August 17, 2012 stars

After inspiration from Bob Conzemius and Dan Miller, I decided to try some star images.  This was my first try at it, so we’ll learn a little about doing this type of photography together.  Be sure to click on each image for the higher resolution version.  Some browsers (like my version of Firefox) will scale down the larger version to fit on your screen.  Another click of your mouse on the image may bring it to full size (at least, that’s what happens on my version of Firefox).


Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 17-55mm F/2.8G ED lens shot at F/2.8 and a 15 second shutter speed.  ISO 2000. Focal length: 17mm.

Looking to avoid the bright lights of the Twin Cities, I drove up to southern Isanti County (pronounced Eye-sann-tee), and I took this shot on my first deployment, which was on a dirt road off of Isanti County Road 56 .  This is looking east. 



Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 17-55mm F/2.8G ED lens shot at F/2.8 and a 8second shutter speed.  ISO 1600. Focal length: 19mm.

Also taken during my first deployment, this is looking south.  The bright glow you see is the lights of the Twin Cities; I didn’t escape them as I hoped I would.  So I decided to use them to my advantage.  Ghostly mid-level clouds (they reminded of that scene from “The Ten Commandments”) and some contrails added variety.  See that moose in the lower corner?  Neither do I.  I was happy not to see any wild creatures (or drunks; it was Friday night) as I took these shots.




Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 17-55mm F/2.8G ED lens shot at F/2.8 and a 20 second shutter speed. ISO 3200. Focal length: 17mm.

Looking northeast if I recall properly, and at a new spot.  If you enlarge the image (click on it) you can just see the Milky Way sprouting from the tree at the left-center.  I wanted a better image of it, but could not find positioning that would get me a good shot.  Please note I shot this image, and most of these others, at my widest focal length (17mm).




Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 17-55mm F/2.8G ED lens shot at F/2.8 and a 10 second shutter speed.  ISO 2000.  Focal length: 17mm.

Looking southeast.  Finding a good foreground object in a dark, unfamiliar area was indeed a challenge.  I took this image in a dangerous spot; not quite pulled off the road and in total darkness.  I shut off all my running lights to avoid unwanted light; but was ready to run back to my car and activate my hazard lights if another vehicle appeared.  Shortly after I departed, a car did pass by.




Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 17-55mm F/2.8G ED lens shot at F/2.8 and a 20 second shutter speed.  ISO 1000.  Focal length: 17mm.

By 11:00 p.m. I was feeling very fatigued (still dealing with my bronchitis) so I grabbed one more image (looking south) and headed for home.  You can see a column of the Milky Way on the right hand side.  This was taken on a “DEAD END” dirt road that had me a bit nervous as I traversed it.




Nikon D7000 with a Nikkor 17-55mm F/2.8G ED lens shot at F/2.8 and a 1/00 of a second shutter speed.  ISO 3200.  Focal length: 31mm.

A star of a different sort; meet Katie the Spider.  She’s the daughter of the famous Victoria the SpiderYou can read about Victoria on my old web site HERE.  Of course, I am making all this up; I have no clue if this spider is related to Victoria, but it’s kinda fun.  My security light went off as I arrived home and it lit up Katie and her web (suspended from an overhang out front), so she makes my web site.

These images turned out “ok”…I am used to high-contrast, super-sharp images with knock-your-socks-off color, and star images just do not reach that criteria.  So that is feeding my lukewarm feeling towards these shots.  Still, I enjoyed the shoot and will probably do another one in the future.  Special thanks to Bob Conzemius for giving me some tips on how to shoot these types of images.   


So here’s what little I know about celestial photography:


• Stupid-high ISO’s: this really threw me.  I am the rock of low ISO’s; one of my cornerstones of sharp images.  However, in order to capture stars, your camera MUST be very sensitive to light, so you have to crank your ISO up.  As you can see, these were taken from 1000 to 3200 ISO.  With that said, the higher quality cameras will yield better results (full-frame, FX models are your best bet, methinks).


• Fast Lenses: stars move, so you cannot use long time exposures unless you are trying for star trail images.  The faster the lens, the lower your shutter speeds can be.  I shot anywhere from 5 to 20 seconds; the latter was at times too long, and I got some motion blur.  My Nikkor F/2.8 was good, but it would have been better to shoot with an F/1.4, but those lenses are not cheap.


• Killing Me Softly: wide open fast lenses and stupid-high ISO’s are going to give you grainy and soft images, there is no way around it.  So don’t expect the high image quality that you normally see (until perhaps, the technology improves).


• Different Light: get away from populated areas.  If you are in the heart of one (like I am), you’ll have to do some driving to escape unwanted light.  If you cannot escape it, try to use it to your advantage like I did.  This will require adjusting your exposure.  If you’re stuck in an urban area, some star shots are better than none.


• Thousand Points of Light: in a complete reversal of normal photography, where your eyes see better than the camera, in this case, it’s the opposite.  The camera can pick up many more stars than your eyes.  It’s rather amazing.


• Flashlight: bring a flashlight with you.  An absolute must.  A flashlight makes it so much easier to get set-up; you can actually SEE what you’re doing.


• To What Lengths: I used wide angle focal lengths for my shots.  I tried one a bit more zoomed in and was not happy with the results.  Bob Conzemius also uses wide angle focal lengths for his shots.


• Please Don’t Tell Me Now: do I really have to mention tripod and remote shutter release?  Do I?  Please?  Bueller?…anyone?…Bueller?


• Be Prepared: if possible, scout out an area ahead of time, versus stumbling around in the dark like I did.  Try to find an interesting foreground (something I failed at here).  It will greatly enhance your images.  Hey, did you get it?  “Be Prepared”…”scout out an area”…he, he, he…


• Let’s Make a Deal: I do not want spiders in my house, but instead of killing them, I catch and release them.  In return, they don’t bite me.  So far, the deal with them is holding.


So there ya go…all I have on shooting photos of stars.  Give it a try!

all images © Scott Woelm – August 2012