light pollution

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

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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: Offering Answers on Gear, Techniques and Etiquette

As you might imagine, we get emails from time to time asking us questions about night photography. We’re always happy to respond personally to those questions. However, there’s also the (largely correct) theory that for every person who asks a question, there are a hundred others who want to know the same thing but didn’t ask.

Therefore, we have decided that from time to time we will collect five of the questions that have recently been asked of us, and share them, along with our answers, with all of our blog readers. We hereby commence this “Five Questions” series today.

Our first foray into shedding some light on night photography conundrums includes some excellent questions on gear, techniques and etiquette.

1. SharpStar2 and the Nikon 14-24mm

Q: I have the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens. I have just finished reading about the SharpStar2. In my very limited experience with photographing stars, I have yet to obtain anything close to a sharp focus on them. Thus I’m intrigued by the SharpStar2. Can this be used with the lens I’ve mentioned? I’m assuming I would have to purchase the appropriate square filter holder and the appropriate size SharpStar 2 filter. Could you tell me what size to order, and which filter holder you’d recommend? — Liela N.

A: Although the Nikon 14-24mm is one of the best lenses for night photography, it’s actually not one I can recommend for combining with the SharpStar2. In fact, I’m not sure there’s a way to get it to work at all. The issue is that lens has the bulbous front element, which means a flat filter can’t be used without retrofitting a holder. There’s a great article on Naturescapes titled “Adapting Filters to Fit the Nikon 14-24mm Lens” that explains why and offers a DIY solution, but it requires a 150mm filter, and the largest that SharpStar2 comes in is 100mm.

But I would definitely hold on to that lens for night photography! If you’d like to work on other techniques for focusing in darkness, I’ll offer three suggestions:

  1. Use Live View. It’s infinitely easier than trying to focus through your viewfinder.
  2. Try presetting your lens to infinity during daylight, then turn off autofocus and tape down the focus ring.
  3. Use hyperfocal distance.

Incidentally, if you’re interested in purchasing the SharpStar2 for other lenses, we have a discount code we can share with you. Use “NPAN10” to receive 10 percent off the SharpStar2 on LonelySpeck.com. — Chris

2. Stack-a-Matic

Q: I use Photoshop/Lightroom CS6. I am a new user to Photoshop so obviously still learning. I tried to download your recommended Stack-A-Matic but I get an error that says I need Photoshop 12 or higher. What is a good stacking program that goes with CS6? — Sue W.

A: Stack-a-Matic works with CS5 thru CC (latest). Did you download it from my website, and use the manual installation instructions? Sometimes it’s a little bit finicky, but it does work. You might have to do a restart, or possibly walk through the installation twice, but it’s worth it.

I’m sorry that I can’t offer more tech support than this for Stack-a-Matic; I’m just hosting it for Russell Brown. Alternatively, you can try StarStax for Mac, and Startrails.exe for PC. — Lance

3. Light painting in Arches National Park

Arches National Park. © 2016 Tim Cooper.

Arches National Park. © 2016 Tim Cooper.

Q: I heard/read that Arches National Park has closed the permits for night photography. Does this mean for workshops or personal? — Juan Aguilera

A: Yes, Arches (and Canyonlands National Park) did institute a rule change this year, but it applies only to instructor-led groups using an official CUA (Commercial Use Authorization) permit, and for the moment it applies only to light painting.

If you go on your own as a photographer, there are no restrictions—for now. But if photographers don’t collectively respect that environment (i.e., behave ourselves), who knows what might change? While we don’t agree with a blanket rule change in Arches, we do understand why it was implemented. We always talk about the etiquette of doing night photography in a way that doesn’t negatively affect others who are enjoying the same dark skies that we’re photographing. (See the early sections of the “Night Photography in National Parks” presentation Lance and Chris did at the B&H Event Space a few months ago.)

However, it’s also good to note that if you’re planning to shoot in Arches in 2017, the park will be closed at night every Sunday through Thursday due to road construction. So you can do night photography only on Fridays and Saturdays, until the expected November completion date. — Matt

4. Aurora in New England?

Q: Is there any chance of seeing aurora in New England? And is there a good app that you use for potential activity? HersheyArtImages

A: The aurora can occasionally be seen in southern New England, but it is usually just a little bit of green near the horizon in the northern sky, when seen from a dark beach with a view to the north. In the northern parts of Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, it is seen a little more frequently.

We use an app called Aurora Forecast, which is available for both iOS and Android. Once you download it, you can customize the settings to send you an alert for a kp (the unit of measurement of auroral activity) of 6 or higher in the middle latitudes. If the activity is much less than that, you are not likely to see anything.

You will never see aurora from a light-polluted area so far south. Really strong displays can sometimes be viewed right in the center of Reykjavik –– but that is a much smaller city, with much smaller suburbs. — Lance

5. Dealing with light pollution

In this photo from Everglades National Park, light pollution from distant Miami builds up in a 30-second exposure to provide depth to the scene. © 2013 Chris Nicholson.

In this photo from Everglades National Park, light pollution from distant Miami builds up in a 30-second exposure to provide depth to the scene. © 2013 Chris Nicholson.

Q: I am struggling with processing wide-field astrophotography images (starscapes, Milky Way, etc.). In particular, with how to remove light pollution, which is an unfortunate fact of life for those of us living in the eastern part of the country. For wide-field photographs, the light pollution is usually graduated over the image, being brightest at the horizon and diminishing at you go higher. I would very much appreciate any tips you might have in this area. — David T.

A: Honestly, I generally don’t do anything to try to rid light pollution from my night photos, but rather try to use that extraneous light creatively. Specifically, I use the distant light to create silhouettes of mountains, for example, or to light clouds in the sky. Both of those tactics can provide depth to otherwise pitch-dark scenes.

If you do want to negate the color effect of light pollution in the night sky, a tech option is to try one of the new filters for eliminating the color cast in the sky that can be caused by light pollution. Our friends at Lonely Speck recently released the PureNight filter, which is made from a special didymium glass that reduces the transmission of light from sodium vapor lamps. We have yet to try it, but they know their stuff, so it’s likely an excellent solution. We also just heard about the NiSi Natural Night Filter from Ikan, but again, we haven’t had the pleasure of trying it yet. — Chris

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