sky, making the horizon disappear in some places. The few ships sailing before us seemed to be floating in nothing.

It was a beautiful sight in itself, but when a group of geese chose that moment to cross the lake, a photograph that would have been a nice photo because of the weather condition, suddenly became special.

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