Fuji

Five Questions: Very Large Files, Pollution Filters, Fuji lenses and More

This installment of our “Five Questions” series features inquiries about large image files, light pollution filters, lenses for Fuji, organizing files in Lightroom and old Canon cameras..

If you have any questions you would like to throw our way, please contact us anytime. Questions could be about gear, national parks or other photo locations, post-processing techniques, field etiquette, or anything else related to night photography. #SeizeTheNight!

Giant Files Missing from Lightroom


A 4 GB, 38-layer PSB file from Matt. Files this big don’t show up in the Lightroom catalog.

Q: I have run into an issue with large file sizes when image stacking. In Lightroom, after I choose Open as Layers in Photoshop, the final layered file is greater than 2 GB. I saved it in PSB large document format. The file was saved to the disk, but is not showing up in my Lightroom catalog like PSD files do, nor does it show up in the Import window in Lightroom. It looks like Lightroom cannot see the file at all. So I tried flattening the file, but then I got a moiré pattern in the image. Have you seen this before? What is your process for saving and working with very large Photoshop files? — Craig

A: That is correct—for some reason, Adobe hasn’t allowed Lightroom to see PSB files. So your options are to either work with that file only in Photoshop, or to flatten it so it saves as a smaller PSD file.

But yes, flattening can occasionally create its own challenges. We have seen that moiré issue with stacked photos before. It happens sometimes, but not others, and we haven’t been able to identify a pattern of when or why. We’ve asked others who are Adobe-knowledgeable, and haven’t found an answer—but we’ll keep trying! What I can tell you is that the moiré seems to happen more often when working with images from higher-resolution cameras, and that sizing down the image a little before flattening seems to help. — Chris

Filtering Light Pollution

Light pollution from Miami over Everglades National Park. Nikon D3s, Nikon 17-24mm f/2.8. 20 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 6400. © 2013 Chris Nicholson.

Q: Do you use light pollution filters of any kind? I don’t remember any of you mentioning them, and I don’t see them in your gear list. Are they just a scam? It seems like such a filter would help when you can’t get to a dark sky area. — Brien

A: Night sky filters mostly help with color shifts from light pollution, and can increase contrast in the sky. We’ve tried a couple of them, but have not tested them scientifically––yet. There will be a blog post comparing them for effectiveness before too long.

That said, I think the general consensus is these filters they can improve skies somewhat, but probably don’t provide $250 to $300 worth of improvement, which is what they tend to cost. I wouldn’t call them scams, but I also probably wouldn’t call them a great investment if resources are limited.

If you decide to try one, please let us know what you think by sharing in the Comments section or on our Facebook page. — Lance

Night Lenses for Fuji

Q: I own a Fuji X-T2 and have a 14mm f/2.8 lens. I notice that at least one of you has posted photos using an X-T2 with their 10-24mm f/4 lens. These photos look great. I have been looking at that lens and/or the Fuji 16mm f/1.4 to get a stop or two of additional light, given that the tests I see appear to indicate the corners are much softer at f/1.4, better at f/2 and pretty good at f/2.8. My interest in the 10-24mm is the flexibility and range down to 10mm, but I am concerned about the stops of light I would give up. What is your experience with these lenses, and do you think I should instead look more deeply at a Samyang or Rokinon 12mm or 10mm? — Larry G.

fuji lenses.jpg

A: Several of us have been shooting with Fujifilm since the X system came out, and our two favorite lenses for the night are the Fuji 10-24mm f/4 and the 16mm f/1.4.

The 10-24mm gives an excellent zoom range that’s good for including lots of night sky. The f/4 does limit light, which makes it challenging for Milky Way shots, but if you were to shoot at ISO 6400 or 12,800 and use Starry Landscape Stacker, then you could get away with it. However, the 16mm f/1.4 would be our preferred Milky Way lens for Fuji—it’s an excellent focal length and you can shoot wide open or stop down to f/2 without a worry.

That being said, if I were to buy into the Fujifilm lens system now, I’d have to give their new 8-16mm f/2.8 lens some serious consideration. It’s wider, faster and heavier than the 10-24mm, but the f/2.8 aperture gives it the versatility to shoot in any day or night situation.

On the higher end of tried-and-tested night lenses, I’d also recommend:

For budget and manual focus lenses:

  • I’m not a fan of the Rokinon/Samyang lenses—I’ve had too many with soft, out-of-focus edges. (Though I might try Samyang’s new 10mm f/2.8.)

  • Matt and I both own the inexpensive 7Artisans lenses—the 12mm f/2.8 is pretty good and Matt really likes his 7.5mm f/2.8 fisheye.

Finally, with adapters, any lens can be at your disposal:

  • Our favorite night lens is the Irix 15mm f/2.4 that comes in Canon, Nikon and Pentax mounts. It’s manual focus with a click stop at true infinity, it has hyperfocus markings, and you can lock your focus. It comes in two versions: Firefly and Blackstone. Optically they’re the same, but the Firefly is polycarbonate and the Blackstone is magnesium alloy. The former is lighter, and is best for hikers and photographers who are otherwise weight-conscious; the latter is more rugged, made for extreme situations, and has engraved fluorescent markings that are easy to read at night. — Gabriel

Organizing Photos in Lightroom

Q: I really want to move into Lightroom, but I do not organize my images by date. It just won’t work for me because I really want to group photos by place and such so I can look at a “place” together with all times I’ve been there. I know that’s what collections are for, but I cannot even begin to fathom reorganizing everything into dates and collections. Can I use Lightroom that way? — Therese I.

A: You’re in luck, because the Lightroom engineers designed the catalog to be pliable enough to use in whatever way feels comfortable to individual photographers. So when organizing photos, do whatever makes sense to you.

There are two strategies I see most often:

  • Organize into folders by date, and use keywords, collections, etc., to catalog and find them. This is what I do. That works very well for the way I think, because I have a very good memory for dates—show me an image of mine and I can tell you the month and year I shot it. A folder in my catalog might be “2016-05-20_Acadia.” So I do have location info in the folder name, but it’s only secondary. However, this approach doesn’t necessarily work so well for a fair number of other people whose brains don’t categorize information the same way mine does. Many other folks tend to …

  • Organize images into folders by region, country, city, etc. So there might be a folder structure of United States -> Southwest -> Arizona -> Grand Canyon. Using this strategy, you could still search by date, as that info is built into the metadata.

Really, it just comes down to which way your brain tracks these things better. Like I said, I’m in Group 1, as are Gabe, Matt and Lance. Tim is in Group 2. Lightroom is flexible enough to make your own system within the confines of the software. The important thing is to pick a strategy that is easy enough to implement while effective enough to be useful, and then to be diligent about sticking with the procedure you choose so that you can always find your images quickly and effortlessly. — Chris

Old Canon vs. New Anything

1561852319_1346734.jpg

Q: What is your thought on the Canon XSi for landscape and night photography? I was thinking of upgrading to a their DLSR cameras, but was wondering if a Nikon camera would be a better option. — Nichole P.

A: The Canon XSi is more or less an entry level camera from 2008, and, to put it mildly, would be a subpar choice for night photography. We recommend a current camera that is at least one notch up from entry level.

To an extent, it matters what kind of photography you’d like to do. If you want to photograph the Milky Way, then the above recommendation is a minimum, and we’d encourage you to step up to a full-frame camera like the Canon 6D Mark II, or even the original 6D (which you could get on eBay for about $500) if you are on a tight budget. Over at Nikon, the D750 is an outstanding value, or the D5500 or D5600 would be OK.

Most importantly, I recommend buying a current generation camera. Even with lower-priced models, current cameras are far superior to those that were made even just a few years ago. — Lance

Chris Nicholson is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night, and author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at www.PhotographingNationalParks.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT

Five Questions: Flashlights, Big Bend, Fireflies and More

Once again, we’re ready to take a swing at the questions you pitch. This installment of our “Five Questions” series features inquiries about light painting tools, built-in timers, hot parks, dewy lenses and bright bugs. If that all seems fuzzy, read on and it will all come into focus.

If you have any questions you would like to throw our way, please contact us anytime. Questions could be about gear, national parks or other photo locations, post-processing techniques, field etiquette, or anything else related to night photography. #SeizeTheNight!

1. Shedding Light on Coast

The Twins, Capitol Reef National Park. Nikon D750, Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8, Coast HP7R flashlight. 26 seconds, f/3.2, ISO 6400. © 2018 Matt Hill.

Q: Can you tell me what you like in particular about Coast flashlights? Other than sturdy durability, which seems obvious. Are the beams adjustable? The couple of times I’ve fooled around with light painting, I found it was difficult to be exact with what I had. — Therese I.

A: You hit it the nail on the head. The Coast flashlights feature an adjustable zoom optic. At its widest, it is an even illumination with a crisp edge. This is fantastic for slowly illuminating a large area evenly. At its narrowest, it is very intense with a rapid falloff from center to edge. This is ideal for lighting something distant.

We often add a Light Painting Brushes Universal Connector as a snoot for very small detail work, or we cup our hands around the end and squeeze open a small crack for fine lighting work. On top of that, Coast lights are waterproof and the rechargeable versions have long-lasting batteries you can charge via USB.

The only downside is that the color temperature of Coast lights is kind of cool for night photography work. But a small CTO gel fixes that. Warms it right up. (You can read more about this in Tim Cooper’s blog post “Level Up With Light Painting: Correcting the Color of Your Flashlight.”)

Light painting is part science and part art. Exact is something you obtain only after thousands of hours of practice. And even then it’s generous to call the craft exact. — Matt

2. Built-In Intervalometers

Q. I just got a Fuji X-T2 and I have a question. Do I still need an intervalometer? There’s one built in, so I’m not sure if I need another. — Anne K.

A: Generally speaking, the built-in intervalometers are more complex to use than an external intervalometer. There’s also the issue that in many cameras, the length of the shutter speed is limited (often to a maximum of 30 seconds) with the internal option. Not ideal for long-exposure work.

However, with the X-T2 in particular, I’ve used the built-in intervalometer with star stacks and had no problem. The built-in shutter speeds for that camera (with the latest firmware upgrade) go to 1 minute, 2 minutes, 4 minutes, 8 minutes, 15 minutes! It’s awesome. If you are comfortable with the internal option, then go for it! If not, nothing wrong with using an external option. — Chris & Tim

3. Big Bend in Summer

Agave on the South Rim, Big Bend National Park. Nikon D850, Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8. 2 minutes, f/5, ISO 1000. Light painted with a Coast HP7R. © 2018 Chris Nicholson.

Q: I noticed you haven’t offered a workshop at Big Bend last year or this year. I am headed there this summer in hopes of photographing the Milky Way and other nighttime objects under a new moon sky. Do you not offer workshops there because the location just isn’t that great? I’m wondering if you’d turn me on to any spots that are preferred for astro-landscape photography. — Alison C.

A: It’s not that we don’t offer a workshop in Big Bend, just that we haven’t yet. I can assure you that this Texas park is amazing for photography, day or night.

However, as for your trip, not to dissuade you, but summer is an incredibly uncomfortable time of year to be in Big Bend. There’s always a chance that you’ll catch a break with the weather, but generally summer there is stifling and unbearable. Moreover, that same heat at night will likely create considerable long exposure noise in your Milky Way photos. I’d avoid any exposures over 30 seconds or so (depending on your camera), and I’d certainly use Long Exposure Noise Reduction.

As for locations, probably the best in the park is the South Rim, but I wouldn't advise hiking out there in summer. There are a lot of fantastic spots accessible via the primitive roads, but again, I can’t advise venturing out those ways at this time of year, because of safety in the extreme heat should the car break down or get a flat tire.

However, you can find plenty of great spots to photograph that are closer to the safety of the main roads. I would definitely check out the Chisos Basin and Santa Elena Canyon, and you can find interesting ruins in the surrounding towns that are good for light painting.

No matter where you go, always have a good supply of extra water in the car—not just enough to drink for the shoot duration, but enough to drink in desert heat should you run into car issues. Have I mentioned this place is hot in summer? — Chris

4. Aurora and Condensation

Aurora, Westfjords, Iceland. Nikon D750. © Lance Keimig.

Aurora, Westfjords, Iceland. Nikon D750. © Lance Keimig.

Q: I’ve taken an interest in nighttime photography in Canada to capture the aurora. It appears to my eyes to be just a white glow (only my rods are sensing the light), but when I take the photo, voila, it is green! One of the main problems I’ve had—both in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, in February (-24 C), and in Ontario in September—is condensation on my lens or filter as the camera cools off. I recently purchased a wrap-around lens heater, and am excited to try it in Ontario this August during the Perseids meteor shower. — Gil J.

A: Yes, faint aurora can be hard to differentiate from plain old clouds sometimes, which is why using an app like Aurora Forecast can give you a heads-up to be on the lookout.

As for lens wraps for condensation, they can make the difference between the end of your night and a killer shot. Once the temperature reaches the dew point, condensation can form quickly. I’ve been in situations where I had to wipe the lens mid-exposure, which can introduce all sorts of problems. For a DIY version, I’ve cut a beer koozie so it can wrap around the lens, and put a chemical hand warmer inside. Sometimes even a hand warmer with a rubber band to hold it to the lens will work in a pinch! — Lance

5. Fireflies

Fireflies in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Nikon D3s, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. 90 seconds, f/2.8, ISO 1600. © 2018 Chris Nicholson.

Q: I have a pressing summer question: How does one photograph fireflies? I’ve seen them and I want to try it! — Susanne H.

A: That’s a fun question, and definitely a fun thing to do. We’re about to start our workshop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, and we’re hoping to see some fireflies on those mountain nights!

I recommend a few strategies:

  • Get into into a dark, wooded area, or at the edge of one, that has lots of firefly activity.
  • Focus on the closest trees or a solid subject.
  • Use a fast telephoto lens, like a 70-200mm f/2.8, so that you can zoom into the area of activity and concentrate a bunch of fireflies in the frame. I was recently trying with a wide-angle lens and didn’t get any good results.
  • Shoot wide open to collect all the light.
  • To really maximize the effect, shoot a lot of frames and stack them in Photoshop (using the Lighten blend mode, just like we do for star stacking).

Have fun and please share your results in the Comment section! — Gabe

Chris Nicholson is a partner and workshop leader with National Parks at Night, and author of Photographing National Parks (Sidelight Books, 2015). Learn more about national parks as photography destinations, subscribe to Chris' free e-newsletter, and more at www.PhotographingNationalParks.com.

UPCOMING WORKSHOPS FROM NATIONAL PARKS AT NIGHT