Breakdown of a Lunar Eclipse Shoot

Do You Have Plans to Shoot The Blue Moon This Month?

The planning started weeks in advance, looking at the timing of the eclipse, the direction of the moon, and at prior shots like the moon set above from 2010 that seemed like a good concept to re-shoot with a moon in some phase of eclipse.  I decided to try to place the moon on top of the South Tower of the bridge, worked out the geometry to estimate the moon’s elevation, looked in an app to determine its compass direction at that time, and where I should stand.

So after you decide to shoot an early morning lunar eclipse, what’s the next logical thing to do? Pick a spot for the prior sunset of course. Marin County’s Rodeo Beach fit the bill nicely for a relaxing sunset.

Pacific Sunset

A trip to Japan Center for sushi later, and it’s too early for sleep, so a little night photography along the San Francisco waterfront helps put a few more travel images on the card and burn off a few dinner calories.

Bay Bridge at Night

Wake up at 3am, and go get a nice moon shot from the Crissy Field area:

Total Lunar Eclipse January 31, 2018

This image was exposed for 15 seconds at f/8, ISO 200 on a Canon EOS 70D with a lens at 381mm using a Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS L Series lens plus EF 2X III teleconverter. After the APS-C crop factor, the equivalent focal length was 610mm! The camera setup was on an iOptron SkyTracker, so the longest exposures in the sequences I was shooting could easily be 15 to 20 seconds at ISO 200.

What next? You’ve chosen the spot anticipating the moon approaching the Golden Gate Bridge, so when it’s close enough you can include the bridge in compositions:

Lunar Eclipse Over the Golden Gate Bridge

But the real alignment you’ve calculated from the height of the bridge, the distance to the bridge, and the compass direction is the moon passing the top of the South Tower of the Golden Gate Bridge. But you forgot to subtract out the elevation of your shooting position from the height of the bridge, so the moon is about 1/2 moon width, about 0.25 degrees, too high. So you move about a dozen feet to your left, compose over the shoulders of a couple of photographers, and get the composition that you envisioned weeks earlier:

Lunar Eclipse Teed Up

The recent weather and the forecast called for partly cloudy conditions, and at times there was definitely a thin haze that the moon was shining through, but there was also a challenge that I don’t usually have to deal with back home in the high desert: condensation!  For a while I had to wipe my lens every few shots to remove it.  Astrophotographers sometimes use heaters on their telescopes, photographers shooting on a dewy morning can improvise using gaffer’s tape and hand warmers.

That’s not the end of the fun, as sunset light paints the sky while the moon dropped into the bridge.  Fortunately the atmospheric haze also cleared up significantly.

California astrophotography

Sunrise approaches as the partially-eclipsed moon sets behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

As it descends further, while shooting the lunar eclipse through San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, for a matter of seconds I decided to try to silhouette a vehicle against the setting, partially-eclipsed moon. A large delivery truck fit the bill nicely. I was shooting at 400mm, so I had to anticipate the movement of the vehicle enough ahead of time to leave mirror lock-up on!

Early Morning Delivery

Note the rough edge to the moon. At this high degree of telephoto, on the moon in the lower couple of degrees of elevation when our view of it is through a lot of turbulent air, the view of the moon is visibly distorted. No doubt there will be many faked shots from this eclipse as usual, and a recent article on FStoppers discusses some of the ways you can spot them.

So to summarize, anticipating an interesting place to capture the mono alongside earth-bound features using apps like PhotoPills and The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) enables the capture of many compositions beyond “Just another lunar eclipse shot”… not that there’s anything wrong with that!

So once the eclipse is “in the can” (like a reel of exposed movie film), what next? Think of something to shoot while you’re in the are, or on your way home! A quick detour to the California Coast, the Mendocino area in this case, fit the bill nicely.

After the Eclipse
Astronomical events aren’t just opportunities for astrophotography, they are a great excuse to get out. travel, and shoot!  The weather can be surprisingly warm along the California Coast in the winter given the heat sink effect of the water and the lower winds compared to summer.  Temperatures in the high 50s by noon and walking down Main Street Mendocino, I had to take off and carry my jacket as I became too hot to wear it.

Post-Eclipse Sunset

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Jupiter Mars Conjunction January 6-7, 2018

Moon, Mars and Venus Setting over Mount Whitney

A past conjunction: the moon, Mars and Venus setting over Mount Whitney

The planets in our solar system orbit the sun in a plane, the “ecliptic plane”.  Seen from the side within that plane from here on earth, they appear to travel in a line in the sky.  As the planets travel in different orbits at different speeds, they sometimes seem to pass one another along that imaginary ecliptic line in the sky, as seen from here on earth. From the United States, the pass will occur between the mornings of January 6 and 7, 2018. Mars and Jupiter will pass within 1/4 degree, 1/2 moon width, of each other.

For the image above from the moon, Mars, Venus conjunction on February 20, 2015, I identified several locations to the conjunction as the moon and planets set over Mount Whitney, near Lone Pine, California. This time the planets will be about 3 times closer to each other.

Here are some actual photos of Jupiter and Mars approaching each other in the sky on recent nights:

Jupiter Mars Conjunction January 7

Jupiter and Mars on December 30, approaching conjunction January 6/7 2017

Approaching Jupiter Mars Conjunction

Jupiter and Mars January 2, rising before dawn

Astrophotographer Jeff Sullivan

On January 5 Jupiter and Mars continue their approach towards conjunction January 6

Here’s a time-lapse of the planets rising on the morning of January 2:

The images and sample time-lapse were captured at a modest 200 mm focal length, the event will be more interesting when they are close enough to shoot at 300-400mm or more, their movement towards each other becomes even more obvious, and while the moons of Jupiter become even more apparent. The two planets will rise over the eastern horizon around 2:45 am on a zero degree horizon here in the Pacific time zone (at a compass angle of 112 degrees, a bit south of east), but I’ve been watching them past 6 am on recent mornings, so you can catch them from when they rise well into twilight. With my actual horizon being more than zero degrees, the planets will appear to rise closer to 3 am for me.

Here’s my result showing the progress of the planets, footage from the mornings of January 2, 3, 5, and 7:

Aside from the planets close together, what else might have been shot? With a long enough exposure and an interesting horizon, a time-lapse video of the planets rising could be interesting, somewhat like this prior shoot of a planetary conjunction setting:

Moon – Mars – Venus Conjunction Setting Over Mount Whitney from Jeff Sullivan on Vimeo.

I chose not to travel to an interesting landscape for this event due to a stormy weather forecast for much of the week here in the Eastern Sierra, including rain on January 6.

Venus Jupiter Moon Conjunction

Venus Jupiter Moon Conjunction, August 23, 2014

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Geminid Meteor Shower 2017

Geminid Meteor Shower, Nikon D750

Geminid meteor shower at 14mm, with some foreground. Nikon D750 / 14 mm.

The Geminid meteor shower is generally acknowledged to be the most active meteor shower of the year with rates of about 120 meteors per hour. It was discovered in the 1800s, and rates seem to be increasing, with some attributing it with up to 180 meteors per hour! While the Geminids aren’t known for producing a lot of bright fireball meteors, the Chi Orionids are, and the radiant point isn’t all that far from the Geminids, so you still have decent odds of catching fireballs, even if they aren’t from the “correct” comet debris stream and apparent radiant point in the sky.

This composite brings the meteors from roughly 3 hours into one image:

Peak Night, Geminid Meteor Shower

3 hours of the Geminid meteor shower further back at 14mm, emphasizing the sky. Canon EOS 6D / 14 mm.

Geminids 2017, Night Before Peak

Night before peak, Geminid meteor shower 2017. Canon EOS 6D / 14 mm.


Moon rise the night before the peak of the Geminid meteor shower,a few nights ago, along with a quick collection of some of the meteors I caught on that night:

It was 8 degrees F when I arrived just after dark to shoot the meteor shower on this night. I don’t even want to know what temperature it was when i picked up the camera later in the night!

Fireball During the Geminid Meteor Shower

Geminid meteors and a bright fireball, likely a Chi Orionid meteor.

As NASA notes about the Geminids:
“The Geminids are a meteor shower that occurs in December every year. The best night to see the shower is Dec. 13 into the early hours of Dec. 14. The Geminid meteor shower is caused by a stream of debris left by the asteroid, 3200 Phaethon. When the Earth passes through the trails of dust every December left by 3200 Phaethon, we see the Geminid meteor shower as the dust (meteoroids) burn up in Earth’s atmosphere creating meteors. Geminids travel through Earth’s atmosphere at 78,000 mph and burn up far above the surface.”

I shot with two cameras the night after peak as well, but they didn’t capture enough meteors to make processing the images a priority. I’ll get around to it at some point, but it’s pretty clear that the meteor rate on the night after peak is far, far below the rates on the peak night and on the nights leading up to it.

For more of my photos from the Geminid meteor shower, you can see my photos of it since 2010 on my Flickr photostream.

Geminid Meteor Shower 2010, Canon 5D Mark II

Geminid Meteor Shower 2010. Canon 5D Mark II / EF 16-35 mm lens at 16 mm focal length.

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Leonid Meteor Shower at Topaz Lake

Leonid Meteor Shower at Topaz Lake
The Leonid meteor shower isn’t one of the stronger of the fairly well known meteor showers, all the more reason to take on the challenge and see what can be captured!  Fortunately there are several other meteor showers active on the same night, so we’re not entirely dependent on having a particularly good year for the Leonids shower itself.

Technically speaking, in this result, three of the meteors point to an origin point to the left of Orion, so are probably Leonids (or alpha Monocerotids). The others point to the right of Leo and are either Northern Taurids, Southern Taurids, or Delta Eridanids.

And in the “Murphy’s Law” of astrophotography, two of the brighter meteors occurred just before and after the camera was shooting!

Here’s a description of the Leonid meteor shower from NASA:
“It’s time for a shower. November brings the Leonid meteor shower. This shower is called the Leonid shower because the meteors seem to come from a point in the constellation Leo. But they are really much closer to Earth than these stars are. The starting point, called the radiant, is found in the part of Leo that looks to be a backwards question mark. This part is sometimes called the ‘sickle.’
A meteor is the streak of light that we see when a meteoroid enters Earth’s atmosphere. The Leonids usually contain many bright meteors with trails that can be seen for several minutes. And, you may see fireballs.”

They predict that a particularly active Leonid meteor shower may return as the earth crosses the debris stream from the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle in 2028.

While I probably won’t be planning big expedition-style road trips specifically to go catch the Leonids in a particular location, they are a nice bonus to have available for landscape photography trips in mid-November.  Whether a late fall trip or an early trip to the desert, the Leonids do make a useful data point to consider in years when the night sky will be dark during their peak.

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5 incredible stargazing spots in California’s Eastern Sierra

stargazing locations

Night photography locations in California’s Eastern Sierra

Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News for using several of my photos to illustrate their article on viewing the night sky in the Eastern Sierra!

Here’s another location covered in the story.

For the rest, read the article at the San Jose Mercury News:

5 incredible stargazing spots in California’s Eastern Sierra
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/03/5-incredible-stargazing-spots/
by Jackie Burrell

#astrophotography #astronomy #nightphotography #easternsierra

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Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop in June: What’s in Store?

Eastern Sierra landscape photography workshops

Eastern Sierra wildflowers, late May

“The Traveler sees what he sees. The Tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

North Peak Sunset AlpenglowUpdate 1, May 31: Tioga Pass opened in Mid-May, so we can include Yosemite”s Tioga Pass area in our workshops starting this Thursday.  I’ve already been up there three times in the past couple of weeks to assess and monitor conditions.

Update 2, May 31: One of my customers has asked to extend the workshop with a few days in Yosemite Valley, so we’re adding June 6, 7, and 8 next week to the schedule!

The first week of June is amazing for the Eastern Sierra for so many reasons. Some snow remains on the Sierra Nevada (and possibly the White Mountains) to catch alpenglow, and there can be a fresh snowfall around the end of May to refresh that surface. Several species of wildflowers are starting to bloom, profusely in some areas.

This year the new moon and Milky Way shooting timing coincides with this week, and we have the possibility of a late spring storm from the northwest for interesting sunrises and sunsets, or warmer monsoon moisture from the Baja coast that could bring dramatic afternoon clouds, showers and rainbows, or evening thunderstorms.

I used to be nervous about the thunderstorms interfering with night photography, but I’ve learned through experience in Bodie and the surrounding area that convection-driven storms tend to break up or blow east by the time the sky is fully dark around 10/10:20, so they’re really just bonuses for sunset and twilight shooting, even when rain showers interfere locally for an hour or so (and even then they often give way to rainbows).

We’ll start with a sunrise on Thursday, pursue wildflowers and weather during the day, have an early dinner, and head back out for sunset at Mono Lake.
Entering the Earth's Shadow

We’ll pick from a number of spots for Milky Way shooting, and arrive by the time it’s fully dark at 10:07, when the galactic center of the Milky Way has already risen 6 degrees, perfect for placing it in our compositions.

Mono Lake Milky Way Panorama

Friday we’ll catch sunrise at Mono Lake before the weekend crowds arrive, shoot different wildflowers, maybe explore some interesting geology or head up to Tioga Pass if its open for snowier views. Another sunset spot, More night photography, and turn in not too late since most of us are continuing on to Bodie the following night, and Bodie interiors the following morning.

Storm Over Mono LakeWorkshops take me out of the field as I work on permits, itineraries, write descriptions, set up payment / registration buttons, and I perform a some kind of marketing to get them seen, if only a mention or two on social media. I’m not going for volume, and I personally lead all of my workshops, so they are designed to place you in a stunning place, in a peak season, as the exact best time.

Eastern Sierra Mules EarsI have to be efficient and pack as much opportunity as I can into my time in the field. Every day has the sun rising and setting. Some weeks have wildflowers. Fall colors may be peaking in a given location for only a few days to a week. The Milky Way is available during a few weeks of the year, a moon rise at sunset or moon set at sunrise about a dozen times each. So I am careful to hold my workshops in a prime season, and I then select the most likely peak days and times, including astronomical considerations.

Along Yosemite's Tioga Pass Road

Tioga Pass Road sunset reflection, May 2016

Plans are all well and good; I frequently plan something as simple as a sunset moon rise composition weeks in advance.  But landscape photography is about light, so if you’re on a workshop, you want a leader have enough depth in detailed regional knowledge to be ready to ditch all plans and react to the weather and light if there’s more potential 20 or 30 miles from where you are.  So leave the tourists behind who are stuck to their fixed agenda, and rather than a traveler who reacts to the weather and looks for a place to shoot it, you can travel with a local who knows the opportunities in every direction, and anticipates the conditions before you pick the next destination and hop in the car to arrive there just in time.

Sunset Rain Clouds Over Mono LakeEarly June in the Eastern Sierra offers an annual convergence of so many factors which could make photography conditions stunning.  Photography is more fun shared, so I can’t wait, and all the better that I get to share all of this bounty with old and new friends!

Spring is Coming to the High Sierra!

Most of the participants are returning customers, but we have room for one or two more if anyone’s interested!

Bodie's Standard Mill

Milky Way Arch Over Standard Mill

Connect with me in all of the usual places for photographers: Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+YouTube, 500px, Tumblr, or my Web site.

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Top 10 Travel Photos: 2014

Milky Way rising behind the Standard Mill in Bodie, California

Continuing the retrospective look at my last decade of travel and landscape photography, 2006 – 2015, here are some of my favorites from 2014.

Sierra Crest Sunset Layers
The Minarets and Sierra Nevada at sunset
Snowy Day at Mono Lake
Mono Lake tufa rock formations selectively lit by the sun
Bodie Sunset Re-edit with HDR
Sunset in Bodie State Historic Park, California
SUCCESS!
NASA’s Orion EFT-1 launch at Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Sunrise Yesterday Morning
There’s no place like home.  A rock sheep enclosure at sunrise, Topaz Lake (on the California/Nevada border).
Revisting an Old Friend
One of the Death Valley slot canyons disclosed in my “Photographing California – South” guidebook
Partially Eclipsed Moon Setting, October 8, 2014
Moon setting over the Sierra Nevada, while emerging from the earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse!
Wild Mustangs
Wild mustangs in the Eastern Sierra

Bristlecone Pine
Playing with depth of field in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (iPhone 5S)

This was a selection of a few of my favorites from an album of over 45 photos from 2013, so there are many more that you might prefer over these. To see more of them, click on the link or album photo below.

More of my favorite photos from 2014:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffreysullivan/albums/72157650285822751

2014 Favorites

My Favorite Landscape / Travel Photos from Each Year, 2006 – 2016

Here are some of my collections from prior years.  It has been a great dozen years of adventure, I can’t wait to see what I can find to show you in the next 12!

New: 2017 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2016 Favorites photo album on Flickr
2016 Top 10 Landscape/Travel Blog Post

2015 Favorites photo album on Flickr
2015 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2014 Favorites photo album on Flickr
2014 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2013 Favorites photo album on Flickr
2013 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2012 Favorites photo album on Flickr
2012 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2011 Favorites album on Flickr
2011 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2010 Favorites album on Flickr
2010 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2009 Favorites photo album on Flickr
2009 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2008 Favorites photo album on Flickr
2008 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2007 Favorites photo album on Flickr 
2007 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post

2006 Favorites photo album on Flickr
2006 Top 10 Landscape / Travel Photos blog post


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Meteors with Venus, Jupiter & Mars in Zodiacal Light

Meteor with planets Venus, Jupiter and Mars

Meteor with Venus, Jupiter & Mars rising in zodiacal light during the Orionids, October 22, 2015

Who saw or photographed some Orionid meteors over the last night or two?  In the photo above, a meteor crosses over the path of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, rising in zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower around 5 am this morning, October 22, 2015.

Although the streak is clearly a meteor (note the characteristic green color), technically it’s not an Orionid, since the radiant point for the Orionid meteor shower is out of the upper right corner of the frame.  So this meteor is traveling at nearly a right angle to what its trajectory would be if it were one of the Orionids.

It may however be a Leo Minorid meteor, since its radiant point is to the left of Venus Jupiter and Mars this morning.  The Leo Minorid meteor shower peaks the morning of October 23, but it is a minor shower with an estimated 2 meteors per hour, but minor showers sometimes have an unexpectedly high rate, so tomorrow morning could offer a surprise from the Leo Minorids along with after-peak Orionids.

There are also random, sporadic meteors, particularly in the early morning, as your position on the earth rotates to the leading side of the earth as it travels through space rotating around the sun.

The Zodiacal light is sunlight shining off of dust in our solar system, the light tilted up from the lower left in the photo above.  You can experience the Zodiacal light, or false dawn, this time of year when a a pyramid-shaped glow can be seen in the east an hour before dawn’s first light (or 80 to 120 minutes before sunrise). This light is caused by sunlight reflecting off of dust particles in space in the same plane as earth and can resemble the lights from a city. It is tilted to follow the same ecliptic plane that the planets travel in.  Zodiacal light is best seen under dark skies, in places with minimal light pollution.  You can catch the Zodiacal light for another 2 or 3 mornings this month, but after that the moon will be too full and it will no longer set early enough to leave you with a dark enough sky to see this pre-dawn light.

You can see the Zodiacal light as the planets rise in this time-lapse video captured this morning before and twilight light started to brighten the sky:

Venus, Jupiter and Mars in Zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower this morning

#orionids #meteorshower #Canon #astrophotography

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Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight!

An Orionid meteor next to the constellation Orion

The annual Orionid meteor shower is created when Earth passes through trails of comet debris left in space long ago by Halley’s Comet as it orbits around the sun. The meteors, or “shooting stars”, develop when pieces of rock typically no larger than a pea, and mostly the size of a grain of sand, vaporize in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The constellation Orion rises to the east in the 11-11:30 pm timeframe.  The sky above you on the earth will encounter more meteors after midnight, as your position on the earth rotates around to its leading side as it moves through space rotating the sun.  For 2015, in mid Northern latitudes the first quarter moon (50% full) will set around 12:30 am early in the morning of October 21, so the sky will be darkest for seeing or capturing meteors in photographs from 12:30 am until morning twilight starts around 5:45 am.

This is a composite shot of the best meteors that I caught during the Orionid meteor shower in 2014, over the course of several hours in Central Nevada:

2014 Orionid meteor shower in Central Nevada.

 

Orion is roughly in the center, but you’ll notice that not all of the meteors radiate out from Orion as you might expect.  There are actually additional meteor showers active at this time, including the Northern Taurids and Southern Taurids, rising about 3 hours earlier than the Orionids, so they’re higher in the sky when Orion rises.

I used a star-tracking mount to follow Orion and produce that 2014 composite image, so when I created a time-lapse from the same footage, it turned out like this:

 

For a perspective fixed on the ground with the sky moving, here’s a time-lapse video from chasing the Orionid meteor shower in 2012 in the Mono Basin in the Eastern Sierra:

Where will you pursue this year’s Orionids?

#Orionids #meteorshower #astronomy #astrophotography #nightphotography

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See the “Super moon” Total Eclipse September 27 – 28, 2015!

Lunar Eclipse April 4, 2015

September 27, 2015, 6 pm –  See the “supermoon” total eclipse tonight!  For watchers in the Rocky Mountain states, partial eclipse begins at 7:11 pm local time, so look outside now!

For those of us on the West Coast of North America, the moon is below the horizon; moon rise occurs closer to sunset.  Here in the Eastern Sierra, local moon rise is around 6:44 pm and sunset is around 6:47 pm, depending upon how far north or south you are. The moon will clear the horizon to the east right around sunset, well into its partial eclipse phase, and be fully eclipsed from 7:11 – 8:23 pm. Then as the moon exits total eclipse, it will be in a partial eclipse for over an hour more.

For more specific eclipse phase timing in your region, see the article at www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/lunar/2015-september-28

Good luck with your lunar eclipse viewing and photography, let me know how you did!


Photography notes from the April 5, 2015 lunar eclipse:

Lunar eclipses are a fun challenge, in part because they push the limits of your equipment.  The image above was captured at 4:51 am during the April 4 lunar eclipse this year, about 6-7 minutes before totality, so there was a sliver of bright sunlight on the moon.

The Canon EF 70-200 f/4 IS lens that I used was well focused, but shooting any lens at it’s maximum aperture tends to result in slightly less sharp images.  Adding more glass elements such as the 2X teleconverter further challenges sharpness.  Adding a teleconverter also reduces the f-stop, in this case 2X to f/8.  I wanted to stay at or below below 1 second exposure time to reduce motion blur, and at ISO 1600 I could use 0.6 second.  The high ISO also creates a little bit of noise, which can also challenge fine detail.

I had changed my shooting location when the weather forecast made the original ones I had identified look less attractive with below freezing temperatures, high winds, and possible clouds to obscure the eclipse.  I decided to just catch what i could from home.  I was shooting a time-lapse sequence, and shooting at 400mm I had room to lengthen the exposure time as the moon darkened, but  and the moon set just before totality.

I had my Canon 70D with a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens on a star-tracking mount to capture a time-lapse of the eclipse progress without the moon moving out of the field of view.  at 300mm the effective focal length was 480mm, but shooting wide open at f/5.6 that lens was a little softer than the EF 70-200mm and 2X teleconverter combo, even with the moon’s relative motion taken out of the equation.

I was basically using the 5D Mark III to measure and track exposure as the eclipse progressed and the moon illumination constantly changed.

The 70D / 70-300mm combo is a lot lighter than the 5Dmkiii / 70-200mm / 2X combo.  Heavier camera bodies and longer, heavier lenses can sometimes cause various problems with sky tracking mounts, but it may be worthwhile to test the 5Dmkiii /70-200mm / 2X setup on the sky tracker and backing off of the maximum aperture and a stop or two on the ISO to get more sharpness and less noise, lengthening the exposure time.

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