ASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY

LEARNING TO PHOTOGRAPH THE SEA OF STARS - ASTRO PHOTOGRAPHY WITH A TWIST

For most of our short summer we spend our free weekend time as a family sailing on Georgian Bay to quiet overnight anchorages. Away from the city lights, we are able to see the stars very clearly.  I have been trying to capture our experience of the beautiful night sky for a few years now.  It is a tricky thing. When you are on a boat - there is so much movement.  Wind and waves make it difficult to get a solid platform on which to shoot.  The conditions are usually anything but ideal.

Occasionally we get a windless, waveless & moonless, clear night - as we did this past weekend.  You could say the “stars aligned.”  I waited until everyone had gone to bed (people moving rocks the boat too) and then set up to experiment. 

The last time I tried this I missed the focus completely in the dark and the images came out soft. But I noticed in those first images that if I shot directly up the mast, the stars appeared to rotate around it.  I guessed that it had something to do with our rotation on the anchor line… but that didn’t quiet make sense… so I thought I would try it out again to see if the same thing would happen.  It did.  And I still don’t know why.  If you have any ideas or explanations (physics was never my thing) please let me know. 

I usually only share images I consider to be portfolio pieces.  This one is not one.  But I'm hoping that by sharing it you might be able to help me.  

My main complaint is the noise.  I don't like the noise which came as a result of using a high ISO and long shutter speed.  As you can see from the processing notes below I used both Lightroom and Noiseware Pro filter in Photoshop to try and reduce it.  I am not a fan of the way noise reduction makes the mast look “plastic.”  I'd rather not have to do any noise reduction work.  Not sure how to solve that problem - better camera? different settings?  Maybe I could take a series of images and stack them instead of doing a long exposure to get the star trails.  If anyone has suggestions I am all ears - leave me a comment below  

So while it's not technically well done, I think the subject matter resonates.  One step closer on the journey to getting an image that captures the real beauty we feel so lucky to witness on our family sailing trips.

TECH DETAILS:
Nikon D700
14-24mm Nikon Lens
ISO 1600
14mm
f/2.8
25.0 sec

PROCESSING:
Lightroom:
- exposure adjusted
- white balance set to Fluorescent
- Dehaze tool used to get rid of some of the haze (it was a humid and hazy night)
- Luminance smoothing, detail and contrast adjusted
- Highlights, shadows, white and black clipping & clarity adjusted
- Colour noise reduction and smoothing
- Vignetting added
Photoshop:
- Color Efex Pro - pro contrast (dynamic) added & lighten/darken center added
- Noiseware Pro - nightscene noise reduction filter added

 

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I WANTED NORTHERN LIGHTS PHOTOS. I GOT INSPIRATION.

Landscape photography (like life) is unpredictable.  Sometimes you are presented with weather and conditions that are neither what you expected or hoped for.  I ran into this last weekend.  My hopes were high for capturing the Northern Lights.  The forecast was promising but sadly nothing materialized in my area.  Fortunately I didn't come away completely empty handed. 

With no new images to work on today I found myself digging back through my archives.  As I worked on this image of Toronto my hopes of catching the aurora in action must have seeped into my subconscious (cue the Rolling Stones).  

While the universe didn't present me with the aurora images I wanted, it did provide me with heaps of inspiration.  

 

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constellations

The light was leaving, In the west it was blue, The children's laughter sang
And skipping just like the stones they threw, Their voices echoed across the way
It's getting late
It was just another night, With a sunset, And a moonrise not so far behind
To give us just enough light, To lay down underneath the stars, Listen to papa's translations, Of the stories across the sky
We drew our own constellations....

excerpt - Constellations by Jack Johnson

This song by Jack Johnson was playing so clearly in my in my head as I crouched low on our boat and snapped away at the night sky above this lovely little windless bay.

I love nighttime photography.  I find the night sky just stunningly beautiful.

I’ve thought for a while that our summer anchorages off of these deserted islands in Georgian Bay would be perfect star photo locations.  Last weekend I decided to take a crack at it.  

I checked my camera - batteries charged, card cleared, wide angle lens on - check.

I checked my notes for settings - manual mode, high ISO, aperture wide open, speed set to bulb - check.

It was shaping up to be a “stellar” night for the purpose and I felt prepared.  Strangely there was no wind which meant a reasonably still boat (the platform from which I planned to shoot) and perhaps the chance to get some star reflections (a far-fetched hope). The sky was reasonably clear - cloud cover was not due until later.

The only thing I hadn’t checked was the moon.  It’s rising took me totally by surprise.  Doh!  Doubly so when it turned out to be this giant pink ball that quickly faded to orange and then yellow as it ascended.  For a nano second I was disappointed as I realized the stars would nearly disappear in the bright orbs light but then I realized the cloud cover was rolling in early and so I decided to keep snapping in the hopes that I might manage to make something of it all.  And while the above image is not really what I set out to get, I have to say - I’m really rather fond of it.  

...Clouds keep moving to uncover the scene
Stars above us chasing the day away
To find the stories that we sometimes need
Listen close enough
All else fades, fades away

excerpt - Constellations by Jack Johnson

 

IMAGE DETAILS:
Harvest Moonrise Off Hope Island
Georgian Bay, Ontario, Canada
August 2013

TECH DETAILS:
• Nikon D700, 14-24 mm, f/2.8
• one exposure processed in Lightroom
• final edits made in Photoshop (Noiseware, sharpening and Color Efex Pro)

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