Chasing the Solar Eclipse of a Lifetime

Gene Robertson Blog

On August 21, 2017, the Great American Solar Eclipse became a reality as millions of people across the United States had the opportunity to see a Solar Eclipse. For me, the last one in my lifetime was in 1979, which I was only 13 years old, and quite frankly, back then I think I cared less about it. Fast forward to 2017.

I had been planning this celestial event for well over a year, plotting a course that would take me into Nebraska to be as close as I could to the totality path. My initial location to view the eclipse was north of Kearney, Nebraska where I found an old abandoned schoolhouse that I was planning to use as  my backdrop for the photo. All that needed to happen was for the day to arrive and we would be on our way to our target location.

Prior to the event, I began researching what I needed to be able to take photos of the eclipse in its various stages. Lat year, I purchased a set of Tiffen Pro 100 Camera filters. These filters are a must have for any landscape photography that you will ever do, as the offer a great deal of flexibility and ease in their assembly. While a basic screw-on filter would have sufficed for this endeavor, I felt the need to make sure that I had a dark enough filter to see the eclipse. I chose to use the 10 stop long exposure filter, even though I was only taking photos in moments of milliseconds. You can see these filters at their website, https://tiffen.com/pro100/. 

Being that I am also a storm chaser, about 1 week prior to the eclipse, I began to watch the weather models for any anomalies that would throw a wrench into our plans for travel to Nebraska. The models kept hinting at a storm system that would stream cloud cover over our target area, and with each run, it was becoming more and more apparent that this would be the case. Our trek to see this event was taken by myself, my wife, and fellow photographers Adam Shrimplin and Jake Thompson.  A few days before the event, it was decided that we were going to abandon our original destination and move further west into the Nebraska Panhandle.

We departed Garden City at 05:00 am to begin our 5 – 1/2 hour journey to Nebraska. We diligently watched the skies and as the sun rose that morning, it gave way to clear skies as we crossed into Nebraska from Kansas. Our initial stop was in Ogallala, Nebraska, of Interstate 80. As we approached North Platte, we began to see signs of low stratus clouds that were forming in the lower levels of the atmosphere. We proceeded west to Ogallala and arrived there around 10:30am. After stopping for fuel and something to eat, we began to proceed north towards Hyannis, which was on the line of greatest totality (2 minutes 30 seconds). Upon driving north, we began to encounter more and more low clouds, with no breaks in the overcast to see the sun.

After stopping to evaluate the sky cover situation, it was noted on the visible satellite loop that there were clear skies about 50 miles to our west. We proceeded towards Bridgeport with the intent to head towards Alliance. We decided to detour north in Broadwater, Nebraska and follow the country road north into the path of totality. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to us, the road leading to Alliance from this point was closed to local traffic only. We stopped next to a field and set up for the eclipse knowing we only had 1 minute 30 seconds of totality at this location. There were not many folks on this road, so we had plenty of opportunity to get set up to witness the show. The eclipse was already in progress when we arrived and we had less than an hour to prepare for totality. My camera of choice was my go to camera, my Canon 6D. It is quite the workhorse and I have been very pleased with it performance over the course of the years that I have been using it. I truly love its functionality and versatility for a full frame camera. This camera is my go-to camera for everything I shoot. In order top get my close up photos, I used my Canon 70-200 2.8 lens with a Canon 2x teleconverter to give me a focal length of 400 mm. Unfortunately, by using the converter, I lost 2 stops of light and was actually shooting at F5.6. I placed my Tiffen 10 stop ND filter onto the lense and began to shoot.

Camera setting were adjustable the closer to the time of totality. I began shooting the partial eclipse at ISO 200, F5.6 @ 1 second. This allowed just enough light into the camera to catch the stages of the partial eclipse. One thing that you have to take away from this. The sun is moving and the moon is moving. You will have to adjust your camera location multiple times in order to track this movement. I did not have a sky tracking device on my tripod, so everything went manually.

It was truly an eerie feeling as the moon approached totality across the sun as the sky started getting darker, as if looking through sunglasses. Considering that this was possibly the only time in my ;life that I would witness such an event, it was very surreal. I can only imagine what our predecessors in our country thought was this celestial event unfolded back in the day before technology. Fears of the world coming to an end as the skies darkened during the daytime could only instill fear into those who witnessed it before our lifetime.

As totality approached, we had to prepare to remove our filters to capture the coronal effect of the sun’s flares behind the moon. As a photographer, there is not a lot of training that you can do to prepare for such an event. I tried to research articles on best settings for the camera during totality, but decided to “wing it” and work with what I already knew. The last bits of light were starting to fade from the sky as we removed our filters to witness the total eclipse. Totality had arrived! We only had 1 minute and 30 seconds to get it right. I began to take a multitude of photos at different settings quickly before the sun appeared again, all the while taking in the surroundings or crickets chirping and a 360 degree sunset. The temperature dropped about 10 degrees at our location. What an awe inspiring sight to see with the naked eye! There are and were a lot of people in this new generation who had never witnessed such a sight! Watching the corona light dance around the rim of the moon was something of fairy tales of what you would read in a science fiction novel.

Shortly thereafter, the sun began to emerge from the back of the moon. The filters went back on the cameras and we began to take photos of the last phases of the eclipse. We began our journey back home around 12:30 pm. We stopped for a quick bite to eat at a favorite Bar & Grill in Goodland Kansas which my wife and I had frequented on a few of our storm chasing expeditions. If ever in Goodland, we recommend the Crazy R Bar & Grill on Main Street. If you have a hearty appetite, this place has some good eats including my favorite… Deep Fried Bacon!

I await the 2024 Eclipse in Dallas Texas and hopefully I am still around for the 2045 eclipse in southwest Kansas. That one will be very special, as it will be close to home with the path of totality line only 25 miles to my south. It is understood that the totality may last over 5 minutes.

Follow me on my Facebook page and leave a comment here. Let me know what you experienced during the eclipse. I would love to hear your story and how it affected you!

 

 

 

Sunset Bridal Session at Monument Rocks, Kansas

Cindy’s Bridal Session – Monument Rocks, Kansas

Gene Robertson Blog

Recently, I had the opportunity to photograph a bride-to-be in one of the most spectacular places in Western Kansas. Monument Rock lies about an hour or so north of our studio in Garden City. Although it lies on private property, permission is not needed to visit the sight during the daytime and evening hours. Known as the Chalk Pyramids, these formations wereMonument Rocks at Sunset, Gove County, Kansas created approximately 80 million years ago when this part of Kansas was a vast sea. This location has become a favorite of local and traveling photographers as these formations rise above the High Plains of western Kansas owing to becoming backdrops for some of the most stunning sunsets that Kansas is known for.

In trying to create art within my photography, all of my bridal clients receive a sunset photo session with their booking. I want to give the bride-to-be an opportunity to model her dress before the wedding, and provide a spectacular session that the groom will treasure for years to come. Western Kansas and the central High Plains provide me a lot of opportunities to capture these sunset session, from golden wheat fields and dilapidated barns to the rising formations of Monument Rocks. We even traveled to Crested Butte, Colorado to capture an engagement session 9500 feet in the mountains along a pristine waterfall. The beauty of this part of the country is like no other, and even gets better further west into New Mexico and Utah.

Cindy, my client, contacted me to capture her wedding but was on a budget. She knew she wanted professional photos done. We sat down and came to an agreement as to what her needs and wants were, as well as her expectations. I feel that no one should have to go without photos on their special day, so we devised a budget that would give her these special photos. That was the easy part. The hard part would be trying to find the right sky conditions to capture the pre-wedding session, as the weather pattern for western Kansas was locked into a northwest flow, allowing for storms about every other day somewhere in the High Plains. The evening of the session was quite concerning to me as there was a thunderstorm in northeast Colorado, with high clouds streaming southeast. I knew we had limited time to get set up and make this work.

I brought a variety of equipment for the session, not sure of what I would use or need, but kept thinking of fresh ideas to utilize the equipment to its potential as well as try out a new piece of equipment that I had recently purchased. For most of my outdoor sessions, I use a speed-lite in a softbox. The softbox is great for low light conditions as well as a filler for shaded areas. I have several different softboxes that I use, both made by Westcott. Knowing that I needed a good strong flash, I chose to use one of my Westcott Strobe-lite Plus studio strobes with a 43″ Apollo Orb Octobox. Powering the strobe was my new Paul C. Buff Vagabond Mini battery pack. We were able to move around the location with ease, aside from fighting  bit of a wind, which is typical of this part of Kansas.

Cindy got into her dress and we began our session which lasted about an hour and a half. She looked radiant and stunning, just as a bride to be should. The equipment performed better than my best expectations. We used various locations on the site to capture the moments. This session was one of the most satisfying as a professional photographer. My client was excited to have her photos done and worked well with us to create the end results below. The wedding was just as beautiful, and her groom was in awe of the photos we did for this session.

If you have a wedding coming up or know someone who does, please have them consult with me. I would be happy to provide them with these one of a kind photos that they will cherish for years to come.

 

Sunset Bridal Session at Monument Rocks, KansasSunset Bridal Session at Monument Rocks, KansasMounument Rocks Pre Wedding Session

Lightning Photography – How to Master as a Beginner

Gene Robertson Blog

One of my favorite photography passions is weather photography. This is one of the areas in which I first got started in photography, along with other types of landscape portraiture. Lightning Photography can be very challenging, but even if you are a beginner, this is something you can very easily master. The key is to be at the right place for the storm and be prepared to move with the storm for optimal viewing as well as having a good background or foreground. First off, let’s get into the lightning aspect and the different type of lightning.

Lightning is a static discharge from within a thunderstorm. If the lightning is close enough, it will be followed by a clap of thunder as the air around the lightning strike is super heated creating the thunder shock-wave. Lightning comes in several types:

  1. CG – Cloud to Ground
  2. CC – Cloud to Cloud
  3. CA – Cloud to Air
  4. IC – Intra Cloud

Selden Kansas SupercellOf these 4 types of lightning, the Cloud to Ground lightning is the most popular to photograph and if you time your exposure the right way, you could end up with Staccato Lightning, which is a single flash bolt with lots of branching. This photo of a form of staccato lightning was taken  near Selden, Kansas just shortly after sunset. This supercell did not have a lot of intra cloud lightning within its structure and gave quite a show to me through the evening and into the early part of the night. Once you learn how to manipulate your camera and capture these types of lightning strikes, you can very easily transition into other type of lightning photography and begin to master your images. Lightning can happen any time of the year, if the conditions are right for thunderstorm development. Typically, the most prolific lightning can be seen during the late spring and summer months, when thunderstorms have much more energy from the heated atmosphere. That is not to say that you cannot get something in the winter months, if the conditions are right.

SAFETY. Now that you have an understanding on the types of lightning, your safety and the safety of others who are photographing are of the utmost importance. Lightning can strike 15 miles outside of a parent thunderstorm if conditions are right. This is what is know ans a “Bolt form the Blue” Make sure that when you are photographing lightning, that you are not the tallest object around. So, when are you too close? That is a hard question to answer. You must use your own judgement and make that determination. I tend to get a bit nervous when I am out photographing and the lightning and thunder are simultaneous. That is my cue to move further away from the storm to get out in front of it. Doing this type of photography professionally , you do inherit certain risks, as you would with anything you do, including driving down the street. Be cognizant of your surroundings, and if you feel uncomfortable about your location, by all means move away and reposition. If you feel your hair standing up or get a tingling sensation, chances are you are a target for a lightning strike and you need to leave the area. I am by no means advocating that you do this type of photography, but if you choose to, you do at your own risk.

EQUIPMENT. Your camera equipment is the key to getting a successful photo, but you do not need a high-end expensive camera to get the job done. I started doing lightning photography with a Canon T3 and a standard kit lens. Since then I have upgraded to a Canon 6D and a Canon 5D Mark II with 3 different “L” lenses that Canon offers. I shoot with a Canon 17-40 (2.8), 24-70 (2.8) and a 70-200 (2.8). These lenses give me great depth of field to either go wide angle or zoom depending on the subject matter that I want the lightning to have in its background or foreground. When it comes to cameras, please remember that your basic point and shoot may not work for this type of photography due to not being able to manipulate the camera manually with regards to your ISO, F-Stop and exposure duration. Here is a list of what you need to start capturing lightning:

  1. DSLR Camera with various lenses. 
  2. Tripod. (A must have to keep a steady shot)
  3. Remote Shutter Release. (This will keep your finger off the shutter button thus preventing camera shake.)
  4. Lightning Trigger. (This is optional. Lightning triggers such as Pluto Trigger, MIOPS, or the Lightning Trigger brand by Stepping Stone do work to capture lightning by automatically operating the camera shutter once a lighting flash is detected by the trigger sensor.)
  5. PATIENCE! Patience is the one thing that you will have to have in order to get a great shot with excellent composure. Watching the storms will clue you in to keys to look for in order to capture these photos.

SETTINGS. In reality, it took me quite a while to get the hang of finding the perfect camera settings in order to capture lightning the way I wanted to. If there is one thing to take away from this blog, that one thing is that you will have over exposed shots at times. I am not saying it will happen all the time, but once you begin to experiment with the manual setting of your camera, you will develop and remember key settings through trial and error that will get you to where you need to be. Do not think that you have to have your ISO set very high in order to capture lightning. This is the one mistake I initially made and found out how to correct it. Lightning flashes are extremely bright, and especially more so when they are closer to you. In learning photography so many years ago, one thing I was taught was that when it it dark outside, you need to bring the ISO up to allow more exposure. With lightning photography, a higher ISO setting will increase your chances of over exposing the lightning flash ans therefore “blowing out” the picture altogether. But using the right combination of settings, you will be able to better equip yourself for getting the perfect shot. I initially photographed lightning manually just using the camera, tripod and remote shutter release. I purchased a trigger several years ago from Stepping Stone Products in Colorado after seeing their booth at a storm chasing convention. www.lightningtrigger.com. The trigger cost me around $330 and I got about 4 years use out of it before I sold it to another photographer and went back to manually shooting. I recently purchased a Pluto Trigger https:\\plutotrigger.com through Amazon ($119) but have yet to use it for lightning. I will do a product review of it for a future blog. With using the trigger, you will have to follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for camera setting in order for the trigger’s sensor to capture the strike or flash. Each camera setting is different with each individual trigger.

What works for me is the following settings:

  1. ISO – 100 to 200 (the lower the better)
  2. F/Stop – F 9 to F 11 is a good range to start in. Don’t get frustrated if the lightning looks to dark, it still may be too far away. Decreasing your F/Stop below   F 9 will increase your chances for blowing out the lightning and over exposing the shot.
  3. Exposure – This is a tricky one. It all depends on what you want to accomplish and what time of day it is. Capturing daytime lightning can be accomplished, but it is very hard to see the branching of the Staccato lightning during the daytime. I tend to shoot closer to sundown and after dark to really make the pictures stand out. If the lightning is close and at twilight, I will typically set my exposure to 1 or 2 seconds. As it gets dark, I increase the exposure time anywhere from 15 seconds to 30 seconds. Again, these are just rules of thumb as to what has worked with me in the past and what currently works for me now. It is all trial and error.

Post Processing. Now that you have gone out and taken over 200 photos of lightning, some with strikes and some without, what comes next? I tend to be very selective of my photos in order to tell a story with them as to what I witnessed. Any of the photos that were dark due to no lightning activity, or photos that were over exposed due to close proximity to the strike, I delete immediately. This leaves me my shots that I want to create either as individual art or as time lapsed art Lightning Photography G. Robertson Photographyto show movement over time for a particular area. I post process everything in Photoshop CC 2017 with Topaz Labs software. The photograph shown here was taken just west of Ashland, Kansas about a month ago. This storm initiated near Copeland, Kansas and traveled southeast over time. I parked my vehicle on a hill that overlooked the valley to the north and west. The sun was just setting behind the storms, giving way to the orange tint on the horizon. I was not the tallest object around, as there was a cell tower immediately to my west and about 100 yards from me. The lightning here was roughly 2 miles away. I left my camera in the same focal depth of field and did not move it. The lightning captured was at 2 second intervals. I stacked the photos in Photoshop using the stack images tab and then used the “lighten” button to bring each strike into frame. This picture is 10 stacked images composed into one image showing how much lightning was striking the ground in 20 seconds. (10 pictures @ 2 second exposures) Your post processing techniques can be dome in Lightroom, Photoshop, or whatever photo editing software you have in your computer. The link to the Topaz software is www.topazlabs.com

With time, patience, the right equipment and a little bit of luck, you can create stunning lighting photography. For more information on how to accomplish these photos for yourself, please feel free to contact me here on my blog site or through my website, www.grobertsonphotography.com. Good luck and get out there and have fun with photography.

 

Hiring the Right Photographer

Gene Robertson Blog

As a professional photographer, it is my job to capture the right moments at the right times. Sadly, and all too often, I hear from our clients who had unfortunate dealings with other photographers on not getting what they “paid” for. When you hire a photographer, whether it be for family portraits, a wedding, high school senior photos, or for whatever occasion, you need to ask yourself some questions and inquire on the photographer or photographers you have in mind.

  1. Are you on a budget? Believe it or not, I do get asked what my best price offer is. My pricing is set and I typically do not fudge from it unless I am running a special for a type of event or holiday. If you believe in the old saying “You Get What You Pay For”, this could get you into a sticky situation when the photographer you hired to do your event or session doesn’t live up to your standards.
  2. Does your photographer have a portfolio? Most professional photographers have a website where you can look at their work in the different types of photography disciplines they offer. With the advent of social media, some photographers have taken to Facebook and Twitter to branch out to a wider client base. Most if not all photographers will be happy to show you their work. They want your business and make you happy.
  3. How long has your photographer been in business? This question is key to finding the right photographer for your special session. Just because Jane received a new camera for Christmas, doesn’t mean she is a photographer. A photographer spends a lot of hours learning through instruction on how to make that photo come alive. Anyone can buy a DSLR camera, put it on Auto Shooting Mode, press the button and take a picture. But, do they know how ISO works? Are they familiar with F-stops and Apertures? Do they know the Rule of Thirds? In order to be a great photographer, we have to know all of the intricate details of our camera to make things happen. Pointing and shooting and using a pop up flash doesn’t work. It is these type of photographers you want to avoid.
  4. Are there any hidden costs? Ask your photographer this question! Recently, I had a client ask me this and when I told her that I didn’t, she replied, “Thank You!” In listening to her story, she explained that she contacted a photographer to do a family session for her. She and the photographer met to discuss the session, and my client was charged $80.00 for a consultation fee. Please check with whomever you hire and ask about this. Some photographers charge for a sitting fee per person after “X” amount of people.

There are different types of photographers that do different types of work. Some may have indoor studios, while others typically use the outdoors as their backdrop. While there is nothing wrong with either, it really depends on the type of session you are wanting and what you intend to have captured. Research the prospective photographer and ask questions. Most photographers for larger events such as weddings, will have you sign a contract. Read it thoroughly. Make sure that you are getting everything you want. Once the session is done, you may not have a chance to have a do-over.

Professional photographers spend a lot of time prepping and editing your session. Be patient with them but stay in contact. Most will offer you a “sneak peek” of the session, (at least I do!). Editing over 1000 pictures for a wedding takes time. Some smaller session will typically take less time. If the photographer you choose does an outstanding job, word of mouth referrals is their best friend. Make sure you refer them to friends and family. You will be glad you did!