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Archive for the ‘Astro Photography’ Category

Been a while since we updated the world with “What’s going on over at MarKei?”  So here I am to tell you.  Marie and I have been super busy with that whole wedding thing that’s coming up in like 4 months (kinda had an oh sh!t moment right there adding it up).  Related to that I have been working on coming up with a photo booth we can set up at our wedding so everyone can take some wacky pictures and put them into a guest book for us.  I have come up with a nearly finalized plan for the construction and set up using 1.5″ pvc, plywood, fabric for drapes, table, printer etc etc, and we have already found software to run the booth.  We also plan to offer the booth as part of our business, just in case you were thinking I was going a bit far with this just for ourselves.

I’ve been keeping up with doing my weekly PhotoFriday challenge, though I haven’t been able to use a new picture every week.  Finding time to go out and take pictures and finding inspiration hasn’t been the easiest the last few weeks.  And some joker over at PhotoFriday decided to pick “greenery” as a subject in the middle of January…

I’ve also been doing a little astro photography with my brother.  The other week we took apart the 12.5″ Newtonian telescope that my grandfather made many years ago and is now mine.  The plan is to rebuild it with the intent to use it as a really big lens for my camera.  While we were doing that I had my camera piggy backing on my brothers Newtonian telescope (also built by our grandfather) taking pictures.  I also tried out some photo stacking of those images, a process used to combine images to get more information out of them.

Stack of 15 images

Single image

Can you see the difference?  Yeah not really.  And that represents several hours of work.  Oh well, maybe with more images and something more definitive to look at (Double Cluster by the way).  The moon was also 3/4 full the night I took the pictures, so that washed out some of the lower magnitude stars.  Going to try again at the end of the month, hopefully at least piggybacked on my telescope, if not through it.

In other news we have another shooting day scheduled with Paul Marso of Epicurean Design to take photographs of a kitchen and a bathroom that he has redone.  Previous work we have done for Paul was a shoot at The Four Firkins in St. Louis Park (which is an absolute must visit for craft beer lovers), and a fireplace with built in cabinets and shelves in downtown Minneapolis.

On yet another front, Marie built a small lightbox to take product pictures of a co-workers hand made ear rings.  Haven’t yet had the chance to try it out, but it should work fantastically for doing well lit photography of small objects.  I’ve considered using it for creating different scenes using lego figures.  Who knows what else I’ll come up with to use it for.

And lastly we have two jobs scheduled farther out.  We are doing some prom photo’s for the daughter of another of Marie’s co-workers in April.  That should be fun.  I look forward to doing some more portrait photography.  And we are tentatively scheduled to video a wedding in July.  Still in the early stages of negotiating that one.

And that is what we have been up to recently.  Whew!

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Astro photography, or stellar photography, presents a number of challenges on top of those of regular night time photography.  The big ones in the photographer’s control are tracking, focus and subject acquisition – nothing us poor mortals can do about the weather when it wants to get in the way of having some fun.

Unless you are photographing bright objects found within the solar system like the Moon, Venus, Mars or Jupiter, even the best tripod on the most stable platform is going to be severely limiting because of the relative motion of the stars as the Earth rotates.  To gather enough light for a photograph, the shutter will have to be open for a long time.  Without some way of tracking the movement of the stars you will end up with streaks of light, also known as star trails.  Sometimes this can be desirable for its look, as in this picture from Fred Espenak

If you want a still shot of the stars, however, you need a way of having your camera follow them. There are a couple of ways to track the stars.  An equatorial mount with a drive motor, often used for telescopes, is one way.  Another device for doing this is often called a barn door which is simpler than the equatorial mount but achieves the same results.  Of course with both devices you add more complications like aligning the axis with the north star properly, drive speed, wobble due to the mounting hardware or leverage of the weight of the camera on the mounting arm, or vibration if the device uses a stepper motor for the drive mechanism.

My brother and I are working on refining the use of a barn door for taking pictures; so far our results have been mixed.  We are also working on repairing an equatorial mounted telescope that my Grandfather built many years ago, which was originally designed to have a camera sit with the film at the prime focal point of the telescope with no lens attached.  If we can get them to work we will be able to capture some images of the fainter objects out in deep space with some super long exposures.

Moving on… we will take for granted that we have tracking down to perfection, it’s time to move on to focus.  Since the stars are a minimum of 24,800,000,000,000 miles away, focus needs to be set at infinity.  If you are lucky, infinite focus is at one end of the lens’ focus ring or the other, or if you are really lucky your lens has a focus meter on it where infinity is marked for you.  If you are unlucky, like me, you have neither.  Because the stars are too faint to see through the viewfinder to focus on we have two options.  First (not recommended) is to take a photo, check for focus, make a small adjustment, rinse and repeat until focus is achieved.  This is tedious, time consuming and very frustrating.  What I like to do, when I remember, is to go out before the sun sets and focus on a far distant object and use masking tape to hold the focus ring in place and, boom, all set to go for the night.

OK, we have tracking mastered and our lenses are all focused to infinity – it’s time to start taking pictures.  But how do we know where to point the camera?  There are lots of interesting things among the stars that aren’t plainly visible to the naked eye but will show up in photographs.  One place to look is a Star Map which details the constellations and other celestial bodies.  There are also some very nifty apps for Android phones and iPhones that display a star map over the sky wherever you point the phone.  These tools will help you find the things in the sky, getting your camera pointed at them is a little trickier.  With a short lens, getting what you want in the field of view is fairly easy, but you wont get much detail on things like star clusters or distant galaxies.  The longer the lens you use, the harder it is going to be to point it at your subject because the field of view gets smaller and smaller.  Since you can’t star hop like you can with a telescope you will have to find a different way of finding those deep space objects.  Future plans for my brother and I are to rig up a device for the hot shoe of the camera that will hold a high output green laser.  Unlike the red laser pointers you find for a few bucks as the store, the high output laser’s beam is visible in the air.  Once zeroed in at the center of the camera’s field of view, it will be possible to easily point the camera at what we want to take pictures of, even at long focal lengths.

Hopefully by the next time I post about astro photography, we will have made some advances in our technique and have news about progress on the telescope.  I will leave you with a couple of pictures we were able to capture on Christmas night 2011.

Jupiter and several moons

Orion, Taurus, and the Pleadies

M31 the galaxy in Andromeda

Star field with Double Cluster

Star field with Double Cluster

Orion with holiday lights

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Canon T3i ISO 400 21mm f/3.5 10.0sec

“Meditative”  Christmas Night

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