star photography

Descent

After the bright summer nights, I'm excited that the astrophotography season has started in Finland. A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to Emäsalo, Finland. It's one of my favorite seascape places in Finland. I ended up going there four nights in a row to capture some time-lapse footage and still images. 

There are not many places in Finland where you can view to the sea without being on someone's private property. Which is a shame. So this place is rather unique. Standing there is a calming experience when the only noises you could hear are the subtle wind and crashing waves. I placed my camera low and set the self-timer to 20 seconds so I had time to walk to the frame and stand there for 30 seconds. Luckily I also captured a satellite in the frame which gave the image nice balanced look.

Equipment & Exif

Nikon D810, Nikkor 14-24 mm f/2.8 & Manfrotto Tripod
ISO 3200, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec. 

Post-production

Color edit with Lightroom CC basic settings with my Phase Presets: Hazy - Movie Look & Contrast - Night. I also added a Saga Preset: Enhance Stars - Med 2/3 to add detail to the stars. 

Descent - Emäsalo, Finland - 2016

My Favorite Equipment Part I - Everyday Gear for Star and Landscape Photography

Since I get a lot of questions about my photography gear and tools I use, I decided to create a new series of equipment. As many have said – gear doesn't matter! However, if you have decent gear, it can inspire and help you to create more! I look at gear as tools, when it works great it works with you and won't get in your visions way. When it doesn't work like you would want it to work it controls and limits your vision. Don't fell into the trap of more gear is better because it might not ease the process but rather confuse what to use. For the first part of the series, here is a list of my most used equipment.

 

Everyday Photography Gear

The set I carry 90% of the time with me every time I go out to photograph. You can view this whole set on Amazon Store

Two Camera Bodies

Nikon D810 & D800 — Why do I carry two camera bodies? Well because I tend to shoot long exposures. So when the other camera (usually D810) is taking for example 10 minute long exposure, I go and scout for the next landscape I want to capture or shoot a time-lapse with the D800. When I'm out photographing in the daytime, I keep the wide-angle lens on the D810 and a telephoto lens on the D800. This way if something interesting happens far away I can just grab the other camera and start shooting. 

Lenses

Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED — This is my go-to lens, I use it 90% of the time on my D810. It's super sharp and excellent for star photography with the aperture of 2.8. View my full review of this lens here.

Nikkor 16–35 mm f/4.0 VR  — I bought this as my first full frame wide-angle lens back in December 2012 and used it to capture all of my landscape photographs. I still use this lens but most of the time handheld, because it has a great image stabilisation. It's not as sharp as the 14–24 mm lens, but it's already quite sharp wide open at f/4.0. After my interest in star photography, I wanted a wider lens with a larger aperture, so I bought the Samyang 14 mm f/2.8. 

Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 — This was my most used lens for astrophotography until I bought the 14–24 mm Nikkor. I still use this lens when I want to capture time-lapse at night with the D800 or when I'm scouting. 

Nikkor 50 mm f/1.4 G — I always have at least one faster lens in my camera back in case I want to shoot shallow depth of field or if I wish to capture any behind the scene footage. This lens is so small that I almost always prefer it over my Sigma ART lenses.

Nikkor 70–300 mm f/5.6–6.3 VR — I don't use a telephoto lens too often. I first bought this lens for my first camera Nikon D90. It is a decent lens if you want to add some range to your camera. It is the next lens I will be replacing with the superb Nikkor 70–200 mm f/4.0 VR.

Camera Accessories & Backpack

Hähnel Giga T Pro II — This is my go-to remote controller for the Nikon D810. I use it to capture sharper images and when I need the extra range to take a self-portrait. What I like about is that you have a lot of options you can adjust. When used in cold temperature with gloves it's too small and hard to change the settings without taking the gloves off. 

Lee Filter System for Nikkor 14–24 mm — I always have these filters with me when I'm photographing sunrise/sunset or daylight. These filters are top quality yet pricey.

Lens Cloths — I have at least three lens cloths with me every time I head out to photograph. When using filters, one cloth is simply not enough. These are needed if you shoot near open water or in high humidity. 

Lowepro ProTactic 450AW — I have used quite a few backpacks in my days as a photographer. The ProTactic from Lowepro is the best one I have ever tried and used. The build quality is superb. You can access your gear four different ways. It is very helpful when you have two camera bodies and a lot of lenses in the bag. The customizability of the straps and pockets is fantastic. I carry my Lee Filter pouch with all of my filters and a tripod in the straps behind the bag. The backpack also has two different small pockets in the front strap where you can put a headlamp and lens cloths, which is handy. 

Mobile Phone App

PhotoPills — When I need to capture scenery using my "Vision of Depth" technique I use PhotoPills to calculate the exposure. It's also very handy when scouting a location! It's unfortunately only available for iPhones. 

Tripod

Sirui R4203 L — I always have at least one tripod with me. I use my Sirui tripod most of the time I go out to photograph. I have a lighter tripod for my travels, but I still prefer the Sirui.

Manfrotto MHXPRO–3WAY — I love this tripod head. It's so much quicker to adjust in cold temperatures than the Sirui K-40X which I also use. You don't need an L-bracket for your camera when changing from vertical to horizontal frames when using this Manfrotto 3-Way head. Which makes it quick and easy to find better composition and perspective. 

Manfrotto MT190CX PRO 4 — I bought this tripod for my travels because it's light and fits in my bigger bag. I would recommend getting these Retractable Rubber Spikes with it because there are no spikes in the tripod and these are really important when you photograph in snow or ice.

That's it for the first part of my gear list. I hope you enjoyed reading. The next list will be for the scouting gear I use. Meanwhile subscribe to my newsletter to receive new tutorials and photo gear talk as soon as they are released fresh to your email. I will also make a list of my favorite accessories and tools I use when I edit my photographs, so stay tuned!

Winter Night Photography Checklist

It's that time of year when the temperature drops and snow covers landscapes. Winter is my favorite time to shoot landscapes. You can almost hear the silence from snow covered landscape photographs. The light is low and beautiful almost the entire day but as you know me I enjoy to photograph at night. Here is my checklist when I'm heading out to photograph in below-freezing weather. 

Frozen World - Ylläs, Finland 2015

Frozen World - Ylläs, Finland 2015

1. Extra Batteries

When shooting in below-freezing temperatures, batteries discharge faster, so it's essential to have extra batteries. Remember to charge the batteries fully before heading out. I put my extra batteries to inside pockets in my jacket, this way they will stay warmer and kept fully charged when I need to change to a new one. 

Night Tiles - Porvoo, Finland 2015

Night Tiles - Porvoo, Finland 2015

2. Camera Bag

Keeping your camera gear clean and easy to access is essential. I take my camera bag with me everywhere, so I take it with me when shooting in cold weather. I use Lowepro Protactic 400AW to carry my gear. Depending on what time I'm out, I might take only a couple of lenses and a Tripod. 

I always carry a big plastic bag inside the camera bag. You don't have to keep your camera inside the plastic bag when you are out shooting, instead use it when you get back inside the house. Put your camera inside the plastic bag and leave the plastic bag with the camera inside your camera bag. The plastic bag will keep the moisture out of the camera. Keep the camera there for a couple hours before transferring the photographs to the computer. It's also important to warm up the gear gradually.

For those of you who are interested in what gear, I have with me most of the time: Camera bodies Nikon D810, D800 and lenses Nikon 14-24 mm f/2.8, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8, Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 ART and a telephoto lens and Sirui tripod. 

Night Glow - Kerava, Finland 2012

Night Glow - Kerava, Finland 2012

3. Gloves, Clothes & Shoes

Keeping yourself warm in cold temperatures is important. I try to have spare gloves with me or top-up mittens such as hunting gloves since these work great when you need to adjust the camera settings. When you are out the whole day with the wrong kind of clothes, it affects the energy level you have so you won't be able to capture all the beauty you might have wanted to. There are a lot of different winter clothes you can choose. My go-to clothes are Goretex to keep me dry and warm. I suggest investing in decent winter clothes. I use IceBug shoes when I'm on a frozen or otherwise slippery surface. When on a snowy terrain I recommend to get snowshoes if you need to travel by foot. 

4. Accessories

My go-to filters include UV-filters and Polarization filter. Usually, I don't bring my long exposure kit (Lee filters) with me, but when there is open-water insight I might have them with me. A remote controller can keep your hands warm when you don't have to change the settings. I keep spare batteries for my remote-controllers if I'm shooting at night or in the evening light. 

Tips for taking the pictures

  1. Don't over exposure the snow
  2. Don't rush and take a moment to appreciate the surrounding scenery
  3. Look for leading lines and interesting foreground elements
  4. Light might change quickly so keep yourself ready to shoot at all times

Learn more my techniques from my Star Photography Masterclass!

Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED Review - Night Photography

I have now been using the Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED lens for the last month. As promised, here is an overview and review of the lens for the type of work I do. I have also included some photos taken with it in the daylight to show full-size unedited photographs. 

Introduction

Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED ultra-wide-angle lens is made for Nikon full-frame cameras and if calculated, you would need a 9.2–16mm lens on a crop-sensor camera to replicate the angles of view that this 14-24 mm lens gives on FX cameras. 

Specification

  • Focal Lenght: 14–24 mm, aperture: 2.8
  • Internal Focusing (IF) system; autofocus with a built-in SWM and manual focus
  • Lens construction: 14 elements in 11 groups inc. 2x ED and 3x aspherical elements and 1x element with Nano Crystal Coat
  • Picture Angle: 114° - 84°
  • Size: 98 x 131.5 mm, Weight: 1 kg

Build Quality

The first thing you notice when you get your hands on the Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 lens is the size and weight. The quality is excellent, in the hand it feels solid and extremely well build. Compared to the Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 - it's a monster. The Nikkor is almost two times bigger and the price tag is over three times more than the Samyang.

The question is: Is it worth the size and price? And for a quick answer, yes! It is a top quality lens. Now of course you have to know what are you going to use it for. My primary usage is star photography and landscapes, and the Nikkor is a fantastic lens for both of these.

Accessories

With the lens, you get a case (Nikon CL-M3) to carry the lens. I occasionally use the case strapped to my Lowepro ProTactic 450AW camera bag if there is not enough space inside. There are no filter threads, so you have to use an external filter holder. In the image below I use a Lee filter system made for the Nikkor 14–24 mm. For star photography, I never use filters. 

My gear includes Nikon D810 and an MB-D12 Multi Power Battery Pack. The Nikkor 14–24 mm is perfectly balanced with the setup. For tripod, I use a Sirui R-4203L with a K-40X ball head.

Autofocus

The autofocus is fast and works accurately in the situations I have used it. If you are primarily using the lens for star photography, you might want to learn when it is focused to infinity either manually or with the autofocus in vast landscapes. If there is a small light source in the scenery, the lens can focus to it in most of the cases. In pitch black situations, I recommend using the manual focus. Thanks to an AF-S drive (Silent Wave Motor) autofocus operations are fast and almost silent.

Optics & Sharpness

I have used many different wide-angle lenses in my past, but with the full-frame camera I have used the Nikkor 16–35 mm f/4.0 VR, Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 and the Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED.

Distortion is moderate when compared to the heavily distorted photographs taken with the Samyang 14 mm. The barrel distortion is really easy to fix in Lightroom with the correct lens profile for the Nikkor. The real advantage of the Nikon 14–24 mm f/2.8 against the Samyang is the sharpness of the images overall image quality. Against the Nikkor 16–35 mm f/4.0 the sharpness is better already wide open and the extra stop is essential when you photograph in low light situations.

Example Photographs

You can see a couple of example photographs taken with Nikon D810 and Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8. The images shot in RAW and exported with Lightroom CC: View the full-size gallery here. 

From corner to corner the sharpness is very good already from wide open. I used two different 14–24 mm f/2.8 lenses and I have also used two Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 lenses. The Samyang focus seems to change in different parts of the image. For example, if the corners of the image are correctly focused the center is not in focus. This is not the case with the Nikkor, once you nail the focus the whole image is razor sharp.

I have gathered below some of my favorite photographs taken with the Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 lens in the past month with the lens. If you are into star photography, make sure to check out my Star Photography Masterclass eBook

Series of photographs captured with the Nikon D810 and Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED

Fog & Stars - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED - ISO 6400, 30 sec. f/2.8 @ 14 mm

Under The Stars - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 - ISO 6400, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec. 

Fog & Stars II - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED - ISO 6400, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec.

Koli at Night - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 - ISO 8000, 15 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec. 

Glow - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 - ISO 6400, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec. 

Koli at Night - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 - ISO 8000, 15 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec. 

Searching For Horizon - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8, ISO 6400, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec.

Stillness of Night - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 - ISO 6400, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec. & ISO 800, 630 sec.

Star Reflection - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 - ISO 3200, 14 mm, f/2.8, 30 sec. 

Road To Aurora - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 - ISO 3200, 14 mm, f/3.2, 15 sec. 

Pier to Nowhere - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 - ISO 100, 14 mm, f/10, 200 sec. 

Darkness - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8 G ED - ISO 100, 24 mm, f/5.6, 400 sec. 

Long Sunset - Nikon D810 & Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8, ISO 64, 14 mm, f/11, 310 sec.

Verdict

If you are looking for an extreme wide angle lens for a full-frame camera and you do not mind the weight factor, then this is an excellent lens for you. If you are into landscape and star photography I highly recommend the Nikkor 14–24 mm f/2.8. I already see using it 90% of the time on my Nikon D810.

Pros
+ Sharpness
+ Build Quality
+ Focus (fast, silent and accurate)

Cons
- Size (Weight 1kg)
- Need Costly Third-Party Filter System (no screw-on filters)

Stillness of Night

I have been fortunate to photograph at night for the last couple of weeks. This is one of my favorites from the time. I used my Vision of Depth technique from my Night Photography Masterclass. You can learn it here: Star Photography Masterclass.

Equipment & Exif

Nikon D810, Nikon 14 - 24 mm f/2.8, Sirui Tripod
ISO 6400, 30 sec., 14 mm, f/2.8 & ISO 800, 630 sec., f/3.5

Stilness of Night - Mikko Lagerstedt