If you like taking landscape photos at night, you’ll surely be familiar with one of the main challenges: successfully focusing on the stars. Often, you can’t use autofocus, since there isn’t enough light for your camera’s focusing system to lock onto anything. Unfortunately, even manual focus doesn’t always work, which means you may need to use some out-of-the-box techniques to make it work. This article goes through some of the most useful tools that you have at your disposal.
The Atacama Desert on the Chilean high plateau of Altiplano and the Mauna Kea Summit on the Big Island of Hawaii are generally recognized as the two best places for astronomical observations. However, in this article, I argue that the best place for amateur night sky photography is elsewhere. It is in Hawaii too, but on the Island of Maui. It is the extinct Haleakala volcano. Although smaller than the Mauna Kea volcano, Haleakala might actually be better suited for amateur photographers.
During the past week, I have been very busy with some university work and with preparations for a month-long road trip through ex-Yugoslavia. However, I still wanted to capture the passage of the Perseids meteors, possibly from a great location. Then, I remembered that two of my friends and I wanted to climb the Monviso, which is the third highest peak in my region at 3841 meters (12602 feet). I combined the two and there we were, driving a two-days journey in the Italian eastern Alps. Astronomers tell us that the peak of the falling star has moved from the former 10th of August to the 12th, but the weather forecast for the 12th was depressing to say the least. Unfortunately, since my camera can’t see behind clouds (yet!) and I don’t like to walk under a torrential rain, the weather was in charge and the departure was moved to the morning of the 13th. Our gear included a tent, sleeping bags and mats, not enough food and water, and some photographic gear: my tripod, a Canon 1200D/T5 and two lenses: a Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 and a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC, along with a remote and three spare batteries. My photographic goal was to make a timelapse of the shower of meteors and possibly capture some images along the way, whereas my climbing goal was to go up as high as possible and maybe coming back alive.
Every so often, the planet Mercury lines up perfectly between the Earth and the Sun. When it does, astronomers and photographers have a relatively rare chance to see and photograph the planet Mercury transiting across the Sun. Next Monday (May 9) is one of those opportunities. In this article, I will cover some tips and techniques for photographing this year’s Mercury transit.
The second “How was this picture taken?” series article turned out to be a bit controversial, because some people either did not like the photo, or did not like some things about it. Some complained about the moon appearing unrealistic, with its darker side being darker than the sky (and they were right, as pointed out below), others did not like how the moon arced in the way I made it appear in the image. One of the readers even said “this shot is to astrophotography what a stuffed owl on a branch would be to wildlife photography”. I totally understand and sympathize with such views, because we want to see a realistic world in images. However, when it comes to moon photography, things can get quite difficult when trying to be realistic. First of all, unless you photograph just the moon by itself without any foreground elements, it is quite difficult to yield a good-looking and realistic image. The moon by itself is a small object when viewed from our planet, which means that if one wants to photograph the moon up close and include foreground elements so that they both appear realistic in terms of sizes and proportions, the only option is to use a telephoto lens above 200mm. And in such cases, one would have to time the shot and take pictures at moonrise, while the moon is still very close to the horizon.
It seems like many of our readers really loved our new idea (big thanks to John Bosley for suggesting it!) with the “how was this picture taken” series, since we had huge feedback and lots of interesting discussions. I must apologize for not being able to provide the answer to our first exercise sooner, as I have been swamped with the workshops I am conducting in the mountains. We will try to post answers sooner to such series in the future! Let’s take another look at the image in question and this time I will start off by revealing some useful EXIF data on the same image to kick off the answer:
A week ago I got the opportunity to spend a long weekend in South Africa’s Cederberg Wilderness Area. While there, we enjoyed two cloudless nights, during which the stars were exceptionally bright. In fact, in this remote part of the world the stars are always exceptionally bright compared to the cities we may be used to.
I have been shooting the night sky since my grandfather gave me my first 35mm SLR in junior high. Today’s digital SLRs allow us to shoot amazing things that I could only dream of a couple decades ago! Below are some tips and suggestions that I teach at night photography workshops for shooting the Milky Way.
Astrophotography is a hobby rapidly gaining popularity thanks to the fast advancing CMOS sensor technology. Over a decade ago, the light recording material employed in astrophotography was primarily chemical emulsion. Its low sensitivity makes it very hard to record the weak signal from deep space. In addition, the lack of real-time feedback is a huge source of frustration for beginners. Operational errors such as out-of-focus can only be realized after several nights of hard work after the film is developed. In the mid 90s, the advent of cooled CCD cameras provided solutions to both the sensitivity and real-time feedback problems. However, their high prices and miserably small sensor areas limited their uses to only a few kinds of astrophotography and to very enthusiastic astrophotographers. While CCDs revolutionized astronomical research, this technology has never really changed the landscape of amateur astrophotography. The true turning point took place in 2002. After Fujifilm announced its FinePix S2Pro DSLR and showcased amazing astronomical pictures taken by this camera, people started to seriously explore DSLRs for astrophotography. DSLRs can provide real-time feedback, which is very important for beginners. They have sensitivities not much worse than CCDs, and DSLRs with large sensors (APS-C) are quite affordable nowadays. Today’s landscape in astrophotography is shaped by a series of CMOS-based DSLRs from Canon, but DSLRs and mirrorless cameras based on Sony sensors are gaining popularity very quickly.
One of our readers was kind enough to send a link to a YouTube video from NASA’s Solar Dynamics Obervatory (SDO), which has been capturing images of the whole sun 24 hours a day for the last 5 years. After putting together image sequences into a time-lapse, NASA created a stunning video that is absolutely worth watching. If you visit NASA’s official website, you can click on the Related Media link and see many more videos and images from SDO, which are all as amazing as the below video: