Well, I figure let’s get this thing going with a bang. Last night I took my Canon 1000D (known commonly as the Digital Rebel XS) and mounted it on a tripod, grabbed the remote shutter control and took lots of pictures of the sky while I puttered around inside the house.
I mainly have been messing around the with exposure settings, ISO settings, time settings, playing with Live View to get the pictures in focus…you know, practicing to make my skills bettter. It’s a lot harder to take pictures at night than you may think. Trying to get the stars to focus properly is a task in and of itself!
In daylight, you can set the lens to autofocus and image stabilize. At night, there’s not enough light for the camera to autofocus and image stabilization makes the camera constantly try to steady itself because it can’t see what it’s trying to stabilize. So you gotta go old school.
I used the manual settings on the lens and Live View to get an image of the crescent moon into focus, then I very carefully did not touch the lens until I had the camera and tripod set up on the table on our deck.
After around 30 shots where various settings (ISO, shutter speed, white balance, exposure, etc.) were jacked up I slowly narrowed it down and got a few pictures I was happy with.
Then I set up the remote shutter release (just a button on a cord, really) and locked it open. I was free to observe the heavens or wander back inside the house. I left the camera out there for 19 minutes and got a decent picture, but high thin clouds had swept through the area, rendering the shot useless. Just a dull glow everywhere. A few stars were sharp though! So I tried again after the clouds moved on.
Here’s what I saw when the camera’s shutter snapped shut and it displayed on the little screen:
But that was just the taste of what was to come. After some fancy processing in Photoshop to remove the effects of skyglow (that’s light pollution that’s causing the pink haziness around the edges, especially at the bottom and right side—towards Milwaukee), I came up with this:
Star trails around Polaris: 15 minute exposure, ISO 200, f4, white balance: tungsten, 18mm lens, Canon 1000D.
That is much closer to how the sky actually looked. And processing even brought out the light that I shined on the walnut tree dead center bottom. That tree is about 60-70 feet tall. The center star there that isn’t moving is Polaris, of course, the North Star.
Back outside (I processed at the end of the session, so the pictures are displayed a bit out of order), I turned my attention to directly overhead. Last weekend, my wife and I were enjoying the firepit in the backyard when I looked up and noticed the Milky Way for the first time in my life, that I could actually see…it wasn’t just a hazy, barely-there white patch in the sky. I could actually see dark spots and if I used averted vision, I could see it look like a cumulous cloud.
So I set up the camera to point straight up towards the constellation Cygnus and aimed as best as I could by looking down the barrel of the lens (there was no way I could get under the camera). I left the shutter open for what I counted as 8 seconds but what the computer told me was 42 seconds for some odd reason. I don’t think it would be this sharp at 42 seconds…the stars would have little tails. I think. I’m still on the steep learning curve.
Anyway, here’s what I captured:
It doesn’t look all that impressive, but you can clearly see the lighter left side of the image has some twisting cloud like dark spots…that’s the dust lanes of the Milky Way. Also, this is pretty darn close to what you can actually see here at my house by looking straight up. However…I know that’s not all the sensitive chip on the camera saw.
So I came inside (clouds from an approaching front were impeding imaging anyway) and started my processing. I use Photoshop Elements 5 for all my processing (not very current as far as processing goes, but it’s what I’ve got and it was free with my Wacom tablet!). After getting my hopes up with the star trails image success, I tackled the Milky Way. Here is my result, which, I have to say, is probably the best picture I’ve ever taken of a celestial object to date!
Milky Way in Cygnus: 42 second exposure, ISO 1600, 18mm/f4, white balance: tungsten, Canon 1000D.
Compared to the images I’ve seen on the internet, it’s below average…but those guys are using $$$$ telescopes and cameras I can only dream of. For me, this gets a big HELL YES!
The other thing I’m going to try next time is stacking images. All the pictures I took last night were just single frames because I spent so much time tweaking settings to find the right ones. Now that I know what settings I want to use, I’m going to take multiple images of the same part of the sky and stack them in processing to really develop detail like the big boys do. That should be interesting…
To give you an example of the steps neccessary to turn my before pictures into the after shots, here’s the website that I used last night as a “training manual” to walk me through processing. There are a LOT of places online to find hints and tips on how to process astrophotos, but this is where I started.
Hope you enjoyed my first baby steps into astrophotography. Check back soon for more pictures, because I can’t wait to get out under the stars again!