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We Simplify The Technical!
By Peggy Farren, with Joe Fitzpatrick and Chris Hopkins

First of all, this was the first time I (Peggy Farren) had ever done night sky photography!  If you really want to grow as a photographer, befriend other photographers!  I was lucky to go out with Joe Fitzpatrick, who seems to know EVERYTHING about photography, and Chris Hopkins, avid photographer and Everglades expert.  Joe has been watching the sky via an app called “Sun Surveyor” and determined this is the best time to view the Milky Way in Southwest Florida.  You can view it all summer but this week there was no visible moon and the center wasn’t too high.  Chris did some scouting to find a couple of good spots and Joe prepared us with photography tips.

The first night we had to cancel since it was overcast so we rescheduled a few days later.

Here are Joe’s tips:

·         Lens – around 24mm or wider (full frame equivalent), aperture ideally 2.8 or wider.

·         Too slow of a shutter speed causes motion blur of stars.  Use the rule of 500.  Divide focal length (FF equivalent) into 500.  That is your maximum shutter speed.  For             24mm lens this is 21 seconds.  Some use a rule of 600 and some a rule of 400.  Depends on how much blur you can tolerate.

f/2.8, 21sec, ISO 3200 or f/4, 21sec, ISO 6400 is a starting point using rule of 500.

·         Use long exposure noise reduction.

·         Use mirror lockup.

·         Things like Highlight tone priority and Auto Lighting Optimizer should be turned off.

·         Turn LCD brightness down.

·         Turn off auto focus.  Manual focus on star using magnified live view.

·         IS or VR off.

·         Play around with different white balances.  Tungsten will give you a bluer sky.

·         Have extra batteries.  Long exposures and Live View drain batteries.

·         It takes 15 to 30 minutes for your full night vision to kick in.  If car is nearby, turn off the
interior light switch.  Ideally use a red light when checking camera controls.

·         Beware of condensation on your lens as night temperature cools off

·         Have a foreground point of interest.

·         Consider light painting with a flashlight.

·         Long shirt, long pants, boots, mosquito netting, DEET bug spray.

Chris took us out in his four wheel drive truck to a couple of great spots.  Our first spot was Oil Well Park on US29.

I put my bug jacket on while inside the car and guess what?  I trapped a moth inside my jacket!  LOL.  It was buzzing around my ear until Joe finally got it out.  Other than that, we weren’t too bothered by bugs since we were really prepared.  Bug jackets really work!

My best advice is to be sure you change all your settings BEFORE you get out there.  It is REALLY dark!  Ever-prepared Chris lent me a headlamp with a red light so we wouldn’t lose our night vision and mess up each other’s pictures if the light was on.

It was very difficult to see through the viewfinder and my live view was worthless.  It couldn’t simulate the picture since it was so dark.  So I did the best I could to frame the picture and took the picture.  Once I took it, I looked at the back of the camera and from that picture, I guessed on framing for the next shot.

I also had a lot of trouble focusing.  I was in manual and put the camera lens on “infinity”.  I could tell the oil well was too blurry so I kept backing the lens off a little at a time until I thought it was in focus.  Chris shone his bright flashlight on the oil derrick to help.  In this case, I could use Live View and zoom in to see if I was in focus.

This was my first attempt at 24mm with a full frame camera.  None of us noticed the power lines until after we started taking pictures.  It was just too dark.  By the way, the orange glow just below the Milky Way is the light pollution from Miami, even though we are about 100 miles away.

I decided I wanted to change to the wider lens.  The challenge is to change lenses and not get any bugs in the camera.  The red headlight was really helpful

Chris shone the flashlight on the derrick for this shot.  This was with my 17mm lens.  The Milky Way is becoming easier to see.  It’s skimming right above the derrick.
I put my tripod pretty low so there would be separation from the derrick and the trees.

I tried to get rid of the power lines in Photoshop, first using EDIT-FILL-CONTENT AWARE, then when that didn’t work, I tried the patch tool.  That didn’t do so well either so I gave up!

We moved on to another location, this time with water in the foreground.  Putting the focus on infinity worked fine here.  I still had the same problem with framing each shot but eventually got a few good ones.

Chris shone the flashlight on the derrick for this shot.  This was with my 17mm lens.  The Milky Way is becoming easier to see.  It’s skimming right above the derrick.
I put my tripod pretty low so there would be separation from the derrick and the trees.

I tried to get rid of the power lines in Photoshop, first using EDIT-FILL-CONTENT AWARE, then when that didn’t work, I tried the patch tool.  That didn’t do so well either so I gave up!

We moved on to another location, this time with water in the foreground.  Putting the focus on infinity worked fine here.  I still had the same problem with framing each shot but eventually got a few good ones.

Recommendations to make the trip easier: 

LED headlight flashlight.  The red light option will not ruin your night vision.  Again, a very reasonable price.

We spend a lot of time and money on The Understand Photography Show and the blog.  The affiliate links, so far, are our only source of revenue to help offset the weekly cost of producing the show.

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