霞女之旅

Xia's Journey

Starry Starry Nights in Mersing

on October 11, 2013

Date of Trip : 4 to 6 Oct 2013

An out-on-the-field night trip opened my eyes to another genre of photography ~ Astrophotography, where we experimented with shooting the Milky Way and Star Trails.

Astrophotography is a specialized type of photography that entails recording images of astronomical objects and large areas of the night sky, including the asteroids, moon, planets and stars.

It is done by using exposure over long periods of time so as to collect sufficient light to be recorded on film or digital.

Urban areas produce light pollution and hence astrophotography are usually conducted in remote locations so as to allow long exposures without the film or detectors being swamped by stray light.

Armed with gears and a couple of good friends, we made our way to Mersing in an attempt to shoot the Milky Way and some Star Trails.

IMG_2949

From left to right; Anthony, Amber and Michelle

On the first night when we arrived the resort at 12 midnight, we dropped our luggages and got to ‘work’ immediately.

The Milky Way was faint but the entire sky was adorned with twinkling stars. It was a cool, breezy night.

 (A) USEFUL APPLICATIONS TO LOCATE THE MILKY WAY

Prior to our trip, Anthony reminded us to download a couple of mobile phone applications that could assist us in locating the Milky Way.

Amber downloaded “Google Sky Map”, “Moon Planner”, “Planets” and “Night Sky 2”.

Amongst these apps, we found “Planets” most useful where it indicated clearly and exactly where the Milky Way was; especially so when the Milky Way was not constant and moving as the Earth rotates.

For the other apps, they focused on the stars and the constellation alignments.

IMG-20131004-WA0002

Our vote goes to “Planets” that showed clearly where the Milky Way was.

(B) GEARS 

1. Camera – that goes without saying.

2. Tripod – to ensure that frames are constant and stable for the next couple of hours.

3. Fully Charged Batteries – as you would be shooting for continuous couple of hours.

4. Sufficient Memory in SD / CF cards – Format or delete all existing pictures in SD / CF cards as you would require lots of memory for shooting continuous couple of hours.

5. For astrophotography, night or sunrise shoots, always have a headlight with you so that you could free up both hands to set up the tripod and fiddle with the camera controls in the dark.

6. For Star Trails, you would need to take a series of shots (over a couple of hours) and stack them for best effects. An Intervalometer – or Timer Remote Controller would be your best bet.

With the intervalometer, you can program your camera to shoot at certain times and at certain intervals; such as a frame of 30 seconds exposure for 3 hours and so on. It helps to keep the amount of time in-between each frame constant and evenly spaced out. At the same time, this leaves you free to go do something else, while the camera gets to work.

Newly developed DSLRs have built-in intervalometers / interval shooting function. Check your camera manual if this function is available. Below are some models of camera with this function;-

Nikon D4, Nikon D800, Nikon D800E, Nikon D600, Nikon D5200, Nikon 7000, Nikon D7001

Pentax X-5, Pentax K-01, Pentax K-30

Nexus 4

For cameras without the luxury of having this feature, an intervalometer software may be the next best alternative, by tethering your camera to a laptop and let the computer software do the work of the intervalometer.

Sofortbild is a free tethering software (for Mac users) that can be used as an intervalometer.     http://www.sofortbildapp.com/

There are also various tethering programs for different cameras that could render assistance to your interval shooting. Google for one that suits your camera model.

In the last alternative, where all above sources are not available, use a cable control and stand by at the camera to shoot at regular intervals.

 

SHOOTING THE MILKY WAY

Once you have located the Milky Way from one of the mobile phone applications above (in A) or via your naked eyes if it was a clear night, it was time to get your camera to work.

 

(C) SETTINGS FOR SHOOTING MILKY WAY

1. Manual Focus & Turn Lens to infinity – In complete darkness (which you should be), the lens is unable to detect any focusing. Set the camera to Manual Focusing and turn the lens to Infinity (as shown on the lens as ∞) so that the lens could focus as far as it could.

 

2. Manual Settings at ;-

a. Aperture : F2.8 or the biggest aperture / lowest F-stop your lens could have (F3.5, F2.8, F2 etc) so that the lens could gather as much light as it could in this pure darkness.

 

b. Shutter Speed : 30 Secs

(May also be 15 or 20 secs, dependent on the length of your lens and if it is on a full-frame or cropped sensor. An 18mm on a cropped sensor would probably use 15 or 20 seconds and not longer than 20 seconds as it might cause the stars to appear larger in the frame with more prominent streaking. The longer the lens, the shorter the shutter speed needs to be.)

 

c. ISO : ISO 3200 / ISO 6400 or higher.

Again, dependent on camera model, you need to strike a balance between achieving the optimal ISO and minimal graininess in the pictures.

 

A guideline to some apertures and ISO are as below ;-

APERTURE

ISO

SHUTTER SPEED

F 1.4

400

30 secs

F 2.8

1600

30 secs

F 4

3200

30 secs

F 5.6

6400

30 secs

The above should only be used as a guideline. It would be best to experiment a couple of different settings and different foregrounds to get the best Milky Way shot.

HSH_9879

Milky way in Mersing (In/behind Srikandi resort where we stayed)

 

SHOOTING STAR TRAILS

If you have a clear night, with the sky blanket adorned with stars, it is time to try your hands on creating Star Trails.

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Starry Starry Night in Mersing

There are two ways to go about creating star trails.

The first is to shoot one single frame with very long exposure of minimum 30 minutes to several hours.

The second is to shoot numerous shorter exposures and combined them together (Stacking).

I tried both but I preferred the second option as I did not know how long my sensor could last staying open and the last thing I want is to have my sensor burn out.

FIRST METHOD

For the first method, being very conservative, I let it run on a 10 minutes exposure and had it turned off quickly.

Please see picture below. It is shot on a 10 minutes exposure in one single frame. 

HSH_9979

Shot on Method 1: A 10 minutes exposure in one single frame.

 SECOND METHOD

With the second method, which was pretty similar to a time lapse photography, you will need to capture a series of shots.

Whilst time lapse photography combines the pictures into a ‘fast-forward video’, the second method combines (stacks) up the pictures into one, creating dazzling lines in one picture.

Startrails Stacked b

Shot on Method 2: A 30 seconds exposure of 46 frames + Stacking.

(D) SETTINGS FOR SHOOTING STAR TRAILS

Similar to the Milky Way settings as above with an additional step of shooting at regular intervals to combine or stack these shots into one.

Previously, in an earlier post, I experimented with time-lapse photography using interval shooting on a Nikon D7000. You may like to read more on it here.

 

1. Manual Focus & Turn Lens to infinity.

 

2. Manual Settings at ;-

a. Aperture : F2.8 or the biggest aperture / lowest F-stop your lens could have.

b. Shutter Speed : 30 Secs / (15 Secs or 20 Secs)

c. ISO : ISO 3200 / ISO 6400 or higher.

 

3. Interval Shooting on a 30 secs exposure for 1 or 2 hours.

 

I used the above settings and set it on a 30 secs exposure, interval shooting for 1 hour. I managed to collate 62 frames from 2.01am to 3.04am.

 

With these 62 frames, here comes the most interesting part …

I explored around how to merge these 62 frames into one and I found the below site extremely useful which I would like to share with you.

http://www.startrails.de/html/software.html

I downloaded the (Free) StarTrails.exe using the steps below and I stacked the pictures within seconds and even managed to build a time lapse video with the same images. Having said that, it’s a very basic time lapse video without the frills of music and captions.

 

(E) DOWNLOADING STARTRAILS.EXE SOFTWARE

(E1) Click onto “StarTrails.zip 1MB”

Star Trails exe 06

Step 1 : Click onto “StarTrails.zip 1MB”

(E2) Save File.

Step 2 : Save File

(E3) Double Click into “Star Trails”.

(E4) Double Click into “Startrails Application”.

Star Trails exe 08

Step 3 and Step 4 : Double Click into Star Trails and Star Trails Application.

Once you have downloaded the “StarTrails.exe”, it is a breeze to your Star Trails experiment.

(E5) Extract All

Star Trails Exe 01

Step 5 : Extract All

 (F) COMBINING THE PICTURES USING STARTRAILS.EXE SOFTWARE

(F1) Click “File” >> “Open Images” and choose your images.

Step 6 : Click “File”, “Open” and Deposit all the images in there.

 BUILDING A STAR TRAIL

Then choose “Build” >> “Startrails”, and it will begin combining all your images into one and WooLahh…. there you go, for your Star Trail pic.

Step 7 : Click “Build”, “Startrails” and the images will auto-merge into one.

 BUILDING A TIME LAPSE 

Choose “Build” >> “Video”, and it will combine all of the images that you have selected into a time lapse video.

Frame Rate will indicate how fast or slow you want your time lapse video to be.

At a 1 frame per second, it simply means there is only 1 frame in each second.

For a faster time lapse, you could increase it to 10 frames per second, or even faster at 30 frames per second.

 Click <> and you’ll be able to see your fruits of labour within seconds.

Star Trails exe 09

Step 8 (Optional) : Building a Time Lapse. Click “Build”, “Video” and set the Frame Rate. The bigger the number, the faster is the video.

Please see below Star Trail and a Time-Lapse video which I created using this software.

Startrails 2

Star Trail based on 62 frames

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One response to “Starry Starry Nights in Mersing

  1. […] Starry Starry Nights in Mersing ~ 4 to 6 Oct 2013 […]

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