As we approach the maximum of the annual Perseid meteor shower this week, many people who don’t usually do stargazing will be hoping to spot a few of these beautiful “shooting stars”.
This really rules out using cheaper snapshot cameras, or those build into today’s smartphones. Instead, you need to aim the camera and open its shutter for a while in the hope that you’re lucky and a bright meteor appears right where you are pointing. In the days of film, where every precious frame counted, amateur astronomers got used to seeing bright meteors appear just after they had ended an exposure, or just outside the patch of sky being photographed. I have had a fair amount of success photographing meteors with a Canon digital camera, in my case the consumer model the EOS 600D. The first important rule in taking time exposures of the sky is that you need to hold the camera steady. I now have a much more robust 10-20mm Sigma lens on my Canon with a focus that stays just where you turn it. One benefit of the Canon EOS range is that you can employ lenses from various old SLR film cameras by adding an inexpensive adapter. Even an exposure of 20 seconds, using a wide-angle lens, will reveal that the Earth is turning by recording the stars as short trails.
When I tried this set-up for the January Quadrantids, I was surprised how many meteors I had captured. My latest book, published by Reader's Digest, is a guide to the Solar System and how it has changed. There are a number of lens traits that will determine the quality and usability of a camera lens for astrophotography. There are two basic traits of a lens that will affect how to take your landscape astrophotos: focal length and clear aperture size. For simple non-tracked landscape astrophotography and nightscape images, you will generally want a wide angle lens. Wide angle lenses have a larger field of view (FOV) and allow you to frame more of the Milky Way. Short focal length, wide angle lenses produce a smaller image size at the sensor allowing you to use longer shutter speeds without creating star trails from the Earth rotation. It tends to be more difficult to take landscape astrophotos with longer lenses like a 50mm or 85mm because the narrower field of view makes movement of the stars due to the Earth’s rotation more apparent.
When getting used to taking untracked astrophotos, I highly recommend that you check whether the stars are trailing by reviewing the image and zooming all the way into the detail. I’ve heard of several rules that different astrophotographers use to determine how long your shutter speed should be to prevent star trailing.
Note that differences in sensor resolution, pixel size and even the direction you point your camera in the night sky will change how the rule works. Also, pointing your camera toward the celestial equator line will cause more star trailing than near the poles due to the larger arc length swept by the stars in that portion of the sky. Once you have determined the maximum shutter duration with no star trailing for your lens or focal length of choice, remember it. That shutter duration will always tend to work for that particular lens on that particular camera.
The take home point is that narrower, longer focal length lenses will require shorter shutter durations to prevent star trailing.
You can see that with the longer exposures, the stars appear to get brighter but start to streak across the frame, especially with exposures longer than 30 seconds.
The image below is an example of what we get with a less than ideal setup for landscape astrophotography. The light gathering capability of a lens is directly proportional to the area of the clear aperture. Unfortunately, short focal length wide angle lenses also tend to have small clear apertures because shape of the lens at these short focal lengths makes it prohibitively difficult to manufacture the lens with a large diameter opening. To make comparison between lenses easier, we can calculate a value to quantify how well a lens will perform for nightscapes based on the amount of light it will collect using the lens’s clear aperture area, the angular area field of view of the lens, and the maximum shutter time we can use for the lens without producing star trails in our image (for the chart below, I use the 500 rule as describe above). Feel free to see the expanded chart with additional lenses and explanation by downloading it here.
The rating system does not take into account other factors that affect the image quality such as distortion or chromatic and coma aberrations. The above image is a great example of what you can do with a relatively cheap camera and lens combination.
Fast wide angle lenses available from nearly every major lens manufacturer but they tend to be a little more expensive. I tend to recommend lenses from Samyang or its other equivalent name brands, Bower and Rokinon for astrophotography. Most of these lenses are available for a whole range of cameras including Canon, Sony, Nikon, Fuji, Pentax, Olympus and Samsung.
These lenses are all Manual Focus (MF) only lenses so they will require more patience than your autofocus lenses for everyday shooting but their optics often match or exceed the quality of top-of-the-line Canon or Nikon lenses and at a quarter of the price. All of these lenses are relatively affordable and score above 1,000 with the calculations on the chart above. For some reason, most of the major lens manufacturers do not correct their fast prime lenses very well for coma or astigmatism. You can read a whole lot more about lens aberrations and how I test for them in my Practical Guide to Lens Aberrations.
About Latest Posts Ian NormanCreator at Lonely SpeckIan Norman, co-founder and creator of The Photon Collective and Lonely Speck. Hello Ian, I recently purchased a Sony A6000 and I was wondering if I need some kind of adapter for a Rokinon 24mm F1.4 (ED AS IF UMC) Full Frame Lens that I also purchased? Assuming the Rokinon Lens you bought is for Sony E-Mount, no adapter is needed to use a full frame lens on an APS-C body and it will work just fine. Partly on the advice from this website I purchased a Rokinon 24mm 1.4 lens for my Pentax K20D.
I would like advice from people who have used this lens on whether this is the best I can expect or if I should return the lens on warranty and hope the next one is better. The Full Frame Pentax K1 is soon to be released so if you can afford that, it might just be a “star” for astrophotography!
You will also need a remote control or a shutter release cable in order to minimize shaking the camera when taking the pictures. Set the camera in your tripod and take at least 5 consecutive images at the stars using the correct exposure time (using the RULE of 600) Do not move the camera to a different spot or change the settings unless you are done with that series of pictures. Tip: Every time I am done with a set of pictures, I place my hand in front of the lens and take another picture. The final image will be a large TIF file that you will use to bring up the colors in Photoshop. I also edited the blue, red and green colors in the level in order to make the nebula more visible. Become a Contributor: Check out Write for DPS page for details about how YOU can share your photography tips with the DPS community.
I have always been interested in stars and really saw the opportunity to try and take pictures of them. PS: in addition to the results of the sky, I tried taking pictures of my surroundings at night as well.
Also if you’re in manual mode, how is it possible that there is exposure compensation setting?
I just bought my daughter a Canon EOS 70D with 20.2 megapixels, EF-S 18-55 lens and EF 700-300mm telephoto lens.
Also, an app for IOS called "Starfinder" (free download last time I looked) can help with finding nebulas and the Milky Way so you shoot more than just a bunch of stars without depth.
I tried loading 1 image into photoshop and brightening it, but the amount of noise on the image was ridiculous. Thanks for the information, I followed your instructions last night and got awesome results. If you are referring to the examples in the above article, I think you need to realize these are small, web-friendly images, not the original, high resolution versions. I'm late to the game on this one, but I was camping this weekend and got some great opportunity to take some shots for this technique. Can' t wait to give to ago and as I'm going to the Isle of Mull later in the year where the light pollution is virtually 0 I want to get some practice in! I have been an amateur astrophotographer for many years initially using hypersensitised colour film and exposures through a guided telescope of up to 3 hours. Hey, this maybe a stupid question but when I watched your video I noticed that the image you were using was in grey scale rather than RGB.


If you shoot a lot of images, over a long period of time, you are making a motion "Time lapse" sequence, that can be sequenced easily in quicktime pro, for example. To sum up my understanding: To avoid creating star trails you take successive exposures of a shorter duration and stack them. Just keep trying mark, I would bracket a couple of pictures first, and find which ones give you the best result, I am usually shooting about 30 second long exposures. It's a shame the video didn't fully explain what the photo was of, and what settings were used, or even how many shots were taken.
It was all fun last weekend at the Alimosho Local Council of Lagos State, when movie stars under the aegis of The Golden Movie Ambassadors of Nigeria (TGMAN), collaborated with the United Nations Information Centre (UNIC), Lagos, in a public awareness campaign on climate change.
The President of TGMAN, Saidi Balogun, and the National Information Officer of UNIC Lagos, Mr.
The focus of campaign was on the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13, which says, ‘take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’. From Lagos State University (LASU)-Isheri Road, through Idimu to Egbeda area, the movie stars pressed on, on foot to achieve their aim.
Speaking at the Egbeda terminus of the campaign trail, Soremekun noted that climate change remained a threat to all. The SDGs awareness campaign was an outcome of a partnership meeting held between TGMAN and UNIC Lagos a few months ago and it is the first in the series of collaborative activities to leverage on creative arts and the movie industry for the promotion of sustainable development in Nigeria. Meteors appear randomly and in any direction, and they are too sudden and swift for you to be able to spot one and then take its photo. So your camera must have a manual setting where you can open the shutter for at least several seconds. Today’s digital cameras mean that amateur astronomers can rattle off hundreds of shots in succession without worrying about the cost. It is ideal because you can set it to take continuous exposures, providing you have a cable release, so that you don’t have to keep pressing the shutter yourself. Modern cameras have “live view” settings to make this easier because you cannot always rely on turning the lens, in its manual mode, to the little squiggle that marks “infinity”. I found, to my cost, that the light zoom lenses sold as standard with consumer DSLRs are OK for daytime shots in autofocus, but are so flimsy that they easily slip out of focus in manual mode. It is a lovely wide-angle lens that covers a large area of sky, increasing the chances of catching a meteor, and I am very happy with it. If you want them to look more like points of light, then could mount your camera on an equatorial telescope mount with a motor drive, or one of the dedicated driven camera mounts such as the AstroTrac. The fact I left the set-up to work unattended meant that I had to scan through hundreds of images on my computer to spot the meteors, ignoring any aircraft trails or satellites that had been photographed.
Let me explain what sort of thinking should go into choosing and using a lens for making astrophotography and Milky Way nightscapes. I usually suggest something 24mm or shorter on an APS-C camera or 35mm or shorter on a Full Frame Camera. This trait lets you collect light from a larger area of the sky and offers a balancing compromise to a typically small clear aperture for light gathering capability.
Most APS-C sensor digital SLRs like the Nikon D3100 or Canon EOS T5i come in a kit with an 18-55mm focal length lens.
This can be solved by tracking the stars but in turn adds complexity and extra expense for the equipment required to track the stars while make your photos. The important thing for you to do is to generally determine what maximum shutter speed will work best for your particular camera and lens combination. For instance, at 18mm on my APS-C cameras, I have found that 20 seconds works for most photos of the milky way. This makes longer lenses more difficult to use for Milky Way photography and nightscapes because it limits your maximum shutter time. Since the area of a circle is proportional to the square of the diameter, the clear aperture area increases quickly with lens size.
Post processing noise reduction can also make a huge difference in your results when you are limited by your lens.
About the product links below: I use affiliate links to the respective products that I mention on this page. Canon and Nikon both usually have terrible levels of coma or astigmatism present on their most expensive prime lenses. When you buy through the Amazon or B&H Photo links on Lonely Speck, it costs you nothing extra, but we will receive a small commission (usually 2-4%) to help run the site.
Just remember to change the camera settings to allow the shutter to fire without a proper electronically connected lens, found in the settings. Open the aperture all the way to 1.4 and be sure to know where infinity focus is on your lens (best to figure that out during the day time). I find it very frustrating to manually focus – I can never seem to get a sharp image at wide open, even of a flat subject like a picture on the wall.
Does the extra f-stop of the Rokinon make a noticeable difference when photographing the milky way – I have a canon 600d so am limited in my iso capabilities. I am not an astrophotographer in any way, shape or form, nor do I have any expensive equipment.
Taking stars pictures in your back yard is possible, however for better results select a place away from city lights.
That is to superimpose one image on top of the others (not all the images, but pictures belonging to the same series). I have recently got the opportunity to use my dads old DSLR camera (Canon EOS 10D) as he stopped using it.
After checking multiple sites on how to take pictures at night and of the night sky, I decided it was time to try it myself. I know that this should not affect it, but are you happen to be using some kind of noise reduction for long exposures? ISO 1600 is a bit too low for me, but I still see lots of stars even then, just with less intensity.
I wanted to surprise her by having it set up and ready to do a photo like this but I have no idea about cameras. Second time around I got the shot (Really noisy as I didn’t bother stacking with DSS). Recently in Kona (where lights are dimmed because of the observatory on the island) I followed the 600 rule, 18mm, ISO 1200, and stacked myy shots. This is a circa 2006 camera, and at 7 years old, I am going to suggest the noise is due to a sensor of meagre capability (signal to noise ratio at 800 ISO on almost any camera has improved by leaps and bounds since then). I was able to get a series of photos from a clear, beatiful Maine autum night sky, that I'm very pleased with.
If the camera you are using is of low quality, yes, you're going to see noise, but that is where the process of shooting a number of shots and stacking them helps. Digital photography is a good place for experimenting but you need the knowledge to do some things. I came home, loaded up my RAW files (they were a bit noisy due to the 1600 ISO I used) but I pressed on. I dont have an answer, my GH1 and GH2 process for about the same length of time that the exposure is. My Images is in RGB not grey scale and when I used the technique you suggested with curves and levels it just comes out extremely red and orange. If you are wanting to just try to limit the amount of noise from low level light, then just a few pictures stacked will work. My Lumix gh1 and gh2 take about the same length of time to write the image to memory before i can shoot again.
Weird as it loaded fine on a different machine with only 8 gigs of ram and much slower c2d chip. I can't see that there would be that much 'hidden' cloud and nebula on a 28mm shot of the night sky, it looks like it was more like 300mm, but then with the rule of 600, could you get that much info in 2 seconds???
The team informed and educated members of the public about climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning. The famous faces engaged members of the public in Yoruba, pidgin-English and occasionally, in Hausa language. He explained that the economy and people’s livelihoods were suffering due to unpredictable weather, as lakes were drying up and dry lands were getting drier, while flooded plains were increasing. But if you have a reasonably good camera with the ability to take time exposures, you could try to photograph some too as a lasting record.


You must also be able to focus the lens manually, as starlight is usually too faint for the autofocus to work, and your camera will spend all its time searching for focus and running down the battery.
The chips that replaced film are much more sensitive too, meaning that fainter meteors may be imaged than before.
This should be set up in a dark location, away from any street lights or other light pollution, so it is best to practise mounting and operating the camera beforehand when you can see what you are doing more easily. Excellent conditions and an absence of interfering moonlight might allow you to go to 1600 or even higher.
Instead, select live view, then zoom in until you can see a bright star, and turn the lens until that star becomes a sharp point of light.
Even so, it is wise to check regularly that it is still in focus (and, on humid nights, that the lens is not misting over with condensation). These were beautifully made pieces of glass and the wide-angle lenses would be useful for meteor work if you already have them.
I simply set my camera’s drive mode to continuous, using the leftmost of the central ring of four buttons on the back of the camera, then push and slide forward the release button to lock it. Tracking is possible with the use of a manual barn door tracker or motorized equatorial mount, sometimes controlled by an autoguider that provides feedback for the motor mount movement.
For the sake of maximizing the signal to noise ratio in your images (for better image quality), you should try to use as long a shutter speed as you can without trailing the stars. In photography, the signal is photons that the camera is collecting and the noise is from any number of things such as stray energy like heat energy from the camera electronics or the environment.
For nightscapes and astrophotography, we usually want to be able to resolve as much detail in the night sky as possible, especially really dim features such as nebulae and faint stars.
Choosing a lens for untracked nightscape photography then becomes a balance between choosing a short lens for less star trailing and a slightly longer lens that may offer a larger clear aperture at the expense of slightly shorter shutter speeds. The two different lenses should be expected to achieve very similar nightscape results with very different fields of view.
Another method for reducing noise is image stacking and can be very effective when you are lens limited. I have learned that amazing things happen when you ask for help so remember that we are always here for you. Get to a dark location, find the galactic center of the Milky Way through a phone app (something like SkyView Free), and set the ISO so that the histogram is peaked in the middle, if not a little to the right (which will probably be around 6400).
I wouldn’t worry too much about shutter failure unless you have only one camera and you need to use it for reportage, scheduled shoots, or other photography-for-pay where you need to be ready to shoot 24-7-365. Are you actually setting the camera up to WAIT say 30 seconds and then shoot (rather than setting your exposure to last that long)? I wonder if you tried the same thing with a more modern camera with better noise control, if you'd have better results. I used the Deep Sky Stacker software and when it "stacked" them, they were offset by a little bit (due to the shift from taking a series of shots over 3 minutes).
This means that often star trails will look so short that you will not notice them (particularly with short focal lenses and no blow up of images). I realise the stars move, I just don't understand how you can stack successive images WITHOUT getting movement. The stars are all moving, those further from the north star in our hemisphere move further.
The awareness campaign attracted motorists and pedestrians, who were excited to see their idols. With mounted sound system on a small truck, the procession stopped intermittently at major bus stops to address the public. Make sure the lens is fully open when you focus – turn the part of the lens barrel that controls the iris of the lens so that it is set to its highest f number. Star tracking is an essential technique for imaging of deep space objects with lenses and telescopes that have comparatively long focal lengths. Once you venture past 30 seconds at all but the shortest focal lengths, you will tend to see some star trailing.
Higher signal to noise ratio images will have higher image quality with clearer details, better color saturation, smoother tones and less relative noise.
A physically larger aperture for any given focal length will help us achieve more detail in any given portion of the night sky. The long lens collects more light at a time from a smaller area of the scene while the short lens collects less light at a time from a larger area of the scene. So which lenses have the best combination of a wide angle field of view and a large aperture?
A better scoring lens will only improve upon these results by collecting more light for a final image with less noise.
By stopping down and closing the aperture a little bit, you can reduce the effect of aberration. I compared my pictures to those my friend made with his camera and he got much better results than I did. The shot I have uploaded is only 4 megs (I shoot with a 25 MP camera and the original is huge). Consequently, lets say a 10 minute exposure would give a trail, 10 minutes in lenth, whereas a photo every minute for lets say 10 seconds in length, would give 10 stars with the same distance of the first example. As the campaign procession meandered through the streets, information and education materials was shared out to the public. He therefore urged the public to be vigilant as flash floods have been predicted in some states of the federation. To catch more meteors, you will want to have the lens wide open (at a high f number) in any case, though “stopping down” by a stop can improve the picture if the lens is not of high quality. As an alternative, and I must take more comparison shots, I have an excellent Samyang 12mm prime lens on my Fuji X-M1 camera – it is a robust design with good quality optics, and is also sold in the USA under the Rokinon brand. For nightscapes, however, where we are usually capturing the landscape as well, tracking the stars will in turn start to streak the landscape in the foreground. Just to demonstrate, the animation below simulates different shutter speeds (corrected for exposure brightness changes) to show how longer shutter speeds can create star trails.
One important thing that will affect signal to noise ratio in your astrophotos is the clear aperture of the lens for any given focal length. Without being able to track the stars with an equatorial mount, the limiting factor of the 100mm is then its field of view which will only allow us a 5 second exposure before the stars start to trail. Once you’ve fully mastered the limits of your equipment, you are only limited by your imagination.
Here is a dropbox link to a full res image and three close up crops of stars I shot last night. You will find an older comment of mines here on November 11th where a page is linked with some hints on the subject. This example leads me to the next consideration for a nightscape lens: clear aperture size. In order to collect a little more signal to make up for the slower lens, I used a higher than recommended shutter speed of 30 seconds.
Mars is the bright (overexposed) light in the center of the full image and on the left of the crops.
What DID frustrate me about the demo above, is the image was in colour, but the tab in the curves menu in PhotoShop said "grey".
The Photoshop problem is frustrating as well, as i have about the same setup that you do with the i7 core and memory. If you want a different camera, and are mostly doing deep sky imaging, I would suggest also considering purpose-built astronomy camera units. I get memory errors and if i watch my Task Manager and memory usage, it i hardly being taxed, and i have played with many of the memory allocation settings without much help.
Scientific CCDs have exceptional sensitivity, and have efficient Peltier cooling of the sensor.



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