My Adventures in Astrophotography. Edition: 1

It’s definitely harder than it looks. I’ll tell you that.

Anyone can take a photo of the moon, and most people can make it look pretty damn good. But stars…

Stars. They’re hard.

First of all, it’s hard to get them in focus. Some people have methods they use and it works out well for them, like pre-focusing during the day and keeping it there, or they wind the focus all the way out, and wind it back in a tiny bit. I’m not quite sure about it myself. I’ve not found a method I’ve liked, and can produce the results I want, so far.

Anyway, when you do get it focused, you have to make sure you have autofocus off. Otherwise you’ll have a pretty bad time like I did, and have to go through the whole process again.

Small disclosure: I don’t think I actually ever got it fully focused properly.

Next problem with astrophotography: 

I’m a pretty stubborn person sometimes, and if I get it stuck in my mind that I want to do something, I pretty much have to go do it.

Therefore, having the need to go take photos of stars, on a cloudy night, is not so good.

That’s right, I got to my location, with my buddy… and it was super cloudy. The weather not surprisingly, plays a very important part in being able to take photos of the night sky.

It needs to be clear, or at the very most, only a little cloudy.

Third problem with astrophotography:

It’s not exactly a problem with the sky this time, it’s more of a problem with the earth’s rotation and orbit of the sun.

In case you’re not aware, we as humans, are racing through space on our little blue rock at approximately 30 kilometres (18.5 miles) per second. That’s pretty fast.

What’s also fast is the speed of Earth’s rotation. At the Equator it’s approximately 1600 kilometres (1000 miles) per hour.

That’s fast enough that if you take an exposure longer than 30 seconds, you’ll see the stars starting to streak across the sky. This creates a problem because generally, at night you need a longer exposure to actually be able to see anything.

This is where your f/stop and ISO come into play. Use them smartly and you’ll be able to take quite a decent picture. You’ll want the f/stop to be as low as possible to let in as much light as it can, and the ISO should be set wherever you can see more stars than noise. Too high and you’ll end up with a lot of grain in the pictures, too dark and you won’t see anything.

And if that’s not enough, you may need to go somewhere darker. Shooting the night sky in a major city is not the best option because of light pollution. I went way way out of town to take my pictures, and it was still too bright.

And, if even that is not enough, and you’ve got a spare couple hundred dollars lying around, you could go and pick up a star tracker. With one of these installed, you can take long exposures until the cows come home and they’ll always look great. (I’ve got one of these on my list of gear to buy!)

Anyway, i’m gonna show you some of my honestly subpar shots from that night. As a reminder of what not to do. You’ll be able to see some in there that are too dark, too cloudy and blurry, and then at least one where I tried light painting.

Until next time!

 

A little lesson in ISO:

Ok so, you may be wondering,

“What’s this setting marked ‘ISO’ on my DSLR, and why do I need it? It’s set to auto anyway.”

Well young photographer, your ISO setting is more important than you think. I personally never used to take much notice of it, until a friend set me straight.

ISO stands for “International Organisation for Standardisation” (IOS? Hah.)

As per their website:

ISO is an independent, non-governmental international organization with a membership of 162 national standards bodies.

Through its members, it brings together experts to share knowledge and develop voluntary, consensus-based, market relevant International Standards that support innovation and provide solutions to global challenges.

https://www.iso.org/about-us.html

So basically, what the ISO do, is decide the standards to which lots of things adhere. This includes the afore mentioned camera settings.

They’ve decided that a certain level of camera sensor sensitivity shall be called ISO 100, and another level ISO 200, and so on.

Back in the day, these standards were applied to film cameras, and were used to designate film sensitivity. But luckily now that we are in the digital age, we don’t have to use film, and can switch our ISO settings on the fly.

There’s actually a few aspects of the picture that ISO can contribute to.

How much grain is in the photo, and how bright or dark it is.

Generally speaking, the higher your ISO setting, the brighter the picture will be, but the amount of grain will also be prominent.

And of course, the opposite is also true. The lower the ISO, the darker the picture will be, and the less grain you’ll see.

Luckily Wrench has allowed me to take some photos to demonstrate.

wrench ISO difference

These two photos were taken with exactly the same settings, except for the ones listed in the picture.

You can see that the ISO 6400 photo on the left is definitely grainier than the one on the right. However, you’d need a tripod to take a photo of the same brightness on ISO 100, because you’d need to expose the sensor for 5 seconds instead of 1/13th.

Why? Because ISO 100 lets a lot less light in, and as a result, if I took both photos at 1/13th of a second shutter speed, the ISO 100 picture would basically be black.

So there is an advantage to shooting at a higher ISO setting. If you can deal with the grain, you can take very quick photos with a lot less light.

Here’s another closer picture:

wrench ISO difference close

 

Again, look at the amount of detail you lose in the ISO 6400 shot. But also look at how long the sensor was exposed compared to the bottom picture. Quite a difference.

You’d need a very very steady hand to take the bottom picture unless you were carrying a tripod around.


 

And that about covers my current knowledge of ISO and the like. It is a super important and occasionally powerful setting.

Until next post~!

The Gear can only take you so far, is what I hear.

Oh yes. Apparently lots of skill is needed, but that’s still to come.

In this post, I want to show you what my camera kit looks like. It’s nothing overly fancy, although nor is it cheap.

(It can be though! There are some nice cameras out there for half of what I paid for my first camera)

Anyway, here we go.

IMG_8351

These are the important parts of the whole collection.

In cameras, we have:

  • A Canon EOS Rebel T3i (Which is the American name, here in Australia, they’re called a “600D”)
  • A Nikon Coolpix P900
  • A GoPro Hero 4 Black
  • A GoPro Hero 5 Black

And in lenses, there are:

  • A Canon 55-250mm zoom lens, that came with the T3i when i bought it
  • A Canon 100mm macro lens
  • A 18-55mm standard SLR lens. (Also for the Canon.)

 

I love all of these cameras, and they can basically do everything I need if i’m creative about how I structure my time.

Here’s a few more photos just in case you wanted to see:

Canon EOS Rebel T3i

This is the EOS Rebel T3i, or just T3i for short. I’m quite proud of the fact that you cannot buy these in Australia, and I feel unique because of it.

It’s a great first DSLR for anyone wanting to jump right into quality photography. I even managed to take a few good photos of squirrels in Manhattan when I first got it.

There’s a nice movable screen, so you can use it “selfie mode” if you wish, it can take great video, and if you wanna blast some photos, it can take around 4 per second. Good for sport.

It’s a nice, cheapish little camera, not overly remarkable, but i’ve had it for about 6 years now and it ages well.

 

Nikon Coolpix P900

Now this one is a very interesting item indeed. The Nikon Coolpix P900.

The first thing you may notice is that most of the camera is a lens. You’re quite right.

It’s not a DSLR, it’s basically a normal point and shoot camera on steroids. This thing has 83x Optical zoom, and another 2 layers of digital zoom which basically ends up being the equivalent of a 2000mm SLR lens.

That’s insane! And exactly the reason why I bought this camera. For a small price to pay in quality, you can get yourself a massive amount of zoom.

You can see craters on the moon! It’s that good that the atmosphere can even affect how good of a photo you can take.

To get yourself an equivalent setup on a proper DSLR, it would cost you somewhere in the vicinity of $30,000. Yes, that’s thirty thousand. And mostly for the lens.

 

GoPros

Eh, everyone knows what GoPros look like nowadays. Everyone knows what they’re for.

Usually some guy snowboarding down a hectic slope, or on a powerboat in the bay. It’s pretty cool.

The only issue I find, is that they seem to be too expensive. I mean, it’s a miracle of technology that they’re able to fit that much tech in such a little box, but I have seen some other action cams cheaper.

Regardless, I still love them, and will cherish them always. I just hope I don’t lose one.


 

Ok, that’ll do for now. I just wanted to get that out of the way so we can all be on the same page about what gadgets I use.

Until next post!

Ok, so here’s the skinny.

I like taking photos. I like shooting video.

A loooong time ago, way back in the year of 2011, I became the owner of a DLSR. A fine one at that. And as of about a month ago, i’ve decided that I want to be able to use it better. Which right now, seems a little hard. There’s so many nuances and rules to keep track of. So many people telling me their little tricks and guides.

So that’s what inspired me to create this blog. A place where I can record all my findings in the world of photo and videography. Hopefully as a guide to similar newcomers later on.

I know, I know, it’s a totally overused concept, and blah blah blah. Whatever.

I feel like i’m going to like this anyway!