Thursday, December 20, 2012

Shooting the Stars in Joshua Tree

ISO: 1600  Focal Length: 11mm 
Aperture: f/2.8  Shutter Speed: 30 seconds
You don't have to stop shooting when the sun goes down. To get great pictures of the stars you will need a few things.
  1. A very dark place away from the city. In this picture from Joshua Tree you can see some light pollution from the city of 29 Palms even though the city was 15-20 miles away.
  2. Little or no moon. To have the best view of the stars shoot when there is no moon or the moon is just a sliver.
  3. A DSLR with long exposure noise reduction turned on. Long exposure noise reduction will essentially create a second black exposure of the same length as the original shot to see where the noisy spots are and then it will subtract them from your shot.
  4. A sturdy tripod. It is VERY important to have a good tripod when you are doing long exposures like this. I use the Manfrotto 055XPROB Pro Tripod .
You will need to shoot at a high ISO and at a very wide aperture. Notice that I shot at ISO 1600 and f/2.8.

When you are shooting the stars, remember your normal composition rules. You still want a foreground element to add interest to your shot. When framing the shot I like to hold my headlamp in one hand while I look through the viewfinder. This way I can put enough light on the scene to compose the image properly. The foreground was lit with our campfire and the moon. You can also light paint the scene with a flash light. In the image below you can see the stars better but there is no foreground element to add interest to the image.

ISO: 1600  Focal Length: 11mm 
Aperture: f/2.8  Shutter Speed: 30 seconds

A few notes on post processing. I really didn't do much for post processing in the first image, I tried to bring more detail out with some curve adjustments but it made the foreground too bright. In the second image I raised the exposure and adjusted the black point to keep the sky black.

One last tip. If you want to avoid star trails follow the 600 rule. Divide 600 by the 35mm effective focal length and that will give you the length of the exposure you can make. For example I shot at 11mm on an APSC sized sensor so the 35mm equivalent would be 16mm. So I take 600/16 and I get 37. So I could have made a 37 second exposure.

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