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Beyond Astrophotography - Thoughts on Long Exposure Analog Techniques

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#1 Nightfly

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Posted 09 August 2020 - 01:15 PM

I began posting my analog astrophotography here on CN in 2007, which now feels like a long time ago.  I migrated from 35mm to 6x7 that year.  In hindsight, those first few posts were far from my best work.  I was still learning, despite my dabbling with astrophotography since the early 80s.

 

I hit my stride in 2012 and was able to make great images at will.  Mosaics using two to four frames were becoming routine and my best work was before me.  In 2013 cardiac arrest took my life for the course of about 15 minutes before I was successfully revived.  I believe my heart trouble was due in part to working a long schedule of a day job and astrophotographer in the short nights of summer.  A caution to other amateur astronomers burning the candle at both ends.  

 

 

 

In 2014, just to prove to myself that I was back from the dead, a full summer of late night astrophotography with longer lenses - adding more to the portfolio of images and feeling smug about it.

 

 

 

The drought began in 2015 with a dearth of images, blamed in part by the weather and other circumstances beyond my control.  September of that year saw my last coordinated effort, with only a few shots here and there.   I had moved to digital partially, exploring what could be done.  Come to find out allot - but also, not so much.  

 

From 2015 to present, I've taken to using my experience and knowledge base to work for me in other endeavors.  I've also slowly migrated from medium format to large format. 

 

Beyond Astrophotography 

 

Astrophotography is the technique of long exposure photography coupled with the effort to reliably track, or more accurately, counteract the rotation of the Earth. Where else may the long exposure portion of the craft be useful?

 

In 2009 I began efforts to make long exposures of the nocturnal seascape.  Fortunately,  my location placed me in an ideal situation.   I live within the Schoodic National Scenic Byway here in Maine.  Schoodic Peninsula is part of Acadia National Park.   It is perhaps one of the most beautiful seacoasts in all of America.

 

Astrophotographers, in general, are not artist in a conventional sense.   We are highly technical,  which is a prerequisite for the craft.   Developing an artist's eye, mind, and spirit has taken time.  Ten years ago I would not have guessed my affection for photography as an art form would supplant astrophotography. 

 

My desire to shoot the night landscape is just an extension of my astrophotography.  The movement of light in the night has become, not a dreaded reality of nature, but an asset to incorporate into a fresh and new body of work.  

 

Many amateurs scorn the moon and its light.  Like the Sun, it hides our beloved light of all things faint and hard to see.  But it can also reveal.  It is this "revelation" that I've been exploring for over ten years, and using my chosen craft, tradition photography,  to do so.

 

So, have I really given up astrophotography ?  Not at all.  But I've expanded my work to include subject matter beyond the paradigm of astrophotography.  Seperate, yet the same.  

 

It is appropriate that my fist time exposure, in 1984 was of a moonlit night. My driveway offered little artistic merit, but it was a lesson nevertheless.  It's been a fascinating trip, one that almost came to a close prematurely. 

 

Today

 

This summer, which has been an unusual season due to the pandemic, has offered me a few nights of blissful solitude. 

 

 

On the evening of July 4th I setup for a long night of exposures using my Toyo 45AR with the 150mm Schneider Super Symmar HM and film holders loaded with Tmax 400.  

 

 
Setting up a large format camera, composing, focusing,  and setting up movements is very difficult in the night.   The challenges of astrophotography prepares oneself so as not to be discouraged by these difficulties. 
 
 
The results of which are nothing short of spectacular.  The amalgam of astrophotography and the landscape, along with the unique rendering with analog materials has brought my personal work to new heights.   
 
 
August 1, 2020
 
On the seventh anniversary of my heart attack, I set out to celebrate the life continued, the life still at hand!  Returning to the Schoodic coastline with the field camera and Acros film, the low Moon of summer casts its light towards its observer.
 
 
 
Isn't this what this forum is all about?  The journey from novice to advanced astrophotographer was only the beginning.  
 
 
 
 
The journey beyond astrophotography, that's what it really is all about - for me.
 
Photography is still relevant.   Film is still relevant.   The craftsmanship, the act of "writing with light" is near death.  It cannot be replaced in my opinion.   The technical is only part of it.  It's hard work, and its worth it! 
 
Jim

 

Click on photos for full description and larger size.

 

 

 

 


Edited by Nightfly, 09 August 2020 - 01:22 PM.

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#2 Astrojensen

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Posted 09 August 2020 - 01:57 PM

Stunning work! The B/W photo of the Saggitarius Star Cloud reminds me of Barnard's pictures in old astronomy textbooks.

 

 

Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark


Edited by Astrojensen, 09 August 2020 - 01:58 PM.

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#3 Rahul

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Posted 10 August 2020 - 12:25 AM

Absolutely stunning work, and very inspiring too!


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#4 Todd N

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Posted 10 August 2020 - 01:22 AM

Absolutely stunning work, and very inspiring too!

Yeah, but he cheats. Jim images from Bortle 2 skies.smirk.gif


Edited by Todd N, 10 August 2020 - 01:23 AM.

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#5 Uwe Pilz

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Posted 10 August 2020 - 05:38 AM

I am very impressed by your large format camera shots. Beautiful scent, full of atmosphere. I hope you make more of this. Thank you for sharing.

May you tell us some thing about aperture and exposure time? Do you made any tricks in the wet lab?


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#6 TxStars

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Posted 10 August 2020 - 10:38 PM

Jim,

 Great wright up as always..

Have you noticed any quirks with the little Toyo ? 

I have heard some complaining about the bellows adjustments.

 

btw when you gonna get an 8x10 ?


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#7 Nightfly

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Posted 11 August 2020 - 05:36 AM

Thank you all for the inspiring comments.  Ill try to answer all your questions tonight and give insight into setting up and taking the shots.  Here is a quick overview.

 

 

Focus and composition were made directly from the ground glass/ fresnel with magnifying loupe.  Front tilt was applied and focus confirmed on the infinity horizon and foreground highlights.  Glistening waves provide sparkles that are relatively bright.  Horizon was leveled by visual confirmation on the screen grid lines.  I believe front standard rise/fall was also applied.  All this takes time and effort. 

 

An aperture of f/11 and 25 minutes exposure on Acros was selected based on previous work in similar conditions.  This aperture was also selected to give maximum sharpness while also reducing exposure to practical limits.  

 

For years I've used the Pentax 67 to do these long exposures.  It's an excellent system and the success rate is very high due to ease of focus and composition.  It was time to challenge myself technically with the application of Large format to the same work.  I'm generally happy with the results.  A limited number if films exist for long exposures of this type.  In place of Acros, Kodak TMY-2 can also be employed.  Others may be usable, but film reciprocity must be high. 

 

For top level work, I would recommend composition in daylight conditions and wait for dark.  If it's a coastal area, be mindful of the tide.  A dry area can become wet very soon if the tide is coming in.



#8 Nightfly

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Posted 11 August 2020 - 07:40 PM

Stunning work! The B/W photo of the Saggitarius Star Cloud reminds me of Barnard's pictures in old astronomy textbooks.

 

 

Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

Thanks Thomas!  For more Barnard inspration!

 

http://nightflyphoto...-milky-way.html

 

 

Yeah, but he cheats. Jim images from Bortle 2 skies.smirk.gif

It certainly has its advantages!

 

 

I am very impressed by your large format camera shots. Beautiful scent, full of atmosphere. I hope you make more of this. Thank you for sharing.

May you tell us some thing about aperture and exposure time? Do you made any tricks in the wet lab?

Thank you very much Uwe! With some good luck, more work on the horizon....

 

Exposures under moonlight (near full), the basic formula is 12 minutes at f/8 using Acros or Provia.  With large format, f/11 works better with some front tilt for depth of field.

 

These are scans from the original negatives.  I find shadow details render well with digital scans, evenif they are on the thin side.

 

 

Jim,

 Great wright up as always..

Have you noticed any quirks with the little Toyo ? 

I have heard some complaining about the bellows adjustments.

 

btw when you gonna get an 8x10 ?

No 8x10 on the horizon.......

 

The Toyo is rock solid for long exposures.   Focus, front and rear tilt all lock firmly.  Focus controls are positive and smooth.  Its a fantastic camera.  The 150mm Schneider Super Symmar HM is a fantastic lens as well.  It uses a fluorite element near the center.  It produces perfectly sharp images.  I've got to get my Nikkor 90 /4.5 SW out under these conditions.  

 

The 6x7 produces perfectly good beautiful images.   The 4x5 produces epochal photographs of stunning quality.  All this photographic goodness comes at a price of course.   The results are worthy of the investment. 


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#9 canondslr

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Posted 13 August 2020 - 04:31 PM

Very inspirational images! Great to see your still shooting. You've had quite the journey.

 

I love the mood created by your night time landscapes! Acros was my favorite daytime 4x5 film for portraits and landscapes. I hope the new Acros II comes out in sheet film. I'd love to try it at night.

 

Sounds like you have the view camera movements down nicely. I remember going from frustration, to great satisfaction with all the possibilities they allow. I look forward to seeiing more of your work.

 

Tom



#10 Nightfly

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Posted 13 August 2020 - 07:26 PM

I really appreciate the kind remarks Tom.  Challenges persist in any craft.  I've enjoyed pushing those limits.  

 

I've taken terrific exposures with digital cameras and terrible exposures with film, but on balance I prefer film by a significant margin.  

 

The new Acros works about equally well to the old formula.  Like you, is love to see it in sheets.  Even a limited run would be awesome.   It is unlikely to happen from what I gather.  I will be happy to eat those words.

 

Movements take patience in the dark.  I was a bit surprised that the negatives were as sharp as they were!  Stopping down beyond f/11 would be advisable if not for the weak light.  

 

Thanks again Tom for chiming in.

 

Jim


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#11 coinboy1

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Posted 23 August 2020 - 09:23 PM

Your images and words have always moved and inspired me. I have not delved into film yet, but your website and posts here give me a sense of zen and beauty in nature and the night sky. Thank you!

#12 Nightfly

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Posted 25 August 2020 - 05:45 AM

Your images and words have always moved and inspired me. I have not delved into film yet, but your website and posts here give me a sense of zen and beauty in nature and the night sky. Thank you!

Very much appreciated Tony.  Part of the appeal is the inherent minimalism in the production of the work flow.  This allows one's attention to be focused on the experience and to have that experience shine through in the images.

 

I routinely call these photographs meditations.  And since you brought it up, Zen has been an influence in my life.  It is both an endeavor and a discipline.   It is also a joy.  

 

I am most fortunate to have taken this path.  It's a mature and spiritual quest.  If that shines through in the photographs, then I believe I have succeeded. 

 

Thank you.


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#13 dUbeni

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Posted 26 August 2020 - 04:22 PM

Superb, ethereal, just like magic.

My dream of making nightscape photography is long gone, just don't have the skill or equipment, my trusty Nikon FM2 doesn't cut it.

Congratulations, and thank you for posting those inspiring photos.

 

Bernardo



#14 Nightfly

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Posted 27 August 2020 - 04:49 PM

Thank you Bernardo.  Use what you got and continue to learn by practice.  I started in 35mm, and if it were all I had I would still be able to produce a good print.  It's very economical as well. 

 

 Also, look around in your local area for subject matter.  I simply photograph what is near me.  I am sure there are interesting places that would be good to produce good photographs.  Day or night.


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#15 Giorgos

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Posted 31 August 2020 - 12:23 PM

Both your astro and pictorial photographs are stunning James! Keep on the good work and do not stop to impress us!!!



#16 Nightfly

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Posted 01 September 2020 - 06:26 PM

Both your astro and pictorial photographs are stunning James! Keep on the good work and do not stop to impress us!!!

As always, much appreciated Giorgos.   I'm having a good time, and also making the most seriously considered images of my life.  

 

I've enjoyed our correspondence and your support over the years.

 

Jim



#17 Nightfly

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Posted 05 September 2020 - 06:09 AM

The lure of astrophotography to begin with is a longing to experience for oneself,  the capturing of starlight.  It is (or was) a rare feat.  Nowadays digital cameras offer it to just about anyone.  As such, the novelty has lost some of its lustre.  The challenge of film based astrophotography is to make good images despite the difficulties.  When done well, film offers unique portrayal of the Milky Way.  I hope that my images have done just that.

 

I can choose to point the camera towards the heavens, and add one more frame into the flood of images that appear nowadays.  It seems now to me that if I am going to contribute something new, something not previously known, or rendered,  I must divert my skills elsewhere.  This has lead to the work I do now.  

 

 
To continue with film based, long exposure methods means that there is still something left to explore using this traditional means.  Indeed, film still gives a "different look".  Since this is a personal choice, and a personal journey, I will continue to explore the world with these tools.
 
The simplicity of the equipment puts most everything else into skill and creative vision. It is by restricting abilities that one is forced to create an image within these constraints.  A deep abiding faith in oneself emerges.  Spending hours in solitude, without confirmation, that the time spent will produce fruitful results until the negatives are seen for the first time.  That satisfaction is born out of patience, courage, and an ability to master the light.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


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#18 Michal1

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Posted 29 September 2020 - 05:06 PM

Hi Nightfy! I can't do nothing but repeat the others. Stunning work! And very inspiring. Thanks for sharing these pieces of beauty with us!

 

Now I understand better your depart from the standard astrophotography which I asked about in another thread. It is a combination of several factors and events. Who knows where I will end one day.

 

I can believe that holding these giant negatives in hands must be thrilling. I've taken a few. Seeing the image in negative gives it a surreal feeling. And also the structure of the negative is so special. It's something like if the image was etched in the stone. You have images of stones etched in the stone :D And actually there is a bit truth behind this comparison. Images on computer screen disappear when you scroll the window. You will have your images forever.

 

Keep up the good work!



#19 Nightfly

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Posted 29 September 2020 - 05:50 PM

Michal,

 

Thank you for the kind remarks.   Yes, this thread was a response to your question 

 

"Can you expand on why you are taking this long break? Perhaps this would help me to avoid the same mistakes or to get prepared. Have you reached all your goals with film already? Did other interests win?"

 

Years ago I would have told everyone that I would be the last holdout with film.  Today, that is both true and false.  Yes I still persue the craft of nocturnal long exposure work, but not necessarily tracked astronomical work.

 

I live life precariously and it is true that variety is the spice of life.  The experiences will always be with me and useful in future endeavours. 

 

As you have pointed out, the negatives are photography's real estate.  Tangible images made by photons captured on cellulose, encased in silver.  

 

Those 4x5 negatives are beautiful on the light table.  I've done a wealth of daylight images in large and medium format.  I may showcase a few here as it does relate to the thread. 

 

If they are not already, I would recommend that anyone doing film astrophotography take time to do daytime work, or available light long exposures.  The stars are awesome of course, but there's a hell of a universe right next door! 

 

Thanks again Michal.  

 



#20 Nightfly

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Posted 29 September 2020 - 06:49 PM

For daytime and night work, my workhorse is still the venerable Pentax 67.  I have two circa 1990 bodies and many of the lenses for the system.   I have honed down my kit to what can fit in a small pack.  One 67 body with non-metered prism with 55-100 zoom attached.  Two additional lenses, the 45/4 and 200/4, both SMC 67 versions. A light meter and film rounds off the pack.  I use various tripods.  For maximum stability at night, I use the Manfrotto 475B with 229 pan-tilt head.  Heavy, but solid. 

 

The Toyo-Field 45AR kit features three lenses.  A 90, 150, and 210.  All good glass, as most LF lenses are.  The bag is big as it holds all these plus film holders, dark cloth, loupe, and other accessories. 

 

Some recent day work with the 67 and 4x5.  Click to enlarge and find more information. 

 

 
 
 
 

 

I really enjoy abstract work mostly.  Schoodic Point is close by and world class as far as photography venues go.

 

Developing the films is a joy.  Seeing those still wet images never gets old.  A well exposed negative contains a wealth of detail, contrast, and tones.

 

 


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#21 CharlieB

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Posted 07 October 2020 - 05:56 AM

Folks, as fantastic as these photos are, this is a forum about film astrophotography.  Please keep to that subject.  Thanks.

 

Charlie



#22 Michal1

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Posted 08 October 2020 - 03:53 PM

What has happened with the photos? I hope that this inspiring thread was not damaged by moderators.



#23 TxStars

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Posted 09 October 2020 - 02:02 PM

As one of the 20 or so film users I too hope nothing has happened to the images in this thread..



#24 Nightfly

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Posted 09 October 2020 - 08:33 PM

What has happened with the photos? I hope that this inspiring thread was not damaged by moderators.

 

As one of the 20 or so film users I too hope nothing has happened to the images in this thread..

Thank you for the concern guys.  Don't blame the moderator.  I deleted the images,  all my images on CN,  but have decided (for now) to leave the thread up.  A shell, if you will.  

 

I plan on restoring the work (text with the images) in a blog post, where it should be.  

 

We were all told years ago, by a different moderator, that this forum is for us users.  We were also told that this forum can be precisely what we want it to be.  Such was the precarious state of film use at the time.  

 

I included daytime (non astro) images in my last post. A slap on the wrist resulted.  As an artist I need total flexibility in conveyance of my work.  This is not the place to do that.  Even the original content, which included landscapes under moonlight could be a stretch for calling them astrophotographs!  That being said, my early Moonlight Series was featured in the juried exhibit Starstruck - The Fine Art of Astrophotography !   

 

I made the decision to relocate my images.  I had a repository of over thirty images.  My best work showcased in the member galleries here on CN.  Removing them also removed the images in the post.  

 

This is a small member forum.  It's amazing it still exists.  The last of its kind I believe.  Film is making a resurgence however. CN is no longer the best place to showcase my work and I'll miss posting images for my friends here to see.

 

I've grown far past the title - astrophotographer.  Indeed, I am enjoying much beyond photography itself.   I'll be participating in online article writing for Emulsive.org and other online magazines.  It's time for a bigger audience.   Perhaps you will see them in your news feeds.

 

I wish you all clear skies, and good guiding!  Don't give up on film.  At its best, it offers an alternative.  Not just in how it looks, but how photography is practiced.  In a crazy world, the extra attention it requires is a welcome relief from the fast pace driving at us all.

 

Ad Astra

 

Jim


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#25 Jerry Lodriguss

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Posted 31 October 2020 - 09:16 PM

>>The results of which are nothing short of spectacular. <<

What happened to the image, or link to the image?

Jerry


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