AJ's PhotoBlog
AJ's PhotoBlog

DISCOVERING

ASTROPHOTOGRAPHY

 

MIlky Way from Gower, night photograph of milky way MIlky Way from Gower

 

I’d never considered taking a camera out at night and taking pics of the sky, I do landscapes.  It’s relatively easy to take landscape images, whereas you need lots of expensive equipment to do anything else.

 

Then I joined the Port Talbot Camera Club and my eyes were opened.

 

Astrophotography… O.M.G….  and I don’t need anything more than what I've already got… well, apart from a new flask… and thin gloves with the fingertips missing…. and new filters of course.

 

I fell in love, I’m obsessed, that’s all I think about.  I even had to buy a new camera and I’m now gazing with lust at new lenses.

 

With help and advice from the club members, my cousin Stephen (who’s a bit handy with a camera), and the internet, I ventured out to my back yard and attempted some star trails.  It was only a short session but it was enough to make me realise the equipment I have can make pictures I could be pleased with.

 

Trips to my local forest were planned with Photopills and Sunsurveyor.  I already knew the forest roads and paths from cycling around my area from the last 20 odd years, the apps helped me plan what I would see, when, and how best to get the images I wanted.

 

My first attempts hit problems though. For star stream images, I wanted to take many images in sequence and then use Starstax to create the trails.  I set the K5 to use the intervals option: 30 second exposure, 1 second wait to start transfer to sdcard, take another 30s exposure etc.  But this didn’t work,  if I set the option to take 100 exposures it would stop after about 20.  

 

Eventually I discovered that the camera doesn’t work well in this manner, it wants to open the shutter every 30s (or whatever interval is set) regardless of wait time.  And it can’t do that, it will only work if the wait time is set to exposure time plus a few seconds extra. But this will leave long gaps between exposures that Starstax can’t blend… 

 

Bugger.  

Star trails around Polaris on GarnWen Star trails around Polaris on GarnWen

Editing:

 

I have found that even though I start the camera to run at 11pm, the light fluctuates, so the first images can be lighter than the last by a fair amount.  Sometimes high thin clouds come over and this lightens the images.  So I spend time trying to get the images to a similar exposure level, I tend to increase contrast, saturation and vibrance, knock down blacks and also highlights to bring out the colour of the stars.  Depending on foreground I might bring up shadows and midtones a bit.  I also like to use the ‘Glow’ effect as this can bring up the colours of the trails.

 

Once starstax has done its job and I’m pleased with the result, I’ll work on the resulting jpeg with On1 aand/or Affinity Photo, usually to make it a bit darker as stacking can make it too light for my preference.  I’ll play around with saturation and vibrance and maybe put more a bit more ‘glow’ in. 

 

I’m waiting for the ‘lockdown’ to end so I can get out to better dark sky places to shoot the Milkyway centre,  maybe with reflections in water, or wet sand as the tide recedes.

So much to shoot, so little time!

 

 

 

Moon through fast moving clouds Moon through fast moving clouds

 

So my first attempts were changed to 20 mins using Bulb mode.  By this time, out on the mountain, far from home and surrounded by hungry bears, with my fingers having lost all feeling so I couldn’t hold my survival knife properly, I couldn’t face longer wait times so came home in a bit of a mood.

 

I got around the interval problem by the extreme method of getting a new camera, the Pentax K1 mark 2.  This camera allows me to set the exposure time and the wait time.  I could now set camera to take hundreds of images with 30 seconds exposure and a wait time of 1 second to 24 hours.

 

 

Star trails over Mynydd Pwll yr Lwrch Star trails over Mynydd Pwll yr Lwrch

 

 

Equipment:  

 

Pentax K5-iis, Pentax K1-2, 

15mm f4 prime, 28mm f2.8 prime,35mm 1.4 prime,  50mm f1.4 prime.

ICE 49mm LiPo Filter Light Pollution

Vanguard Veo2Go 265 HABM tripod

cheap £4.0 IR remote from ebay

Mobile apps: PhotopillsSunSurveyorskyviewnightshiftclear outsidemet office weather,

Image Editing Software: On1 Photo Raw 2020Affinity PhotoStarstax.

 

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all images copyright andrew joseph