Ah, August. I’m melting.


I’m back from vacation and have almost managed to survive the first week back at work. It wasn’t even a full week, it was four days — but that didn’t stop it from feeling like forever. A week of vacation isn’t enough!

This was my second year going to the Maine Astronomy Retreat. I still haven’t reviewed all of my photos, but I do have some Moon shots and Milky Way shots that are nice. I was surprised at how relatively easy it is to get a photo of the galaxy or Moon, but how difficult it is to get them in focus. You’d think that taking pictures of stars you’d just set the camera to infinity, right? Yeah, it doesn’t work like that.

It’s become obvious that I need some kind of focusing aid for astrophotography. No matter if I look through the eyepiece or at the live view display on my camera (a Sony alpha 7), the stars are just so dark and tiny that I can’t see anything well enough to set the focus. I basically have to take a picture and review it and keep twiddling the focusing ring until I get something. But even that is difficult; I can’t see the focusing ring without a light, I can’t tell by touch how far I’m moving it, and it’s very hard to move the focusing ring in tiny increments. Plus, the Earth spins pretty darn quickly, and any exposure that’s too long results in streaks known as star trails (which in my case look like Good ‘n Plenty-shaped lozenges).

Since I’ve been approved as a Shutterstock contributor, I’ve uploaded about seven photos. If my star photos are good they might end up there, otherwise, I’ll post a few in the next blog post. And, on to the weekend. Seems like a good time to avoid the heat and humidity and hole up in the A/C and look at photos. Stay cool, readers!

Almost Vacation

Writing is a long, hard slog this year. Work has been so difficult that when I have time off I just can’t bear to sit at the computer and do any more thinking. I feel like all of my creative energy, and the desire to do anything, has been sucked out of my soul.

But my vacation starts at the end of next week, so I’m hoping a week away from the insanity will restore some mental energy and I’ll be ready to pick back up on some projects. My steampunk story for Corrugated Sky’s second anthology is at the editing stage, and we’re expecting to get the book out in the next month or so. In other news, I’ve been approved for Shutterstock and and I have uploaded five images so far.

F-stops and All That

I’ve been wanting to get back into photography for quite awhile, but between work and work and more work I’ve been so creatively drained that’s it’s been a major chore even to finish reading a novel, for crying out loud. Well, no more. I signed up with Shutterstock to do some stock photography work. That was something I considered years ago, but the business model required so much time that I wasn’t able to meet the Big Guys’ specifications (travel, submit hundreds of photos at a time, etc.).

The business model has changed a lot in the last few years, and now there’s something called microstock photography. You don’t have to be a full-time photographer or submit hundreds of images — but of course, you still need to submit good work. By giving myself a “job” I will spend more time with my photography. I haven’t uploaded any images yet as I’m still filling out some paperwork and I need time to go through my portfolio and decide what will make good stock photography. Since I have some background in editorial work I have a bit of an idea what to expect, and I hope that works for me.

Approaching photography with the idea of purposely shooting stock means that I will also spend some time coming up with compositions. I don’t expect to do portraits or events; landscapes, buildings, and things that don’t move are more to my liking. I spent a season at a ski resort in New Hampshire taking photos of skiers and snowboarders, and it was pretty hard to get everyone posed without having them slide down the mountain while I was fiddling around with aperture settings!

So, I’m off to read up about stock photography (and get sidetracked reading about new camera gear and camera bags). I’ll be going to the Maine Astronomy Retreat at the end of July, and I’m hoping to have some more Milky Way photos that maybe I can turn into works of art or at least earn enough to buy myself a cup of coffee. So, I’m off to charge my camera batteries and scout out things around the house that would be interesting subjects for some still life compositions.

Lights, Camera … Subject?

I bought a photography table tent a few weeks ago and a pair of tabletop LED lights to use with it. The lights were very inexpensive so I didn’t expect very much from them, but they produce quite a bit of light and are small and easy to use. The lights came with blue and yellow plastic filters that fit over the light, but let’s face it, I’m never satisfied with just two colors of art supplies! Are you?

So immediately I went looking online to see what else I could find — never mind the fact that I have no immediate use for these things. The filter gels, which is what they’re called, averaged about $12 for a sheet, but my lights are very small and I don’t have a need for a large square filter. I found a Roscolux sample book and ordered that. If I could cut out one of the samples and fit it over my lights, that would be great, but if not then at least I would have actual samples of the gel colors. Then, if I want to buy larger sheets later on, I’ll know what colors to order.

I’ve done traditional photography and darkroom work, so filters are nothing new to me. I still have a collection of Cokin and Tiffin filters that I use occasionally (hey, not everything has to be Photoshop!) but they won’t fit my new lights without being cut down and I don’t want to ruin them. So, here are some photos of my lighting adventure.

Here is the LED lamp. There is a gap between the white bulb and the black lamp housing, which is a bit difficult to see in this photo. The bulb I want to cover with the filter is just over an inch and a half wide. You can see the blue and yellow plastic filters that came with the lamps in the background, and that black ring top right (also shown below) is what screws over the lamp to hold the filters in place.


And this is a close-up of the ring for the housing. I really only need to cover the opening with any new filter or gel that I use, although the lamp housing will accommodate something up to about 2 inches.

Here’s the yellow plastic filter that came with the lamps. It measures about 2 inches across so it’s wider than the opening in the housing ring. I cut one of the Roscolux samples out of the book (actually not the whole piece, but about three-quarters of it) and placed it over the yellow plastic filter to compare sizes. I marked where the gel was too large and cut off the corners (not shown) so it would fit the lamp housing.


Well, it’s close! The red Roscolux sample gel is narrower than the yellow plastic filter, and here’s what it looks like when the lamp housing is assembled with the gel in place. Although the red gel doesn’t entirely fill the space inside the ring, crucially, all of the LEDs are covered. When I tried the lamp, it worked wonders. The white photography tent lit up like some demonic Halloween world, blood red and spooky and very, very bright. And that was with only one colored lamp!

So, it’s possible for me to use my samples for some actual photography, although I’ll need a second sample book to cover both lamps. If I buy larger photo lights I will need to purchase entire gel sheets, but for now, this is fine for experiments. I have my lights, and my camera. But now, I just need a good subject …