Monday, May 26, 2014

It ain't easy being green

OK, when I wrote the title of this post, I Googled it and as I expected, it was written for Kermit the Frog on Sesame Street. But did you know that this song was covered by such illustrious people as Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra? Google is your Friend!

So what this post is really about is that it isn't easy shooting stars. The key is planning.

The Stars they Come Stealing at the Close of the Day*
* from Gordon Lightfoot's "Railroad Trilogy"

Last week I spotted a post on Facebook in the "From Quarks to Quasars" group that mentioned that the "Camelopardalids" meteor shower expected  last Thursday night might be spectacular. A look at the "Clear Dark Sky" chart site (here) indicated that we might just get lucky and have a clear night so with some quick last minute plans, a few of us got together to try to capture the event. Easier said than done.

It turns out that the meteor shower wasn't that intense. I have to say, I did see quite a number of meteors in the time we were out there. Many of them were not streaks across the sky, they were just a momentary flash. I surmise that was from a small meteor that burned up almost instantly when it hit atmosphere.

Anyway, we were out from about 1 am through 4 am. I caught a grand total of ONE meteor on the camera. I saw at least a dozen.

And to top it off, this was only a test shot while I was setting up! 10 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 12,800. I was just trying to get the composition right, the camera level and pointed at the sky. I never saw this one until I got back to the computer. You can click on the picture to blow it up

I've shot stars before, as my faithful readers know. I even wrote a technical blog on how to do it here and I'm planning a workshop in a few weeks (send me an email if you're interested in the workshop). Trying to capture meteors is a whole other ball game. I've seen some outstanding photos of passels of meteors, I know they were composited together but so far I can't figure out how. And a time lapse video seems to be the way to go but that's even tougher.

One thing you need to do is focus. In the dark. On infinity. How? If you go by the marking on your lens, I guarantee you'll be wrong. And with the lens wide open and virtually no depth of field, well that's critical. How do you do it? Like this:

Send someone out in the field with a flashlight (thanks, Kathy!) Then give it a wee bit more. This is something better done the day before in the light and recorded or taped down. 

Stars and planets move in a predictable path. Well actually the Earth moves, we all know that... Want them rotating around a point? Include the North Star in your shot. Straighter lines? Shoot less wide angle. Point in another direction, preferably South. Long streaks? Take out a calculator and figure out the angle of view of your lens, divide it into 360°. The stars take 24 hours to travel through 360°, so they'd take 416 minutes to cover the full width of my 17mm FX lens (104°) so 2 hours to cover about 1/4 of the frame. Divide that by the number of degrees away from the North Star and... you see where I'm going with this? It ain't easy being green!

But meteors? We learned that the "radiant" – the direction they seem to come from – was in the constellation Camelopardalis, near the North Star. But they could appear all over the sky. So where to point the camera?

Anyway, we needed to find a dark spot. We did, but Mother Nature interfered by putting a lot of moisture in the air, so it wasn't as dark as we had hoped and there were some clouds. With a little planning, I got a few good images, without meteors, unfortunately.

Facing South, we see light pollution probably from Bobcaygeon (50 km) or Peterborough (100 km) away. This exposure was 30 seconds at f/2.8, ISO 800, F=17mm but I did a LOT of tweaking to get it to look like this. You can click on the picture to blow it up

Truth be told, the above image is actually a composite done in StarTrax but it only looks marginally better than a single image. Facing North, I did a more traditional composite, including the North Star:

This was a series of continuous 30 second exposures – about 40 of them – using StarStax and putting it in "Gap Filling Comet" mode. The ISO was a bit higher, at 1600, and in hindsight it shouldn't have been. The two yellow clouds are light from Carnarvon (left) and Haliburton (right). 

So was it worth it? For me, yes. I got a few good shots, learned a lot, and got to shoot with Dave and Kathy and Amanda. Here's one more image I liked:

Another test shot at ISO 12,800. You can see the mist building up in the field to the North in front of the vehicles. 

Oh by the way: we saw a number of airplanes, but best of all, we saw the International Space Station make a pass across most of the sky. It was really bright! Unfortunately, that was about 5 minutes after we had packed everything up and were getting ready to go back!

Meanwhile, back at the Whitewater...

I dropped by there yesterday, it was a nice day and I figured I'd see kayaks. Too late, I guess,  but I took out the camera and tripod anyway. I was setting up for a little slo-mo water shot (which I didn't like in the end) when a guy and his girlfriend showed up and she sat down on the rocks where I was preparing to shoot, posing for his iPhone shot. Far be it from me to pass up an opportunity like that...

A little photoshop here... just a bit of skin smoothing and hair enhancing and teeth whitening and radial filter exposure enhancement. Not much... 

But you know I'm a "rocks & trees" guy, so here she is again, with rocks & trees!

I did an HDR of the trail, then composited her in sitting on a rock. If I hadn't told you, would you have known? 

Until next time!

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