• Deep Sky Astrophotography Without a Telescope: A Primer

    Ever since I was a young kid and my parents bought me a copy of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos on DVD I have had an inescapable fascination with space and astronomy. This fascination has been central to developing my beliefs and philosophy on life, and has always provided me a grounding perspective when things become stressful or overwhelming in my work or personal life. With the advent of modern, high performance photographic equipment it has become possible for average joes like me to explore the universe and create images that just a decade ago, only astronomers with access to the most advanced equipment were privy to. This has resulted in magnificent images being created by hobbyists from all over the world.

    Deep Sky Astrophotography is definitely one of the most difficult, frustrating and time consuming fields of photography. All the toiling, cold nights huddled in the dark have the effect of dissuading many novices from dedicating the time needed to accumulate the “data”, often hundreds of single pictures needed to compile a quality image of deep sky objects. While it may not be easy, and frustration is inherent, once one achieves a quality result, the gratification is enormous and instantly addicting. 

    I’d like to share with you a bit of the process involved with deep sky astrophotography, as well as my, so far, moderately successful results. This guide assumes a basic understanding of camera settings and image editing software. If you only use your camera in automatic mode, you may find this guide a bit too complex.

    When first committing to taking these kinds of images, four major pieces of equipment are needed to achieve optimum results.

    1: A quality DSLR style camera, with a remote shutter release. Canon, Nikon, Pentax, any brand will work. The camera will preferably be of the full frame variety, with a 35mm equivalent sensor, but these tend to be expensive, and many people (including me) cannot afford one. I use a Nikon D7000, which is a high end APS-C size sensor camera. Basically, the better the quality of the camera, the less “noise” or grain will be generated in your image, resulting in crisper, clearer final results. 

    2: A “fast”, or large aperture telephoto lens. For the lens, it is best to have an aperture of f2.8 or lower and a focal length of at least 100mm, although 200-400mm is ideal. I use an old Nikkor 105mm f2.5 lens I found at a garage sale, although I really wish I had a longer lens like a 300mm f2.8, but those are $6000 so I may have to hold off there for a while :)

    3: A high quality tripod. I use this Slik Tripod, which is solid as a rock, and the best I have seen in the price range. The only downside is that this tripod is rather heavy, which may be an issue for some.

    4: A computer with an image editing program such as Adobe Lightroom 5 or Adobe Photoshop CS6, and an image stacking program like Deep Sky Stacker. Both of these programs will be used to process the data from your camera. 

    The lens, while being an important piece of equipment, can be very costly. Do not shy away from trying these techniques if you only have a “kit lens” or a cheap telephoto. You can still get good results, and when you do get a fancy new lens in the future, you will already be ahead of the game and know what you are doing. With that being said, let’s get to shooting! In astrophotography, we are never at a loss for subjects, but let’s start with an “easy” subject:

    M31 The Andromeda Galaxy

    Picture saved with settings embedded.

    This image is the result of 90 separate 3 second exposures totaling 270 seconds of shutter open time. I put my camera onto a tripod. Located the Andromeda galaxy using the wonderful Google Sky Maps App on my smartphone and centered the camera on the subject. Putting my camera in manual mode, and making sure I am set to take RAW images, I set my ISO to 1200 (the highest I am comfortable going before the images become too “noisy” or grainy, this will depend on your particular camera model). I also put my camera in remote shutter mode and make sure my remote shutter release is handy.

    Since the Earth rotates causing the stars move across the sky, you can only expose for a certain amount of time before you will see them streak in your image. How long you can expose depends on the focal length of the lens you are using. The more zoomed in you are, the shorter you can successfully expose before the stars begin to trail. A good rule of thumb is to take 400 and divide it by your focal length. 400/105= ~4 seconds. This rule is not set in stone, and your mileage may vary depending on where in the sky you are shooting and other factors. 

    With my settings ready, I now ensure my focus. I find the best way to do this is to put the camera into live view and digitally zoom into the image on the back of the screen. Find a bright star and gingerly adjust the focus ring on your lens until you think the focus is correct. This takes patience and practice, and is arguably the most important step in the process, so do not rush this step.

    Once a good focus is achieved, it is time to take the first test image. Ensure your subject is centered, and your lens is at it’s widest aperture (you may want to step down one stop for sharper focus, this is up to you) and release the shutter with your remote. Once the exposure is done, review the image on the cameras LCD screen. Zoom in and make sure there is no trailing, and that your focus is sharp. Your image should look something like this:


    Not too exciting, but we’re on the right track. If everything looks good, it’s time to take all of your exposures. Take pictures in succession, the more the better. Take as many as you can until the object noticeably changes position on the screen. If you have a long telephoto lens, the object will move rather quickly. Re adjust the camera so that the object is centered again, and continue shooting. Repeat this as many times as you desire, again, the more the better here.

    Once you have taken a good number of exposures (100 is a good starting goal) it is time to take some funny pictures called darks, flats and biases. These are used by the stacking program to determine the unique performance and imperfections of your particular sensor. Basically they cancel the imperfections that are apparent in all camera sensors by allowing the program to recognize them and compensate for them. 

    Dark frames are taken using the same settings as your above exposures, but with the lens cap on, so no light reaches the sensor. take ten of these.

    Bias frames are taken using the highest possible shutter speed (usually 1/8000th or 1/4000th of a second) and the lowest possible ISO (usually 100) with the lens cap on. Take ten of these as well.

    Flat frames are uniformly exposed images. They can be taken many different ways. A good way to take these frames is to pull a white t shirt tightly over your lens and focus at infinity. Find a uniform light sourceand adjust the exposure time until you achieve a uniformly gray image. Take ten of these.

    Whew! That was a lot of work! Well, the “hard” part is over. Now we move on to the computer end of the process. I will try in the future to do a write up on proper techniques and practices in the Deep Sky Stacker program. But for now, I will link you to this easy to follow tutorial by Doug German on youtube. DSS is a VERY complex program, and resembles the processing algorithms used by NASA for images from the Hubble Telescope, but mere mortals such as we can scrape by using many of the automatically generated settings. Doug German goes just deep enough to get good results without jumping into the deep end and being to too complex. You should get good results using his method.

    Once you have an image generated by DSS and have adjusted the histogram as shown at the end of the video, it’s time to do the final touches. Don’t worry if DSS gives you  a very dark picture on export. I nearly lost it and gave up when I saw my final image was barely visible! This is normal! 

    Open up Adobe Lightroom, or Photoshop. Adjust the exposure, contrast, and do some noise reduction. You can also do some selective color and white balance adjustments. This is the fun part! Mess around with applicable settings and see what looks good to YOU. You are allowed to go crazy. All of the amazing astro images you see on the net are various levels of edited. Some are totally overboard, while others are more reserved. This is where you can put your personal touch on the beauty of the universe and is the most rewarding and gratifying process I have ever encountered in photography.

    I hope at least a few people out there find this little guide useful. Please leave a comment or ask any questions you may have in the comments. Thank you for reading!

  • Back Online! From The Micro to the Macro

    Hello everyone. You’ll have to excuse the website being down for the past few months.  A few financial issues, and the general ineptitude of my hosting company led to a mixup, and a large amount of frustration on my side. But I’m back, and have some interesting plans for new content. I’ll be posting more about two fields of photography I find most interesting, Macro Photography, and Astrophotography. I will be posting tutorials on how to create photos of the incredibly small, to the unfathomably large. I hope to share my passion for finding new ways to highlight and observe the world around us through photography.

    Leaf VeinsLone Wanderer

  • Long exposure photography, with a programmable LED strip

    Yet another new photography project, I think I have the photographical equivalent of ADD. I am very pleased with the outcome of this new (to me) technique. I bought this LED strip from Amazon, which at $15 is amazingly affordable! It changes every color of the spectrum, and is completely programmable. You can do fades, quick switches between colors, anything you can imagine. The difficulty in this technique comes with finding a suitable portable power source capable of supplying enough juice to run it (12v 6amps). Luckily I had the powertank from my telescope which met the specifications. So now you have 20+ feet of wiring, and 10+ feet of extraneous LED strip that is super bright. I put on a down jacket and stuffed all the extra wiring inside, haveing the battery come out the bottom of my jacket, and 5 feet of the LED strip out of my sleeve. Now it was just a matter of experimenting with different iterations of running around swinging it around wildly until the results looked good. There is a lot more to be done with this. It’s fun and also pretty good exercise! haha



  • ต้มข่าไก่ (Tom Kha Gai). Sour and Spicy Thai Coconut Milk Soup with Chicken

     ต้มข่าไก่ (Tom Kha Gai) is a popular coconut milk based soup in Thailand and Laos, and one of my favorite Thai dishes. The Lao version uses dill instead of cilantro (coriander), which makes an interesting difference. I stuck with cilantro (coriander) for this recipe. The combination of savory, spicy and sour is just perfect. It uses ingredients that may be difficult to find in some places, so I have included substitutions in the recipe below. Once you have the ingredients it is unbelievably simple to make!



    ต้มข่าไก่ (Tom Kha Gai).
    Serves 3
    Sour, Spicy Coconut Milk and Chicken Soup
    Write a review
    Prep Time
    10 min
    Cook Time
    1 hr
    Total Time
    1 hr 10 min
    Prep Time
    10 min
    Cook Time
    1 hr
    Total Time
    1 hr 10 min
    1077 calories
    24 g
    24 g
    108 g
    15 g
    34 g
    431 g
    678 g
    9 g
    1 g
    69 g
    Nutrition Facts
    Serving Size
    Amount Per Serving
    Calories 1077
    Calories from Fat 942
    % Daily Value *
    Total Fat 108g
    Saturated Fat 34g
    Trans Fat 1g
    Polyunsaturated Fat 13g
    Monounsaturated Fat 56g
    Cholesterol 24mg
    Sodium 678mg
    Total Carbohydrates 24g
    Dietary Fiber 4g
    Sugars 9g
    Protein 15g
    Vitamin A
    Vitamin C
    * Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
    1. 1 large chicken breast, or 2 large legs, deboned, thinly sliced
    2. 1 bunch enoki or straw mushrooms
    3. 1 16oz can coconut milk (Chao Koh brand is best)
    4. 1 box chicken broth
    5. 2 T sugar
    6. 4T fish sauce (soy sauce can be substituted)
    7. juice of 3-4 limes
    8. 1/2 handful cilantro (with stems)
    9. 1/2 thumb sized piece galangal (ginger can be substituted)
    10. 1 stalk lemongrass, bottom part only crushed well (lime zest can be substituted)
    11. 5-6 kaffir lime leaves (more lime zest can be substituted)
    12. 1-10 thai chiles depending on spice tolerance (10 will be atomic!)
    13. Optional (for chili oil garnish)
    14. 1 cup flavor neutral oil
    15. 1 handful dried red chilis
    1. Add coconut milk and chicken broth to pot, bring to boil.
    2. Add all ingredients except lime juice and chicken.
    3. Allow to simmer, for 1-3 hours, longer is better.
    4. Strain out and discard all ingredients.
    5. Test for seasoning, if not salty enough, add more fish sauce
    6. bring back to boil, add sliced chicken
    7. finish with lime juice (be liberal, it is the key to the dish)
    8. add mushrooms in last 5 minutes of cooking
    9. Optional
    10. blend oil and dried chilis very well on high setting
    11. strain well (through cloth if possible)
    12. Serve with plain jasmine rice, garnish with chili oil and cilantro leaves
    A Taste Of The Road http://tasteoftheroad.com/
  • First Steps Towards a Studio.

    I was recently contracted to do some recipe development and food photography for Olive Oil Lovers, an importer and retailer of fine olive oils from all over the world. I figured it was time to invest in some high quality lighting. I ended up choosing the PBL studio QL1000 softbox kit. I must say I am very impressed with the quality of these lights. I am definitely no expert, but they are very sturdy and well built, completely dimmable, and produce more than enough light to shoot handheld at up to F16 while remaining below ISO 200, which makes them perfect for my food photography needs.

    The setup, in my tiny apartment.

    Here is a gallery of my first images using the light kit. I still have a lot to learn, but I am very excited about exploring this whole new facet of photography. This a beet green and goat cheese chicken roulade, wrapped in prosciutto. Served with a squash pesto, potato fondant, and pickled radish.


  • Medium Rare Photography, my food photography business, is launching soon!


    Hi everyone. Just wanted to give an update on my constantly evolving photographical endeavors. I have been researching, website building, and preparing to launch a local business to offer food photography services to restaurants , cookbook publishers, and caterers. I still need a few things (mainly lighting equipment) before I start trying to attract clients. In the meantime, check out the website @ www.mediumrarephotography.com I learned a  ton making this website, and it took many hours, but it is finally presentable.


  • Photography Prints Now For Sale Worldwide

    Hello Everyone! Just wanted to let you know that I have a selection of astrophotography prints available for sale on etsy.com. I assure you I am not making more than a few dollars on these , as they are quite expensive to have made. Please have a browse, and if you like it consider springing for a one-of-a-kind decoration for your home! 




  • Time Lapse Photography At Goat Rock

     Time Lapse photography has always interested me. It is something that takes supreme patience. I always try to bring a book when I do these types of shoots. 

    This video is comprised of about 1400 photos, taken over the course of an afternoon and evening. I used a mirror to create what I’m calling a “portal effect” which I really like and want to experiment more with.


  • Milky Way Photography on the Sonoma Coast

    On the most recent new moon I made a late drive to the Sonoma Coast near Jenner California to do some long exposure photography of the Milky Way. The results were better than I had expected and I am really proud of the photos. I have ordered a print of the panorama, and can’t wait to have it hanging on my wall!






  • The BET (Bacon Egg Tomato) Breakfast Sandwich

     After an early morning photography drive through the Napa Valley

     untitled-5503 untitled-5437 untitled-5434 untitled-4672


    I was ready to cook a substantial and tasty breakfast. This is by no means a fancy recipe, but it was absolutely delicious, and photographed very well! Try it out for brunch sometime


    BET Breakfast Sandwich
    Serves 1
    Poached eggs and bacon, on sourdough with tomato and fresh dill.
    Write a review
    Prep Time
    10 min
    Cook Time
    15 min
    Total Time
    25 min
    Prep Time
    10 min
    Cook Time
    15 min
    Total Time
    25 min
    819 calories
    80 g
    437 g
    36 g
    44 g
    14 g
    403 g
    1921 g
    7 g
    0 g
    18 g
    Nutrition Facts
    Serving Size
    Amount Per Serving
    Calories 819
    Calories from Fat 321
    % Daily Value *
    Total Fat 36g
    Saturated Fat 14g
    Trans Fat 0g
    Polyunsaturated Fat 5g
    Monounsaturated Fat 13g
    Cholesterol 437mg
    Sodium 1921mg
    Total Carbohydrates 80g
    Dietary Fiber 5g
    Sugars 7g
    Protein 44g
    Vitamin A
    Vitamin C
    * Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
    1. 1 ripe vine tomato
    2. 5 strips bacon
    3. 2 eggs
    4. 2 large slices sourdough bread
    5. 2 T butter
    6. fresh dill
    7. salt and pepper to taste
    1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a simmer
    2. fry bacon to desired crispness
    3. Slice tomatoes
    4. pan fry sliced sourdough with butter in a pan on medium high heat
    5. swirl the simmering water with a large spoon to create a whirlpool
    6. drop eggs one at a time and cook for 3-4 minutes until whites solidify
    7. Remove with a slotted spoon and season with salt an pepper
    8. Arrange as pictured and top with chopped dill
    A Taste Of The Road http://tasteoftheroad.com/