Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Southwest Trading Posts

When we write about trading posts we don’t mean the gaudy tourist traps one might find off an interstate.  What we’re describing is what used to be the life blood on an Indian reservation.  Place where folks who were forced to live went to buy and often time trade for essentials such as food stuffs like flour, salt etc.
Rear wall of the trading post in Oljato UT

Another rear wall Oljato UT
While there are still some operational trading posts to be found the majority are now closed.  The advent of better transportation help close this way of life on many reservations.  We don’t look for the trading posts that remain open; instead we prefer the older closed defunct abandoned ones.
Front wall Oljato UT
We recently spent several days on the Navajo Nation in the Monument Valley area of Arizona and Utah and found two old trading posts.
Front wall Oljato UT
Looking down the front wall, Oljato UT

The first in Oljato Utah is located 10-miles from Goulding’s in Monument Valley and is easily accessible by paved road.  Take the road running between the airfield and new housing for 10-miles and Oljato is on the left side.  Watch for herds of sheep along the way; in other words slow down and enjoy the scenery. Oljato trading post is an easy side trip to take after visiting Monument Valley.
Red door, Oljato Utah

Old Hogan in front of the Oljato trading Post

We found our second trading post approximately 130-miles south in the Ganado Arizona area off BIA15; named Sunrise Trading Post.  Sunrise is located on the north side of BIA15 and very rundown. 

Sunrise Trading Post Ganado UT fro BIA 15
Close up of the front wall
Green door leading into a front room
Where Oljato trading post is in fair condition with standing walls, most windows intact and doors and roof sadly that can’t be said for Sunrise with no windows, little doors left and no roof.  Sunrise is truly abandoned and had graffiti and left to natures elements.  They both offer a unique photographic experience.
What's left of a wall

Looking down and out from the windows through the roof
Please remember you are visitors and be respectful of the area and leave things where you might find them. We’d also caution to not enter buildings as the floors may be weak. Also you might want to think about proper footgear as you are in the southwest where critters like to hide.
All images were captured with a pair of Sony A7rII and either a 24-70GM (Sandys lens of choice) and a Mitakon Speedmaster 85mm (Dons lens).  All images were processed using a combination of Capture One-9 and Topaz Labs filters.
Sandy & Don




Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Photographing Nightscapes

Valley of the Gods Utah
Sony A7r II Voigtlander 12mm f/ 5.6 25-seconds ISO 400
Near Tucson AZ
Sony A7rII Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 15-seconds ISO 1000
“Nightscape Photography” is the combination of landscape photography and the capturing of dark skies, sometimes with or without the Milky Way.
Near Tucson AZ
Sony A7rII Mitakon 50mm f/0.95 5-seconds ISO 1250
The past couple of months have been spent attempting to photograph nightscape images incorporating the Milky Way using various cameras at our disposal as well as different mounting and lenses.  Here’s what we’ve found so far…
Milky Way over Mexican Hat Rock NM
Sony A7rII Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8 10-seconds ISO 4000
Light painting near Tucson AZ
Sony A7rII Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8 10-seconds ISO 1250
First, your sleep pattern is blown to hell.  You need to be out at dusk in order to setup and then you wait.  If there are too many clouds in the sky you may as well pack in; likewise the moon.  If the moon is too bright you won’t be able to capture the dark skies as there aren’t any. You also need to be aware of the time the sun and moon set.  Recently we were in Shiprock NM and the moon was at 17% brightness which can be very bright if you’re trying to see a dark sky.  The good news was that it set 8 PM which allowed for several hours of darkness. 
Navajo Nation
Sony A7rII FE16-35 f/4 30-seconds ISO 2000
Milky Way over Shiprock NM
Sony A7rII FE24-70GM f/2.8 10-seconds ISO 2000
Milky Way over Mexican Hat Rock NM
Same file B&W or color
Another issue is light pollution. Light pollution from neighboring towns can become a real problem.  Mexican Hat Utah is a very small community yet has a lot of lights.  The good news is that just about all the lights go out shortly after 11PM.  Unlike Shiprock NM which is much larger and much brighter.  We waited well past 1AM and it was just as bright as earlier.
Milky Way over Shiprock NM with light pollution
Sony A7rII Voigtlander 21mm 30-seconds ISO 4000
shot using the iOptron SkyTracker

Milky Way over Shiprock NM with light pollution

Sony A7rII Voigtlander 21mm 20-seconds ISO 3200

shot using the iOptron SkyTracker


So what do you need equipment wise?  This is what we’ve learned so far.

A sturdy tripod along with a cable release so you aren’t touching the camera and introducing unwanted movements. 

You need or maybe a better way to express this, is want a wide lens.  Sandy has experimented using a 16-35 as well as a 24-70.  Both worked well enough however the next issue is how fast the lens is.  Both of these lenses are Sony, and the “fastest” setting is f/4.  That is until Sony released the new and vastly improved 24-70 GM f/2.8.  Sandy still has the 16-35 however she now has and loves the newer much faster 24-70 GM lens. 

The marriage of ISO (film speed) and lens coupled with shutter speed. 

When we began our quest Sandy had the older slower lenses.  The slower the lens the longer the shutter speed and the higher the ISO.  This combination brings problems.  The slower the shutter speed the more star movements.  The higher the ISO the more chance of noise.  Sandy captured a beautiful image of the Milky Way behind a windmill however it could have been much better with a faster lens that she now has.  This is how we learn.

Don on the other hand has been trying another method.

Attaching a camera on top of a telescope and allowing the built-in tracking to keep the camera orientated in the sky.  The first attempt using the medium format Phase One XF, 80-megapixel IQ180 digital back met with limited success; that success was so limited we’ve decided to abandon any further testing.

Next came the use of “star-trackers”.  These are instruments that are placed on top of a tripod with a camera attached.  These use the star Polaris to lock in your alignment.  The camera can be moved to any spot in the sky afterwards so long as you don’t move the tracker.  The trackers with proper alignment allows for much longer shutter speeds without the introduction of movements in the stars.

After trying and failing to capture nightscapes with medium format Don went back to using his Sony A7rII however with much faster lenses. So far he’s used a Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8 as well as the super-fast 50mm Mitakon f/0.95.

Setting up at Mexican Hat Rock NM
Using Vixen Optics Polarie-Star Tracker

Phase One XF/IQ180 and 35LS
on top of a 6" telescope
Using fast lenses allows for lower shutter speeds (as slow as 5-seconds) while using medium to higher ISO as low as ISO 500 to as high as 5000 without the introduction of noise.
Night sky over Mexican Hat NM
Sony A7rII Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8 13-seconds ISO 4000 
Milky Way over Mexican Hat NM
Sony A7rII, FE 24-70GM f/2.8 13-seconds ISO 2500
What we’ve also found that in using super-fast lenses is we don’t need to use a star tracker as we don’t normally exceed 20-seconds.  It seems 20-seconds is the threshold of star-movements.  Sandy will likely begin using a star tracker as the current fastest lens she has is f/2.8.
Equipment used to date. 
Really Right Stuff tripods one with a RRS Ballhead while the other doesn't need a ballhead. 
We have 2-trackers that we like.  The first one used is a Vixen Optics Polarie-Star Tracker that supports up to 4.4 lbs. (2 kg).  It operates on 2 AA batteries and is about the size of a large paperback book.
Our newest tracker is an iOptron SkyTracker which like the Vixen Optics operates on 2 AA batteries yet has a 7.7 pound (3.5 kg) payload.  This device is just as easy to setup and use as the Vixen Optics however it is slightly larger since the tripod attachment is built-in. 
Here are more sample images.
Milky Way over Mexican Hat Rock
Sony A7rII Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8 13-seconds ISO 2500
 Busy Sky over Valley of the Gods NM
Sony A7rII FE16-35 30-seconds ISO 2000
This is the first of a series on photographing nightscapes so stay tuned for more.
As always, thank you for allowing us to share.
Sandy & Don

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Catching up

Salton Sea California
Sony A7r II FE 24-70
Crescent City California
Sony A7r II 90mm
Near Crater Lake Oregon
Phase One XF, IQ180 and Schneider LS 40-80
It’s been about 120-days since we last posted and many things have happened.
We’ve done a lot of traveling since our last post using some new equipment.
Sunset at the Salton Sea
Phase One XF, IQ180 and Schneider LS 35
Near Crescent City California
Sony A7r II 90
Carmel California Sunset
Sony A7r II 70-200
Lets catch up on a couple items:
The KPS T5 geared ballhead we wrote about January 7th remains a hit having used it at the Salton Sea, San Francisco, Carmel by the Sea, California Redwoods, Death Valley, Valley of the Gods Utah, Monument Valley to mention just a few of the locations we’ve traveled to since our last post. Our travel schedule reminds us of the Johnny Cash song “I’ve Been Everywhere”.

San Francisco California
Phase One XF, IQ180 Schneider LS 40-80
Phase One XF, IQ180 Schneider 40-80
Japanese Tea Garden San Francisco California
Sony A7r II 24-70
While we’ve kept Face Book, Instagram and Twitter accounts up-to-date we’ve been lax in posting here. We hope to fix that with this post.
Dante's View Death Valley California
Phase One XF, IQ180 Schneider LS 75-150
Bombay Beach Salton Sea California
Phase One XF, IQ180 Schneider LS 35
Don has changed or better yet simplified his filter systems during this time.  Previously Don had to pack 2-complete systems for his medium format lens since neither Cokin nor Lee offered a system that would fit all his lenses.  The Lee SW150 fit his Mamiya 28mm however they hadn’t yet offered a 105mm ring for the Schneider 35LS or 40-80LS so he had to rely on the Cokin X-Pro system.  While both systems are equally good it was a problem packing 2-complete systems.  But no more since Lee began offering adaptor rings in 105mm.  Don is now using the Lee SW150 filter system on all his lenses ranging from 28mm to 240mm with great success.
Sony A7r II 24-70mm
Sony A7r II 16-35

Valley of the Gods
Sony A7r II 16-35
Valley of the Gods
Sony A7r II Mitakon 50 f/0.95

We’re including a lot of images here and will explain where each was taken as we go along.
We’ve just returned from Bluff Utah where we were shooting late night dark skies while scouting locations for a possible workshop next year.
Goosenecks State Park Mexican Hat Utah
Sony A7r II Voigtlander 12mm
Near Show Low Arizona
Sony A7r II 24-70
Monument Valley Utah
Sony A7r II 16-35
Monument Valley Utah
Sony A7r II Voigtlander 12mm

Don has picked up a Sony A7r II to add to his ever growing camera bag as well as a new Mitakon 85mm f/1.2 to add to his 50mm f/0.95.  Sandy will shortly be upgrading her 16-35 f/4 to the newer f/2.8 as well as replacing her older 24-70 f/4 for the new f/2.8 GM lens.
Seven Sailors Valley of the Gods Utah
Sony Ar7 II 24-70
Seven Sailors Valley of the Gods
Sony A7r II 24-70
Valley of the Gods
Sony A7r II 16-35
17-Room Ruin Bluff Utah
Sony A7r II 24-70
As you can see by the images we’ve been busy traveling seeing beautiful areas, visiting friends along the way and making new friends.  As always, thank you for allowing us to share our adventures.


Sandy & Don