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Celestial Bodies

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 26 August 2010 in Landscape & Rural.


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I love shooting celestial bodies (and I don't mean the latest Hollywood hotties)! Once nightfall takes hold, a completely new world of opportunities awaits. What was once virtually impossible with film now becomes a reality with our digital cameras.

Once one gets a handle on the basics of night photography, your creativity is limited only by your ability to stay awake! I really believe that before you rush out and dive headfirst into night photography you need to test your camera's ISO sensitivity to noise as no two cameras (sensors) are alike. With the camera I used to capture this frame (my Canon 1dsMKIII) my top ISO I can use with manageable noise (controlled with noise reduction software) is 1600 ISO. With my newer 1DMKIV I can get away with 3200. Do you know how far you can push your camera? If not, find a dark location and run some tests starting at 400 ISO and increasing in either 1/3 stops, 1/2 stops or full stops all the way to 6400 ISO. Just because a certain ISO is listed doesn't mean it is capable of handling luminance and chrominance noise, testing is the only way to know for sure.

After you return with your images, enlarge them up to 100% on your monitor. Overall grain is luminance noise (contrast), while color-splotched images represent color noise. I use Nik Dfine 2.0 to control my noise. Nik also allows me to brush in isolated portions of my scene should I desire. Most of the time I just let the auto mode take care of things. I always apply noise reduction prior to any sharpening.

With this image of a crescent moonset under the bright planet of Venus, I used my 70-200 mmL f2.8 lens for a 15-second exposure. Due to the earth's rotation, there was a bit of blur with the moon as well as Venus, but not enough to make either unrecognizable. Had I used a wide-angle lens, the movement would have been less noticeable. Conversely, had I gone more telephoto, the movement would have been more pronounced. I used a rather low ISO of 400 and wished I would have went to 800 as that would have reduced my exposure to 7.5 seconds thus reducing blur in the moon and Venus (live and learn).

Again, only testing and experience will teach you what you need to know. If you haven't experimented with night shooting you are doing yourself a disservice. Our ingenious little digital sensors are amazing as there is no reciprocity failure (color and exposure shift at longer exposures) as there was with film. Also, at low illumination levels we see in shades of black-and-white while our sensors are still recording color. It's amazing to see what they can capture that our eyes simply cannot see.

Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III 15 second F/2.8 ISO 400 200 mm

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This image has been featured in 1 Remix collection.

Starlight by Jason Kravitz