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How to remove dirty sensor spot from your photo - Nikon Only


Imagine you just returned from a vacation of a lifetime and your camera's memory card is full of memories :) I mean wonderful photographs you had taken during the entire vacation. You just can't wait to see how those photos would look on the big screen. So the first thing you would do after reaching home would be transferring those photos to your computer and opened them in the viewer. And your excitement just disappeared, something was not looking right! There were dark spots in few places in those photos. You checked the next photo, and the next one after that, and the last one of the lot. They all have the same problem. Those spots came from your image sensor. It was dirty before you went for vacation and somehow you forgot to clean it. Maybe you did not know it was dirty. But what could you do now? Removing those spot using photo editing software would be a daunting task. You may not even have those software license or the skills!! 

Fortunately, Nikon has a feature in their camera called 'Dust off Reference Photo'.  Along with their free Capture NX-D software, you can batch process all of your photos at once and all of those spots would magically disappear from your photos. I'm going to walk you through step by step on how to achieve this.


Before you read further, I must tell you that this process works only with RAW photos i.e. files names with .NEF extension.

Taking the Image Dust Off ref photo:

  1. First press the 'Menu' button in your Nikon DSLR
  2. Scroll down to 'Setting'
  3. Enter the setting menu and scroll down to 'Image Dust Off ref photo

  4.  You need to choose the first option, i.e. 'Start'  if you are going to need to clean up images taken before you perform this activity. Here is what Nikon says. "Dust off reference data recorded before image sensor cleaning is performed cannot be used with photographs taken after image sensor cleaning is performed. Select Clean sensor and then start only if the dust off reference data will not be used with existing photographs."
  5. Once you press 'Ok' for any of those option, the camera will pop you the following message. 

  6. Read carefully, it says "BRIGHT featureless WHITE Object". This is where most people get it wrong.  I use a A4 / Letter size printer paper for this. Now for the 'Bright' part, make sure the light is good enough. It is better if done in outdoor, however you can use a well lit room as well. If the light is not enough, the camera will display the following error.
    If you get such error, it simply means the light is not bright enough. Though Nikon says all setting is automatic, here are few things you also need to consider.
    1. The focal length of the lens should be 50mm or more
    2. Put it in aperture priority and use the highest f number available in your lens e.g. f22 or f32
    3. Distance from the lens to the white object should be 10cm or less
    4. If the lens is manual  focus, set the focus to infinity
  7. Once the camera is successful in taking the ref photo it would look something like this. 

  8. Now take another photo of any object in regular exposure. Nikon would not tell you about this but trust me, you will need this extra photo. I prefer taking a shot of blue sky. All sensor darts are easy to identify in blue sky shot without cloud.
  9. Now transfer these two photos ( dust off ref photo and the regular photo you just shot) into the same directory where you have all those images with dirty spots.
  10. Open the folder in Nikon Capture NX-D software and click on any of the photo you want to fix.
  11. Go to Camera and Lens Corrections on the left panel and click on the 'Change' button you see just below 'Dust off ref photo was taken at:' 

  12. You would get an error messages like this below. 

  13. You know that you just copied the dust off ref photos in that directory. So why Capture NX-D can't find it? This is where everyone gets it wrong. Your dust off ref photo must have a timestamp close to the photo you want to fix. It can't apply to a photo taken few days before the dust off ref photo was taken. This is also logical as actual dust on ref photo must match with the one we are fixing. So what can you do if the Capture NX-D can't find the ref photo. I would suggest a workaround that is super easy to use.
  14. We will use the photo you have taken just after you took the dust off ref photo. Click on that photo and repeat step 11 above. Now Capture NX-D will happily apply the ref photo and remove it's dust. If that was a blue sky shot, you can enlarge and verify all darts are gone.
  15. Now go to Adjust tab and click on 'Copy All Adjustment. Once done, select one of  the actual image you want to fix and come back to Adjust(A) tab and click 'Paste Adjustment'.  That's it, your image would now be spot free.


Now you can do a batch processing by selecting all the remaining images at once and then click on 'Paste Adjustment' as you just did for one of the image.  You now got your holiday images spot free, time to share them with family and friends. 

Few points to note:

1. If you want to use this feature, do not perform a 'Clean Image Sensor' operation before you take the dust off reference photo. The ref photo must be taken in the same condition of your camera image sensor when you shot those photos that are showing dark spot on sensor. Obviously, cleaning would remove some dart from the sensor.
2. If your camera has setting 'Clean image sensor during shutdown / startup', you may want to disable that setting. Any DOF taken after sensor cleaning operation will not be able to clean the photo properly. I have it disabled and perform that operation only once in a week or month depending on the frequency of my photo shoot. This in-built image sensor cleaning function can't remove stubborn darts, it is only useful for removing loose darts mainly accumulated due to static electricity. 

3. Always shoot RAW and latter convert them into jpeg. If you really need immediate jpeg then shoot RAW + jpeg. Most of the edit features only work on NEF files.
 
All the best with your future images. If this blog was useful to you, please subscribe for future tips or leave me a comment.

Related Blog Post: How To Clean DSLR Image Sensor




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How to Photograph the Elusive Milky way

You have seen many spectacular photos of night sky and milky way. Have you ever wonder how those photographs were shot? No, those are not  digital art made in image editing software. Those were shot in camera where some special techniques are involved. I'm going to give you all the tips you need to produce such image. But you would need to practice a lot before you can master them. I will first list the gadgets you would need, followed by the soft skills you need to master.

The Gadgets:
  • A Sturdy Tripod
  • A Camera with capabilities to shoot for 15-30 secs exposure at  ISO  1500-4000.
  • An Wide Angle Lens ( focal length 24 mm or lower) with wider aperture (f/2.8 or lower) 
  • Remote shutter release or cable release - recommended but not mandatory
  • A flash light - maybe a powerful one
The Time Table:

If you live in rural area where the light pollution is minimum, you may have noticed the milky way is not visible throughout the year. You can only see it at certain time in the sky. Besides the moon also interfere  a lot with milky way visibility.  So you need the visibility time table handy to photograph the milky way. If you can't see it in the sky, your camera can't see it either.

Here is the approximate time table for your reference:

 MonthBest Time Moon's Phase
 JanuaryNot visible N/A
 FebruaryNot Visible N/A
 MarchVisible just before sunrise but not good for photography N/A    
 AprilAbout 4 am to Sunrise New moon to 1 QTR
 MayFrom 3 am to 6 am New moon to 1 QTR
 JuneFrom 10 pm to 3 am New moon
 JulyRight after Dark to midnight 3 qtr to new moon
 AugustRight after Dark to 11 pm  3 qtr to new moon
 SeptemberRight after Dark to 10 pm  3 qtr to new moon
 October Visible just for a while after sunset for not good for photography 3 qtr to new moon
 November Not Visible N/A
 December Not visible N/A

Dark Site:
The cities and it's neighborhoods are too bright to see milky way, let alone photographing it. You would need to drive off to a less light polluted areas where you can see the night sky clearly. An examples of such place would be mountain tops, remote beaches, or national parks etc. Here is a link to Dark Site Finder that you can use to locate nearest dark area to you.

The Foreground:
A milky way shot need to be nicely composed with some interesting object in the foreground of the frame. Just the sky with full of stars would not be as interesting as one with some different object in the foreground of the frame. Be it something like a stone, a road, a tree, a house or some people. Use your creative mind to decide on your foreground object. As you practice with different types of foreground, you would find the right balance soon.

The STAR Trail:
One of the main problem in night sky photography, especially for milky way is the star trail. If you keep your shutter opened for too long you would get star trail in your photo. This is because the Earth is rotating and it's relative position with respect to those stars changes in time. 
One way to get ride of the star trail is to use a computerized tripod that can be programmed to compensate Earth's rotation, thus keeping the stars in the same sport in your image sensor. However, such tripods are expensive and mostly used in astrophotography. It would be an overkill to go for such tripod just to shoot milky way. You just need a regular tripod that can hold your camera lens combination steady.
To avoid star trail, your need to choose the right shutter speed based to the focal length of your lens. There are complex rules that includes aperture too but I would keep it simple.  This is known as 500 rules where you divide 500 by the effective focal length of your lens. The number you would get would be the maximum shutter speed you could use. 
Please note, I said "Effective Focal Length"  and you need to pay attention here. The focal length you see in your lens is for the full frame cameras. The effective focal length for crop sensor cameras is 1.5 times of actual focal length. Here are 2 examples of maximum shutter speed calculation. However, below 15 secs is not recommended as the stars would not be bright enough in the frame.
  • Nikon D850 Full Frame Camera
    • Lens 20mm f/1.8
    • Maximum Shutter Speed: (500/20 ) = 25 secs
  • Nikon D500 Crop Sensor Camera
    • Lens 20mm f/1.8
    • Maximum Shutter Speed: (500/(20*1.5)) = 17 secs
ISO Number:
Every camera is unique in handling high ISO noise. This is something you need to experiment with your camera before you get to the right number. I would start with ISO 1600 and increase it if the stars are not bright enough. Increase the ISO or shutter speed or both till you get a right balance between star trail and noise.

The Shoot:
Ready to start shooting! You are almost there. Here are the list of things to check before you press the shutter release button.
  • While it is still daylight, focus your lens to infinity or to a far away object and then turn the focus selector button in manual focus mode. Turn the camera focusing and exposure also into manual mode. Most modern lens focus ring rotates beyond infinity. So you can't just rotate the focus ring all the way and assume your focus is right. You would end up getting blurred images. Also please check before you shoot that your manual focus position is not disturbed since you fixed it last time.
  • Choose your foreground object and mount your camera on the tripod. Keep the frame in balance between foreground and the night sky. Usually a rule of 3rd may be handy. However, photography is an art, no rules are written in stone.
  • Choose the shutter speed and then use the remote or cable release to open the shutter or just press the shutter release button.
  • Your foreground may not have enough light. So use the flash light to light paint your foreground. This is where a lot of practice could make it perfect.
  • At the end of each shot, check the image in your camera LCD. If you are not satisfied, adjust the exposure and try again.
  • Good Luck 
Here are few example shots I took. 

Milky Way Over Bixby Bridge, Big Sur, California  
Milky Way Over Bixby Bridge, CA-1, California
This shot was taken in Nikon D850, Nikon AFS 14-24 mm f/2.8 at 14mm f/2.8 and ISO 3200, exposure duration 25 secs. The foreground was illuminated by the headlights of few passing vehicles. I had several images that were washed out duo to the bright headlights of the approaching cars. This is the only one where no cars was approaching from the other side.

Milky Way - Davenport Beach, California
Milky Way - Davenport Beach, California
This shot was taken in Nikon D850, Nikon AFS 24-70mm f/2.8 at 24 mm f/2.8 and ISO 3200, exposure duration 20 secs.This was shot in Davenport Beach, California. Here I did the light painting on both the stones.

If you find this tips useful, please leave some positive comments and share with others. You may subscribe to this blog for future tips on 'how to photograph'.

You can order prints for these shots from Fine Art America.
You can license a Digital Copy for your business or personal use from Alamy

Metal Prints

Amazing Actionshots Present 'Metal Prints' to decorate your living room wall.
There are terrific landscapes from our national parks or around the world to choose from. I also have amazing wildlife shots in the portfolio. Select your favorite image and order a metal print, the larger the size, more beautiful the wall would look like. Check the whole portfolio Here

Mourning Dove Mating

I've been watching birds in my backyard during the entire covid-19 lock down. Probably that's one of the best thing I could do when venturing out for pleasure is forbidden. We got two feeders in the backyard, one for the hummingbirds and the other for the regular backyard birds.
The regular visitors in the feeder are 'Dark Eyed Junco', 'House Finch', 'Oak Titmouse', 'Chestnut-backed chickadee', and few other backyard birds. My wife has been busy with the camera most of the time. She sets the camera early morning on the tripod and rush to take few shots whenever she hears the bird chirping in the backyard.
On Friday evening, June 12, I was wrapping up my remote work for the week when I heard these Dove pair cooing in the backyard. I went behind the camera to check. They were still enjoying the seeds from the feeder. The male finished first and went to the fence. The female followed and landed next to the male. She slowly went closer to the male and gave him a soft poke. I was already taking shots of their every move. The next few minutes, I was entertained with their amazing display of love making. Here are the photographs of the whole series for my readers to visualize. Prints and digital downloads of these photos are available through 'Fine Art America'.
 
They are thinking
 

She gave a tender poke

 

He responded passionately

The Beak is now locked

 

The time is now



And they got into the final act



I've taken more than 100 shots starting from their foreplay till the end of their mating. I've put about 30 of them on Fine Art America. You can view the remaining shots in the collection, all compiled together and arranged from foreplay to end in the order. Please visit the collection here: Mourning Dove Mating

Whale Watching at Moss Landing

This was my 3rd whale watching trip, just wanted to see the magnificent animal leaping out of the water and slamming back on the ocean surface. Watching a whale breaching is really amazing and photographing that moment would be every wildlife photographer's dream. It does require a lot of luck and I was third time unlucky. Yet, this was the best whale watch trip, far better than my other two.

This is just outside the harbor, not far from the shore, you can see people on Kayak  in the frame

A pair diving Together

A tail with white back

Waterfall from the tail

Barnacles on the tail

More Barnacles

Another pair, almost going down together

This one is completely black

Waterfall from Whale Tail

The White Patches

Anchovies all over the whale's back. These are the one escaped from the whale's mouth but some of them ended up as Sea Gull's Lunch.

Rainbow

Awesome Barnacles

Beautiful WaterFall

WaterFall  from the Tail

How I Got These Amazing Action Shots


Presenting some of my best action shots with the story about How I Got These Shot . I would appreciate your comment.

Common Name

Yellowstone Elk

Scientific Name

Cervus Canadensis

Shooting Location

On the West Thumb Geyser Basin Boardwalk, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.

The Action Elk in the AIR
Caption Elk In the AIR.
The Story I spent the whole morning at Hayden Valley, hoping to find some animals in action. There, I got some furry Bison bulls and cows, not doing enough action. Disappointed, I drove south and make a stop at West Thumb, just to see the Geysers, especially the ones inside the lake, letting out steam occasionally. As I took the boardwalk, I noticed at distance two cow elks munching on grass near a water source. There were already a large group of tourist approaching that section of the boardwalk. I expected those Elks would run and setup my camera on tripod immediately. One of the Elk was still munching on grass, while the other one slowly walked towards the crowd. Almost everyone in the crowd was already photographing the Elk, mainly with their phone camera. Soon the Elk was spooked and jumped across the boardwalk. Off went my shutter, tac tac tac tac .... I was far but the distance gave me the room I needed to get it in the full frame, thanks to my Nikon D500 and 200-500mm wildlife lens. My Yellowstone visit produced at least one satisfactory shot, this one :)

Common Name

Great Blue Heron

Scientific Name

Ardea Herodias

Shooting Location

Shoreline Lake, Mountain View, CA, USA.

The Action Blue Heron Fishing
Caption Blue Heron Fishing.
The Story How do you photograph a bird catching fish? I wrote a whole blog with technical details, link available in the main page. Here is the short story. I went to the lake and found this giant bird standing at knee-deep water where fresh water was entering the lake rapidly. Obviously, a nice place to catch fish. I setup my camera and lens low on the ground to get to the water level as much as possible. Then it was all waiting game. At time the bill would go down rapidly, only to come out empty. The bird kept missing, or there were no fish but illusions. I decided to stick with the bird as long as there were lights. The bill kept striking under water at regular interval and I kept shooting. Eventually, just 10 minutes before sunset, he finally got his catch. I did not miss any bit of it. There were probably 15 shots from this incidence, but this one is the best.

Common Name

Coyote

Scientific Name

Canis Latrans

Shooting Location

Tomale Trail, Point Reyes National Park, CA, USA.

The Action Pouncing Coyote
Caption Pouncing Coyote
The Story It was a long hike at Tomale Trail where I went to see the Tule Elk, and the wonderful Pacific Coast view. While hiking down, I saw the coyote strolling a bit far above a hill. I continued for my original adventure and returned after 3 hours of arduous hike. I noticed few people crowding around the trail observing something curiously. I immediately knew something interesting was going to happen. I setup my tripod and began mounting by camera, while keeping an eye on the coyote who just spotted something inside a hole. While I kept working on the tripod, I kept one finger on the shutter release button, to make sure I would not miss anything if it pounces too early. Before I could complete my thought, the Coyote was in the air. Off went my shutter release button. I got several pictures in the air, but this one is my favorite.

Nature's Fury

Sunlit Mountain Top

Shooting Location

Highway 140, El Portal, Yosemite National Park, CA, USA.

The Action Clearing Storm at Golden Hours
Caption Clearing Storm at Golden Hours
The Story It was the third week of February, I was driving to Yosemite to shoot Horsetail Fall, the one that lit-up during sunset. The weather was really bad. As I crossed El Portal on Highway 140, I saw the road ahead was completely white. I did not have snow chain in my car, so I had to turn back. I pulled over near the curb, for a comfortable turnaround. When I looked over my right, across the Merced river, this beautiful scene appeared before my eyes. I immediately setup my tripod and took few shots before it disappeared. About 200' ahead, in another turnaround there were already few photographers shooting this. So this is not completely unknown phenomenon, but little known as everyone rushes towards the famous Horsetail Fall during this time. I did go to the Horsetail Fall on the next day, after getting snow chain from a road side van guy who charged 4 times above the store price, but it was anyway worth it. I put this photo ahead of my horsetail photo shot simply because it is more beautiful. This is really a nature's action.

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