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How to Photograph the Milky Way – Continued

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Setup Your Camera

I am going to suggest some settings that will be a good ballpark start for your exposure. You may not even have to change them for your final exposure but that will depend on things like moonlight, light pollution, your camera, and your lens. We will start here and adjust accordingly. You should be familiar with each of these settings and how to change them. If any of these settings are unfamiliar to you, review your camera’s manual for how to change the setting.

  • Shoot in RAW recording mode
    • RAW image files contain more data than JPEG files and thus allow for greater flexibility in post-processing adjustments.
  • Zoom out to the widest field of view your lens supports (24mm or wider)
    • The wider field of view will reduce streaking of the stars due to Earth’s rotation and will allow us to capture as much of the Milky Way as possible.
  • Manual focus
    • Use manual focus (M or MF) mode on your lens and set it to the infinity mark if possible. We will focus more precisely later.
  • Manual exposure
    • Set your exposure mode to Manual (M)
  • Enable long exposure noise reduction if available.
    • This will reduce grain on your photos by taking a second photograph without opening the shutter to record and subtract noise data from your image. Note that this will usually add additional wait time to each exposure before you will be able to use your camera again for the next exposure. If your camera takes particularly low noise images, such as a Canon 6D, you probably don’t need to enable this feature.
  • Enable the histogram in the image review.
    • This will allow us to see a graphic display of our exposure and adjust accordingly.
  • Use automatic white balance.
    • Many things like light pollution or moonlight can change the white balance of the image so just set it to auto. Since we’re shooting in RAW, we can make adjustments to the white balance later. If you’re shooting a timelapse, a custom setting of 3900K or a setting of tungsten can prevent unexpected changes during the timelapse sequence.

Exposure Settings

The exposure settings that I recommend in a dark sky area are dependent on the type of camera and lens that you are using. Use the calculator below to determine the exposure that I recommend you use initially. Once you take your first exposure, you can adjust as necessary based on your exposure histogram.

Exposure Value:

-8.1 EV (Target is -8 EV)

1184

Note: This calculator is made to produce a neutral exposure in dark sky conditions. Results will appear brighter than natural but exposure can be pulled down in post processing. Astro Lens Score does not factor in camera sensor size.

Bottom of Form

  • The shutter speed is calculated based on the focal length of your lens and the size of your camera’s sensor. Longer focal lengths and smaller sensors require shorter shutter speeds to prevent star trailing.
  • The f/number should generally be set to the lowest possible number, preferably f/2.8 or lower if your lens supports it. Lenses with f/numbers of f/4.0 or higher are not recommended.
  • The ISO is calculated based on your aperture and shutter speed but it’s a little dependent on the noise performance of your camera. Start with the calculator’s recommendation and adjust accordingly.

For a more complete explanation of how to figure out the exposure for shooting the Milky Way, visit my article on the Milky Way Exposure Calculator for a complete explanation of the calculations that are being used.

Focusing in the Dark

I like focusing before composition because it’s generally easier to focus your camera first, tape your focus ring, and then re-compose later. In general, you will want to make sure your lens is in manual focus mode (M or MF) and is focused at infinity. But rather than just setting the focusing ring to the infinity mark (on some lenses) and forgetting about it, we will want to make more precise focus adjustments to ensure the best possible photo quality. Here are a couple methods that I use to focus in the dark.

Being able to focus on a distant artificial light (like your friend’s flashlight) is very helpful when it’s dark out.

  • Manual focus with Live View
    • This is by far the most accurate method if your camera supports it. Enable live view on your camera and use the focus checking or the digital zoom function on a bright star to make the star appear like a pinpoint. I recommend centering the star in the frame before focusing on it to have the most even focus field. Note that you may need to change the Live View settings on your camera to “exposure simulation” or “manual,”  in order to be able to see stars on the LCD. If you cannot see stars in the LCD, try focusing on a flashlight at a distance like in the method below.
  • Auto focus or manual focus on a flashlight that is placed far away (greater than 100 feet or so)
    • This can be an easy way to get your camera to focus at close to infinity in the dark but can be difficult if you don’t have a helping hand to hold the flashlight for you. It’s often best to place a flashlight next to an object in your frame that is at a distance of 100 feet or greater, the farther the better but after about 150 feet or so, it makes less and less difference. Plus, walking back and forth 300 feet just to focus your camera can be a drag. As soon as you get focus confirmation on the lit object, switch the lens back to manual focus (MF) mode to lock the focus at infinity, being careful not to twist the focus ring and mess up your focusing work. A flashlight can also be helpful if you wish to instead focus on a foreground object rather than infinity.

Regardless of the method of focus, make a test shot of the stars with the exposure settings above to check your focus. Zoom the LCD all the way into the image review to make sure that the stars look like pinpoints, if they are out of focus circular blobs, re-focus and check again. Always zoom the LCD into the preview review to check the focus, don’t take the initial thumbnail at face value. Once your shots are in focus, a piece of electrical tape or gaffer’s tape between the focus ring and the lens body can help prevent you from bumping the focus.

Understanding the Histogram and Adjusting Exposure

The settings that you calculated above when we setup your camera should be a good start. Once you are satisfied with your focus and your framing, the next thing is optimizing your exposure. This is where we will review the camera’s histogram information (The histogram is usually available by pressing “INFO” or “Display” or Up/Down arrows when reviewing photos. It really depends on your camera so check your instruction manual.)  Typically we will desire a histogram that shows peaks toward the center of the graph from left to right. See below for examples of histograms for various exposures of the Milky Way.

how to read your camera's histogram

Try to push your camera to the limits of its light gathering capability without compromising quality. Check and re-check your image review, zoom in on the LCD to check focus, review the histogram for exposure information and re-compose your frame throughout the night. Once you find an exposure you like, you can usually maintain the same exposure throughout the night.

Full article…

How to Photograph the Milky Way

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Wide field landscape astrophotography is an impressive form of photography, and it’s accessible to nearly everyone.

Astrophotography in its simplest form is increasing in accessibility, especially with today’s affordable, large sensor, high signal-to-noise ratio digital cameras. In my opinion, there are few photographs that have as much existential impact as a nighttime landscape against the Milky Way.

Equipment

There are a few things that you will need. Here is a concise checklist of the most helpful things:

  • Digital Camera with Manual Controls
  • Wide Angle Lens
  • Tripod
  • Flashlight or Headlamp
  • Intervalometer Remote Timer (Optional)
  • Smartphone Star Map App (Optional)
  • Dark Location at a Dark Time of Night

Digital Camera with Manual Controls

It is a common misconception that you need an expensive camera and lens combination to make a great Milky Way photograph. Pretty much any Digital SLR (DSLR) or camera with a Micro 4/3 sensor or larger is more than capable of photographing the Milky Way, especially when paired with the right lens. DSLRs are the most common high performance cameras available and they offer an excellent price-to-performance ratio. If you’re interested, I  personally use the following camera systems for the photos on Lonely Speck:

Even the Canon EOS M, which can be found for less than $300, is one of the cameras I use for making the photos you see here.

Fast Wide Angle Lens

A “fast” wide angle lens is the most important piece of equipment that will make your Milky Way photograph the easiest to make. The important traits are a low aperture f/number rating and short focal length. The lower the f/number rating, the faster and better the lens will be for really dark shooting conditions. Most digital camera kits come with the ubiquitous 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. The minimum f/number of that lens (at 18mm) is f/3.5 which is a little bit “slow” for Milky Way photography. You can squeeze by with a slower kit lens like the common 18-55mm, but keep in mind that you will actually see a tangible difference with a faster lens that has a lower f/number rating.

Milky Way over Mt. Pinos, Rokinon 8mm f/2.8 Fisheye, Defished

Read on…

Halloween Photography – Halloween Photography Tips

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Halloween Photography - Halloween Photography Tips

Far too many Halloween photos are just a child in costume standing in front of a wall and lit with a straight flash. Making it spooky is essential to making your Halloween photographs stand out.

Light From Below

    Most of the light we see comes from overhead lighting or the sun. When we use lighting from beneath a subject it breaks expectations and creates a feeling of uneasiness. The heavy use of this technique in movies throughout the years has increased this connection between low lighting and danger.
  • Flashlight
    Hold a flashlight under your subject’s face to cast odd shadows over their features
  • Glowsticks
    Place your subject on a clear pedestal (or upside down plastic food container) with a glowstick underneath it.
  • Turn Your Camera Upside Down
    Turn your camera upside down so that your flash fires downward. This is especially effective if you have a swivel-head flash and can bounce the light off of the floor.

Change the Color

    We are used to seeing white light. That is, light that does not cast a color-tint. However, tinted lighting can be very spooky. Red, green, and blue lighting all have a very eerie feel to them.
  • Cellophane
    Try taping colored cellophane to your flash or to a flashlight to add an odd color to your images. Just remember that colors other than white light may not register correctly on your camera’s light meter. Bracket your exposures or overexpose a little bit.
  • Glowsticks
    Glowsticks are great ways to add eerie colors to your images. You can place them behind objects, under clear pedestals, or inside pumpkins to give a wonderfully spooky color glow in small areas.
  • Blacklight
    Blacklights are a mainstay of Halloween. However, they can require a bit of planning to make your images work. Check out my in-depth article on blacklight photography for instructions.

Read on…

4 Sources for Free Stock Photography

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Finding high-quality images can be difficult, especially if you are trying to do it on a budget. Here are four sources for free, high-quality stock photographs.

Stock.xchng

Stock.xchng (SXC) offers a wide variety of high-quality, high-resolution photographs. The SXC library also includes illustrations and clip art.

morgueFile

MorgueFile offers a very simple interface for finding photos. Unlike most stock photography sites, morgueFile provides images specifically for use in derivative work, where an image is altered or customized. If you are looking to use an image as is, morgueFile suggests contacting the original photographer.

Pixel Perfect Digital

If you don’t mind providing attribution, Pixel Perfect Digital is a good resource for more polished stock photography. All Pixel Perfect Digital images are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license, allowing you to edit and use photos commercially, provided you credit Pixel Perfect Digital for the photo.

everystockphoto

Everystockphoto is a stock photography search engine that pulls from stock photo sources around the Internet, including Flickr, NASA, Wikipedia, morgueFile, and Stock.xchng. One of everystockphoto’s most useful features is its advanced search, letting you narrow your search results by a number of factors, including resolution and license.

Pixel Perfect Digital

BOOSTING THE MILKYWAY: LIGHTROOM TUTORIAL

By Michael Shainblum

Interesting Lightroom Tutorial:

How to best capture menories through a lens

By Rick Steves

Here are some tips and lessons that I’ve learned from the photographic school of hard knocks.

Capture striking light, contrasting shades, repeating patterns, interesting textures, bold colors and intimate close-ups.

Look for a new slant on an old sight. Postcard-type shots are hard to resist, but boring. Everyone knows what the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben looks like. Find a different approach to sights that everyone has seen. Instead of showing the Leaning Tower lean, climb to its top and try a shot of the piazza below you. Shoot up at the snowy face of the Matterhorn … through the hind legs of a cow.

Capture the personal and intimate details of your trip. Show how you lived, who you met, and what made each day an adventure (a close-up of a picnic, your favorite taxi driver, the character you befriended at the launderette). Those moments — your moments — are the ones you’ll want to remember.

Vary your perspective. Shoot close, far, low, or high, during the day and at night. Don’t fall into the rut of always centering a shot. Use foregrounds to add color, depth and interest to landscapes.

Notice details. Eliminate distractions by zeroing in on your subject. Get so close that you show only one thing. Don’t try to show all of something in one shot — zoom in. People are the most interesting subjects. It takes nerve to walk up to someone and take his or her picture. But if you want some great shots, be nervy.

Buildings, in general, are not interesting. It doesn’t matter if Karl Marx or Beethoven was born there, a house is as dead as its former resident. Experienced travel photographers take more people shots and fewer buildings or general landscapes.

Read full article…

This Can’t Be a Good Photo, Because…

by Scott Kelby

…I’ve read enough from people in forums on the Web who have convinced me this isn’t a good shot because….

  • (a) It was taken with a 6-megapixel consumer camera (the original Canon Digital Rebel) back in 2006
  • (b) I shot it with the cheap kit lens that came with the camera
  • (c) My camera was set to JPEG mode
  • (d) It was taken on a $14.95 tripod (I forgot mine at home so I had to buy one at Walmart)

I’m going back there again soon on a family vacation, but this time I’m taking:

  • (a) A Nikon D800 36-megapixel camera or my Nikon D4
  • (b) A 14-24mm f/2.8 lens that along costs more than the camera, lens, and tripod I shot the image above with combined.
  • (c) I’ll shoot in RAW mode and post-process the image in Lightroom 4
  • (d) I’ll be using an Gitzo Carbon-fiber tripod with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ball-head and I’ll have a cable release this time

But with all that cool gear and technology, I am pretty darn certain I won’t get nearly as good a shot. There’s a lesson in there somewhere. 😉

 

Science Friday’s 2013 Winter Nature Photo Contest

Prize Details

Winner will be announced on air and will be interviewed for a story on our website ScienceFriday.com

Contest Instructions

The Contest will be open to entrants beginning February 15, 2013 at 4:00 p.m. E.S.T. and ending March 1, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. E.S.T.

You may submit one photo entry per person.

You must be 13 or older to enter.

Contest Starts
February 15, 2013 @ 04:00 pm (EST)
Contest Ends
March 01, 2013 @ 02:00 pm (EST)
To find out more or participate…
People already submitted many incredible winter pictures.
I submitted one as well. It was really hard to pick one.
Here is what I selected: