Just returned from Moab. What a week! The first ever NightScaper Conference was a huge success. The conference covered everything from photography basics, to tracking mounts, to motion-controlled time-lapse photography, to marketing and sales tactics. Most importantly it brought together nightscape enthusiasts of all skill levels and planted the seed for an energetic and supportive community. I'll provide a few of the highlights below. One of the most exciting revelations of the conference was the announcement of the NightScaper Conference 2020! However, the official announcement has not been made publicly, so I'll just leave this as a teaser: the conference will be doubling in size and moving to a popular travel destination in the desert Southwest.
Christine Kenyon provided the perfect start to the conference with "Answers to Common Nightscape Questions". This provided a great overview of topics that would be covered in great detail throughout the next few days.
Clarence Spencer of Spencer's Camera and Photo gave a thorough look at astro-modified cameras. If you want to really bring out color in your Milky Way photos, you should definitely check them out. They also provide IR mods that can be used to create some really creative photos. David Hunter is a photographer I met at the conference that creates some really stunning pieces using an IR-modified camera. Check him out on Instagram (@photohntr).
Wayne Pinkston snagged a two-hour slot on Day 1 preaching the "landscape" in landscape astrophotography. He's a master of low-level lighting (LLL) and certainly knows how to make a night landscape come to life. A more eye-opening part of his presentation was on the benefits of very-high-ISO shots combined with tracking to reduce noise and retain more shadow detail in nightscapes. He regularly shoots at ISO's as high as 12800 and still produces beautiful, clean, low-noise photos. If you've been hesitant to push the ISO, just give it a shot.
Mike Shaw provided a brief overview of compositing and blending techniques in Photoshop. He also covered some fun techniques including his so-called "time travel" blends. All of his techniques are explained in his book that you can pick up on Amazon.
Brendon Porter and Aaron King of Photog Adventures provided a really fun and dynamic overview of the PhotoPills app. These guys are really entertaining, and if you haven't discovered them yet, you should definitely check them out. They've made a huge number of YouTube tutorials and conduct in-field workshops as well.
Finally, Eric Gail provided a detailed look at some software tools that are essential for nightscape photographers. On Day 1, Eric covered the Gaia GPS app. I've used other navigation apps, but Gaia is now my go-to. It's very easy to use and the free maps are the best I've seen. On Day 2, Eric covered how to use Google Earth to plan you nightscape shots. In many popular places around the globe, Google Earth has 3D landscape renderings that make scouting from your couch a breeze.
Vince Warner kicked of Day 2 with an overview of tripods and heads. Vince's company Field Optics Research is relatively new to the game. They specialize in outdoor and sport optics accessories and have created some really unique products, including tripods with legs that can be converted into trekking poles (mind blown!). Being new to the game, they've been able to capitalize on the work by some of the big boys in the game (RRS, Manfrotto, etc.). Now they offer tripods that rival RRS for a fraction of the price. I'll definitely be checking them out for my next tripod purchase.
Royce Bair, the original mac daddy of nightscapes gave a great presentation on nightscape photography and low-level lighting (LLL). He also shared some of his favorite products for night photography. Royce shares most of this information is his eBook. If you're into nightscape photography, you need to read it.
Mike Berenson of Night Photography Workshop LLC gave one of the best presentations of the conference: "Stacking, Tracking, and Blending, Oh My!". He was brave enough to do a live demo of stacking and blending in his 50-minute time slot. (Cojones!)
Joyce Harman and Bettymaya Foott provided information on the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and the importance of protecting our communities from light pollution. Joyce provided an overview of a grant project she's pursued in Rappahannock County, Virginia, where she used nightscape photographs of local homes and businesses to educate her community on the effects of light pollution. I'll say as an east-coaster, it's critical that we protect the few remaining dark-sky locations we have left. Definitely check out the IDA and get involved!
Shreenivasan ("Shreeni") Manievannan showed us the capabilities of the latest GoPro cameras to take nightscape photos. A camera that costs only a few hundred dollars with this capability (raw capture, ISO up to 6400) is really remarkable. This opens up nightscape photography to so many people around the globe.
Eric Benedetti, a master of tracking mounts, showed us what you can do with tracked nightscapes. Have you ever wanted to use something besides a wide-angle lens for nightscapes? How about 50mm? How about 135mm? Screw it, how about a 500mm refractor telescope? A tracking mount is about the only way these types of shots are possible. Eric provided an overview of a couple products he uses as well as some examples of his work. In the photographer's toolkit, a tracking mount is a relatively affordable investment to improve the quality of nightscapes.
David Swindler of Action Photo Tours provided an overview of post-processing tips for nightscape photography, including some Lightroom basics and blending techniques in Photoshop. I also participated in David's post-processing workshop which I'm sure will take my artwork to another level. David's company also offers workshops and Skype conferences if you ever need some tips.
The conference wrapped up with Ryan Smith giving an inspirational presentation on marketing and sales tactics for photographers: "A Picture is Worth a Thousand... $$$ DOLLARS $$$". What a way to wrap up the conference, showing us the potential we have as artists! Ryan told us his personal story of becoming a professional print photographer and encouraged us to maintain high standards and value our work.
While I could go on and on about my experience at the NightScaper Conference, this post is getting a little lengthy, so I'll leave it here. I'll have follow-ups about my in-field workshops with Christine Kenyon and Wayne Pinkston, but I need to get through some photo edits before I share. Please, please, please check out the links for all of the presenters. One of the best ways for an artist to get attention is by clicks and shares on social media. I guarantee you'll find at least one new person to follow.
Christine Kenyon (@christinekenyonphoto)
Spencer's Camera and Photo (@spencerscamera)
Wayne Pinkston (@wayne_pinkston)
Mike Shaw (@mikeshawphotography)
Photog Adventures (@photogadventures)
Eric Gail (@ericgailphotodude)
Field Optics Research (@fieldopticsresearch)
Royce Bair (@roycebairphoto)
David Hunter (@photohntr)
Mike Berenson (@mikeberenson)
Ron Risman (@timeographer)
Joyce Harman (@harmanjoyce)
Bettymaya Foott (@bettymaya.foott)
International Dark-Sky Assoc. (@idadarksky)
Shreenivasan Manievannan (@shreeniclix)
Eric Benedetti (@erictheastrojunkie)
David Swindler (@actionphototours)
Ryan Smith (@ryansmithfineartphoto)