The Night Sky | Through My Lens

Monday, April 06, 2015

The night sky is so captivating - I've spent several nights in my life gawking at the stars for a few hours, some of them taking a photo or few. During my trips to the North and South island's of New Zealand, I encountered some of the clearest, brightest views of the stars I've ever seen.

The human eye is constantly self adjusting to light levels, to the same effect as a camera in Auto-mode. When it's bright; in the sun and during the day, we become less sensitive to light - and at night when the light is minimal, our eyes become more sensitive.
A camera isn't nearly as smart; while it can detect how much light is within its frame (via it's 'Light Meter'), making that light visible the way we see it - particularly at night is confusing, mainly because there is plenty of the frame that should be very dark.
Thankfully, DSLRs can be operated fully manually, including their lenses so we can trick the camera into capturing what we see, and sometimes even more using long exposure photography.

Accompanying the following photos are the exposure settings I used to take each image - all taken on my Canon 7D. A tripod ($100) and remote ($2.50) were used for every shot, to allow for composition and to eliminate any movement of the camera.

Lake Tekapo | South Island, NZ
5 image vertical panorma - 30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO1600

With plenty of practice and research into methods of shooting the night sky, I have found reliable exposure settings with which to start shooting each time I'm out with the stars. Then, with simple maths it's possible to create different effects with the stars - from sharp dots as we see them, to trails which represent the motion of Earth and space.

Fox Glacier | South Island, NZ.
1343 seconds (around 22 minutes), f/3.2, ISO100

Freedom Camping near Coromandel Point | North Island, NZ
30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO1600 - with a car passing by.

Long exposure photography can be far more dramatic than standard images because all light is captured continuously, not just as it falls in a particular moment. The glow seen in the shot above, along with the trail left by the car's head and tail lights impact hugely on the visual appeal of the shot. 
Remember that a lens needs to be set to infinite focus for astrophotography, or the stars will never be sharp - its easy to spend a night out shooting in the dark and then realise the prior shots were a waste!

Lake Tekapo Ski Club & Campground | South Island, NZ
30 seconds, f/2.8, ISO1600

Hokitika | South Island, NZ
13seconds, f/2.8, ISO1600 - Stand still! 
Note the shooting star left in shot - a nice surprise in more shots than you would expect. 

It's important to know that I visit each of my shots in Lightroom for post-processing, too. This allows me to correct colour issues and apply sharpening - by shooting with RAW files, the creativity doesn't end in camera. 

Please contact me if you have any questions about long exposure or night sky photography - and remember each of my photos are available as prints, visit my homepage and browse the fine art photography to see something you like. If you're interested in canvas wraps, please email me.

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