Two successful SpaceX missions last week, one on each coast, prompted me to review my rocket launch photo procedures, particularly since the Monday (Sept. 13) launch from Vandenberg Space Force Base was the first after a long hiatus. For those of us in southern California, it was a photo op we were eagerly awaiting since it was scheduled for after sunset.
Articles written by David Kodama
In a previous article (Easing into Astrophotography with a Telescope), I listed a few resources for stepping up to telescopic astrophotography. Beyond learning the basics of sky navigation and learning to extend your photographic equipment knowledge into long exposures, an introductory overview of astronomy is a good idea so that you are aware of the photographic possibilities available to you and the wide array of equipment that may be needed.
The Perseid Meteor Shower peak has come and gone for 2021. This year the Moon’s interference was minimal, setting early in the evening around the predicted peak days, but luck always plays a major role in anyone’s success.
Aside from the Perseid meteor shower, the summer hype is on for viewing Saturn. Indeed, Saturn is a great target for visual observers, especially if it’s your very first view through a telescope. But for astrophotographers, it’s a tough target. A bit of an easier target is Jupiter, which is “following” Saturn across the summer sky.
As you’re probably aware from the level of hype in your news feed, the Perseid meteor shower is approaching and you should get outside to see it now! Technically in late July, it is already active in our skies, but the reality is that there is a fairly narrow window of high activity only around the peak time. My own experience is that the number of meteors drops off dramatically a day before or after the peak evening.
One of the Holy Grail quests for astrophotographers is the search for dark skies. Few of us are fortunate enough to live in ideal dark skies, but most of us are mobile enough to get to somewhere better than the center of an urban area.
One of the biggest confusions that you might notice as you venture into astrophotography is that photographers and astronomers measure their equipment differently. Photographers tend to refer to their lenses in terms of their focal length, while astronomers refer to their telescopes by the diameter of their opening. Thus, a 75mm f/6 telescope has a focal length of 450mm. Meanwhile, a 75mm camera lens at f/6 has an aperture of 12.5mm. If a photographer is told that someone is shooting a 155mm lens hand-held, it would not raise an eyebrow, but an astronomer told the same thing would be incredulous! I can only barely lift my 155mm telescope onto its mount!
If you’ve viewed deep-sky astrophotos (not landscape astrophotos), you may have noticed that extremely long exposures (not counting mosaics) are used. In extreme cases, exposures may run over 12 hours. Unless you have a space telescope, it should be obvious that multiple exposures have been used.
If you’ve been shooting (landscape) astrophotos for a while but are relatively new to astronomy, you may be contemplating stepping up to a telescope for your astrophotography. But taking the next step isn’t as simple as getting a longer lens for more magnified views. You should understand the changes in your shooting and equipment that this implies.
The recent addition of an astrophoto time-lapse mode (uncovered by XDA Developers) coming to Google’s camera app on their Pixel line of phones piqued my interest. Not that I think it will replace all of our “real” cameras, but I do have a deep appreciation for the engineering wizardry required to push right up to the physical limits of a tiny sensor and lens. And as an astronomy enthusiast, any developments that might open an appreciation of the night skies to a wider population get me very interested.
Lightroom and Photoshop are generally considered to be tools for standard (still) photography, but simple video tasks can be handled entirely within your photographer’s Lightroom and Photoshop subscription package (no need for Adobe Premiere Pro), and without any third-party add-on tools. In particular, the pair of programs handles time-lapse videos quite nicely.
While the lunar and annular solar eclipses are fresh in our minds and travel is gradually returning to some semblance of normality, it’s a good idea to begin to think ahead to future eclipse photo opportunities (especially total solar eclipses) in the next few years. Why plan so far ahead? Unfortunately for most of us, the opportunities to photograph a solar eclipse within our lifetimes can be counted on a few fingers. Lunar eclipses are a little easier to plan for but still require some planning.
In 2021, one of the astronomical targets you may want to challenge your photo skills on is the lunar eclipse occurring on May 26 (the evening of May 25-26). While lunar eclipses are generally not hard to see, since half the world can see the moon at any instant, not everyone can see the full extent of the approximately three-hour event. For this one, Pacific Ocean hemisphere residents are favored, but the west coast of the U.S. gets to see totality followed by the still partially eclipsed moon set opposite the sunrise.
Over the history of mankind, the best way found to archive data was to carve it into stone, then bury it in the sand. Photographically, the most stable form of archiving is probably a black-and-white silver-based image on a glass plate. For digital data storage, there is no perfect permanent storage option. Most digital storage media can’t be confidently recommended to be dependable beyond 5-10 years.
The standard procedure for photographing a meteor shower is to photograph as wide a swath of the night sky as possible all night long. With modern digital cameras, this usually means setting a camera to shoot 15-30 second exposures at around ISO 1,600, with a 2-5 second pause between frames, resulting in a night’s haul of more than a thousand frames! While this photography can be fully automated, allowing you to sleep overnight, the real work of finding the meteors in your shots starts in the morning! We’ve cast our fishing net out, and now, it’s time to haul it back in to see what we’ve found.
The annual Lyrid Meteor Shower is nearly upon us, peaking on the evening of April 21-22. While it’s not the best of the annual meteor showers, it is a good opportunity to try your hand at the challenge of capturing an image of a meteor. And even better, you may already have all of the equipment on hand: tripod, DSLR or mirrorless camera, and wide angle lens.
Today, a wide range of solutions are available for capturing a 360 degree still or video movie. You can even produce these on your phone.
Are you on the go for your photography or video shoots? If so, think outside the box and consider a Chromebook as your travel accessory.
NASA/JPL’s recent posting of the first Mars panoramic view from the Perseverance rover brought me back to some experimentation I had been doing a few years ago with spherical (360x180 degree) panoramic photos. Standardized viewers for interactively viewing panoramas aren’t readily available even today, but one option for sharing is to post a video on YouTube.