Until this last weekend, I had very limited experience with astrophotography.  The concepts and techniques of the field are well documented, and I have read several articles on the subject.  What this last weekend demonstrated to me, (and what I often tell everyone who reads this blog), is that there is no better way to learn something than to just get out and do it!  This is the power of action!

Over the course of a pleasantly long weekend with my wife, we had an opportunity to view an absolutely breath-taking night sky, without the pollution of light interference.  The pure darkness of the mountains, coupled with the lack of urban and suburban sprawl, revealed the brilliance of the night skies to me.  As I shared the moment with Tracy, a part of me finally caved and said “Sorry, but I’ve got to take a picture of this!”  Admitting defeat as a camera widow, she went inside, and I tried to recall the articles with their knowledge:

  • Tripod (critical for stability!)
  • Shoot wide (calls for fewer adjustments during long exposures which also means longer shutter speed allowances)
  • Shutter release (never release the shutter manually on such scenes – increases too much vibration)
  • In camera noise reduction…(long exposures tend to create noise as a consequence)
  • Higher aperture (for greater depth of field)
  • And then there was something about the shutter speed…no more than…what?  I could not for the life of me remember!

So, with the digital mantra in place, I tried many different exposures.  My first attempt was a 30 second exposure at f8.0 and ISO 100.  The on-screen results were not that great.  So, I took things to the extremeon my next shot, 30 second exposure, f8.0 and ISO 3200.  The result:  I saw stars on screen!  Excited at the prospect ofcapturing the scene, I promptly returned to the secluded getaway mentality, forgetting the cardinal rule of digital:  to shoot many, many shots, and at many, many settings.

What I also forgot is that in astrophotography there are more than the above considerations to take into account.  After getting home and realizing my blunder, I re-read the articles and remembered that as a general rule, ISO should never go above 800, and because the earth is always moving, you should never shoot an exposure longer than 5-10 seconds, because stars will blur by then.  (As was evidenced during post processing…)

So, the result was nothing too rewarding.  Certainly nothing that will get me fame in fortune in National Geographic or anything like that.  I did manage to massage something close to what we saw with some post work (including some serious Noise Ninja assistance, drastic curves adjustments, the glowing edges filter, and a little black and white conversion, just for starters…

Night Skies

While the end result is “not too shabby”, it certainly is nothing like these stellar (literally and figuratively) shots from Astropix.com I must admit that I am now considering adding to my gear collection, and that I need to refresh on the techniques of astro-photography, the best method for learning is to simply get out and shoot.  Want to capture the light?  Then here’s teh call to action, because it is, after all, the only way to capture the world around you in images!

For those interested in learning more about astro-photography, here’s a couple resources I’ve got in my bookmarks (how I wish I had my computer with me at the time!):

If anyone has their own links, resources, tips, tricks, suggestions, and ideas for astrophotography, feel free to share them in the comments.  In the meantime, thanks for stopping in and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow.

6 thoughts on “The Power of Action

  1. Once you get started with astrophotography, you can’t stop!

    I started out innocently looking at the night sky about 5 years ago. Then I got caught up in taking photos of the night sky and making tracking mounts to improve my results.

    I know find myself running a small company called AstroTrac which makes and sells camera tracking mounts worldwide. Checkout some of the great shots you can get with a normal camera and lens – http://www.astrotrac.com

    Its worth remembering that this was extremely difficult only 3 or 4 years ago before modern DSLR cameras became widely available.

    Good luck, and keep shooting!


  2. Get out and shoot, simple advice but hard to follow sometimes. We bury ourselves in reading material when we should just be shooting! Some things you can only learn by doing it wrong first. Seems to be my lot in life.

  3. Thanks for the links, those are some great pics! One tip I have learned is how to calculate the time required to go from star points to star trails. It is a function of the focal length and time.

    Time=600/(focal length)

    So for a 20mm F.L., anything longer than 30 sec. starts producing star trails. It is not a hard an fast rule, but gives a general idea of where to start.

    Also, this guy gives an interesting method (stacking) for doing star trails to reduce noise and produce great shots:


  4. I wonder how far I would have to drive to get away from light pollution to get a shot like this. nice post

  5. Thanks for the details Jason – I’d love to get some decent astro-shots too but haven’t managed to get one yet (I don’t think your one is too bad either!). Because I’m in the UK it’s mostly spending time waiting for the clouds to disapear! 😉


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