The usual thinking of night sky and Milky Way images is that you must travel a good distance away from the lights of towns and cities to get any decent shots.
I don’t live near big city, Seattle is 65 miles away, but there are several towns grouped together where I live. But I decided to head up to a local promontory called Big Rock to see about a few night sky images last weekend during the last New Moon.
These three images show that although the lights DO wash out the details of the stars there is still a chance to get some interesting images.
Mount Baker is visible as a small bump on the horizon. The green glow is the aurora borealis, adding some alien color to the edge of the sky.
Every August the Perseid Meteor Shower streaks above Earth creating a fantastic light show. Visibility of the meteors depends upon the moon cycle. If the full moon coincides with the meteor shower it tends to wash out the show. But this year’ s Perseid showers falls upon the New Moon and so we could have quite a show.
Milky Way and Shooting Star
Here is a quote from the article linked above: “Every year, from around July 17 to August 24, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, the parent of the Perseid meteor shower. Debris from this comet litters the comet’s orbit, but we don’t really get into the thick of the comet rubble until after the first week of August. The bits and pieces from Comet Swift-Tuttle slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at some 210,000 kilometers (130,000 miles) per hour, lighting up the nighttime with fast-moving Perseid meteors. If our planet happens to pass through an unusually dense clump of meteoroids – comet rubble – we’ll see an elevated number of meteors. We can always hope!”
Stars along the Baker River
Capturing images of meteors takes some planning, a little luck and dash of persistence. Basically what’s needed is to get out away from city lights and set up your DSLR (use a wide angle lens) on a tripod. use the widest aperture and a 20 to 30 second shutter speed. make sure your focus is on manual and set to infinity. Then you can point towards the Milky Way and start shooting!
Camped under the Milky Way 3
Of course you can never know when a huge meteor will streak across your screen, so you just keep shooting, over and over and you will for sure get some sweet shots.
If you live in Washington State and would like some instruction on How to capture the Night Sky images, I am offering Night Sky Photo Tours on August 12th and 15th. We will be heading up into the North Cascades for an (almost) all night Meteor Photo Shoot. Here are all the details.
The New Moon is marked every month on my calendar. As it gets closer I start watching the weather service map, looking for where there will be clear skies. Last month was a complete dud, the 5-night window only saw overcast and rain.
But this weekend the sky was clear. I had three people sign up for my Night Sky Photo Tour on Saturday night.
Officially the New Moon is tonight, June 16th, but if you are close, one or two days plus or minus, you will get the lighting you want.
Camped under the Milky Way
This first shot I have been dreaming of for some time. My son is 10 years old and he likes to go camping with his friends, swimming and being goof balls. Of course they always bring their electronic devices. I made sure to tell them to save some battery life for dark.
The strip of the Milky Way appeared directly over the tent. The exposure to capture the stars is 30 seconds long, but that’s way too long for the light from the I-pad. So I had them sit and turn it on for a second or two and then quickly off.
Then I spent some time circumnavigating the tent. I got a shooting star in this one.
Milky Way and Shooting Star
and then as I faced north I captured this image. The pink glow is actually the Aurora Borealis! How cool is that!
Glow of Aurora Borealis
I had three people sign up for my Night Sky Photo Tour on Saturday night. We visited the Washington Pass Overlook to capture images of Liberty Bell. Between instruction advices I snapped a few images. This image is from a north-facing view. To the naked eye there was NO color.
Needless to say we were all excited to see the Northern Lights there on the horizon!
I have been working with Photoshop for some time. My learning curve has been rather slow and often painful! Slowly I learn new techniques for manipulating light and shadows.
Images of the night sky demand more work than daytime shots. The camera I have, a Canon 6D, and the 14mm lens I use allow me to set the exposure for 30 seconds.
In the unedited images you can see the strip of the Milky Way and in the edited images it pops out and grabs you!
Here is an image I shot a few years ago with a Canon T2i, a 15mm lens at 30 sec. and 800iso. Its a bit dark!
Now the newly edited version.
This next shot is from Zion National Park. I used the Canon 6D with a 14mm lens at 15 sec.
Here is the edited image.
Liberty Bell and the North Cascades Highway, Canon 6D, 14mm lens at 25 sec. Before
The last shot is of Mount Rainier from Crystal Mountain. Again using the 6D and the 14mm lens at 30 sec.
If you would like to attend a Night Sky Photo Tour and learn how to capture such images, here is the link with dates and prices!
And the final version.
For those of you who are already Photoshop savvy, the most useful tutorials and techniques for editing starry night shots I have found are at Dave Morrow Photography.
If you would like personalized Photoshop Lessons with me online, here is the link!
This image was taken at the Crystal Mountain Ski Resort. We rode the gondola up, stayed the night and got some wonderful pics. The two lines of lights on the mountains flank are climbers going up to the summit.
I have been working on nighttime imaging for a while, trying different exposures and post-capture processing.
This image was one of my first attempts. I hiked in to a location with very little ambient light, actually I went there to capture meteor images last August. I shot this at f3.5 at 30 sec and 800 ISO, using a Canon t2i and an 15-85mm lens. I tried using various settings of ISO, but had the idea that I should not get much above 800-1200iso.
The image was shot in the RAW format, opening it in Photoshop I made several changes:
The noise reduction and sharpening was used heavily to reduce the graininess
Lens distortion correction
Fill light was used to brighten the image and Recovery to decrease the brightness on the tent
Vibrance, Clarity and Contrast were also significantly increased.
I saved the image as a jpeg and opened it in PS (I was using CS5 for this image) and went on to select the sky, and using Levels brought out the contrast by moving the slider to the right (to the start of the peak) and to the left down to 220. here is the result:
This year I got myself a new Canon 6D and went to Washington Pass, along the North Cascades Highway to take pictures. I was careful to choose a night with clear skies and very little moon.
This image was shot at 8sec, f4.0 and 25,600 iso. There is a setting on the camera for “High ISO Noise Reduction” and I set this to high. I tried to keep the shutter speed low, 10 sec or less, to make sure there was no blur from movement of the earth, etc.
Again, I shot this in the RAW format. Photoshop CS5 was not able to open the RAW images I shot with the new Canon 6D, so I had to upgrade to CS 6…
Here are the basic modifications made to the RAW image:
The sharpening was used heavily, BUT no Noise Reduction
Lens distortion correction
I increased Vibrance, Saturation and Highlights
Here is the result:
Going back to the image later I felt that there was still to much graininess and so I went back to the RAW image and greatly increased the Noise Reduction, then I saved the image as a jpeg and opened it in PS (I was using CS6 for this image) and went on to select the sky, and using Levels brought out the contrast by moving the slider to the right (to the start of the peak) and to the left down to 220. Here is the result:
I am much more satisfied with the version.
Please feel free to let me know which variation you like the most, and if you can, why!
And if you have any ideas, tips or suggestions, I am very interested.