LED Bulbs Are NOT Created Equal – Three Bulbs Compared


It is often suggested that a complete light painting kit for night photography should include both incandescent and LED light sources due to the tremendous variation in color temperature between them. But what is equally important to understand is that LED bulbs have a great deal of variation within the LED technology itself. The image above shows the variation in color temperature between three Nitecore company products, each fitted with a different CREE LED bulb.

The shots above were all taken from the same distance, with the three lights adjusted to the same approximate output. All three images were taken within moments of each other, using the same flat-white foam core board and x-Rite color checker device.


The CREE XP-G2 Cool White (as used in the Nitecore EC-21) appears to be the coolest of the three bulbs, with a strong bluish tint. The CRI (Color Rendering Index) of the cool white version of the XP-G2 bulb is 70. A high CRI number is good – the higher the Index, the more accurate the bulb can render the colors. In this case, a CRI of 70 is not a particularly good score for color rendition (for a discussion of the significance of the CRI Index, see here).

The CREE XM-L2 Neutral White (as used in the Nitecore HC-90 Headlamp) moves away from the strong cool blue cast of the XP-G2, but shows an almost greenish tint to the subject. The CRI of the Neutral White version of the XM-L2 is 80, and while not great, is an improvement over the XP-G2 Cool White.

The CREE MT-G2 EasyWhite (as used in the Nitecore P36) is the warmest of all three bulbs compared here. With this bulb, the blue color cast entirely disappears, with the bulb casting a rich warmth to the subject. The CRI Index of this bulbs jumps up to 90, which is considered a very good score. For color rendering accuracy, this bulb outperforms the other two in this article.

There is more to a light than just a bulb, however. Each type of light functions differently, and has been designed for a specific purpose. This is why the major manufacturers each have such a dizzying array of products in their lineup, and why it can be baffling trying to determine which light might be best to purchase. In this regard, I will be reviewing these three LED lights, as well as other lighting equipment in the near future, pointing out those features I find important, and those that are not.  I thought it would be helpful, however, to establish the difference in LED bulbs before starting the specific light reviews.

Creating Elliptical Star Paths in Adobe Lightroom – Part 1

Terlingua Cemetery Monument

There are several techniques used to create this image, including a method of creating elliptical star paths that is easily accomplished from within Adobe Lightroom. I will walk you through the steps I used to create the image, leaving the elliptical star paths for last.

Initial test shot

This is the initial test shot taken of the cemetery entrance monument. I used this shot to confirm sharp focus and to verify that the composition was what I desired. The hand held lighting was used here simply to aid in focusing the monument in the dark, especially helpful as this image was taken on a moonless night. Once focus and composition were confirmed, it was time to begin light painting the monument.

First layer of light painting

This first light painting exposure was used to create the overall color I wanted to impart to the photograph. This was illuminated using a hand-held LED flashligt with the addition of a red gel held in front of the light. The light was cast from the side, giving some dimension and texture to the monument. The side lighting helps prevent the flat, one-dimensional look that front lighting usually creates. The interior of the monument was lit with a small tea lamp. Because of the side lighting, you will notice a distracting shadow being cast on the right side of the alcove above.

Fill lighting layer

I took another exposure, this time using my hand-held light as a fill-light to paint away the shadow on the right of the alcove. I was not concerned about over-exposing the alcove in this shot, because I was only going to be using the portion of this exposure that filled in the harsh shadow on the right side of the alcove.

To recap, to this point I had three exposures, one test shot, one light-painted exposure, and one fill-light exposure. Now I needed to burn in some star circles.

Star circle layer

This is the exposure that was used to capture the star circles. This was a 1 hr@ISO200 exposure, which was enough time to capture star circles of the length I desired. There is no “right” or “wrong” length to star circles – whatever length works for your own artistic sensibilities is the length to use.

Now that I had captured all of the data out in the field that would be necessary to produce the final image, it was time to get creative in front of the computer.  The first step was to stack all of the source images as layers in Photoshop. The second step was to blend my light-painted layers with the star-circle layer until I achieved the lighting I desired in the final image The third step is where the novel technique used to create elliptical star paths occurs.

Lightroom Lens Corrections

The magic occurs by simply instructing Adobe Lightroom to apply a Lens Correction Profile it has no business using (under normal circumstances). In the case of this image, the lens actually used to record the images was a Rokinon 24mm f1.4. I experimented with various lens profiles, and settled on using the lens profile for a Nikon-Nikor 16mm Fisheye.  You can see from the screen capture above, the application of this (incorrect) lens profile created distortion in the star paths – exactly the effect I wanted – with just 1 click!!!

Now I finished the image by cropping the image to a pleasing dimension, touching up some hot pixels, and ended by performing some color corrections.

Terlingua Cemetery Monument

This is the final image, after cropping, blending, and color corrections. Notice that I chose to alter the color temperature of the sky from what I originally captured on location. Some viewers will like the color of the sky, some will not. Do what pleases you – you are the creative artist. Odds are, if you like the results, your audience most likely will also!

If this interests you, please check out Creating Elliptical Star Paths in Adobe Lightroom – Part 2, which shows a different, but related, method of creating elliptical star paths using the Transform Panel in Lightroom, this time applied to an image taken in Boxley Valley, Arkansas.

Microsoft Surface Studio – Abundant Potential with a Beautiful Design


Microsoft will begin shipping the new Surface Studio computer in early 2017. From what I see in the promotional materials and specifications, this could well be a game changer for photographic editing, particularly if Adobe gets on board by tweaking it’s editing lineup to take advantage of the surface disk that Microsoft offers.

This is one gorgeously designed piece of hardware, something that you could easily imagine Apple having concocted.  One key to the success of the Surface Studio will be Microsoft’s commitment to evolving this product over time to meet the needs of graphic artists and photographers. If Microsoft takes this seriously, they could well replace Apple as the hardware of choice for graphic artists, as Apple seems to be much more focused on smartphones and music sales than computers these days.

Microsoft has posted an informational page on the Surface Studio here, with specifications, features, and pre-ordering available.

Hello World….Again (for the third time)

Times change, interests change, and life circumstances change over time. It has been several years since selling La Esperanza, and during that time this Ranch Ramblins blog has been sitting idle.

This post marks the relaunch of this blog, with the new name of Night Sky Ramblins. The focus will be all things pertaining to night photography, including sharing of my images, equipment and software insights, and experiences that arise in my quest for the ultimate night photograph.

I thought about deleting all of my old Ranch Ramblins posts from the blog, but nostalgic impulses took over. The posts from Ranch Ramblins represent reflections from about 6 years of my life. Rather than purging them from the new Night Sky Ramblins, I’ve decided to retain them. After all, no one is forcing visitors to read old posts, and who knows- at some time in the future I might want to relaunch one more time, perhaps as Assisted Living Ramblins, but hopefully not Nursing Home Grumblings!

Any comments you may have are always welcome (except for politics – apparently that is what Facebook is for). I don’t want to do politics here, OK? Thanks for cooperating :)

A Remarkable Story of Hope

Freedom and Jeff
Freedom and I have been together 10 years this summer. She came in as a baby in 1998 with two broken wings. Her left wing doesn’t open all the way even after surgery, it was broken in 4 places. She’s my baby.

When Freedom came in she could not stand. Both wings were broken, her left wing in 4 places. She was emaciated and covered in lice. We made the decision to give her a chance at life, so I took her to the vets office. From then on, I was always around her. We had her in a huge dog carrier with the top off, and it was loaded up with shredded newspaper for her to lay in. I used to sit and talk to her, urging her to live, to fight; and she would lay there looking at me with those big brown eyes. We also had to tube feed her for weeks.

This went on for 4-6 weeks, and by then she still couldn’t stand. It got to the point where the decision was made to euthanize her if she couldn’t stand in a week. You know you don’t want to cross that line between torture and rehab, and it looked like death was winning. She was going to be put down that Friday, and I was supposed to come in on that Thursday afternoon. I didn’t want to go to the center that Thursday, because I couldn’t bear the thought of her being euthanized; but I went anyway, and when I walked in everyone was grinning from ear to ear. I went immediately back to her dowl cage; and there she was, standing on her own, a big beautiful eagle. She was ready to live. I was just about in tears by then. That was a very good day.

We knew she could never fly, so the director asked me to glove train her. I got her used to the glove, and then to jesses, and we started doing education programs for schools in western Washington. We wound up in the newspapers, radio (believe it or not) and some TV. Miracle Pets even did a show about us.

In the spring of 2000, I was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. I had stage 3, which is not good (one major organ plus everywhere), so I wound up doing 8 months of chemo. Lost the hair – the whole bit. I missed a lot of work. When I felt good enough, I would go to Sarvey and take Freedom out for walks. Freedom would also come to me in my dreams and help me fight the cancer. This happened time and time again.

Fast forward to November 2000, the day after Thanksgiving, I went in for my last checkup. I was told that if the cancer was not all gone after 8 rounds of chemo, then my last option was a stem cell transplant. Anyway, they did the tests; and I had to come back Monday for the results. I went in Monday, and I was told that all the cancer was gone.

So the first thing I did was get up to Sarvey and take the big girl out for a walk. It was misty and cold. I went to her flight and jessed her up, and we went out front to the top of the hill. I hadn’t said a word to Freedom, but somehow she knew. She looked at me and wrapped both her wings around me to where I could feel them pressing in on my back (I was engulfed in eagle wings), and she touched my nose with her beak and stared into my eyes, and we just stood there like that for I don’t know how long. That was a magic moment. We have been soul mates ever since she came in. This is a very special bird.

On a side note: I have had people who were sick come up to us when we are out, and Freedom has some kind of hold on them. I once had a guy who was terminal come up to us and I let him hold her. His knees just about buckled and he swore he could feel her power coarse through his body. I have so many stories like that.

I never forget the honor I have of being so close to such a magnificent spirit as Freedoms.

Hope you enjoy this.


Jeff Guidry and Freedom are at Sarvey Wildlife Center: http://www.sarveywildlife.org/

(Note of clarification – this article is Jeff Guidry’s writing, not mine)

Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (Gateway Arch) – St. Louis, Missouri

Gateway Arch

Sandwiched between downtown St. Louis to the west, and the Mississippi River to the east lies the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.  The 91 acres of the Memorial are home to the Gateway Arch, the Museum of Westward Expansion, and the Old [St. Louis County] Courthouse.  The links provided above provide plenty of details about the Memorial, but briefly, the park was created to commemorate:

  • The Louisana Purchase, and the subsequent westward exploration and expansion of the United States.
  • The first civil government west of the Mississippi River.
  • The debate over slavery raised by the Dred Scott case.

Approaching the Arch on foot from the north, one immediately notices the similarity to the Washington Monument, althought the illusion soon disappears as you move to the side of the towering arch.

The actual size of the arch cannot be fully appreciated until you approach the very base and gaze in an upward direction.  You soon find yourself jockeying for a suitable position to view the entire arch at one time.

Alas, the dimensions of the arch are so vast, and the field of vision of our eyes so comparatively narrow, we come to realize that from this close proximity we can only view a portion of the arch with each gaze.

The height of the arch measures 630 feet, which exactly matches the 630 foot width of the arch at its base.  It is quite an experience to stand directly underneath the apex of the arch and look up – the top of the arch seems far, far away!  It occurs to me that this might be the only time in my life that I have stood directly underneath any structure this tall!  So help me out – if you can think of any example of a structure that a person can stand under that exceeds the height of the Gateway Arch, please leave a comment explaining where.

After standing underneath the arch, you might decide to ride the tram to the top of the Gateway Arch.  After purchasing your tickets for the tram, you will make your way to the tram loading station, where you will enter a tram pod for the ride up the inside of the arch.  There are eight tram pods on the north leg of the arch, and eight pods on the south leg.  Each of the pods can hold up to five people.  As you can see from the photo above, the loading zone for the tram is fairly level on the horizontal plane. Yet the tram must travel up an arch leg that is almost straight up on the vertical plane.  How is this accomplished?

The tram, consisting of eight pods, is not a single structure, but rather a row of eight independently suspended units, as seen above.  The pods are in lateral alignment along the horizontal parts of the journey, and stack up, one above the other on the vertical portion of the ascent.

This is what the interior of the tram pod looks like.  In the off-season, you may end up with a pod to yourself, but each pod holds up to five passengers, albeit snugly.  The trip to the top of the Gateway Arch takes four minutes – the trip down, three minutes.

Once at the top of the arch, the tram lets you off at the observation area, where rows of windows allow you to see the surrounding countryside for many miles in each direction.

Upon gazing out of the observation windows, one is immediately struck with the realization of how high the arch towers above the St. Louis skyline.  To get a sense of size, the enclosed football stadium on the right-hand side of the photo above is the Edward Jones Dome, the home of the NFL’s St.Louis Rams.

Directly to the west is the Old Courthouse, which is also part of the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.  Most notably, this was the court of original jurisdiction in the historic Dred Scott v. Sandford case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that Africans brought to the United States as slaves (or their descendants) were not protected by the United States Constitution, and could never be citizens.

To the southwest one can see Busch Stadium III, completed in 2006 and home of MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals.

To the east one can see the mighty Mississippi River.  The color of the Mississippi River is not as blue as this photo would suggest.  This is simply a reflection of the blue sky above; from a land-based perspective, the river is typically brown.

Looking directly below the arch to the northwest, lies the first of two large reflecting pools.

The second reflecting pool lies immediately below the arch to the southwest.

Housed below the arch in an underground facility is the Museum of Westward Expansion, documenting the growth of the United States, from inception to the present, with an impressive collection of artifacts and exhibits.

There are two theaters located within the monument.  One theater shows a documentary film in which you learn how the Gateway Arch was constructed.  The second theater shows an IMAX large screen format film chronicling the expedition by Lewis and Clark to document the western territories of the United States.  Both films are very well done, and worth the time to see.

All-in-all, the time spend exploring the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial is time well-spent. If I didn’t think this was worth visiting, I wouldn’t have posted about it!