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Shooting the night sky
Downhill shooting stars

Downhill shooting stars

Shooting the night sky is something that fascinates many photographers. This years Perseid shower did not disappoint with clear skies making for perfect conditions for capturing the magical meteor shower. So the big question is… how is it done? Let me explain…

Essential Equipment

This applies for any for of night photography and in particular astrophotography.

1. Camera Body: Mid – pro level camera with manual mode. Preferably a camera that is capable of good images at high ISO. Crop sensor or APS-C cameras will work but full frame cameras tend to have good higher ISO capabilities for capturing night shots. For these images I used a Nikon D750.

Nikon D750

Nikon D750

2. Lens: The lens you shoot with is highly important for this type of photography. Preferably you should shoot with a lens that can open up to f/2.8 or more. The wider the aperture can open the more light floods the sensor meaning you can capture more of the light from the night sky. The focal length is a personal choice but to capture a wide sky and land a wide angle or ultra wide angle lens is preferred. By definition a wide angle lens is anything wider than 50mm on a 35mm full frame sensor. Ultra wide is anything wider than 24mm on a full frame sensor. For these shots I used a Nikon 16-35mm f/4 lens shot at the 16mm end. Now you may notice I mentioned you preferably should use a lens at 2.8 or wider. This is preferable however if your camera can cope with high ISO images this compensates for the reduction of light.

Nikon-16-35mm-f4G-VR

Nikon-16-35mm-f4G-VR

3. Tripod – A good sturdy tripod is an essential tool for any landscape photographer and especially for photography in low light. Any type of movement or vibration of the camera can have drastic effects on the end result of your night shots, so the sturdier the tripod the better. For this trip I used a Manfrotto MK294 tripod

Tripod

Manfrotto MK294

Method

So now you have your camera, lens and tripod the three essential pieces of equipment. You could have other items such as a cable release, torch for finding your equipment in the dark and walking dark landscape terrains etc but I will not talk about these just now.

First find the spot where you want to shoot. A good clear sky is essential for capturing the stars, milky way and shooting stars. On this particular night I had to wait over an hour before the clouds cleared. You should have knowledge of the sky, and where to shoot. Luckily I had a friend with me who had a better knowledge of the sky. A great help. There are many stargazing apps available just google them!

Shooting the night sky is great but it makes a much better image when you have a good foreground interest. In this instance the castle made for a lovely foreground interest. Think about your composition, eg leading lines into the images, points of interest, framing etc before starting to shoot.

Another blog coming soon on Composition.

OK… so you’re ready to shoot.

Settings Used.

  • ISO 6400
  • F/4
  • 16mm
  • 30/secs exposure
  • Switch off any VR (vibration reduction) on camera and body.
  • Manual focus

Once the settings were programmed I now needed to get ready to focus and finalise the composition. Focusing in almost pitch black can be very tricky and using autofocus is just impossible so using manual focus here is a must.

When you are trying this out for yourself you must switch your camera to live view, zoom in using the LCD controls to a star and rotate the focus ring manually on the lens until you are focused. You are now good to go.

Press the shutter release and after 10 secs the camera will start the 30 secs exposure. After the exposure has finished check your image. Usually it is rare to get this right first time unless you are a seasoned pro so you may need to make some tweaks to composition and focus.

So there you have it. Give it a go for yourself and have fun. Any questions please feel free to get in touch by emailing info@bernardwardphotography.com

Shooting stars Downhill

Shooting stars Downhill

Downhill shooting stars

Downhill shooting stars

Long exposure in the daytime using filters
 
Neds Point Donegal

Neds Point Donegal

Location
This picture was taken in one of my favourite places. Its called Ned’s Point in Co. Donegal Ireland. This photo is in a small beach near a town called Buncrana. A lovely secluded spot and a very popular area.
Time
I didn’t set out or plan to take this image. My Fiancee and I went for a drive one summers evening and stopped off for some food. We sat in the car watching the sunset eating our chips. I noticed the light dropping and how it was casting some nice colours on the rocks and the water. I always carry my camera in the car with so I quickly got out of the car and set up my equipment. The image was taken around 9pm on a Summers evening.
Lighting
The light in this scene was quickly changing as the sun began to go down so I wanted to act quickly and get the shot. The water was also moving fast so I decided I wanted a mysterious feel and misty feel to the image whilst keeping the warm feeling o the sunlight.
Equipment
I used a Sony A77 and a tamron 17-50mm 2.8lens on a manfrotto tripod with legs wide to get close to the water. I used an ND 10 stop filter and a shutter release. no other equipment was used.
Inspiration
I have always wanted to get a nice picture of this area as its a place that I that I have always loved. The light as the sun was going down inspired me to make this image. I was always a fan on slow shutter speeds and soft mystic look of the water which is why I Used the ND filter to get this look and feel. I wanted to turn a nice Irish seaside image into something mystical.
Editing
This image was processed using various software packages. I do all my organising and RAW editing in Adobe Lightroom. I started by doing some basic RAW edits which included increasing the detail in the sahdows and bringing down the highlights. This gave me a good balance on the histogram. I ramped up the vibrance quite a bit and sharpened slightly. I then adjusted the lens correction and remove chromatic aberration. The horizont was slightly slanted so I use the straightening tool in Lightroom to fix this. Once the basic editing was completed I used some gradient filters on the sky and the water to darken slightly. Then some painting using the brushes in lightroom to bring out the warmth of the sun and the coolness of the water. I exported the image into photoshop and duplicated the photo in to two layers. I used heavy noise reduction on the bottom layer and on the top layer used a high pass filter at 3.9. I then blended the top layer using overlay blending. This maintained the sharp edges on the image but gave a nice dreamy feel overall. I imported back into lightroom and added a slight vignette to draw the eye in to the image.
In my camera bag
My bag always consists of my trusty Sony A77. Lenses in my bag are my tamron 17-50mm 2.8, my tamron 70-300mm, and my Sigma primt 24mm prime lens. Recently I also carry a Tokina 11-16mm 2.8 for super wide shots. I have a collection of filters including ND 10 stop filter, Circular Polarising filter and UV filter. I use a Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 Tripod. I also carry a basic shutter release that I picked up on ebay for £10 which works perfectly. I always carry 4 fully charged batteries and a car charger.
Feedback
My advice is act on your instinct and act quickly as light can change quickly as the sun goes down. Also be prepared for disappointment and don’t give up. Many times I have tried to capture an image like this but variables such as the weather and lighting let me down. Also make sure and carry all the equipment you need. You can only do so much in post processing.
CAR LIGHT TRAILS

Craigavon Bridge car trails

Craigavon Bridge car trails

I headed out in the car to get some nice car trail shots. I'm very happy with this one taken on the bottom deck of the Craigavon bridge. Heres how I got this shot. 1. Set the tripod carefully on a ledge looking on to the road. I composed the shot so that the pipes to the left were in sharp focus and all the lines of the structure of the bridge the railings and pipes were leading down the road. 2. I pretty much wanted most of the shot in focus with a bit of blur towords the end of the brigde so I used an aperture of f10. 3. As this was a night shot I wanted it to remain sharp and in focus with as little noise as possible. ISO setting here was ISO 100. 4. Now for the car light trails. Normally I would use a cable shutter release but I forgot to bring it this time so I set the timer on the camera to release after ten seconds. This allowed the camera to settle to avoid any shake. After 10 secs the shutter speed was 15secs. I timed it just enough for two cars to drive by getting those nice car light trails.   So There you have it. Settings for this shot are   Sony SLT - A77 using a 18mm-55mm kit lens - ISO 100, f10, 15sec exposure, incandescent white balance