We’ve just published a video with 11 of my favorite photography tricks and time savers, so check it out below if you’re interested! I wanted to make a list of practical and lesser known tricks that I rely upon all the time, and hopefully this does the job.
Here’s the video:
If you enjoyed it, I’d appreciate it if you like or comment on YouTube! And if you have any photography tricks of your own that you use, feel free to let us know below so other photographers can learn from them.
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The next video I’m working on is about photographing the comet NEOWISE, but by the time it’s released, you’ll probably only have a couple days before the comet is gone. If you haven’t seen NEOWISE already, it’s absolutely amazing and brilliant for photography. I highly recommend checking it out if it’s possible to see it where you live!
Here’s a 53-image stack I took of the comet, with 3 seconds per exposure for a combined time of 159 seconds. The detail that’s possible from image stacking is simply incredible; here, you can even see the bluish-green color at the center of the comet (very bottom), plus the split tail. I blended this image using the techniques described in this article:
Thanks for watching, stay safe, and let me know below if you have any questions!
Very helpful tips! Thank you, Spencer.
Thank you for the useful tricks!
Spencer, another teaching gem. The finger trick for focal length selection is new to me, and will quickly be used.
Two Neowise Comet questions:
1. Total 159″ and you didn’t use a tracker, and at 105mm? How’d you avoid blurring of every object in the sky?
2. Please look at this photo: photos.app.goo.gl/3JSTRk8DeRXKCcRK8 These are two 1×1 crops of my original, first shown as a landscape, then an extreme centercrop to show the comet head.
Is the dark center of the comet head actually the comet or is it an artifact of processing?
This was taken at about 10:30 p.m. July 16th at about 4,000′ elevation here in southern Oregon with a Voigtlander 50mm Apo-Lanthar @ f/2.0 on a Sony a7iii (my usual astro body) at ISO 2000 with shutter bracketing centered at 2.5″. I chose to create an HDR reasoning the comet head would be extremely bright vs. all the stars and would clip highlights at any exposure adequate for the background stars. HDR merging was done in LrC, then Topaz DeNoise was applied with about 15% noise reduction and about 80% sharpening.
I am leaning towards artifact though I cannot explain how the software created it. On the other hand comets rotate and tumble about their center of mass, usually with a period of hours, and comets are irregular, so perhaps the corona of hot gas is asymmetric and might in some position expose a rock surface facing Earth. Initially I thought this was really the comet. Returning 24 hours later I was unable to demonstrate the same dark center, using similar processing.
BTW, the linear streak upper left is one of 4 Starlink communication satellites bombing my photo.
Thank you, and good questions.
1. I didn’t use a tracker; instead, I shot 53 individual photos of 3 seconds apiece at a high ISO of 16,000. It’s quite true that a single 159-second exposure would be extremely blurry, but each of the 53 exposures I captured is sharp, aside from the high levels of noise. Then, using the software Starry Landscape Stacker, I blended the 53 photos together to average out noise. That software is specifically designed to rotate each image to align the stars, hence the lack of motion blur. (It’s also designed to mask out the foreground and average it out separately.)
2. That’s an excellent photo! I’m afraid it is likely a processing artifact that’s turned it dark in the center, and not the comet itself. Take a look at the original photos that you used in order to make the HDR, and I suspect that none of them will have the dark center (if they do, it’s most likely shells of dust surrounding the comet). If I had to guess, it appeared during the HDR conversion process. But it’s certainly not the comet’s center, which, at several million miles away and only 3 miles across, isn’t visible itself.
Those satellites can be pesky for night photography! I do like how it looks in your photo, though.
Spencer, thanks for looking at my perplexing image and for the quick reply to both questions. Time to start using Starry Landscape now that I understand it is indeed a virtual tracker.
Regarding the HDR artifact (which may make the photo more impressive….) in the comet head, on a second tripod I was shooting a Tamron 70-180 at 180mm f/2.8 on an a7Riii and HDR merge of these images did not show any dark center, even after similar pass through Topaz. Could it be that putting more pixels on the comet head, by using longer focal length and a 42mp sensor (without an AA filter), prevented the artifact? You answer will be welcome but I think it will be “yes”.
Another vote for using Starry Landscape Stacker. I have been using it for some of my comet photos where I shoot a rapid succession of short exposure, high iso shots. Oh, yeah, I also use the “bookends tip” before and after a sequence. Very helpful.
Other comet shots have been taken using a tracker with long exposures (120 seconds) and then stacking several of those using Starry Sky Stacker from the same software developer.
Some comet images here: www.dblanchard.net/blog/
Brilliant photos! Thanks for sharing. Using stacking software to combine tracked images is a really good way to get high levels of detail without a tricky aligning process. Clearly paid off in your results!
Hmm. I feel like I got close to that level of detail on neowise with a single 6 second exposure with my D750. I captured the bluish gas trail and the streaks in the fainter portions of the dust trail are clearly visible. But my shooting location also appears to have had darker skies, and I did not capture any green coma as well. 53 exposures….intense! When I’ve taken multiple exposures, and stacked I’ve never seen a noise performance benefit beyond about 4 images – at least that I can discern. Maybe I should try again.
Do you ever use a tracking mount? I’m looking for a decent “lightweight” option
The reason you probably didn’t see a noise improvement beyond 4 images is that it’s not linear. In order to get an improvement of one stop, you stack 2 images. For two stops, you need to stack 4 images. 3 stops is 8 images; 4 stops is 16 images; 5 stops is 32 images; and so on. Hence, the 53 image stack I did here is approximately 5.7 stops of improvement over the value of ISO 16,000 that I actually used for each shot.
There’s no way around the physics that a total of 159 seconds of exposure will bring out more detail than a 6 second exposure, but with good post-processing techniques and noise reduction, I’m not surprised that your shot has high levels of detail. It’s certainly possible to photograph Neowise without resorting to image stacking, and I’m happy to hear it worked out for you!
The colors in the background of my image aren’t light pollution (at least mostly not; the yellower horizon probably is), but airglow from the earth’s atmosphere. It was the strongest airglow I’ve ever captured. Not sure why it was so intense, but I’m not going to complain! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airglow
Oh, forgot to answer your question about the tracking mount. I didn’t use one for this shot, but I have used them in the past with good results. I don’t think there are any that are particularly lightweight, but the Skywatcher Star Adventurer that I’ve been using is pretty reasonable and fits in my camera bag.
Seems to be back-ordered from B&H right now, but so are most of the other star trackers, maybe because of the comet? I’ll link to it anyway, maybe you can find one used somewhere:
Learn something new every day. Your image must look very clean then. It’d be educational to see the comparison between one exposure and 53 at 1:1.
I’ve never seen airglow quite like that either.
Good idea, I’ll be sure to include a comparison in the upcoming video.
I’ve been playing around with Sequator (because I have a PC, and it’s free). It works surprisingly well after playing with it for a bit with some old images and watching tutorials.. If you do an upcoming video I’m curious whether I should be applying some Raw edits in Lightroom before exporting to tiff and then aligning or vice versa. Maybe doesn’t matter, but my initial thought was the latter, but then all those redundant files… I could certainly test it out myself too.
P.S. I enjoyed this video. The finger trick for field of view was not something I’d seen before. Lots of other great reminders too. Photography Life is definitely one of the best photography sites on the web. Thanks!
Great video. I already use the BBF for bird photography and love it!
I got a shot of Comet Neowise that I’m pretty proud of. Of course, seeing your picture makes me think I could do a lot better but, I don’t understand how you get ALL that detail by stacking 3 second shots. Is there an article you can point me too that would explain this?
Sorry, I overlooked the stacking link above the comet photo.
No worries! With 159 seconds of combined exposure, I’m simply capturing a lot of photons over time, even if each individual photo needs to be at ISO 16,000 in order to show a bright enough shot. But the overall image quality works out to be about ISO 320 when you average out the noise with 53 total shots (because log2(53) = 5.7, and 5.7 stops lower ISO than 16,000 is about ISO 320).
If you’re specifically asking about software, I just used Starry Landscape Stacker after exporting the photos as TIFFs from Capture One. It does a fantastic job and doesn’t require much manual input, so that photo was easier to take than it probably looks.
Hope this helps!
Ahh! I see. Your capturing specs (photons) of light in each photo then stacking the photos which compiles all those random specs! Got it.
Sure thing! Yep, you’ve got it right. Another way to think about it is that noise is random, and so averaging together multiple high-ISO shots will in turn average out the noise.
This was a good video, Spencer. It was enjoyable and informative. In your tip about polarizers, you said something that nobody else has ever said in any tutorial about using a polarizer. The phrase is ‘When you point your index finger at the sun and rotate your thumb, “where your thumb intersects with the sky is where you’ll get maximum polarization”.’ I’ve never been able to get my polarizer to work. Maybe that’s the missing key. I’m going to try that next time I make an attempt to polarize something.
Thank you, Elaine! Polarizers are odd in that sometimes they appear to have no effect, even when they “should,” because of factors like clouds or fog in the distance that may not even be easy to see. And then other times, on a low humidity day with no clouds, the sky practically turns black with a polarizer, if you’re pointed 90 degrees from the sun.
So, it’s not that you’re using it wrong, or that your polarizer is bad, but simply that the sky won’t always change with a polarizer even when it seems like it should. I remember struggling to get any visible effect in the sky when I filmed a video on polarizers about a year ago, and yet other times it’s so intense that it ruins a photo!