NightScapes: Chasing the Light across the night sky. Exploring the techniques of capturing one of Natures most exciting photographic opportunities. We'll look at still photography, deepsky photography, and time lapse photography. We'll talk about navigating across the Constellations to identify what we discover. We will keep it as simple as possible and try to have some fun along the way as we explore techniques and contraptions, capturing and processing, posting and sharing, and maybe throw in a workshop or two. Join me as I set sail across the ocean of the sky...it's gonna be fun!
Sunday, November 2, 2014
I get the biggest kick out of all the UFO theory/conspiracy types out there. According to most of them
we've been visited by aliens numerous times who have done just about everything from building the pyramids to changing our history, and probably inventing ice cream. Just for arguments sake, lets assume there really is some form of other human-like beings out there. What is the possiblity that our tiny little dot of a planet lost in the vastness of this incredibly massive universe could ever be visited, much less found.
The operative words here are incredibly massive. Distances from point A to point B are so astronomical as to boggle even the most ardent of thinkers. Let's explore this idea for a moment.
So far, the fastest spacecraft we have ever sent into space is one of the Voyager probes launched decades ago. One of those probes has, by being sling shot around several planets, accelerated to something in the neighborhood of 70,000 mph. Now that's pretty fast. It only takes about 25,000 mph to escape the earths gravitational pull.
Okay, now think about this. In those decades since it was launched, it has just now...just now, reached the outer edges of our Solar System...a few billion or so miles out there. The next nearest star to us, not our sun, sits about 4.3 light years away. How far is a light year? Well light travels at 186,000 miles per second and a light year is how far a beam of light will travel in one year. At 186,000 miles per second, that is somewhere in the neighborhood of 586,569,000,000 miles. Multiply that times 4.3 and you get 25,633,091,520,000 miles just to the next nearest star to us...Astronomically speaking, that is like driving to the corner mom and pop store for a gallon of milk.
Now think about this. If we could accelerate a man-carrying spacecraft to 100,000 miles per hour...faster than even the Voyager probe, how long do you think it would take to get to that nearest star? That's about 28 miles per second...a lot slower than the speed of light. Give up? Well it would take about 32.7 billion years to get there. I don't know, but I think the warranty on that spacecraft would run out way before then. Factor in that most everything out there is thousands and millions of light years away, well, that's a far piece to travel. The Milky Way Galaxy...our neighborhood is 100,000 light years across.
So...for all you UFO Alien visitation types out there, the likelihood that an alien civilization could ever find us and swing by on their summer vacation, much less to stir up trouble during their visit doesn't sound so practical. And, forget about the idea that they could be way more advanced than we are and could possibly have figured out how to travel at the speed of light. It can't be done. There is this little annoying law of physics that says the faster you go, the heavier you become, so it requires more and more energy to continue to accelerate. So much extra, that by the time you accelerated to light speed, it would require an infinate amount of energy...and that is a show stopper.
There may be UFO's out there...more than likely though they are made right here by us.
Something to think about.
Sunday, October 5, 2014
a changing array of shadows and objects that you can photograph on almost any clear night. Do so does require a little understanding of the technique, so lets talk about how to go about capturing the rugged beauty of our closest celestial neighbor.
What you will need is a tripod, a long lens...the longer the better, but something in the neighborhood of 300mm will do a good job, and a remote/cable release, and of course a camera, digital is prefered.
The camera settings are important but we'll talk about that later.
First of all, contrary to popular belief, the best time to photograph the moon is not during a full moon. The best time is during one of the partial phases of the moon. This is because during a full moon the light is almost face on to the surface and so there are no shadows being cast and so the moon shows no texture. During one of the phases of the moon, the light is at an angle and so the craters and mountain ranges will cast shadows and thus create textures that add interest and compositional values to your photograph.
You can photograph the full moon, but the best time to capture it is just after it rises above the
horizon. During those first few moments after moonrise, it will often have blood red or deep yellow color. This is because the light is travling through the thickest part of the atmosphere and shifts the spectrum to the red.
Let's talk about camera settings. What I do is to set the camera on Aperture Priority, but I also set the exposure metering mode to Spot Metering. This is where the camera will meter only the light seen in that small center square of your view finder. I also will shoot at 100 ISO in most cases. I will place the camera on a tripod for stability because I will be using a long lens...in my case a 500mm lens sometimes attached to a 1.4 teleconverter which will expand the focal length to 700mm. When combined with the 1.5 sensor conversion factor, the effective focal length will be in the neighborhood of 1000mm. sometimes I will use auto focus, sometimes I will use manual. My Sony A65 will highlite what is in focus when set on manual and I can often obtain a sharper image of certain subjects using it in that mode.
I use live view and point the camera/lens at the moon until it apears on the viewer screen and center it so the spot metering square is positioned on the bright part of the moons illuminated surface. The reason to use Spot metering is to avoid having the dark background surrounding the moon influence the exposure and probably causing the image to be washed out. I will use a cable release to avoid any unnecessary jiggling of the camera...and fire off a shot or two and view the results. I will use the zoom mode so as to get a good idea of how well the image is focused and to determine of the exposure if correct. I will also using the exposure +/- compensation to adjust the exposure up or down until I get the desired exposure.
After capturing the image, I will download to Photoshop and in most cases tightly crop the image to give it a closer look...and adjust the exposure and focus.
It's really that simple...and a lot of fun to try.
Friday, September 19, 2014
My neighbor, who also works where I do, has been dropping by once a week for some porch sitting time to chill out and allow some of the stress of the week to simmer down. This evening we continued in that endeavor spending time well into the evening chatting about past experiences. As he was about to leave we spent some time looking up at the clear evening sky. The Milky Way haze stretched like a silver ribbon straight overhead, and stars shined like diamonds. After a few minutes of discussing some of the natural night sky sights, he went on his way but I stood there a few more moments gazing up at the heavens and realized it had been a while since I last tried to photograph the night sky. I gathered my camera and tripod and headed over to Sledge Road, about a quarter mile away and spent about thirty minutes capturing an old house against the royal ribbon of the Milky Way. Just what the doctor ordered...my stress level went way down...at least for now.
Sometimes we need an escape, and the night sky offers a unique way to leave behind all the stuff of life that gets us down...simply by looking up.
Sunday, August 31, 2014
Photographing Orion is rather easy as the stars stand out brightly on a clear winter night. As the summer approaches its end and fall filters into place, anticipation for the arrival of Orion grow quickly for those who find its form a fascinating image across the night sky.
Heres one from last April a few weeks before Orion disappeared for the summer. 50mm - f/6.3 - ISO 3200 - tracked for 40 seconds.
Friday, August 1, 2014
Friday, July 18, 2014
Friday, July 4, 2014
|Orion Nebula - Where stars are born|
|Andromeda hovers in the summer sky|
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
I was able to find Andromeda and tracked it for several minutes capturing in a single image its mystical glow. What a treat it was, that evening, to share a few hours alone with sights few venture to find, and even fewer try to capture. A night under the stars, a special moment, and a unique journey involving moment and place when all the elements come together to create a revelation of time and space.
Saturday, June 14, 2014
Saturday, June 7, 2014
night sky. Some of them are simply spectacular and defy the senses. Photographers such Sean Parker, or Mark Gee, just to name a couple, have produced some incredible footage that generates not only awe but envy from other photographers of the night sky.
This season I began to explore what is required to take such footage. Sounds easy enough at first glance, but in reality, there is more to it than what may first appear. As I studied the work of others I tried to piece together some of the visual effects and photographic techiques they were using. What I discovered is that what is most important is timing, time afield, and location, and of course knowing how to capture the night sky from a techical point of view.
You for the most part must have a dark, clear night and in Kentucky finding that on a consistent basis is probelmatic at best. Each month there is a period of a week or ten days so where the moon remains hidden until either the very early hours of the morning or it sets very early in the evening. The trick is the timing. In Kentucky you may have a dark sky night, but odds are you will also have a lot of clouds. Broken clouds by themselves are not a major issue unless of course they completely block the sky. They can also present a problem by reflecting a lot of light pollution from the ground. The worse kind of clouds are the thin hazy type. They tend to act like a mirror and create a lot of reflected light plus they obscure the Milky Way to the point where it becomes difficult at best to photograph it.
Time afield is also important. The very nature of the process requires that you spend many hours out at night...sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. This presents a problem for those of us who must work a regular job. In most cases we are relegated to weekends or vacation time. But to get the shots, you have to make the time and be there when the sky is at its prime.
Location is just as important as the other elements. Most of the time I simply step into my backyard out of convenience. This serves well to perfect the technique but hardly offers one of those great locations that is so important in the presentation. I am often confronted with the neighbors outdoor lights flooding the area, or other security lights down the street arching a dome of light across the trees. Down the road a couple of miles stands an old barn just off the country road. I will on occasion drive over there and step into the field using the barn as my foreground. The location offers at least a measure of visual interest plus a decent view of the night sky and is relatively dark. I have planned on, but have yet been able to make the trip (this thing called work tends to interfere), spending a couple days over at Red River Gorge that appears to offer some spectacular landscapes to join with the night sky. Before the summer is out, I will make that trip and hopfully capture one of those amazing night sky moments.
So how do you capture a time lapse video using a digital SLR camera? Well, you gotta use what is called a intervelometer. This is a remote electonic trigger device that plugs into the remote outlet on the camera. It allows for the setting of the length of exposure plus the interval between exposures and the number of total exposures. They vary in cost, but I found a real good one for under $30.00 for my camera.
Basically the way it works is you set the camera up the same way you would for a single photo...manual shutter (bulb), infinity focus, ISO...all that. Then you set the intervelometer to the length of the shutter exposure say 30 seconds, the interval between the each exposure, say 35 seconds, and how many exposures you want to take...or you can set you camera shutter length to 30 seconds, and set the intervelometer interval to something longer than 30 seconds...just depends on what works easiest.
Place the camera on a sturdy tripod ( no tracking is required ) and point the camera in the desired direction, then fire it off. The intervelometer does the rest. It now becomes a waiting game. The number of exposures required vary depending on what you are wanting to accomplish. Generally speaking it takes 24 individual exposures to produce one second of video. To get five seconds of video, would require about 120 exposures. With one exposure being made every 30 seconds, this will require at least one hour of shooting time.
After you capture all the images, your job is only half done. You must now download these images into some kind of software that allows for the rendering of video sequence. I do not have the space here to discuss what software packages are available, but there are a number of variations available. Some are cheap, some are not. I recommend you do some reading about the subject. I simply use the same software package I use for my slide show presentations...Magix Extreme Photostory. It took some experimentation, but figured out how to make it work...although, the video quality falls a bit short, it is a good package to learn the ropes with.
Capturing time lapse is fun, but labor and time intensive. The amount of time required vs the amount of footage produced does not always equal out evenly. Below I have attached a short segment of some of my early attempts, and also provided a couple of links to some professionaly done time lapse videos. Please enjoy.
Friday, May 23, 2014
I do not have the space for an indepth discussion on how to align the tracker, but there are plenty of websites that cover this information.
Oddly enough, using a wide angle lens, anything upwards to 30 seconds and you do not need to track the sky. The star trailing is so insignificant and the stars themselves are so small, the stars retain their sharp pin point appearance. Over 30 seconds and the stars will begin to show signs of trails if not tracked.
|Orion Nebula Photographed using Motorized Star Tracker|
Friday, May 2, 2014
A family of coyotes howled together somewhere across the corn stubble field north of my location, their serenade echoing off the side of an old barn and filtered through the surrounding tall trees. The moon approached the last vestiges of its monthly cycle and would remain hidden for several more hours so the evening was forecast as dark and clear. The thick hoodie I wore was most welcome as a light breeze stirred the night air into a colder than expected evening and I pulled the hood over my ears to keep out the chill. After my eyes adjusted to the darkness, the brilliance of the evening sky with its countless points of light dancing in the night air played out their opening song before the main performance. For the next several hours as the night deepened, the stars and I carried on an ever more interesting conversation.
A few of the planets spoke first as they hovered as bright sparks of light set apart from all the others. Massive Jupiter shouted the loudest and I lifted a pair of binoculars to take a closer look at what it was saying. Several tiny points of light extended to one side of its intense glow...three of its moons waved back and bid me welcome. A thin layer of clouds almost to opaque to notice drifted across and created a hallow effect around Jupiter. High in the southeastern sky appeared another point of light was glowing with a soft amber hue...Mars said, "I too want to join tonight's conversation."
Straight overhead where the stars appeared most brilliant the sky was much darker in texture. Along the horizon just above the tree line a feint but warm shallow light pollution glow highlighted the taller trees against the background making them appear as mysterious marching apparitions.
To the west the warrior Orion drew his bow above the horizon. His distinctive and grand pose shouted with confidence. Hovering amongst his sword a massive cloud of gas where new stars are born was set alight with their newly formed energy.
I rotated the finder scope on the star tracker and aligned it with Polaris offset just enough toward a sister star called Alkaid to allow for a proper track. The 1 rpm motor drive was connected and generated its distinctive hum as it turned the tracking drive shaft. Using a large 500mm lens I drew his sword closer in so I could hear better what he was saying and captured for the first time a hidden world where those stars were born.
A rather shy and quiet part of the sky gained my attention and I rotated the camera toward its depths, reconnected the drive motor and opened the shutter. A full minute passed before the exposure was complete. What appeared as a dark patch of sky spoke with more confidence as newer stars were revealed in the image. I realized they were there all along, speaking softly just waiting for someone to capture their soft glow.
All through the evening the stars and I continued our conversation, they would say, "Look over this way for here you will find something amazing," and I would. No boundaries slowed the moments and as one conversation died down, a newer one began when other portions of the sky rose above the horizon. As many stars as there were, they were only the outskirts of a greater city of stars that eventually came into view. First, the head of Scorpius raised its three stars above the treeline, its tail and stinger arching just out of sight. Below them following shortly thereafter arose Antares glowing with a bright, orange hue. Before long the heart of the Milky Way made its first appearance and joined in our conversation. As the camera hummed and the tracking motor purred I followed the sky to the left of Antares and a most amazing sight materialized. Thousands of stars were singing across a giant coliseum filled with glowing gases and swirling dust clouds of such size and portions, simply to comprehend the vast array of their place amongst the universe boggles the mind. On the upper right reared the stallion of the Dark Horse of the Milky Way. Just below where the brightest part of the glow filled the view was the center of the Galaxy. It's hard to imagine just how far away it truly is...some 26,000 light years...or put into another perspective...the light I captured on that evening began its journey some 26,000 years ago to finally be captured by the sensor of my camera.
As the night drew into and well past the early hours of the morning, my internal clock suggested it was time to call an end to this marvelous conversation. Reluctantly, I began to shut down the mechanisms by which I visually communicated with the stars, and I when crawled into a safe and much warmer bed, my mind continued to stir about the marvelous revelations the stars we so kind to share with me. I knew this moment was to continue and just postponed until another time, another dark evening until I could again explore the amazing stories told through a conversation with the stars.
Saturday, April 26, 2014
Fast forward 57 years. I have connected my digital camera to a tracking device built from spare parts and plans found on the internet. Slowly and consistently by hand I turn the driveshaft that mimics the rotation of the earth and allows the camera to track for long periods of time one point in space. One mnute then two...and I release the cable shutter control. Within a second the image appears and what I see excites me as much as Sputnik did all those years ago. The digital camera with its light gathering ability and lens reveals the night sky in all of its glory. Our eyes just are not sensitive enough to gather in enough light so we can see naturally what floats above our world every night. But the camera makes up for all of that.
There are amazing colors and formations we never knew were there. Areas of glowing gases and dust fill the night sky across the lacy arch of the Milky Way...our home galaxy. Filled with an estimated 200 to 400 billion stars, it is our home amongst the billions of other galaxies scatter across the universe. Within it's realm places where stars are born, are recylced, and born again play out across a timeline unimaginable to our short span of life. Not so long ago, the Hubble Space Telescope pointed its eye toward a dark area in the sky that covered no more than the field of view as seen through a sodastraw. For a week or so it remained locked into positon making its exposure and when the image was finally processed, what was discovered astounded the scientists. Over 10,000 new galaxcies materialized and stretched about as far from us as you could possibly go. Imagine for a moment just how vast the universe is....kind of boggles the mind.
What a journey so far it has been, and I am just beginning to discover this facinating form of photography. I am not an Astrophysicist, just an ordinary photographer whose imagination takes him on amazing journeys of discovery. My first real season to photograph the night sky started as a trial and error process. By the end of that first summer what began with crude and sometimes shakey images began to demonstrate a new found confidence and excitement about the craft. By season two, the manually activated tracker was augmented by a 1 rpm motor that provides a steadier, long term exposure capability and I am just now beginning to tap into it potential.
NightScapes is simply a way to share what I discover as I continue to perfect the technique and find more time to explore this amazing form of photography. Kentucky although not the best location for night sky observations, does have its amazing moments inspite of the light pollution and often cloudy skies. As I stand in the middle of field on a clear dark night and see the brilliance of the night sky arch overhead, the excitment I feel and anticipation that fills my moment comes not from who I am today, but from the young boy whose facination was jump started by that tiny sphere called Sputnik so many years ago. I hope you enjoy the journey.