Astrophotographers would know of Royce Bair, you might know of him as NightScapeVideo on youtube or perhaps on 500px where I came across him. His NightScape photography is absolutely amazing and Royce provides some great insight into how he shoots and edits his spectacular works of art.
Tell us a little about yourself?
Royce Bair has been a professional illustrative photographer since 1973, and an international lecturer on photography since 1982. His work has appeared in National Geographic, The Smithsonian, and on the covers of numerous books. As a photographer, writer, and entrepreneur, he has built and sold five photo-related businesses. He and his wife, Linda, are now shooting stock photography while they continue to share their knowledge and experience through workshops and blogs.
What inspired you to get started in photography?
When I was 17, my father took me on a backpacking trip to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in northeastern Oregon. He let me borrow his 1950′s, all-manual, Argus C3 35mm camera. When the Kodachrome slides came back, I was hooked on landscape photography! By chance, I had taken a few photos early in the morning and late in the afternoon, and noticed that the angular light was much more interesting than the light of midday. When I became a professional photographer, over 30 years ago, I started doing “NightScape” photography as a way to give me greater lighting control over my landscapes.
What gear do you take to each shoot and what lens can you not live without?
My camera of choice for my “NightScape” photography is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II because of its low light sensitivity and reduced noise at high ISO settings. I just purchased the Mark III, which has even less noise at high ISO’s. I define my NightScapes as “exposures of the night sky, with a landscape feature, that are often enhanced with light painting, in order to improve recognition.” I typically carry a copious collection of battery-powered spotlights and large, studio strobes (also battery-powered) to most of my locations. More than half of my NightScape photos are currently being taken with the Canon EF 15mm F/2.8 Fisheye lens because it allow me to capture so much of the sky in one photo.
How do you market yourself and has social media been an important part?
Social media has been a huge factor in helping me to promote my NightScapes. Both of my stock photo and publicity agents discovered my work on Flick (http://www.flickr.com/photos/ironrodart/). Many individuals and publications have also found me on 500px (http://500px.com/nightscape) and YouTube (http://NightScapeVideo.com). Although I don’t like the term “spaceporn”, unauthorized posts under this category on Reddit.com can sometimes cause an image to go viral, and produce over 50,000 views in just a few days — generating interest in all of my NightScape images.
What’s your favourite photo that you’ve taken and does it have any significance?
One of my favorite photos is my “Starry night sky and Milky Way over Jackson Lake and Tetons, Grand Teton National Park”. It is significant to me, because it is one of the first NightScapes photos I took (less than a year ago), using my current style*, and it was the first to become wildly popular.
*My current NightScape style shows the stars as they really are, as points of light, rather than as star trails. Many of my early NightScapes didn’t even have stars in them, because I used a twilight sky (less than one hour after sunset). Current NightScapes are taken at least two hours after sunset or at least two hours before sunrise so that the skies are the darkest and the stars are the brightest. Most landscape locations are in remote areas, where light pollution is also not competing with the stars. Most of my NightScapes are timed to have no moonlight either, as even a quarter moon is 300 times brighter than starlight!
Select a photo you have taken, explain how it was taken and how did you edit it?
My photo of “Delicate Arch and the Milky Way Stars” is a good example of how I expose, light, and process my NightScapes. This is a 30-second exposure at F/3.5 (ISO 6400), using a 15mm F/2.8 Canon Fisheye lens. The main light, coming from camera left, is a 2-million candle power incandescent, painted through a translucent silk panel (for better control). This light was manned by my son, Chris. The reddish glow on the right side of the arch is from a moving, 200K-candlepower spotlight (with an red-orange filter) operated my me at the camera position. This glow was necessary to separate that part of the arch from the dark background. All of the lighting was done during the single 30-seccond exposure. All of my time exposure are 30 seconds or less in order to keep the stars as point of light. Longer exposures will cause the stars to blur (creating star “trails”) due to the rotation of the earth.
Is light-painting really necessary? Here’s a before and after (with and without light-painting). You be the judge!:
About the only post-processing work I do is increase the contrast of the sky. I do this by creating a channel in Photoshop for the sky. I then select the sky and increase the contrast of the sky via an adjustment layer curve. Here is an example of my processing style:
What processing tool do you use and do you believe in the camera doing all the work or in post ?
Photoshop is my processing tool of choice (I’ve been using it since 1992, starting with version 2.0 — I’m now using version 12, or CS5). Although virtually all of my NightScapes are taken in one exposure, with very little Photoshop manipulation other than an increase in sky contrast, I am often accused of duping the public with Photoshop tricks! Those accusations only cause me to smile, realizing that my photos are good enough to be considered fakes, or too-good-to-be-true 🙂
Whats your favourite photography accessory other than your camera?
My favorite photographic accessory is my intervalometer. Although my exposures are never longer than 30 seconds, and most cameras are capable of timing that long of an exposure, I often use the Canon TC80N3 Timer Remote Control to do this for me. I use an intervalometer because I can set it to delay the exposure, while I run off to a different location and turn on lights, or fire off strobes. This is especially helpful if I am running short on assistants that night 🙂
Where do you prefer to post your photos online and why there?
I prefer to post my photos on Flickr for its ease of use and the ability to archive all of images. However, I prefer 500px’s format as an online showcase and portfolio.
Do you ever get photographers block and if so what do you do to get inspired again?
Everyone gets “photographer’s block”. I find this especially true these days where so much of our time is spent in front of the computer screen, instead of behind the camera. It is important for me to set aside a half-day each week to go out and do personal work — just get in my car and travel around, until I see something that interests me. At times, I’ll give myself a self-assignment to make my photographs using only one particular lens or camera — even my iPhone. That kind of discipline can get your creative juice flowing again and help you to start “seeing” again, instead of relying on technique.
Is there anything you wish you had done when you first started in photography that would of made a difference?
I wish I had the guts and foresight to shoot more for myself and less for my clients. Many of those images that I shot for myself in the early days are still making money, as stock photos, and still helping me to get recognition. The product shots and weddings I did for clients only paid the immediate bills.
Any advice for new photographers wanting to go pro?
Pick a subject or point of view that is uniquely different from what everyone else is doing. Find something that you are passionate about. Research that subject and photograph it enough so that it becomes your “signature”.
Thirty years ago I started doing an early version of my current NIghtScapes (twilight skies, without stars). In the beginning, I was only trying to prove to my commercial clients that if I could light up places like Delicate Arch (in southern Utah) with battery-powered lights, I could handle their industrial location assignments with ease. It worked, and a year later, I also received an 8-page spread in American Photo magazine. Here is one of those early shots, and recent article about how I did it (using flashbulbs!): http://strobist.blogspot.com/2012/05/royce-bairs-night-lit-landscapes.html