Technique




About the photographies

All photographies displayed on this website were produced by Christian Klepp between the years 1993 and 2011. The images originate from travels documented under "On Tour".
All images on the gallery pages are accompanied by a text block containing the name of the image along with geoscientific information and meta data of image location, exposure data, camera and lenses used, exposure time, aperture, film speed and tripod use. In case of more complex images additional information is given on the photography technique, i.e. astronomical mounting for star tracking or additional flash fire use to lighten the image foreground during very long exposure times in total darkness.

About the photo technique

As a basic principle all photographies displayed use classical photo techniques that were transferred into the digital era by 2005. No color filters are used. Polarization filters are utilized to reduce stray light. Neutral foreground flash fire illumination is sometimes used during nighttime exposures. In such cases this is denoted in the meta data of the corresponding image. For lens protection ultra-violet band elimination filters are used.
Images between 1993 and 2004 were photographed on slide film mostly using Kodak Ektachrome film with ISO 100 speed. The slides were digitalized using a drum-scanner. The colors of the raw scans needed to be readjusted to the colors of the original slides. This was achieved using Photoshop together with a color calibrated monitor. The color difference between the original slides and the digital data is therefore negligible.
In 2005 both analog and digital images were made in parallel during the southwestern USA tour. At first a sequence of different exposure times were made using analog slide film. The meta data was marked. The analog camera on the tripod was then replaced by the digital camera using the same focal length. The analog exposure sequence was repeated digitally. The digital data is always stored Canon RAW format.
At home, as usual, the best analog slides were identified. As a next step, the corresponding digital RAW images containing the same exposure values were selected. These RAW data files were processed using Photoshop to identically match the colors of the corresponding slides. The outcome of this technique was that this results in a standard procedure of image processing in most of the cases. Since 2006 I produce digital images only. The update from Pentax analog to Canon digital strongly enhanced the reliability working in the field, but was also doubling the weight to carry due to the use of the heavy L-lens series. A second Canon 20D body increased the flexibility and reduced the risk of a tour breakdown in case of any failure of the camera system. This back-up system again caused higher weights to carry but soon turned out to be indispensable when working in the field. Since 2009 a Canon 5D Mk II and a 16-35 II L-lens is added.



AstroTrac second to none

Star photography of the night sky and the milkyway using a tripod only leads to star trails beyond 30 second exposure times caused by the rotation of the Earth through space. Hence, long exposure times with pointy stars need an astronomical mount to see numerous stars like the naked eye sees it. The mount needs to compensate for the rotation of the Earth and is placed between the tripod and the camera and rotates correctly during the exposure time when carefully polar aligned. Most astronomical mounts are sturdy and hence large and heavy. Thus they are not suitable for air travel and mobile transportation during remote hikes. This requires small lightweight mobile astronomical mounts with an adequate performance.
Before going digital in 2005 I used a lightweight Pentax Me and a Purus travel mount for photography of comets and shooting stars. However, the Purus system wasn’t sturdy enough to carry the heavy digital Canon 20D equipment using the metal based L-lense series ranging from 16 to 400 mm. In lack of a portable astronomical mount, I used the ISO 3200 ability of the Canon 20D by accepting the not very picturesque signal to noise ratio at long exposure times. A prerequisite for a follow-on travel mount was its ability to easily carry it as hand-luggage onboard worldwide air travel and its portability in the field to remote places when already carrying the heavy standard equipment and tripod. Therefore powering the system would need only few standard batteries kept warm in a pocket during exposure at chilly nighttime temperatures. Portability, sturdiness and tracking precision in one go - usually a contradiction – along with its ability to operate on both hemispheres were finally found in the pioneering construction of Richard Taylor’s AstroTrac TT320 – a device second to none. Built from aircraft aluminum it combines all the needs for remote operating astronomy photographers. Additionally, the set up of the system takes only minutes and its price-performance ratio is unique.

Pushing photography to the limits

The success story of the AstroTrac TT320 continues. First used during the Northwestern USA tour in summer 2008 the images speak for themselves. A sturdy plastic box was built for transport and it's strongly recommend carrying all manuals for air travel. The airport security was always curious about the instrument but very supportive when explaining its use. To archive as much commonality as possible between the day and nighttime equipment to limit weight during remote hikes I use the Manfrotto 055B tripod in combination with the Manfrotto 410 geared head. Within minutes the system is transferred to astronomical usage. Polar alignment is easy, especially under a jet black sky glittering with stars far away from any light pollution. The approach is to combine spectacular nighttime landscapes with the overwhelming starry sky above trying to avoid the local Grizzly bear population. During new moon mountain ranges remain black while the Milky Way reveals its breathtaking beauty during a 6 minute exposure at open aperture and ISO 1600. Foreground detail in total darkness is achieved using a neutral white LED flash-fire during exposure. First moonlight reduces exposure times at open aperture to 4 minutes at ISO 800 and adds zest to mountain lighting and even the foreground reveals fine detail for image composition. A static and dynamic image is combined to retain the pointy stars along with the un-rotated landscape, just as the naked eye sees it. The advantage is obvious. The human eye cannot collect light while the camera collects it over the exposure time. Hence the total number of stars visible in the image is largely enhanced. This causes all stars to appear white. In contrast, star trails reveal the true spectral colour of the stars. Young and hot stars appear blue, sun-like stars are yellow and giant old stars appear red. When photographing stars mirroring in a lake both the static and dynamic image shows rotation differing only by the angle nicely hinting at the rotation of Earth through space.

Cordial thanks go to Richard Taylor for the delight he added to photography by developing the AstroTrac TT320. I always spread the word wherever I go as such photography of the universe at remote places is without precedent.



On the light of the LightYears

Very often I am asked if the surreal appearing colors and odd formations of my images may be manipulated with Photoshop. The answer is simple: No!
The secret is in the locations and endless patience waiting for the right light. This includes frequent revisits of locations. If possible, I am going to visit a promising location during daytime to check the image composition. What is the perfect angle and the perfect time for shooting. Nearly all of the images displayed were made early morning or late evening. While backcountry camping I usually set the alarm to 3 am. For sure, this is not the first association with holidays. But the reward for this exertion is a landscape submerged in overwhelming light! This is the origin of the mystical light that many people feel about being artifical. Many images were made while standing in total darkness while the object photographed is already touched by faint first light. The camera is collecting the light during long exposure times sometimes exceeding several minutes. Direct sunlight can even destroy the possibility of a perfect photo in many cases. As an example one may find really magical light within deep and dark slot canyons. As soon as direct sunlight touches these hidden walls the mystic light is completely gone and there is no hope for a perfect photo any longer. Of course there are always exceptions from the rules. But in most cases the images on this website were made when the rest of the daylight visitors were still sleeping. This sometimes raises a feeling of being alone on this planet, wondering why only few people strive to capture such moments of magic light. Often I need to smile benignly. Event at some of the most famous photography locations there was absolute silence and no one around while the scenery was basked in the most beautiful light imaginable. When the perfect photo is already long due, I often just sit there and listen to the silence, tremendously enjoying the scenery. The magic light fades rapidly while the sun is rising over the horizon. Usually my time to leave is when the first visitors arrive. Very often I can feel their disapproval that I leave in such great light. The answer is written with light in every LightYear image. For sure, standing in 130°F (50°C) hot water of a geyser in total darkness with the bright stars of the Milky Way above, patiently waiting for the thick clouds of steam to clear for one minute in the clod air giving view on the stars, especially when not knowing which predators may roam around, is an unusual way of spending holidays - but maximum joy for me.
The way of making a perfect image is often a twofold process. The first step begins with intense preparation and prearrangements at home using internet and coffee table books. While being at the location a large amount of fortune comes into play. To be at the right location at the right moment can just by fortune lead to perfect image. Once I slam on the brake on a Californian highway. Grapping my camera and pressing the release button was a matter of seconds. Sometimes one has to be quick. Only few seconds later, the light scenery is gone forever. This always adds zest to photography: The thunderstorm approaching, the smoke of a forest fire, a foggy morning or the stray sun beam in the endless rain. Sceneries that would have met no attention can turn into perfect photos just within seconds of a special lighting.
The chase for a particular image can often develop into an adventure. Sometimes the distance to reach a photo location takes longer than planned or is more difficult than expected. Even GPS guidance can result in ending at an insurmountable waterfall or pothole. This always raises the question how risky it can get to proceed while the image location is sometimes already near. The desire to finally reach the image location can be extreme but minimizing the risk always needs to be first priority. Climbing a slippery log within a waterfall just to reach the upper next part of a canyon belongs to such extremes. The camera equipment cannot be transported through the waterfall but needs to be lifted at a dryer part of the canyons vertical walls using a rope. Visiting such complex terrain needs detailed planning in advance. The extreme effort one have to make can often imply that an easy revisit of the location becomes nearly impossible. This is why one needs to know in advance the perfect time and composition of the image. Detailed maps, GPS use and calculating the sun's elevation is indispensable. Visiting slot canyons always requires perfect weather not only at the local position but in the greater vicinity. An unrecognized thunderstorm over a nearby valley can result in a totally unexpected flash flood. The meanders of slot canyons can turn into deadly traps within seconds with no early warning time. These canyons are usually tall, steep and narrow, often as narrow as a persons width. Beautiful as they are one shall not forget that flash floods were and are the primary force of their formation. It definitely helps being a meteorologist to plan a visit to a slot canyon. Despite the weather forecast the knowledge of harmless looking tiny clouds called cumulus castellanus can signalize a beginning instability of an air-mass that can result in an early thunderstorm development although the sky still looks like having a perfect day.

The sense of image and locality

Frequently cited fragments like „…an eye for nature“ or „…a sense of image“ describe everything and nothing at all. Of course there are basic rules. Never locate the image horizon to 50 percent unless needed. The highlight of the image composition should be placed to the golden section. Find out whether the image looks best in portrait, landscape or panorama format. Use dusk and dawn for photography as the light around noon usually results in flat looking and colorless images. Use the daylight to reach the location and find out about image composition. Of course there are countless exceptions to these rules. It gets even worse on the sense of image. Many locations are long known to photographers and a revisit is always rewarding under different light conditions. Discovering new locations is always far more challenging. There, the sense for an image and location is needed. Sometimes objects can be tiny. The translation of a landscape into a perfect image that becomes a part of the collection is always a mix of knowledge, art and fortune. Image composition is directly linked with light conditions. One can learn a lot from already famous photographers. Just by looking at their images without having any further information. Astonishingly one can read the desired information from the image. The only thing that is not captured is the surrounding landscape. This always adds zest. Being at such a location for the first time after endless planning reveals the surrounding landscape. Knowingly, the journey is the reward. Many images in my collection were taken on the way towards a special location.

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