Astrophotography and the Rule of 500

It’s hard to know or remember all the “rules” of photography. One big rule is the “rule of thirds,” followed closely by the rule of “remove the lens cap”.


30 second exposure on a Canon M5 + EF-M 22mm F2 = star trails

There are also lesser known rules, such as the rule of 500. The rule of 500 dictates how long a night sky exposure can last before star trails form on a full frame camera. For example, taking a night sky picture using a 50 mm lens, divide 500 by 50mm and the answer is ten. Ten is the maximum amount of exposure, in seconds, before star trails form. With a 500mm lens expose for 1 second or less, or trails will be present. On a 22mm lens, 22.7 would be the maximum length of exposure for sharp stars.

For a crop body, like the Canon M5, you need to multiply the lens factor by the 1.6 sensor crop factor. Since a 22mm lens on the Canon M5 is effectively a 35.2mm lens, it needs (500/(22×1.6))=14 seconds or less of exposure for no star trails.

stars and rocks

14 seconds on a Canon M5 + EF-M 22mm f2 lens = no trails

Following the rule of 500 will lead to much sharper night sky photos. All photos taken with my Joby tripod, and my Canon M5 with a Canon EF-M 22mm F2 lens.

For further thought, you might check out They have an interesting article on setting ISO for Astrophotography.

No egrets, no regrets and the Canon EF 100-300 f5.6L

While vacationing on the Colorado River, I was told of a lovely white egret. I thought to myself, “This will be a great test for the Canon 100-300 F5.6L.”

It’s a 30-years-old lens. It was one of the first two L lens for the Canon EF lens mount. It didn’t get the standard L series weather sealing. It was pretty much the same lens as the EF 100-300 F5.6 only it had a red ring around the lens. Canon also upgraded the lens elements for the L model. It had synthetic fluorite lens elements in the first lens group and ultra-low dispersion elements in the 2nd group.


It’s hard to find one that hasn’t been abused during the past 30 years, most have some scratches, and the push-pull zoom design weakens over time and you tend to get barrel creep so if you are shooting at an angle; the lens will zoom-in or zoom-out depending if you have it tilted up or down. Some sound like they are dying as they try to seek auto-focus. I looked at two or three of them and walked away, actually I might have ran away because I didn’t want to catch whatever lens fungus was growing in them.

Then, I saw one for really cheap on eBay. At the price it went for I figured even if it’s as bad as the others, it’s still a decent price. I was shocked when I got it. The rubber ring had some oxidization, but the lens elements were clean and clear, it came with the hood, and the barrel was tight. It was like I had bought a goat to clear the blackberry bushes from my yard and instead they sent me a goat unicorn. One thing to note: unicorns and Canon 100-300 F5.6L lenses do not have Lightroom correction profiles. But it’s not a huge deal because the lens has the least distortion of any lens I own. Since it’s a full frame lens, you won’t get much vignetting on a crop sensor. But the AF speed is horrendous, and if the light is bad, it will search and search and search.

This egret was the bane of my existence the week I spent there. He loved to hide under an outcropping to bask in the early morning sun. I couldn’t approach him from the sides since the outcropping as surrounded by water and it was an overhang he would hide under. I’d sneak up on him, and away he would fly. Then he would go hide in a cove I couldn’t reach. We played that game every morning for three days, then he decided to find somewhere else to get his morning sun.


Bird in flight, not sure it’s a bird in tight focus thought

So I was a bit sad I didn’t get the picture of the egret’s face. On the last night, we headed out to dinner at one of the floating bars on the river on a friend’s boat. I took a few picture of the bars with the Canon 100-300 f5.6L. At 695 grams, it’s not too lightweight. But for a telephoto zoom with L glass it’s a good balance.


My son says they have the best french fries on the river, everyone else got fish tacos.

The sun was just starting to set as the boat went around the last bend headed back to home. Just as I was finishing putting all my gear back into my bag, someone started tugging on my arm and pointing wildly. I looked up from closing my bag and there the bird was resting on the bank. I reopened the bag and put the adapter on the Canon M5 then attached the lens, knowing the egret was going to fly away while I was playing with my gear. But finally, it was all assembled and I dialed in the settings. The AF locked onto the bird, and I took two shots as the boat passed him.


I’m not happy about the leaves behind his head, but at least he gave me a side shot of his face and that golden light is fairly decent. But I was happy with the quality of the picture. The details in the rocks, the feathers in the shadows show up, the AF worked. I was happy I had a set of lenses that let me cover just about any situation in my bag.

Would I recommend a Canon 100-300 F5.6L to someone? With the caveat the AF is slow, it doesn’t like to AF in low light, and the barrel sliding around might drive you crazy. For less than $300, it’s an incredible set of optics. For more than $300, you can probably do better.

As for the moral, sometimes when things look like they are over, they aren’t. You can apply that to both the Egret and the Canon 100-300 F5.6L.

USS Iowa BB-61

If I had a dream job it would be as an investigative reporter/photographer. I wouldn’t cover current events; no, I would cover news stories 20 years after they had occurred and try to find out what we got right and what we got wrong. It would be to remind people of the names of the Challenger and Columbia astronauts, to recall mistakes, and to celebrate the sacrifices and triumphs of events and to look at how they have changed the world or one person. It would also be for a major publisher so I wasn’t afraid of being sued for libel.

iowa side

USS Iowa BB 61 panoramic

News reporting is hard work, finding two reliable sources to corroborate a story can be a fairly monumental task, especially under a deadline. All too often you are not reporting the truth, but a viewpoint. You go in with a preconceived notion, or your source is promoting their own agenda.

iowa forward guns

Turrets #1 and #2 on the USS Iowa

With print journalism’s slow death, and smaller newspaper budgets, investigative journalism has mostly disappeared. We tend to get sound bites and copies of press releases as our news. Being unbiased in reporting is nearly impossible, even watching football the announcers always seem to favor the other team.


Crew mess hall

17-year-old me recalls turning on the news in mid-April of 1989 and hearing about a massive explosion in the number two turret of the USS Iowa. Forty-seven crew members lost their lives in a training accident. An open breach caused five powder bags to exploded inside the number 2 turret center gun crumpling the bulkhead doors and killing everyone in the turret’s upper levels, 12 men in the lower turret survived when their blast doors held.

Over the next five weeks it turned from an accident into an alleged act of sabotage. And then the news cycle ended.  The Navy had named a crew member for planting a explosive timer into one of the powder bags. I went to college, the Gulf War started and I forgot about the tragedy on the USS Iowa. Instead we heard about the USS Missouri and Wisconsin firing nearly 1200 shells into Iraq and watched a new reporter on CNN named Wolf Blitzer report the nightly war status.

damaged hatch

Damaged hatch cover from Turret 2

Meanwhile, a second investigation and a congressional inquiry into the Iowa were initiated. Almost a year and a half later in October of 1991, the explosion was ruled an accident.

Two officers had convinced the captain that Naval Sea Systems Command (NavSea) had authorized gun testing using experimental loads. It was later revealed the contact at NavSea didn’t have the authority to allow such testing.

The crew had been testing the 16 inch guns using 40 years old powder. It had been adjusted to correct for the difference in burn times due to age and improper storage. Their testing was to see if they could increase the ship’s firing range. The bags stated not for use with the 2700 lbs shells they were firing. The bags were intended for the lighter high-explosive shells weighing 1900 lbs. In initial tests they they recorded the longest shots fired from a battleship.

iowa room

In an earlier test a bag had start smoldering as it was loaded into the gun but they closed the breach in time and the gun only misfired, lightly damaging the ship. In later drop testing of these bags, using the same load as the Iowa the entire test setup was destroyed in an explosion.

Also, as the ship was returning to port after the explosion the captain instructed the crew to throw damaged parts overboard and repaint the interior of the damaged turret. This matter greatly complicated the investigations.

turret 2 motor

As a result of this testing and additional investigation, the accused crew-member was cleared, the Navy offered its regrets to the family, and the cause was determined to be an accidental explosion. No senior officers were officially reprimanded or reduced in rank. The best friend of the sailor they had named as the saboteur was denied re-enlistment likely due to his vocal objection to the initial report. In a Washington Post article in 2001 the captain was quoted as saying, “Only God knows what really happened in that turret. We’re never really going to know for sure.”

The USS Iowa was decommissioned the year following the explosion and the turret was never put back into service. She is currently a museum ship in Los Angeles, CA.

iowa bathtube

President Roosevelt took a bath here

The USS Iowa is a ship rich in history. She took part in many battles and shore bombardments in WWII and the Korean War. She served as Admiral Willis Lee’s and Admiral Halsey’s flagship. She has carried presidents Roosevelt and Reagan.

iowa bakery

USS Iowa Bakery

My family went on the tour several weeks ago, it was a great experience. And it’s a great way to pay your respects to the 47 sailors who died serving their country.

However, she is in dire need of new decking.

For more information about the explosion aboard the Iowa there are two books A Glimpse of Hell : The Explosion on the U. S. S. Iowa and It’s Cover-up by Charles C Thompson II and Explosion Aboard the Iowa by Richard L Schwoebel. There is also a movie called A Glimpse of Hell.

All photo’s were taken with my Canon M5 and Canon EF-M 15-45 f 3.5-6.3 IS.

Desert in bloom

If you are not in the American Southwest right now, you are missing a once or twice in a lifetime photo opportunity. Rainfall the past several weeks has turned the desert from a martian training ground into a brain bewildering rocky green landscape.


I’ve visited Palm Springs and Lake Havasu several times the past few years and was looking forward to hiking some trails in the area and capturing some burro pictures. Instead it became an opportunity to take photos of amazing blooms of desert flowers and cacti.


I imagine it’s only going to get better this week and next as more and more flowers begin to open. It was totally offsetting to have my feet sink into damp soil instead of sending up small dust clouds with each step.


I brought an ancient Canon 100-300 f5.6L lens for taking long shots, I only carried it when I knew something would be in the distance. The majority of the shots were with my Canon EFM 15-45 f3.5-6.3 and Canon EFM 22mm F2 lenses, which fit into my travel pack while hiking.


I really wish I could have stayed for another week to see the cacti blooming and even more flowers to fill the landscape.


Joby Gorillapod GP2-E1EN review

Have you ever received a re-gift from your sister and had it sit in a drawer for many years, only to pull it out and realize you are an idiot for for not using it?  I’m the idiot here.

Of course, originally, I was putting too heavy of a camera on it. Joby’s website doesn’t do a very good job with discontinued models so it took me a while to figure out exactly what model I had.


That being said, once I got my Canon M5, the Joby Gorillapod GP2 became the best travel tripod since sliced bread.  It’s about 10 inches long and can be carried easily in my bag. Sure, resting it on the ground I can’t get it to eye level, but using my cell phone as both a trigger and viewfinder it works pretty well. It also doubles nicely for a walking around stick for holding the camera in your hand or for taking handheld videos. Just make sure you activate the lock so it doesn’t go flying off.

Joby claims the capacity on this model is 800 grams. The tripod’s weigh comes in at 165 grams.

My Canon M5 weighs 427 grams with batteries plus 15 grams for the the ef-m 22mm f2 lens for a total of 442 grams. So I could even put a slightly heavier lens on. You wouldn’t want to put an EOS 5d Mark III on it.


  • Locks so you don’t accidentally hit the quick release button
  • Fits in my camera bag
  • Affordable
  • It weighs a lot less than just about any other tripod


  • Doesn’t look as cool as a carbon fiber full size tripod
  • Low to the ground
  • You need to setup the legs perfectly to make sure you don’t tip the camera over or so it doesn’t fall off a railing or tree branch since it’s so lightweight.

To go with a current product, the GorillaPod Hybrid might be your choice if you want a flexible tripod with a ballhead that can support 1000 grams. But, weighing in at 191 grams you would be adding about 26 grams, which isn’t too bad. Another option is the 91 gram iStabilizer SpyderFlex. It has a 816 gram load limit according to their support email. I have not had a chance to look at one yet, but saving 74 grams isn’t too bad.

All in all it’s a great travel tripod that sometimes forces you to be a little extra creative in settting up a shot. It’s unfortunate they don’t have a current offering that is this lightweight. My advice is to get a Joby GP2-E1EN GorillaPod Flexible Tripod while they are still available or take a chance on a SpyderFlex and let me know what you thinik.


I used to carry around a Bogen 3021 tripod (5.75 lbs) with a 3030 head (2.3 lbs) I carried my gear in a Lowpro Mini trekker backpack (2.6 lbs), a Nikon D70 (1.5 lb) with a 80-200 F2.8 lens (2.9 lb), a 50mm 1.4 (0.6 lbs), a 500mm f8 (1.8lbs), a Tamron 24-70 f3.3-5.6 (.6 lbs) along with a SB-26 flash and an extension cord along with several filters for each and replacement batteries (2.5 lbs).

That comes to 20.55 lbs of gear when I headed out on an adventure. Usually I could convince my wife to carry the tripod, which brought my weight to 12.5 lbs and hers to 8.05 lbs, which is still more than I wanted to carry. The weight is probably why I stopped taking pictures with dedicated camera gear and started using my cell phone or a point and shoot, but there wasn’t enough camera resolution with the change to digital. And I was never happy with my shots.

But in the past few years, all that has changed. Lets explore how to avoid killing your back and instead kill your wallet, and have fun taking photos!