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A look at Astronomical photography - Never Seen Star Wars? (or the Milky Way) - part 4 of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

by Mike McNamee Published 01/12/2016

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Galaxy picked out by Sony ILCE-7RM2 with a 50mm f1.8 lens

Photography is of great assistance in looking at stars; the digital sensor can gather in more than the eye can see, even when using super-wide-angle lenses. The high ISO and low noise capability of today’s chip has revolutionised the pursuit of star images. Photoshop, time lapse and image-stacking software have all brought star trail photography into the grasp of photographers using only the kit that many already possess. A tripod, an f2.8 lens and a DSLR is all you need to start. Even if you do become hooked, telescopes and tracking mechanisms seem quite low cost compared with what we are used to paying for our everyday gear!

Little of this is a commercial proposition unless you can find a relevant, maybe iconic foreground to set off your stars; and even then you might need some luck, a car sweeping its headlights into your field of view could ruin a few hours of work (it is surprising how many clandestine courting couples there are arriving in some remote places - they often panic at the sight of a camera!).


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Before you go

You need to establish where you can go to find dark skies and also study both the weather forecast and lunar timetables - you need a moonless night for best star viewing (assuming, of course that the moon is not your quarry!). Photographer’s Ephemeris is the weapon of choice for predicting both sun and moon directions but a reconnaissance in daylight might save you driving your car into a ditch in the darkness - never lose sight of safety with this type of photography, by definition you are likely to be in remote places and far from help if you have an accident.

As well as having a thorough understanding of your camera settings you also need to be able to set things up in the dark. Practise the entire shooting workflow before you depart; you might need to consult your camera user guide (you know, the little book still in its cellophane wrapping in a hidden corner of you office). By way of example, we thought we had understood setting up the intervalometer on a Nikon - we had not! The camera kept stopping after a small number of Raw shots or a slightly larger number of JPEG shots because the buffer was filling up; we had totally misunderstood Nikon’s instructions and missed the fact that the ‘interval was timed from the start of each shot (ie you set 33 seconds if you have a 30 second exposure and this waits three seconds for buffering - we set our interval to 3 seconds which was ‘used up’ during the exposure). A head torch is also a requirement both for safety getting into position (full white light) and preserving your night vision while working (red light). After a small amount of web searching we took ourselves off to the Cotswold outdoor suppliers and sought their advice. We came away with a Black Diamond Cosmo 120 costing £40 - certainly not the cheapest you can get. However, it has proved to be excellent; it triples up as a dog-walking aid and an assistant when grubbing around under the desk looking for a USB port! It can be operated with gloves on and adjusted to point ahead or downwards, as required.


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1st Published 01/12/2016
last update 30/01/2018 12:09:32

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Updated 30/01/2018 12:09:32 Last Modified: Tuesday, 30 January 2018