Zoom Into the Black Hole at the Center of the Milky Way
Scientists just further confirmed what has long been believed: that there’s a supermassive black hole scientists named Sagittarius A* at the center of our Milky Way galaxy. This mind-blowing 1.5-minute video zooms in from a wide view of the night sky into the tiny little area where the latest telescopic observations were just made.
In a paper published on October 31st, 2018, scientists at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) detailed how they used the GRAVITY interferometer and the four telescopes of the Very Large Telescope (VLT) to create a virtual telescope that effectively has a diameter of 427 feet (130m).
Pointing this ultra-telescope straight at Sagittarius A*, scientists detected bright spots of gas traveling in orbits around Sagittarius A* at 30% the speed of light.
It’s “the first time material has been observed orbiting close to the point of no return, and the most detailed observations yet of material orbiting this close to a black hole,” ESO writes. “This video starts with a wide view of the Milky Way and then zooms into a visualization of data from simulations of orbital motions of gas swirling around at about 30% of the speed of light on a circular orbit around the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*.”
Scientists are creating larger and larger telescopes that will give us even more impressive images in the future. If you think this observation by the VLT was impressive, check out this graphic showing how its light-gathering ability compares to other current and future telescopes:
Brush Tool Challenge: Can You Retouch a Portrait Using ONLY the Brush Tool?
Can you do a professional retouch of a portrait photo using only Photoshop’s Brush tool? That’s what the Brush Tool Challenge is all about, and here’s a neat 22-minute video by photographer and retoucher Aaron Nace of PHLEARN showing how it can be done.
Nace says he was inspired to start the challenge after seeing makeup tutorials on applying makeup using only your fingers.
Nace first uses the Brush tool for skin retouching and blemish removal, painting his own skin color and texture as an alternative to using something like the Spot Healing Brush.
He also does dodging and burning by painting with black and white with a very low flow (about 5%) and the Soft Light blending mode.
Finally, Nace also does color correction by painting in complementary colors and changing the blend mode to Soft Light.
Here’s the retouched photo that resulted in the end:
While the differences are subtle, you can see them in this comparison GIF:
“Remember, this isn’t the way we would normally approach tackling complex tasks in Photoshop,” PHLEARN writes. “We still recommend giving this challenge a try! Exercises like this will really help you master individual tools while also developing the creative problem solving skills you’ll need to knock out your biggest projects!”
The Kardashians Won Halloween
This Halloween, the competition proved fierce with events ranging from our own party with Chanel, hosted by cover star Lily-Rose Depp, to, of course, Heidi Klum’s yearly anticipated celebrity-studded bash. That said, there did reign a supreme in this year’s costume contest—a supreme family to be exact. Yes, you know the one. The Kardashians, in the same manner that they’ve taken over reality TV, social media, and names starting with a K, they’ve also snatched Halloween.
Several years ago I developed a technique that I use for light painting in which I take a king size bed sheet and light paint through it to create my images. I recently created this 10-minute video tutorial explaining in detail how to achieve this creative effect.
I am also always looking for ways to push myself creatively and adding new photography techniques while using my sheet technique. Lately, I’ve been pushing myself to find interesting daytime subjects, such as sunsets, sunrise, moody skies, colorful trees, etc., and using a technique called “racking” or “zoom/pull”.
Basically how racking works is that you find whatever subject you are photographing and, using long exposure, you manually move your focal ring forward or backward while your shutter is open creating a zoom effect. I’m using an ND filter for this process to ensure 5 to 8-second exposures and richer balanced contrast through my exposure when doing this racking effect.
Now step two is where it gets really fun. I’m using a Canon 6D, which has an in-camera double exposure setting. It allows me to take my zoom/pull photo that I shot outside and set that image to be light-painted over in my studio.
It is important to note that when using in-camera double exposure, “Additive” is what should be applied — not “Average,” because we are adding a new light element to the frame, not an average light source. You have full flexibility using this technique as far as your shutter speed you want to use as well as whatever aperture you want to set, but your ISO must remain as what was originally used for the first image.
Finding that balance can be a little tricky but I have found ISO 640 to ISO 1000, f/7.1-f/13, and a 5-10 second shutter to work well for the first outside image with an ND filter. And for the second inside image, it would again be ISO 640 to ISO 1000 — that can not be changed from the original image — and then f/13-f/22.
This entire process came together perfect the other night when I set out to catch the sunset from the Blue Ridge parkway here where I live in Virginia USA. I noticed the trees looked so amazing with the sunset backlit behind them, so I decided not leave empty-handed and do some zoom/pull images as described above with my Canon 6D and Sigma 24-105mm at f/8, 8″ seconds, ISO 1000, with a Hoya ND filter.
I then took those images I took from that vibrant sunset and used them as in-camera double exposure that I then light-painted over using my sheet technique all done in-camera with my Canon 6D, Sigma 24-105mm at 10s+, f/22, ISO 1000 using my sheet technique.
Thank you very much for allowing me to share my creative work process with you.
About the author: Jason Rinehart is a light-painting photographer who holds a Guinness Book of World Records achievement in light painting. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of his work on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
iPhone ‘Beautygate’ Skin Smoothing IS Gone in iOS 12.1: See For Yourself
The latest iPhones’ tendency to aggressively smooth out skin in selfies is no more. Apple recently acknowledged that the phenomenon, dubbed “Beautygate” by some,” was a bug and promised a fix. That fix just arrived in the new iOS 12.1 this week.
Apple said last week that Smart HDR has been choosing the wrong base frame for HDR processing when iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR users snap selfies. By erroneously selecting longer shutter speeds instead of shorter ones, blur was introduced into the resulting photos, and this blur is what people mistakenly believed was an intentional skin-smoothing beauty filter (which some smartphones around the world explicitly DO offer).
How to Build a DIY Long-Term Weatherproof Timelapse Rig
In the fall of 2017, I had the opportunity to capture the transformation of an empty plot of land turning into a high-tech vehicle test track. The bulk of the construction would take place for about a year. My friend and colleague, Ryan, and I were tasked with capturing that transformation into a timelapse video.
We wanted a high-up vantage point to place a camera. The site is at an airport, so there was a nearby airline hangar where we had access to the roof. With that established as our best vantage point, we had to decide what kind of camera to use.
Here were the challenges
1. The camera needed to be weatherproof, since we would be leaving it outside for many months, through a Michigan winter and summer.
2. We would only be able to visit the camera about once a month.
We considered security cameras, point, and shoots, DSLRs… everything. We landed on an entry-level DSLR because it was going to give us the best image quality for the price (and the most control), and a cheaper DSLR camera would be better since there was definitely a chance of the entire rig being ruined by exposure to the weather.
At some point, I had run into a webpage where glacier researchers built a weatherproof rig that was left out for months at a time. Since then I’ve seen a few instances where this technique was used. We used this as our guide to construct a rig that would get what we needed.
Here’s a list of the gear we used to build the rig:
With the intervalometer and the dummy battery, we could leave the camera on, non-stop, capturing photos at timed intervals. The glacier researchers did one photo per day. We decided to do one photo per hour, with the thought that it would give us more opportunities to use photos to better show the construction process. If we wanted to do one photo per day, we could just use every 24th photo.
It was time to go to the shop and put the rig together.
The first step was to install the lens port in the front of the Pelican case. To do this, I used a power drill to make holes in a circle to fit the 3.5″ PVC pipe, after marking where the lens would protrude out of the case. It had to be a tight fit, so this took some time. Pelican cases are not easy to “destroy”!
We were making progress!
The next task was to seal the PVC pipe to the pelican case. I used Gorilla Glue to make a solid connection between the two. Caulk was then added to the seam on the outside, and hot glue was applied to the inside to strengthen the seal. The UV filter was added to the front and sealed with more glue and caulk.
Helpful tip: Getting glue on the lens of the filter will be hard to remove later. I covered the glass with masking tape until construction was complete.
After the port was completely dry, we began working on the mount that would hold the camera in place when the case was closed.
We used two steel L-brackets to hold a wooden platform in place. Both the wood and the brackets were just laying around in my shop, but they worked great. The two L-brackets were bolted to the front of the case through pre-drilled holes. These were then covered with calk to seal the holes.
In the center of the wood platform, we drilled a hole to insert a 1/4″ screw that held the camera securely to it. At this point, the camera was connected directly to the front of the case and was secure when we closed the case. We did a light shake test to make sure everything was nice and tight.
To connect the case to the tripod, we pre-drilled a hole to insert another 1/4″ screw down to a tripod baseplate. The ball head we used was one we had on-hand, but if I were to do this in the future I’d pick a more secure head. Again… more on this later.
The lens port was installed, the camera was bolted to the inside of the case, and the case was successfully attached to the tripod. The only thing left to do was drill a hole in the bottom of the case for the dummy battery cord. Again, glue and caulk were applied to seal the hole.
All of this took a few days, as we had to wait for different parts to dry before we could continue.
The intervalometer and the AC adapter for the dummy battery were both attached inside the rig via double-sided tape. Because of the heat that the rig would eventually endure, the tape’s stickiness would melt and by the end, they were both sitting at the bottom of the inside of the case, but it did not change the images.
With the rig build complete, we set it up on the roof of the hangar, plugged it into a nearby outlet, and weighed the tripod with a weight to prevent movement from wind. The intervalometer was set for 1 hr increments, we closed up the case and … left it there for a month.
The first time we checked on it there was virtually no wear on the case and the camera was still working, but after a few more months we encountered cobwebs, bird activity, a scrap piece of paper that somehow found its way into the lens hood, and more. But… for the most part, the lens was clear of debris and we were getting good results.
The biggest challenge was adequately capturing the construction progress from our vantage point. We weren’t up high enough to see a lot of the progress outside of a thin strip on the horizon. Fortunately, the images were really big and we could crop into different areas throughout the time lapse.
After more than a year, we collected the rig and began processing photos. Here is a demo of all the images captured:
You can see by these preliminary results that the timelapse isn’t very good simply by stringing the photos together. This was going to take some careful processing.
I removed all the photos at night, and that still didn’t make it much better. I ended up removing all the photos that had hard shadows. Fortunately, there were a lot of cloudy days.
After some stabilization, the results looked a little like this:
The camera rig, for the most part, was successful. The camera was not destroyed and still works today. (It’s currently set up on property in the Grand Rapids area capturing the changing fall colors.)
One thing I would change is the ball head. Either wind or human tampering caused the camera to move a little bit. I would use a more heavy duty head to prevent this.
The biggest challenge with this project was camera placement. The results, in my opinion, aren’t great. I expected to be able to see a bigger change in front of the camera. Unfortunately, we were limited in where we could put the camera. In the future, I think this would work really well for change that is easier to see.
About the author: Drew Mason is a Michigan based content creator who specializes in outdoor travel. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. See more of Mason’s work on his website, Instagram, and Facebook. This article was also published here.
Balmain Returns to Couture
In an unexpected announcement at WWD’s Retail & Apparel CEO Summit, designer Olivier Rousteing announced that Balmain will be returning to the world of couture this coming January.
“Looking to bring back the Parisian DNA,” Rousteing excitingly shared the news with a committed energy to live up to the task. Throughout his discussion this morning, he commented on the importance of timelessness, the quality you present and knowing your customers. A majority of the modern Balmain hype comes f…
I’ve Never Flown a Drone. Here’s My Review of the DJI Mavic 2 Pro
Since the 2010 launch of the Parrot AR.Drone, consumer interest in drones has skyrocketed. DJI’s ubiquitous Phantom, originally released in 2013, has spawned multiple iterations and the company has further developed product lines like the Spark and Mavic to fill various niches and price points.
The drone has become another tool in the storytelling arsenal with its ability to capture incredibly high quality stills and video from a perspective that was once reserved for helicopters or expensive commercial units.
I’ve been tempted to join the drone game for years, but I’ve resisted the urge to dip my toe into the waters because the earliest units were too complicated, large, and expensive. I deferred my dream to other photographers and videographers who had more patience, skill, and need than me.
But over the years, my Instagram feed has been infiltrated with incredible aerial images, and after attending the launch of the DJI Mavic 2 Pro earlier this year, I decided it was time to take one out for a spin. I made my way to the DJI Offices in Soho to pick up a loaner unit, and was promptly asked, “Have you ever flown a drone before?”
A brief in-person tutorial ensued, followed a few hours later by an email strongly suggesting that I also borrow a smaller, cheaper Spark to practice with. A perfectly reasonable request, which I quickly ignored!
If you’re accustomed to seeing those flying white rectangles (those are Phantoms), you might be surprised by the size and compactness of the Mavic 2. The propeller arms swing and fold into a unit the size of a brick, but significantly lighter. The radio frequency (RF) controller plugs into your smartphone giving you a pretty solid video feed. Omni-directional sensors help the drone avoid obstacles (at least in some flight modes), and the unit is pretty darn easy to fly, even for a neophyte.
But let me pause here for a PSA.
The proliferation of drones has led the FAA to require a remote pilot certificate for commercial use. Although recreational use is exempt from this requirement, I spent a few hours familiarizing myself with the rules (e.g. no flying within 5 miles of an airport) and reviewing the airspace maps to get a clear understanding of my potential flight areas. Even little drones can cause devastating damage to aircraft wings, so all drone operators need to exercise caution.
I felt exhilarated the first time (and second and third) time I flew. The experience reminded me of learning to drive a car as a teen and getting on the highway for the first time – what a rush! Controlling the drone and seeing the live birdseye view is almost an ineffable feeling, and reviewing the images and video later on a large screen is incredibly satisfying.
Prepping the Unit
There are a plethora of YouTube videos on how to set-up your drone if you’re not inclined to read directions, and this was the route I took. In truth, set up is simple. In my mind, attaching the propellers was going to be a daunting task, but the design makes assembly nearly impossible to screw up.
Like other drones, the Mavic 2 connects to your smartphone (Android or iPhone) via the DJI Go app (your phone is used as the live monitor), while the controller provides the RF connection to the drone. I had to update the firmware on both devices and update the geofencing database – a mechanism on most consumer drones to avoid flying in restricted areas.
The “Fly More” kit (USD$139) gives you additional batteries and a charging hub that holds up to 4 batteries. But beware! The hub doesn’t charge batteries simultaneously – it charges them in sequence with priority given to the battery with the most charge.
Orienting yourself in 3D space takes a while. It’s not hard to fly the drone at all, and by most accounts, the Mavic 2 is significantly quieter than most drones. The left joystick controls altitude and nose direction, and the right joystick controls forward, backward, left and right movement. But maintaining visual line-of-sight of the drone is challenging because it wasn’t intuitive to match what I saw on the screen with the position of the drone. The drone was often lower on the horizon that I anticipated, but still higher on the altimeter than I thought.
The approximately 30 minute battery flight time went by in a flash during my maiden flight. There was so much to see, and soon the controller’s low battery warning (which kicks in at 25% by default) was incessantly beeping. You’re definitely going to need multiple batteries for any serious use.
In 2015, DJI bought a minority stake in Hasselblad. In early 2017, the minority stake became a majority stake, and the Mavic 2 Pro’s camera is company’s first collaboratively designed drone camera featuring a 20MP 1” sensor – a pretty significant update from the Mavic Pro’s 1 / 2.3” sensor – and akin in size to the Sony RX100. The camera has a variable aperture (f/2.8 – f/11), an ISO range up to 12,800 and a field-of-view roughly equivalent to an iPhone (28mm on full-frame).
DJI also brags about integrating Hasselblad Natural Colour Solution, an optimized color profile that “delivers the best possible natural colors from the selected chip without having to select from multiple presets.” I did find the JPGs to be punchy with some images appearing with boosted saturation and contrast similar to something out of an iPhone or Pixel.
You can also shoot in RAW which yields a DNG file (not a Hasselblad 3FR file), which can be processed in your favorite image editing program, or you can download Hasselblad Phocus for free.
The UI allows you to toggle between still and video modes. You can’t do both simultaneously, although you can obviously use a video grab if there is sufficient light. Taking a picture is accomplished by pressing the virtual shutter button, which momentarily freezes the display. There is a burst mode, but I opted to use the single shot mode. Timing became pretty essential.
Still photography has been my main interest, and I found taking pictures to be an intuitive process that yielded great results. It took a few days of shooting to find which angles I thought worked best from a birdseye view, but the results were worth it.
The camera’s light meter had a tendency to blow highlights. This was particularly noticeable when shooting video in high dynamic range situations. But you can dial in some exposure compensation, or set the camera in a completely manual mode.
In the basic video mode, controlling camera and drone movement is completely manual. Although I had some complex camera movements in mind (e.g. circling a subject at a constant distance), my flying skills weren’t good enough to do it convincingly. Add in the ability to tilt the camera up and down, and you suddenly realize why DJI created pre-programmed modes.
For example, the drone can auto-track a subject, which also has the added benefit of enabling all of the omnidirectional collision avoidance sensors. And I have to tell you, seeing the drone track something or someone while avoiding things around it is pretty incredible. Tracking isn’t flawless with fast-moving subjects or when the camera loses contrast detection, but it’s good enough for many applications.
The camera supports DJI’s 10-bit Dlog-M Color Profile. For video amateurs like myself, this means that the tonally flatter output is easier to color grade in post. Because I’ve had very little experience grading footage, and don’t own any plug-in LUTs, I decided to stick with the out-of-camera H.264 4k video, and still came away impressed.
It’s also a testament to the gimbal. Even in situations where I was getting high wind speed warnings, the video was often incredibly stable. Clearly the state of consumer gimbal technology has improved to near professional quality levels – and DJI has leveraged their experience in their Ronin line of camera stabilizers.
But the gimbal can only do so much. In high wind areas, excessive movement will cause the jelly-like appearance of the rolling shutter.
As a part of the drone’s start-up sequence, it calibrates an IMU, or inertial measurement unit. This bit of electronics is responsible for making sure the drone is where it thinks it is and is moving in the direction that it should be. As such, it’s somewhat sensitive to magnetic interference, and I was surprised to find things like metal fences and rebar in concrete sometimes caused the unit to throw an error.
Also, the unit that DJI lent me for this review started acting up after a couple of days. The process of connecting to the controller to the drone degraded and it became continually more difficult to pair until it stopped altogether.
I tried using the somewhat abysmally designed desktop software DJI Assistant 2 to try downgrading the firmware. But the software wouldn’t connect the Mavic 2 to my MacBook Pro.
I was so frustrated after spending hours trying to debug the unit, that I ended up buying my own Mavic 2 Pro at a local Best Buy, and that’s perhaps the best endorsement I can make of the unit. I had so much fun in the first few days of using the drone, that the thought of not having it for another week while visiting my parents in Hawai’i was unfathomable.
My unit performed flawlessly for the rest of the trip.
I ended up flying the Mavic 2 Pro every day. I even woke up before sunrise one morning to go flying, which is frankly unheard of for this night owl. Using a drone in a big city like New York is impractical (and mostly illegal), but in less densely populated areas of Hawai’i, it’s a dream.
Like a new lens, the drone is simply a tool that allows you to capture the world in a different way. And right now, I’m in the honeymoon phase. But with its ability to get you into positions you physically cannot occupy, drones seemingly offer more unusually creative perspectives – fueling my creatives juices and motivation.
Given that this was my first experience with a drone, I don’t really have any basis for comparison. But I can say even first time flyers will have no problem piloting the drone and capturing compelling content. It’s a compact, incredibly well-designed piece of hardware with stellar image quality. All of this to say that the Mavic 2 Pro is a pretty damn good piece of gear, and I can’t wait to “Go Fly” again.
About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter, which regularly publishes resources for photographers. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article was also published here.
If you fly a DJI Matrice 200 drone, beware: there are reports of the drone losing power and falling out of the sky. DJI says it’s currently investigating.
BBC News reports that UK police have grounded the drone after a police drone “experienced an in-flight issue” and landed onto the roof of a commercial building. Officials later stated that some of the drones suffered a “complete loss of power during flight.”
The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) then followed up with a notice warning that a bug can result “in the aircraft falling directly to the ground,” even when the battery still holds a charge. As a result, the CAA is advising that operators stay at least 50m (164ft) away from (and never directly above) people, vehicles, and structures.
DJI quickly issued a notice last Friday acknowledging that it received reports of the issue and vowing to investigate and fix the problem.
DJI followed up with another notice today advising owners to fly with caution if they use TB50 and TB55 in their drones.
“DJI is investigating reports that a small number of batteries have shown incorrect power levels that have led to loss of power mid-flight,” DJI writes, saying that it’s working on a firmware update for the affected batteries that will provide “improvements to flight safety.”
You’ll be able to download the firmware fix through the DJI Pilot App in the “coming weeks.” Until then, DJI is instructing owners to land and recharge when their batteries reach about 30% of their capacity.