NEOWISE And The Big Dipper

I honestly have no clue how well this image will show. If possible, click on it to make it bigger (or whatever to get it to fit in your screen as you need to see it all at once).

I created this image from a photo I took while I was doing comet watch. The night BG went out with me, she asked if it was possible to get the big dipper and the comet in the same shot because she wanted it for the background on her phone. While it was easy enough to frame them together, getting everything else right to get her what she was looking for really wasn’t easy at all.

Along with most of the typical difficulties I had in trying to get a clean shot of the comet, fuzziness and streaky stars and correct exposure with the urban light pollution,  I had to try and get ALL of the elements she wanted working together at the same time.

She really wanted to be able to clearly see both the comet and the big dipper, but she also wanted enough other stars to be seen, but not so many that you lost the big dipper.

It seemed like no matter how I processed it in photoshop, there was always at least one aspect that didn’t work. Too many stars. Not enough stars. A loss of the comet tail. A brightness fade from a corner of the shot because of ambient lighting on the horizon. I would get one aspect the way I really liked it and another one would be way off. I got her a version that worked okay, but she didn’t absolutely love. Still, it was close enough so I called it good.

Then I spent umpteen hours playing with learning how to photo stack, working on edits for MC’s senior pictures and learning how to fix a couple of issues (glare on glasses lenses is an absolute bear if it is bad enough or in the wrong spot). In the process, I figured a few things out that I thought might make a difference on BG’s photo.

So I dug in and played.

Multiple layers, hours and various techniques later, I have pretty much exactly what she asked for. It isn’t perfect by a long shot and is pretty much only really good for what BG wanted to use it as, but I’m exceptionally pleased with it.

The image is very much still a photo. All I really did was play with the kinds of techniques you might see in a darkroom for film/print processing. Mostly.

Now if I could just figure out how to make the stars and comet just a bit bigger and noticeable, It’d be near perfect for what I really wanted out of this one. As it is, I still managed to get damn close.

*In case you can’t click the first image…

NEOWISE & The Big Dipper
NEOWISE & The Big Dipper

Comet Watch: NEOWISE Part 2

I really wanted to see if I could manage to get shots of NEOWISE that were a bit better than my first attempt. I decided to use my wide angle lens instead of my zoom. They are much clearer shots, but obviously not nearly as close.

I’m really pleased with them, though. There is something about the clouds that were around that really add something to the photos.

Even though these aren’t as close as the first round, I like that these also help to show how small this comet really is and how difficult it may be to spot in the sky with the naked eye. Even knowing where it was and what to look for, it still took me a while before I found it last night.

NEOWISE Comet
NEOWISE Comet
NEOWISE Comet
NEOWISE Comet
NEOWISE Comet
NEOWISE Comet

Comet Watch

These are a long way from being NASA quality, but I managed to get some shots of NEOWISE!

Ever since I started seeing images of this comet, I wanted to see if I could get a shot of it. I’ve been trying to find it in the sky for the last couple of days, but there have been clouds in the area.

I also wasn’t entirely sure, even after looking into it and seeing suggestions on how to view it, what I was doing. All the photos made it look like it would be this bright thing in the sky and obvious, but it REALLY isn’t. You almost can’t even see it with the naked eye, at least if you are near any kind of city light. For me, it looked a bit like a smudgy cloud streak.

About the only thing that gets this to look that bright and noticeable is a longer exposure through a camera. Which I really should have figured out earlier, but… sometimes I’m a bit slow on the uptake.

After spending 20 or so minutes thinking I found it, then realizing that no matter how long of an exposure I did, that bright white dot didn’t have a tail and was actually a star, I finally noticed a smudgy streak a little farther to the right of where I was looking. Once I spotted it, I just played around with a lot of different settings trying to get the best shot I could with what I had.

NEOWISE Comet
NEOWISE Comet

Obviously some came out better than others, but these are probably the best of the bunch. I am also using my zoom lens, but I wanted to get at least a little of the landscape perspective in the shot, so I didn’t zoom too far. These are all different settings and you can see the difference in the slight lines for stars instead of the more pinpoint dots.

NEOWISE Comet
NEOWISE Comet

If you are wanting to get your own glimpse of NEOWISE, look to the northwest once the stars are out. Find the big dipper and then look a little below and to the right for that odd little smudge. Obviously, the less light pollution the better, but I’m close to a city and still managed this. Everything I’ve read says that this may still be visible for another week or so, so there is still time.

Happy comet hunting!

*Note to self: I do not need new camera equipment to take shots of stars no matter how cool it would be. Rinse and repeat until it sticks.

 

Dark Sky Viewing: Stars And The Milky Way

We had several goals for our trip to Wisconsin. Take a couple of hikes. Scout locations for both sunrise and sunset photos since we were on the peninsula and could easily get both. See the stars under a seriously dark sky. My part was seeing if I could pull off taking pictures of those stars. We went so far as to schedule our trip for the new moon time frame to ensure the darkest possible setting. I have to say that we lucked out epically in that we had two different nights of perfectly clear skies.

When we left, we needed to scout out locations for this, not knowing there was an actual designated dark sky viewing spot on the peninsula (because we apparently didn’t do quite enough research before leaving home). The first attempt, we found a small boat ramp that was really secluded. It was kind of eerie being there by ourselves in such dark conditions. I managed to get a couple of shots that weren’t great, but I got stars and the general “cloudy” effect you see in the milky way.

Before going out, I’d done some research for basic settings to get the effect I was hoping for, but I didn’t have the lens those instructions were based on so I had to do a lot of playing. My camera doesn’t allow for a set timer longer than 30 seconds and that is really what I needed here. For longer exposures, I needed to hold my shutter button, which caused quite a bit of shake (I was freezing and shivering, so it was nearly impossible not to get shake).

After we got back to where we were staying we decided to do a bit more research and found the dark sky viewing area in Newport State Park. Turns out it is one of only 48 parks in the world to earn International Dark Sky Park designation. Funny how we didn’t manage to see that fact until right before our last day in Door County. We debated going as it would be our last night and would require us staying out well past 10pm at minimum to get to see the really good stuff. We decided to check it out during the day as we didn’t have a ton scheduled and decide based on what we saw.

I am SO glad we did because I played with my settings a bit more and managed to get some mind blowing shots. They are far from perfect because I really don’t have the right equipment to do these the right way. But for it only being my second attempt ever at trying to take pictures of stars and the milky way, I’m kind of stunned at how well these turned out.

Milky Way Galaxy : Long Exposure
Milky Way Galaxy : Long Exposure

The image I used as the feature image in this post is one I took really early on, so there was still some faint light in the sky after sunset. That is what allowed me to get a bit more color in the shot that I couldn’t get with some of the later ones. The one above was taken closer to 10:30, which was still apparently not the ideal time, but we were under time constraints.

I was intimidated as all hell because the viewing area had probably half a dozen or better photographers set up. Being the rank armature I know I am at this made it even more so. Not that they would be seeing and critiquing me, but it was still intimidating. Especially when you see everyone with red lights instead of normal flashlights (so as not to mess with the photography). We got there early enough that flashlights weren’t needed, so we weren’t one of the ones that got shot the dirty looks and even a few comments when they came through with blindingly bright flashlights. FYI… Don’t take a flashlight to a dark sky viewing area.

It was so dark, though, I was worried I’d have someone run into me or my camera on their way down the path, so hubby put his flashlight in his pocket and turned it on whenever someone came close, giving off this really pale glow to warn oncoming traffic that someone was there. He played body blocker for me while I played with the stars and my camera. The kids sat on a bench behind us staring in awe at the sky between crazy teen goofing moments. I don’t think I want to know what anyone near them thought of us as parents because they were being off the charts goofy (not annoying or loud, just crazy goofy).

Milky Way Galaxy : Long Exposure - Straight Up View
Milky Way Galaxy : Long Exposure – Straight Up View

MC really wanted me to get some shots that weren’t at the horizon, so I attempted to make adjustments in the dark and shot upward. I had wanted the horizon and trees in my shots to give a sense of scale, but these were still interesting. They would have been much better if I’d taken them with a longer exposure, but I made sure I could get these shots in that 30 second window by really upping my film speed. Some of these were taken at 6400 and some were taken at 12800.

Milky Way Galaxy : Long Exposure - Straight Up View
Milky Way Galaxy : Long Exposure – Straight Up View

That high a film speed makes the images a lot more grainy than I’d like, but I still got the general effect, so I was thrilled. The two things that really made these so much harder to get better quality than I would have liked was that I needed a much wider angle lens and I really needed some sort of shutter trip wire that I could hold that would prevent me from shaking my camera at the longer exposure times. I don’t know that I’ll ever get another opportunity like this, but if I do, I’m going to seriously consider investing in those two pieces.

Even with these being on the blurry and grainy side, I’m massively proud that I was able to get these.