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Nikki Tran Blog | Designer. Artist. Photographer bio picture
  • Hello Friend…

    and welcome to the blog! I'm Nikki, a creative old soul who loves tea time, tip-toeing through gardens, mounds of books, swaying to records, watercolors, sunset walks with Rusty, and star-gazing with Paul. This blog carries snippets of my life with just the two of us - I hope it brings you happiness as you snuggle in with your cup of tea and begin reading. Enjoy, friends! (Latest posts on the right!) --->

I recently posted a photo of the stars (on Facebook) that I took the other night in my backyard, so I thought I would create a short post about how I took that photo. It’s quite different taking a photo of the sky, especially the night sky, versus taking photos of people. The camera should be set in manual mode and you should ALWAYS use a tripod. If you do not use a tripod you cannot guarantee a sharp photo, especially of the night sky. Anyways, here is the equipment I used:

1. Canon 5D Mark II (you obviously don’t need this camera but I’m just listing the things I used specifically)

2. Tripod (special thanks to my lovely Grandpa for the tripod – he is also a photo lover like myself :))

3. 50mm f/1.4 lens

Here are the settings I used in my camera:

1. Manual mode – I use manual for everything, but in case you don’t you’ll want to set it to manual.

2. Manual focus – I set it JUST before infinity (it looks like an L and two o’s) because those stars are pretty far away.

3. Aperture set to f/2.0 – you’ll want to set it to a somewhat wide aperture – my lens can go to f/1.4 but I left it at f/2.0 – other people have taken photos at f/2.8 and it still works great.

4. Shutter speed set to 4 seconds – because my aperture was wide I could keep the shutter speed relatively fast. With a smaller aperture, I would have left the shutter speed between 20 and 30 seconds.

5. ISO set to 800 – I started way higher – 1600 – and then kept bringing it down until the brightness was pretty good.

Here’s what the back of my camera looks like with these settings:

I set my tripod on the deck (make sure it’s steady) and attached the camera (obviously). I started with the ISO really high and the shutter speed really long (started with ISO at 1600 and the shutter speed at 30 seconds). I kept bringing both down, doing a little trial and error until I found a good setting (ISO at 800 and shutter speed at 4 seconds).

Here is what the photo looked like before I brought it into Adobe Camera Raw:

My post-processing was super easy and quick. I bumped up the contrast, enhanced the blacks, adjusted the temperature a tad so the pretty royal blue showed a little (the sky was royal blue in person but didn’t show in the camera), and then sharpened it. Here is the finished result:

The moon was super bright and actually left a “moon glare” at the bottom of the photo. Had the moon been absent that night or less bright, I’m sure I would have been able to capture more stars. Perhaps I shall give it another try when the moon goes away. In the mean time, my next goal is to capture the Milky Way… :)

I hope this was helpful to those who are interested in shooting for the stars… :) Happy Friday!

It’s official: Spring is here! By looking and going outside right now, however, I can’t say I agree. With temperatures in the teens it’s a little hard to celebrate spring in Minnesota, but I’m going to give it a shot. Like I’ve said before, I always like to write down my goals and “To Do’s” – it’s just easier for me to see (literally) instead of them being in my head. So, here is what I’m looking forward to this spring and summer:

-Longer days (although they already feel pretty long – Paul and I still can’t get used to it being light out at 6pm)

-Driving on the country roads with the windows down

-Barbequing (we still sometimes BBQ now but it’s always better during spring and summer, wouldn’t you agree?)

-Bonfires, bonfires, bonfires!!!

-Drive-in movies

-Geese to come back on our lake

-Cornfields to start growing again

-Spring and summer dresses galore!

-Picnics (Paul and I don’t do these very often but I’m adamant that we will be having picnics in our backyard. Cheap date and fairly romantic.)

-Going to the lake

-Taking evening walks

-Walking Rusty more in general – he’s a ball of energy and needs to get out more.

-Baseball, baseball, baseball!!!

-The lovely absence of winter jackets and boots



-Paul’s birthday (the big 2-6!)

-My birthday (the big 2-4!)

-Finally starting to create my enchanted garden

-Finally starting to create my vegetable garden

-Painting my office – I’m waiting until the weather is nice so I can open the windows for fresh air.


-Having the windows open in our house

-Summer sunsets are just lovely.


-All of those glorious spring and summer weddings we have this year – cannot wait!!

Ok, I think I’ve listed enough things. I’m getting so darn excited just by writing that list! I can’t wait for spring to (weather wise) officially be here!! I hope you all have a lovely official first day of spring – don’t let the snow and cold get you down! It’s almost here! :)

I’ve been asked photography related questions by quite a few people, so I figured I would start writing more about actual photography (crazy, I know!). I’ll start with my most prized possessions (with the exception of my camera, 5D Mark II): our lenses. Paul and I have our own set that we favor in using during weddings and other sessions. Here is our equipment:

(From left to right)

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS: During weddings you will usually find Paul in the back and myself in the front, which means he uses this lens a lot. He’s pretty sneaky when he uses it too because he’ll just zoom in and snap away without anyone knowing he’s even there. This lens has been a life saver for sessions done with little children who do not want to sit still for me. Paul will just slyly walk around, zoom, snap and BOOM! Pretty picture. Here’s an example:

Canon 100 Macro f/2.8 –  My newest lens and I can’t believe I went this long without it. This guy helps me get those close up detail shots that I felt I had been missing for so long! I always wanted those crisp close-up shots that so many other photographers had and now I do and it’s wonderful! I also use this when I’m far away and need to get a closer shot like during ceremonies. Here is an example of this lovely:

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 Fish Eye – I was so excited when I got this lens for two reasons: a.) Paul was the only one taking wide angle photos because his lens did not work on my 5D Mark II and I was jealous because I wanted to take wide angle photos and b.) It takes pretty awesome looking photos. The thing about this lens is that I can’t use it too much. I feel that one can only have a certain amount of fish eye photos in a wedding or session. So, I save this lens for the photos of the whole church, congregation, venue, dancing, or if I simply cannot get everything into a photo that I’d like to. I think you all can tell the difference between this lens and others:

Canon 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS: This was the first lens we ever owned. It is considered a “kit lens” because it came with our first DSLR camera (Canon T3i – our back-up camera). Kit lens or not, the 18-55 takes great photos and is one of the best for its price range. Paul will sometimes use this if he is in a smaller room and needs to get a lot in one photo or if we just want a semi-wide angle shot.

Sigma 30mm f/1.4: This is the newest member to Paul’s team. Because he uses a cropped frame (Canon 60D which he loves because it gives him a closer up shot), his photos when using this lens resemble mine when I use my 50mm 1.4. I know, it sounds confusing but it’s just what happens. Here is an example of this lens:

Canon 50 f/1.4 – My absolutely favorite! I could go an entire wedding without using another lens (but I do, because there are definitely times that I need another lens). I love it. It gives me lovely crisp photos, it has amazing bokeh, and it works wonders in low light situations because of its wide aperture (meaning more light comes in). Paul and I both have the 50mm f/1.4 (which I used to shoot these photos). It’s the same thing as mine – it’s wonderful. However, since Paul has a cropped frame camera the photos seem closer up than mine when using the 50mm f/1.4. Either way this lens is awesome! Here is an example of a photo with my beloved 50 1.4:

I hope you enjoyed the more technical side of the blog! If you ever have any questions or want to more know, shoot me an email! I’d love to have a section of the blog dedicated to helping out other beginning photographers. I’m not saying I’m an expert by any means but I know how nice it is to have someone willing to help in this industry. Unfortunately, from my experience, not many photographers are willing to help so I’d like to step away from that norm and, of course, be of help to anyone! Have a wonderful Friday, weekend, and a safe St. Patty’s Day! Hopefully the snow stays away!!