It’s been a long, at times frustrating journey. Certainly, the lows outweigh the highs by quite some number and when a hobby starts to feel like that it’s maybe time to re-examine it and why you’re doing it.
When I first got a notion for astro-photography I was under no illusions. A quick initial bit of research showed it to be a complex discipline with a lot to learn so I don’t think I underestimated it but what I did do was seriously underestimate the financial aspect and the worse still for a photographer, the lack of creativity.
I first noticed the writing was on the wall when I started to ignore clear nights and not feel like I was missing something. Before the new year any clear night I was out, imaging the Moon, Jupiter and anything else I could get too. By this time though I had already realised that with the kit I had deep space objects were going to be beyond reach but I figured I’d be happy trying to get as good as I could with lunar, solar and planetary images.
This was true for a while but once you’ve done the best you can with Jupiter 20 or so times it’s gets slightly “samey”. You see, one of the main issues with astro work is that there is no opportunity to be creative. Astro-photography is all about capturing what it there, as it is. It’s about making the most of every available photon of light. There’s no opportunity to try and be creative with what you have, it’s more a never ending fight to get more light.
It’s hard to explain.
If you were to take a picture of a flower, how many ways could you take that picture? There’s an almost infinite number of ways to interpret the scene, be it with different lenses, artificial light, angles etc etc etc… You simply cannot do that with astro work.
And now we come to telescopes. I’ve had 3 in the last year and I’ve never really liked any of them. They are fiddly to set up, tempremental to operate and lets be honest here, in all but the biggest of scopes, the views of anything other than the moon or planets is shall we say, disappointing. Those pictures you see of majestic clusters or colourful nebula are visually just grey fuzzy patches. The knowledge of what you are looking at is far more exciting than the actual view in reality.
Now we come to cost. It’s a bottomless pit. Even at the bottom end of the market it’s a massively expensive hobby. Don’t be fooled either into thinking you can do it on the cheap, you simply can’t. If you can be happy with poor to average results then yes, you can but if you really hanker after those wonderfully detailed images of planets and deep space objects be prepared to re-mortgage the house. Nothing is cheap and if it is, then it’s not up to the job. Simple. You hear of people getting “wonderful” results with £3 webcams. The results are not wonderful, they are acceptable for a £3 webcam. Wonderful is what Damian Peach puts out and he simply does not use a £3 webcam.
I can look at landscape images taken with say, a Nikon D4, Lee filters, expensive Nikon lenses and I don’t think, wish I could do that. I can do it, and at a fraction of the cost too. If you look really close, and I mean really close then yes, the image maybe isn’t quite as good but you can as near as damn it do as good as the pro kit for a lot lot less. The difference between the pro kit in astro work and what might be termed as “reasonably affordable” is massive. Don’t even think of looking at the planet images in the Astro-photographer of the year competition and think you will get to within even a million miles of that on cheap kit, you simply won’t, the best you can ever hope for it something YOU are content with.
And at the end of the day, therein lies my root problem. I wasn’t happy with the results I could get. I wasn’t prepared to plough in any more money so I hit a brick wall. Lets be honest too, the British weather didn’t help either!
So what next?
Well, I’ve steadily found I get more enjoyment if I can take astro pics using just normal photographic kit using normal photographic processing techniques. None of this Registax or Deep Space Stacker stuff, just Photoshop, nice and simple. So that leaves me with lunar, solar, comets, widefield, ISS to name but a few. Really the only thing I’m going to miss out on is deep space which I’d already decided wasn’t for me and planets, and talking of planets, only Jupiter and Saturn and really worth looking at anyway.
For now, the binoculars will keep me satisfied and at some point in the future I might look to get a 10” dobsonian scope but I’m in no hurry to do that. The sale of the astro kit will hopefully fund a nice big Sigma 150-500mm lens which I’ll be able to use to good effect on the moon and sun as well as a myriad of other uses!
I suppose this post seems like the whole thing was a very negative experience and it’s wasn’t. There were times of great excitement and feelings of satisfaction. I’ve learned so much too but I also learned that in the end, I’m a creative photographer at heart and that’s where I’m happiest. I’ve also gained massive respect for the guys who do produce these great space images, I’ve dipped a toe in there and know just how hard it is and can now fully appreciate what they do.
So, if after that, anyone fancies a full lunar, solar and planetary imaging kit in Edinburgh, get in touch!
So, since the 8th of March Comet Pan-STARRS has been gracing the Northern Hemisphere skies and true to form for any notable celestial event, it’s been largely clouded out in the UK and especially up here in Scotland. Thankfully this comet isn’t just a blink and miss it event, there were at least a few days to try and catch something.
By Tuesday 12th March the first shots of PANSTARRS were coming in from other parts of the UK, the comet easy to find next to a very young crescent moon. I had to wait till the night of the 13th though for a first attempt. Stood on top of Blackford Hill in what can only be described as Baltic conditions I searched in vain for the comet, despite a reasonably clear sky to the west and only actually spotted it in one shot after I got home and it’s hardly the clearest view of it, which was disappointing as other people seemed to have got some reasonable efforts.
The night of the 15th brought an unexpected chance though. The forecast was predictably wrong although for once in a good way. The skies started to clear around 5pm and just after 6 with still clear sky I figured it might be worth a try, this time from Newhaven Harbour, which has a fairly clear view to the West.
Arriving at Newhaven it looked reasonable but for one patch of dark cloud moving in slowly from the West. This time I decided to wait until 7.15pm before searching for it and made the most of the tail end of a nice sunset in the meantime.
By 7.15pm I was out by the lighthouse with a clear view over to Granton Harbour, using a compass I found exactly where West was and started to take shots of the sky with a 200mm lens, ISO400 and shot exposures. First sweep across the West turned up nothing, 2nd attempt and around 12 shots later, there it was, higher than I expected and very visible in the photograph. With an idea of where it was now I could try for a few wider scenic shots. The last thing I wanted was just pics of the comet with no context. I wanted this to be recognizable as Edinburgh.
The comet isn’t that visible in this shot, but it’s there dead centre towards the top of the image.
Switching to my Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 EX HSM and 2x teleconvertor I went for a closer look still trying to keep the Granton flats in the frame, this was probably the best shot of the night.
Finally, it would have been rude not to have a go at the comet at the full 400mm reach and what a stunning sight it was. By this time it was visible in the viewfinder and I swear it was naked eye visible once you knew where it was.
I finished the night with a peek at Comet Pan-STARRS through my 15×70 binoculars, a truly stunning first encounter with a comet. It’ll be about for a few weeks yet so if you get the chance, do some research as to where it is in the sky and get out and give it a go!
So, we’re well into February and that means the winter (might) be about to step away to make way for spring. Not that it’s always that easy to tell with the Scottish weather, not being unusual to experience spring, summer, autumn or winter all in one day, or indeed, in one hour.
However, at this point the sun starts to travel further over the sky, rising and setting in different places and reaching a higher transit point in the sky, all of which makes a different to the images you might take. Whether you’re an Edinburgh resident or just passing through this will hopefully help you make the most of the spring time months.
March and April typically mark the end of the sunset season from up on Calton Hill, after April the sun moves to far to the west to really make a big difference to that classic Edinburgh castle shot so catch it while you can.
April also marks the start of being able to get some decent sunset’s from down near the Edinburgh coastline. The sun starts to dip below the horizon over the water rather than inland and there are plenty of places to take advantage of it such as Newhaven Harbour the Forth Bridges.
You will have to keep a close eye on the weather though, rain is never far away at this time of year, not that it should stop you getting some very nice images indeed. This was from Blackford Hill last year.
Fog is another pretty regular feature in spring but as photographers that’s a good thing isn’t it!
It’s not all making the most of adverse weather though as this shot from along the Union Canal shows!
So there you have it, changeable weather but who comes to Edinburgh for the weather, you all come here for the history and some of the most incredible city views in the world don’t you!
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So it finally happened. The last surving high street photographic retailer bit the dust just after New Year. Jessops is no more, it is an ex-camera shop, it has ceased to be.
Looking at it though, it’s no real surprise. Jessops has been facing some stiff competition from the online retailers for years. But, that’s not the whole story, it’s not just online retailers, it’s good old brick and mortar retailers who just got smarter than Jessops at online trading who have helped drive the nail in this particular coffin.
When I look in my camera bags I can say that at least 70% of my current kit was a Jessops purchase. Some of it bought way back when the internet was but a nipper, and some more recent when the pricing wasn’t too bad or on offer. One of the main reasons for my using Jessops was if I had decided on a new camera body, or lens, I wanted it there and then. Not ordered, paid for and wait for 3 days on a delivery. There and then and that’s where Jessops had a real upper hand on the internet retailing.
There’s no substitute for walking into a shop, handling the camera, testing out that lens to see what works for you. I nearly bought a Nikon D300 but after handling it in store and a D7000 I changed my mind and the D7000 was bought. You simply can’t do that buying online.
So, if this was so great a benefit to Jessops what went wrong?
Quite simply, to me at least, Jessops became skilled in the art of pissing off the customer.
Jessops prices were consistently at the higher end of the market, I think we all accepted that but they were also high as an internet retailer, the one place you MUST be competitive. So how did they get around that? A dual pricing structure. An online price, and an in-store price.
As I found out recently this meant that I could find a new tripod head on Jessops website, £140 in store but only £100 online. Even more, I could order online and pay and collect in-store for £100. Walk in of the street ready to buy and it was £40 more expensive. Would they give you the web price in-store, even if you mentioned it? No.
So, you go home to reserve it online, but that means another trip into town and hey, there’s the internet, might as well just order it and have it delivered. But wait, why use Jessops, they have just hacked me off and there’s a million other retailers out there who haven’t and bang, there’s a lost sale.
They even started advertising cameras at a low price but with a much higher “You pay today” price, the lower price was part of a cashback deal you had to claim. Don’t know about you but if I see a price in big bold type that’s the price I expect to pay there and then, not what I’ll have eventually paid after trying to claim the cashback and waiting on the refund. It smacks of desperation.
So there you have it, high prices, dual pricing structures and false pricing, 3 great reasons not to shop with Jessops.
So, what now for high street photography?
Might it be the rise in the independent retailer? Of course it won’t. Most of them are even more expensive than Jessops. Unless an independent retailer can cater for a niche market such are old or rare kit or simply just cheaper 2nd hand they will also go under eventually. It’s a romantic notion using your local independent photo guy, supporting him to keep a shop open but in reality, he can’t sell to you nearly as cheap and the big online guy can so you won’t buy from him. You might go and look at his stuff but you’ll tell him you need to think about it and then go home and get it online a lot cheaper.
The sad part is, in the quest for the ever better deal we’re all the worse off for it. My other passion is astronomy and here already in Scotland you simply cannot go and see a telescope in a retailer before you buy. There’s not one store of any kind in Scotland with a reasonable selection of scopes from different manufacturers so you buy blind over the net.
My first scope was a monster, way to big, heavy and cumbersome. Had I seen it before I bought I wouldn’t have bought it. So what happened here, I sold it, lost money and bought another blind over the net. Thankfully this one suited me fine but ultimately this scope effectively cost me £100 more after you factor in the money I lost with the unsuitable purchase.
Sure, there are distance selling regulations to protect us but once you’ve got the product, and especially if it’s a big heavy product sending it back isn’t always that straight forward then you you’ve got the wait for the retailer to confirm they have it back and then the wait for a refund. It’s awkward and I suspect it means a lot of people end up keeping stuff rather than go to the hassle of the return.
So, like I’ve said, already with astronomy it’s an online retail world for me, soon the whole photographic world will be the same. Even with HMV gone where really can you go and browse a section of music bigger than the top 40 now? The high street is disappearing fast and I for one hope this online world we’ve all had a part in creating and feeding doesn’t turn around and bite us one day as we’ll have nowhere else to go.
Well, it’s that time of year again where I like to reflect back on my photographic year and look at my favourite shots from each month.
There was quite a few shots from January I liked but this one was the big performer. This shot went sort of viral after I uploaded it getting in excess of 10000 views in under 24 hours on Blipfoto and Flickr. This was a mere hint of aurora taken from Blackford Hill looking over towards Arthurs Seat. It was a lucky catch truth be told with all that cloud about.
2012 was the year I really got into the astro-photography and there was no more engaging subject than the International Space Station. Orbiting the Earth every 90 minutes or so, 200 miles up and moving at 17,5000mph all with humans on board. It’s mind boggling you can see this pass so easily from your back garden. This shot was taken in the Pentland Hills and shows the Moon, Venus, Jupiter and the trail of the ISS passing over.
This shot was featured on the BBC Scotland website in their feature of the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. This was taken in North Queensferry looking at the planets over the top of the Road Bridge just minutes before an almighty blizzard hit.
Rain was very much the theme for the year in Scotland but thankfully I managed to avoid the worst of it until this shot. I just came over the top of Blackford Hill and was met with this view, it was so epic I stayed far too long and ended up soaked. Worth it for a nice pic though!
I got my first proper telescope in May and got to work frustrating the life out of myself planetary imaging. It’s such a difficult form of photography but oh so rewarding when you get a result, this might not look like much but the learning that went into getting this little shot of Saturn was huge and I was over the moon to get a chance to image the most awesome thing you will ever see though a telescope.
The rains were kicking in big time by June. Photography time was limited to say the least and astro stuff was even worse with the near constant cloud cover. This shot represented a rare trip out for a sunset.
And the rains continued into July. Edinburgh had it’s worst flooding for 10 years and I spent a day soaked to the bum cheeks capturing it. This was the Meadows slowly being turned back into the South loch.
A special mention should go to this shot as well, the Red Arrows doing the Olympic flypast over Edinburgh Castle.
September was a good month. There was so many pics to choose from but this was the standout for the month. A real shot from nothing. The weather wasn’t great, there were spots of rain about and I only just got to Belhaven Bay in time for the sunset and high tide just for the clouds to part and an amazing sunset to kick in.
So many shots I loved from October but this is the shot that sent my little Facebook page from an also ran to, well, something a lot bigger. This went viral on Facebook and got over 12000 likes in 24 hours. In fact it was just one from an incredible night on Calton Hill with the best sunset I have ever seen.
Again so hard to pick, November was another good month!
December has started well too. I think the standout so far though is the shot of the Edinburgh Winter Wonderland from the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle on a very very cold afternoon.
So that’s mine, what about the rest of you?
No, I’m not being rude, it’s far better than that! From now till Christmas you can buy any of the prints on the print sales page and claim a totally free A4 print of your choice with £15. The only stipulation is that both prints must go to the same address, other than that, any of the prints on the print sales page can be claimed free when you buy any other A2, A3 or A4 print.
All my prints are limited strictly to a maximum of 50 prints each, once they sell that’s it, they come off the print sales page and don’t go back. You won’t get any mass produced stuff here that everybody and their auntie has.
I’m even offering flat price postage worldwide, no additional costs for anwhere.
This offer is on from now until Christmas so take advantage while you can!
For bigger orders and bespoke items please feel free to contact me first.
I get this question a lot from people looking to get into photography. What camera should I buy?
The eventual answer though depends on budget available and what you want to do with it but in the main my answer to a beginner is usually the same, buy the absolute best you can afford.
Lets forget about compact and bridge cameras here, someone looking to get into photography properly needs some sort of interchangeable lens system. You simply don’t get that level of felxability with compacts or bridge cameras no matter how good they are. You get convenience but ultimately you need a DSLR of some sort.
I’m also going to rule out the new wave of compact system cameras for the beginner too. Even with the interchangeable lenses these cameras look like a nice easy route into photography, well made, small and portable but with the added bonus of being able to change the lens, and there-in lies their main problem. Have you seen the prices of lenses for these systems? Additional lenses are both expensive and limited in choice hence why I’d always advocate, stick to a DSLR.
I’m also going to go out on a limb here and say, forget about everything else except Nikon or Canon. Yes, I know there are other makes but these 2 are the big players, the VHS to the Betamax of the rest. Now I’ve probably offended every Pentax, Olympus, Fuji, Panasonic and Sony owner out there (and more) lets get down to camera choice.
It really doesn’t matter if you go Canon or Nikon, both are similar, both have massive ranges and are supported by a myriad of 3rd party companies too. Whatever route you go, you won’t be disappointed.
So, what to actually buy? This comes back to the opening statement, spend as much as you can possibly afford, it’ll save you in the long run. If your budget only stretches to the entry level DSLR and kit lens then great, go for it. If it can go further then start looking up the ranges.
Taking the Nikon range for example. Buy a Nikon D3100 and you’ll get a nice camera with a fairly bog standard kit lens, but the entry level DSLR doesn’t have the top screen with all your setting on it. The D3000 never came with a port to attach a wired remote of any kind either, both, in my opinion, big things to be without. If you can push the budget that little bit more, the D5100 would make a far better purchase.
I’d actually go as far as to say that if you are really looking at the bottom end of the market, seriously consider the 2nd hard option. For D3100 money you’ll pick up a used D90, a far far better camera that will last you for ages. If you can afford a D5100, consider a used D7000 and you’ll never have to think of cameras again for ages.
In my humble opinion, the amateur photographer needs look no further than the Nikon D7000 or Canon 7d, after this you get into full frame territory, serious cash and I see simply no need or justification for a amateur photographer to venture into this territory. A D7000 to all but another expert photographer match a D3 in terms of image quality. In real terms, the D3 will be far better, but in the real world, 99% of people will never be able to tell any difference and if you really learn how to use it, your D7000 will produce the most amazing and striking images.
And so lenses. Simply get the kit lens, it’ll be fine to start out with and you have other things to worry about. Factor in the cost of a reasonable tripod for starters, cheap tripods won’t last, spend at least £100 and it’ll last for ages.
You might also want to consider:
Remote control of some sort, preferably wired.
A decent bag to carry this all in, buy something big enough to accommodate future purchases as well.
A screw in polarising filter
Some sort of slot in filter system, p series system with some Hitech graduated filters is a good cheap entry level into this world and it’s the one single item that will change you from a snapper to a photographer.
There’s about £250 in that little lot of extras, you don’t need them all straight away but this is what you need to consider to take the hobby at least semi-seriously.
Once you’ve used this little lot and got to grips with it then you can start looking at lenses. You might want a wider lens, a bigger zoom even? Both good purchases. The old trusty 50mm f1.8 is a great purchase, the cheapest lens you’ll ever buy and so versatile you’ll wonder how you ever managed without it.
I don’t expect everyone will agree with my reasonings but from coming through the beginner route this is my findings and my recommendation. What you buy is of course up to you but hopefully there’s some food for thought in there!
Ah, Autumn, thank god it’s here at last. Whatever it throws at us it can’t be worse than the soggy summer of 2012. In photographic terms at least, the next couple of months are great for getting out with the camera. Sunset and sunrise are at sociable times, nice dark (hoepfully clear skies) and the trees turning those fantastic golden shades.
So here you are in Edinburgh, what’s the hot shots to try out the next couple of months?
Lets kick off with the top sunset location for Autumn in Edinburgh and it’s predictably Calton Hill. At this time of year the sun in heading back towards the Castle at sunset meaning all those fantastic cityscapes can benefit from the full burst of colour from the setting sun.
Don’t forget the twilight too from up here, any direction is good, why not try Leith at twilight for something a little different?
Sticking with Calton Hill, the just after sunrise the National Mounment will be casting some nice shadows. Get up there early though, too late and the sun will be in the way of the shot.
Seafront locations are not at their best at this time of year for sunsets but the Cramond causeway can provide a nice sunrise.
On 5th October, the sunset at high tide at both at exactly 6.31pm, with a 5m tide it’s a perfect night to head out to Belhaven Bay outside Dunbar for the Bridge to Nowhere shot.
It’s getting a little late in the year but 8th October might be a good night to try and catch the advancing tide at the Longniddry wreck found just off the number 1 carpark.
Nearer the end of October with the moon out the way it might be a good chance to try for the Milky Way before it slinks off for the summer, try the carpark at Harlaw Reservoir about 2 hours after sunset, give your eyes time to adjust and you should see the dense star cloud that forms the band of the Milky Way just off to the south west.
There’s obvioulsy quite a few fireworks opportunities around November 5th but keep and eye open for the South Queensferry display for a chance to catch them over water.
There might also be a display at the Castle for St Andrews day, though possible not exactly on 30th November and it’s likely to be short display too.
With the darker nights it’s also a pefect time to try those light trails shots, with Princes Street open again it’s an obvious choice but anywhere with traffic is possible, why not try Holyrood Park about 30 minutes after sunset?
It’s also a good time to get those star trails shots in, Newhaven lighthouse, is a cold but worthy spot as you can get Polaris in the shot.
Hopefully that little lot will give you some ideas for Edinburgh photography over the next few months!
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned with this astrophotography journey it’s that above everything else, patience is the deciding factor as to whether you’ll progress or not. Without it you’ll become a frustrated gibbering wreck with a badly dented telescope in next to no time at all. You’ll question your abilities, you’ll come to hate the Met Office with a passion and you’ll start to spilt words in two just to get an extra expletive in there to properly express your feelings.
So why is patience so important? Let’s do a little list to illustrate…
1. Clouds. Days and days of endless clouds, usually worse after you’ve just bought a telescope or indeed, any item of astro equipment. Clouds stop everything, there’s no middle ground. Cloudy and it’s a night in front of Coronation Street for you rather than the wonders of the Universe.
2. Wind. I’m not talking hurricane force here, just an average little wind with some mild gusts can totally ruin any imaging session with a telescope. The slightest movement means wonky stars nobody wants wonky stars now do they?
3. Clouds and wind. Welcome to Scotland where you’ll be able to use your telescope at least 2 or 3 times every year!
4. Polar alignment. Also used as a basic instrument of torture in developing countries.
5. Astrophotography processing software. There are times I think actually writing the software would be easier than trying to figure out how it works. This one stacks RAW files, oh wait, this one needs jpg’s, darks? flats? bias?, and WTF are wavelets? Are we even still talking English here? At least most of it is free…
6. Focusing the camera on deep sky objects. Most focusing from removal of the eyepiece to connecting the camera goes thus… Just a little turn, just a wee bit more, nearly there, back a bit, back a bit more, wtf?, put eyepiece back in, focus, put camera back in, did I turn that the right way, bit more, bit more, back a bit, back a bit, other way, what way did I turn it last, fuck it.
7. Tripping over things in the dark. 5m USB leads, webcams and power leads in the dark lead to much fun and strange dancing while trying to untangle.
8. Neighbours security lights. Just as your eyes have adjusted to the darker environment you’ve managed to nurture in your back garden so sooner than the stars become nicely visible then your are guaranteed a passing cat will trigger a light that has the intensity of 10 suns to ensure it’s safe passage across the neighbours garden and you can see purple spots for the next 20 minutes.
9. Met office weather forecasts. DO take note of the Met Office forecast, you’ll need to know what it said so you can complain about it being wrong at length later. As a good rule of thumb though if the Met Office say it’ll be clear skies it’ll be raining, if they say overcast it’ll be raining, if they say rain, it’ll be clear. In fact if the MO say it’s night it’ll probably be day.
10. Telescope GOTO dictatorships. Your telescope GOTO can, and will make every attempt to piss you off. If you go for a 2 star align it simply won’t give you the star you want.
You – I’ll go for Arcturus and Capella.
GOTO – No you won’t, you can’t use Arcturus.
You – Why?
GOTO – Just because that’s all.
You – *sighs*, ok I’ll go for Altair and Capella then? OK, Altair synced, why can’t I have Capella now?
GOTO – I don’t feel like giving it to you. Try Vega?
You – I dont want to try Vega, it’s like straight up and it’s a pain looking through the finder at those stars?
GOTO – Use Vega bitch…
You – But…
GOTO – VEGA!
GOTO – “Align failed, please try again…”
BUT, apart from all this once in a while it all goes right or you see something that’s makes you realise it’s all worthwhile, this week I seen Uranus (please stop making jokes about the name!) and Neptune for the first time ever, very small but a personal triumph to actually see for me.
I’ll leave you with my first image of Uranus (stop sniggering at the back), it’s very small, in fact, just a little green dot but it meant the world to me to be able to image it.
I don’t know when it started but after owning nothing but Nikon DSLR’s since the launch of the original D70 I’m getting itchy feet to explore the wonderful world of Canon. Switching systems is a big move though, as those itchy feet are shuffling nervously as the urge to go for it gets stronger.
So, why the sudden change of heart? Well, it’s certainly not because my Nikon kit isn’t capable. It’s more than capable of anything I throw at it and I’ve got a fair bit of kit built up over the years to cover most eventualities so I’m rarely left floundering in the kit stakes.
I think the real issue is Nikon themselves. Since the launch of the D7000 we’ve had the D4, D800 and now the D600, all full frame and all with a bullock busting £2k+ price tag to match. Below the D7000 we’ve got the aging D90 and entry level D3200 and D5100. That leaves only the now elderly D300s sat alongside the D7000. The range is limiting and when you kit the D7000 the only way up on full frame which I have NO desire to commit to.
Canon through seem to have a myriad of crop sensor models of varying capability topped off by the fantastic 7d. Lens selections on Canon also seem more varied and indeed, better priced from my initial research.
Canon too is far wider supported in terms of astro-photography and the ability to add the Magic Lantern firmware is a rather compelling plus point to me at least. In terms of day to day photography the7d and D7000 seem pretty evenly matched so with switching it seems I have nothing to lose yet might make possible gains, it’s hard to argue against that.
Of course with 2 Nikon DSLR’s and 8 Nikon Lenses it’s not going to be straightforward making the move. I need too sell on my Nikon kit for the absolute best possible return in order to replace it with equivalent Canon kit and may have to sacrifice that handy 2nd body if I went for a 7d.
It’s a dilemma alright. Once you buy into one system that’s usually it, people never switch unless of course they are the type of person that can afford to replace their loo roll with a pile of used £20 notes.
I’ve done a bit of maths regarding potential returns on private sales of the Nikon kit and have a nice shopping list of Canon kit and the 2 just about work out. If I can sell the Nikon then it might well be game on…
Wish me luck.
This whole astro-photography thing is a pain in the cheeks at times. There I was sat in the cold with the telescope last night, tripping over wires in the dark, cursing the GOTO for not being spot on and finally chucking it all in after 30 minutes because the wind was an even bigger pain and it was impossible to get anything worthwhile at all.
I was this close → ← to chucking the whole lot on Gumtree and packing it in totally. Such was the severity of the huff. Thankfully I didn’t but what it’s taught me is not to attempt this stuff when the conditions aren’t perfect.
Less than perfect conditions though don’t stop you having some fun with a nice clear sky, never mind how windy it is and the even better news is that you can do this stuff with some nice basic photographic gear; this post from here on will be a telescope free zone!
All you’ll need is a camera you can control the exposure on (variable zoom will help too), a tripod and a remote control for the camera or at least one with a self-timer. The hardest part is getting the clear sky but even the odd cloud can add to a shot as long as your intended target is still visible.
To demonstrate what’s easily possible, these 4 shots were taken in central Edinburgh, in light pollution with a Nikon D90 fitted with a Nikon 18-200mm VRII lens.
The technique is simple enough, keep the ISO fairly low, around 400 to 640 otherwise the light pollution will run away with your shot. Exposure times will vary maybe from less than 1s in the case of a planet to a few seconds on a star cluster, even as long as 30s on a wide field shot. The whole idea is to get enough light in to give you the shot but avoid stars trailing to get a decent shot.
Finding interesting targets is your next challenge. The sky just now is best after midnight and even with the moon out the way there’s some nice stuff you can get. After midnight the Pleiades open star cluster will be getting higher in the sky and below it will be the brilliance of Jupiter, a nice photo opportunity, especially if you can include some ground interest to give some perspective.
The Pleiades itself is a very nice target and fills the frame nicely at nothing more than 200mm. Keep the exposure shorter when you’re zoomed in like this. The diffractions spikes on this shot were added in Photoshop with a plug-in, it’s not the natural look!
Sticking with 200mm try Jupiter as well! You’ll really need a shorter exposure with the planet so bright take a few at differing exposures and you should also be able to pick up the planets moons.
Winter skies usually provide the best targets but at this time of year you can also get the summer triangle, an easily visible triangle of the very bright stars Vega, Altair and Deneb.
Light pollution needed be a killer but if you do get a chance to get out under really dark skies you might be lucky enough to catch this, the fabulous sight of the Milky Way rising in the sky above…
Ah, the dark nights are coming and for once I’m over the moon about it. Dark nights and colder days mean longer dark clear nights with means longer to check out the celestial displays above. I’d always viewed the summer nights are preparation for the winter when I’d really be able to get into the astro-photography and after what seems like the worst summer in living memory it’s just about upon us.
For once Edinburgh had a rare happening. A weekend night with a clear sky. Normally the sky clears when I’ve got to be up at half 6 in the morning so it was nice to see it on a Saturday night for a change. So, out went the scope about 9.15 to cool down, this time, I was going to do everything right.
I even had a go at EQ aligning the NexStar SE5. This telescope has a built in basic wedge (I mean really basic but it’s better than not having one!). The alignment process seemed like something from the Krypton Factor but thanks to this blog (http://astroadventures.wordpress.com/) I found I was able to figure it out and it’s not really that hard!
So, with scope levelled, aligned and the precise GOTO working while the sky was getting darker I let my nephew play about with the skytour on the handset, you have to encourage potential young astronomers don’t you?
Encourage maybe but little did I realise what the half hour of near constant slewing of the scope was about to do. All was well until we homed in on M57, the Ring Nebula. There it was nice and clear. Camera onto the visual back, couple of shortish exposures to get the focus and all was good. Started ramping up the exposure times with the D7000 tethered to my MacBook, even better I was getting 30s exposures with no trailing and loads of stars so I set the MacBook to keep taking shots and walked away and left it.
5 shots in I noticed a problem. Those nice stars were more like lines, not just elongated stars, lines! What the hell? Figuring a possible alignment issue I realigned the scope and pointed towards the Double Cluster in Perseus. Same problem. So, I flattened out the wedge and aligned in Alt-Az mode, same problem.
At this point I was getting irate. Nasty words were floating around in the dark and the telescopes parentage was being questioned. With not a lot else to try I ran the mains power out to the scope and plugged into that instead of my Maplin’s power tank and guess what? Yes, everything was fine. So I’d undone my EQ align for nothing, it was down to my crap cheap power tank being ran down with constant slewing with the skytour earlier.
With proper power restored, I managed to get 20s exposures in Alt-Az mode on the Double Cluster and also had another go at Jupiter once I cleared the neighbours tree. Jupiter was a revelation, last time I tried it on the webcam it was a disaster, and this time I could actually see banding on the planet on the capture programme. I didn’t get many shots at it until the not forecast clouds rolled in. I’m sure the met office had a random weather selector, their forecasts seems to have little in common with the weather in the real world.
By this time it was near 1am so I packed up figuring the clouds would hang about all night. An hour later I’m back in the garden taking the dog for a piddle and guess what, a fantastically clear night again. Typical.
Still, I’m reasonably pleased with the modest haul of shots I got, certainly one of my better nights to date.
Jupiter, top shot is 2 AVI captures processed at merged to show the planet and the moons. Bottom is a 2x Barlow AVI capture of just the planet.
Double Cluster, I’ve added some diffraction spikes to this one in Photoshop, not sure about the effect but I think I like it.
The Ring Nebula, just a single RAW in the end but pleased at how clear the nebula is!
Plan last night was to head down to Marine Drive in Edinburgh which is right on the coastline next to Cramond where there was a chance of photographing the moon rising over the water. Using The Photographers Ephemeris on the Mac it was possible to see where the moon would rise and there was nothing but water in-between last night. Better still, it was a fairly clear night so off I trotted.
Marine Drive is a funny place. Actually pretty dark, has great views over to Fife and is a prime spot to look for aurora, the only downside is that is seems to be a popular dogging spot which means you get random cars drive up, park, check what you’re up to and head off back up to the dark part of the road!
If you can put up with that though it’s a prime photo spot with a few possible shots, doggers not included.
When I got there the eastern horizon was so dark you really couldn’t tell if there was any cloud there or not but with 10 minutes to go before the moon came up I used the view west for a few shots. Over an hour after sunrise there was a fantastic colour in the sky on the western horizon, too good to miss in fact when you also take into account the slowly receding high tide catching the last of the golden light.
These shots were the result, no filters, just a bit of PP work and that’s about it. The 2nd shot looks closer in towards the Cramond Island causeway.
By this point though, it was clear there was cloud on the horizon as the moon hadn’t appeared but there was some hope, a very faint orange glow so worth hanging about for.
In the meantime I took a few shots of the planes on final approach to Edinburgh Airport. This is right under the main flight path and in the dark you can get some pretty dramatic trails.
2 things stood out on the sky at this point, the bright red star Arcturus to the west and the constellation of Cassiopeia, that distinctive W shape. After watching a few landings I got the compositions right and this was the result. 1st shot is past Arcturus and 2nd is past Cassiopeia.
Finally though the moon had started to show, that faint orange glow was now very obvious so on went the bigger lens, after some playing about I got the shots I was after. This might be better with a thinner crescent moon, as the exposures might be closer, as it was I had to really overexpose the moon to get any detail in the foreground.
Just a wee bonus, I was back in the car heading for home to get the telescope out when I spotted a plane heading right for the moon, a chance to get that elusive plane in front of the moon shot. With everything packed away I had about 20s to get the tripod out, extended and the D7000 adjusted and on top. No time for the remote so I had to press the shutter button and hope. This was the result, really not clear but I’ll get it next time now I know roughly where and when I can get it from.
All in, a good night for the 40 minutes or so I was there, much better than the dreadful night had with the telescope later but that’s a story for another day…
I stumbled across this earlier totally by accident but I can see it becoming a little obsession for a while.
While shooting the fireworks one camera had a really cheap remote control on it, the sort where you can push the button up and if you have the camera set to high speed drive it’ll just keep taking pics until you run out of memory space. This meant I just engaged that camera to run and I manually triggered the other one. The upshot was, I had long sequences of shots, one after the other which when flicked through in iPhoto sort of looked like a little movie…
An energy saving lightbulb lit up gradually over my head and I ended up going through all the pics taken on Sunday night with the D90 and found quite a few multi shot sequences.
These were all in RAW so I had a hell of a lot of processing to do, the trick being to take each sequence and process every shot in exactly the same way, I done this by saving the settings in ACR and applying to every shot in the sequence.
Next up with all the shots processed was to order them, as I saved with the default name I just ordered by name.
Now, using iMovie on a Mac you simply have to drag all the files in one go into iMovie. From here, highlight all the pics and set the time interval to 0.1 or 0.2s in the clip adjustment menu (little blue drop down in the bottom the highlighted pic. Now pick the Cropping, Ken Burns and Rotation menu, whatever Ken Burns is it’s a pain. Switch all the shots to Fit and click done. This will stop that stupid zoom in thing on every shot from happening. You might also have to go into File — Project Properties and change the Initial Photo Placement drop down to Fit in Frame.
With this done you can now preview the movie and make any further adjustments. Now go to Share — Export Movie and pic the best option for you. I picked the 1080p HD option but beware, 167 12mp frames ended up as a 70+mb .mov file. The .mov is fine for upload to You Tube, Facebook and Flickr so I would assume it’ll upload to other video services too.
And that’s about all there is to it, I’ve also now applied this to sequence of shots meant for a star trail that shows the movement of the stars once you give it the time lapse treatment.
You can check out the final movies on You Tube:
Well, that was probably the most challenging night I’ve ever had shooting fireworks in Edinburgh. Fireworks are never particularly easy but add in a fairly brisk westerly breeze and it makes it even more of a challenge as the burst gets blown in the wind leading to nasty trails. Not the best but I got around it to an extent.
The location of choice for the 2012 Virgin Money Fireworks Concert at Edinburgh Castle was the old favourite of Blackford Hill. I went for Blackford over the Crags this year as with the wind coming from the west the smoke from the fireworks would drift towards the Crags but off to the South, Blackford would be fine.
Blackford has the added advantage of being flat onto the back of the Castle so you are shooting the bursts as they are, rather than through them which you do from Calton or the Crags. Inverleith is the same as Blackford but looks directly onto the Front of the Castle, arguably a better location but Blackford is higher too which I think helps.
The setup for this year was again 2 cameras on the go. The Nikon D7000 had a Nikon 18-200mm VRII on this year for some wider atmospheric shots and the D90 had the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 for those closer in shots, both tripod mounted (obviously) and both with remotes attached. The D90 was set to high speed drive so with the remote engaged I could leave it to snap away while I manually triggered the D7000.
As I said earlier, the wind was a real issue. Any wind causes the fireworks trails to trail with the wind too leaving you with messy trails, the solution I used was to try and keep the exposures short, against the conventional way of shooting fireworks.
Most exposures I kept down to 1s or under, especially on the closer in shots, wider could stretch a bit longer and I wanted the lights from the city too. The upshot of this wasn’t the glowing long trails of usual shots but the shorter trails and quicker exposure combated the nasty drift from the wind. In this mode I was able to rattle off nearly 600 images from the 2 cameras which gave me plenty to cherry pick from to get the best. All in, not as good as previous years but I certainly handled the conditions better than I have on previous windy nights.
Just as an aside, I know the whole display was geared up to be viewed from Princes Street but a lot of Edinburgh watches it from other locations too. This 2012 display was pretty poor from any vantage point that didn’t look onto the front of the Castle. Long gaps of nothing visible, and I’m talking 5 minutes upwards was the order of the night and certainly not as good as previous years. I even missed the finale as there was a massive gap with nothing notable happening, not until I packed up and was halfway back to the car at least.
Roll on the Hogmanay fireworks and hopefully no wind!
You can view the whole set at:
or even head over to Facebook to http://www.facebook.com/RealEdinburgh and hit the like button and see them there was well!
A few choice shots…
I even got the lead shot on BBC News this year too!
I’d never really gotten into Instagram until recently. I actually preferred using Hipstamatic in my iPhone days for that dose of old school style shot. The whole social network thing of Instagram was actually what I thought put me off. Now, having used it for the last week or so I realise it’s something very different altogether.
Let me start of by saying, I like the product Instagram. I like that style of photography, I have an actual film Holga, Holga digital lenses and own a lensbaby so the stuff Instagram tries to mimic I’ve dabbled with the inspiration for these styles in proper photography and it’s a side of photography I really enjoy.
As I said at the start, I always felt it was the social network side of Instagram that put me off, yet another thing to keep up with along with Twitter, Facebook, Linked In, Flickr and whatever else is popular this week. I’m a long term Flickr user, I have a Facebook page for my photography, and did I really need another social outlet?
In the end, I don’t so much as find myself using Instagram to make connections but as a tool to output to other social networks thanks to its Flickr, Facebook and Twitter connections. It does Tumblr too but I’ve never really got Tumblr, what it’s about or how to use it properly. Used in this fashion, I quite like Instagram.
Typically though, I’m downloading some of my proper photographic shots in smaller sizes to Dropbox and hauling these into Instagram to play with and post up altered versions of proper photographic DSLR shots. It’s maybe not the way everybody likes to use it but it works for me. I do take the occasional shot with the phone camera, the Samsung Galaxy S3 has an excellent camera but it’s not something I do a lot.
So, shall we get to the real problem with Instagram?
In as such as it’s a mobile app, it runs on phones. Phones we will usually have with us at all times. Phones equipped with a camera ready to snap everything and anything.
And there it is.
That’s the reason why Instagram is flooded with pictures of Starbucks coffee, crisp bags, all day breakfasts, etc… So you’ve gone into one of a million cloned coffee shops that are all the rage in the UK just now, bought an overpriced mug of hot stuff, what in that chain of events makes you think, “Oh, I’ll take a pic of that, make it look vintage and show it to the world?” Seriously, who do you actually think cares you’ve bought a coffee or are eating a packet of Walkers cheese and onion? There’s little or no photographic merit in these things, no matter how many filters and borders you apply. It’s the equivalent of sending a Tweet such as “Eating my dinner lol” and we all know how uncool that is, right kids?
Instagram encourages lazy photography, it’s giving a false impression that anything can look “arty” with a filter applied and WTF is this obsession with Instagramming food and drink? Is it because people sit in these places trying to look cool with their Smartphone in hand and feel the need to look like they are doing something interesting?
A crap photograph will always be a crap photograph. You could Instagram a crap pic to death, it’ll still be an unpolished turd once you’ve finished with it. Start with a decent pic and then see what you can get, I’m sure you’ll be pleased with the results and who want’s a photo feed full of trips to Starbucks to remember in a few years time?
I’d love it if Instagram had a coffee detection alogorithm.
“It looks like you’re trying to upload a picture of your coffee, are you sure you want to do this?”
“Are you really sure, you’ve uploaded 30 similar pics this month and all your Facebook mates are beginning to think you’re a bit of a prick?”
“Well, don’t blame me if you’ve got no friends to import into the next big social network…”
Think once, think twice, think, don’t Instagram your fucking coffee!
Who’d have thought that within a week of buying a new telescope I’d have had 3 clear nights to try it out? It’s almost unheard of, especially in Scotland this year but not being one to miss a decent chance out came the new Celestron NexStar 5SE.
First impressions of this little scope are it’s incredibly well built. Everything about it is solid and the tripod it comes on isn’t a million miles away from the EQ5 I had previously, it’s even got a basic built in wedge. The Alt-Az mount is very different however and must be powered up to use, once you get used to it though it’s pretty easy to use and the GOTO is pretty accurate as long as you take time to align it properly.
First night out I made a schoolboy error and didn’t use a dew shield, the result was a dewed up scope once I had it aligned and ready to take a pic or 2. A roll of thin camping mat and some Velcro has done wonders to address that particular issue!
2nd night out was more about getting a decent alignment and trying to get at least one usable shot. Aligning the scope is easy enough. I’ve not managed to get the SkyAlign 3 star method to work yet but the Auto-2 star works fine and if I sync with another 3rd star it seems pretty accurate, in as much as I can see objects in the field of view if not dead in the centre of the 25mm supplied eyepiece.
One thing I have noticed is that placing the wedge hinge (even if you are not using it) facing north and making the mount totally level really pays off and it worth taking time to setup properly.
Using Artucus and Altair as the alignment stars and then syncing with Vega seems to work fine and since these 3 are visible in the twilight it lets me get setup for the fainter objects in good time.
From the first attempts at photography the real pain I discovered was finding the focus point with the camera. It’s a fair bit away from the focus point with the 25mm eyepiece and unless there’s a really bright star in the field of view you won’t be able to focus through the viewfinder. The solution is to use a really bright star and focus with the eyepiece. Switching to the camera you can note which direction to focus and how many turns it takes to get there with the camera. For the 5se, around 1 full turn right is the starting point and from there you can fine tune.
First target of night 3 was the Double Cluster, Caldwell 14 in Perseus. This looks great in the eyepiece and the stars are nice and bright so it was a good first target. Alignment was reasonable and I was able to stretch exposures to about 8s with no star trailing. The end result showed a lot of stars and some nice colours in the stars too. I’ve not attempted stacking yet so these are all single shots in RAW and processed in Photoshop.
Next target was the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules, or M13. In the eyepiece M13 is just a grey fuzzy patch and there’s not a lot of bright stars around it so I had to go with the one turn right method of focus and fine tune from there. It took a good few goes but I got a reasonable result, which I’m pretty happy with for a first attempt.
The next target I tried was the Ring Nebula. This was visible in the viewfinder using averted vision but very faint. As it was nearly straight up though there wasn’t enough room to fit the camera on the scope with the mount base being in the way so that’ll have to wait for another night when it’s better placed.
Next target was the Andromeda Galaxy. I was biting off more than I could chew here and the result shows. We’ll try that one again in the winter nights!
I ended the night up on the Moon as it rose about the houses around midnight and considering it was behind thin cloud the result was pretty good.
All in though, a pretty good night and I made more progress with the NexStar 5se in 2 nights than I made with the 200P/EQ5 in 4 months which has to be good. As an aside I should also point out that this is what a rank beginner can achieve with a modest investment in a light polluted area.
If that’s not enough to spur you into giving it a go, while out last night on what was a warm and still night I also caught sight of the International Space Station twice and at least 8 meteors from the Perisids which peak this weekend.
Space quite simply, is awesome!
My aspirations in Astro-photography finally bit the dust last week or at least licked the dust. After a frustrating night attempting to find the Andromeda Galaxy by star hopping, or more like star limping it has to be said I all but packed it all in. All I had to show for 2 hours out with the scope was a sore back and heightened blood pressure. What had I seen? Stars, by the bucket load but I had no idea what I was looking at and therein lay the problem.
I’d bought my scope at entirely the wrong time. I got it as the darkness retreated and potentially even worse; all the planets departed the night-time sky into the early morning. When I first got it a few hours just attempting to image Venus, Jupiter, Mars and the Moon was more than enough to keep me interested. Take all those out the equation and I was left floundering trying to find deep space objects, which in the lighter summer skies was even harder.
So, something has to change. I needed a GOTO mount otherwise I’d never see anything. I also decided the Skywatcher Explorer 200P on the EQ5 wasn’t for me. It took too long to setup, was too big and too heavy and I was already starting to skip clear nights through simple couldn’t be bothered-ness with all the mucking about to get setup.
The solution therefore was to sell the 200P and EQ5 and look for something different and so last week the scope and mount went to live with its new owner and I started a hunt for a replacement. I had decided against the GOTO upgrade for the EQ5 as it wasn’t addressing the issue of the scope size and weight.
I eventually settled on a Celestron Nexstar 5SE on the full GOTO Alt-Az mount. I know the Alt-Az isn’t the best for photography but its fine for me just now and the mount has a basic built in wedge. I won’t be doing any minute’s long exposures but I should be able to get something out of it. At F10 nowhere near as fast as the 200P at F5 but it’ll suffice for what I want to do initially. What’s important here is I get a scope that easy to handle and easy to setup so I can learn. Any images I can get that come along will be a bonus. In fact, when Jupiter come back to the night sky it might even be better than the 200P.
The new scope arrived yesterday and I have to say from first impressions I’m very pleased with it. The whole package seems better built than the Skywatcher stuff. The stock 25mm plossil eyepiece is nice and bright and much better than the Skywatcher 25mm item.
Setup was easy enough, as was the align once I realised I had my position set at Louisiana USA, not Edinburgh, Scotland and I actually got to see some stuff! My align was far from perfect just using a 2 star align but I did find the Double Cluster, Ring Nebula and Great Cluster in Hercules, a massive improvement on what had gone before.
Sadly dew was a major issue and I didn’t have a dew shield fitted which ended the session earlier than I would have liked so I never hooked up the camera but that’s now sorted and I’ll have the D7000 hanging off the scope at the first opportunity next time around.
In a true Astro-photography sense I’ve taken a step back but in doing so I’ve rekindled interest and that above all is what’s important. It’s pointless having a million pound setup if you can’t be bothered to use it. They say the best scope you’ll have is the one you use and for now at least, I’ll be using the 5SE at every opportunity!
I’ll leave you with a few shots from last night, none of these where through the 5SE after the dew got to it, these were all with my D7000 fitted to a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 and 2x tele, Samyang 500mm reflector lens or my mates Skywatcher Explorer 200PDS on an HEQ5 Pro mount.
By this time tomorrow, for the first time since 2008 I won’t own any of Apple’s iOS devices. iPhone will be replaced with a Samsung Galaxy S3 and my original iPad will be replaced with a Google Nexus 7. So why, considering my VERY pro Apple stance?
Basically, I’m fed up feeling ripped off by Apple. Long gone is the company that seemed to put the user experience first. You paid a premium for Apple products but on the whole they WERE premium products. Everything from the packaging to the use of the item was so obviously carefully thought out; I at least, perceived they were worth the extra cash.
Since Apple became the world’s richest company though there’s been a distinct change. I’ve had 3 MacBook’s now but my latest 13″ Pro is by far the slowest and least reliable I’ve owned. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s simply not the product it used to be. My older Black MacBook running OSX10.6 is noticeably faster than the i5 machine running 0SX10.7. That shouldn’t be right!
Then there’s the iPad, the crowning turd of Apple’s greed. 2 years ago I bought the original iPad. £500 for a 32gb WiFi model was pricey but hey, this was Apple and it would be worth it. Was it though? At the time the iPad was unique so it was a pretty amazing bit of kit but less than 12 months later along came iPad2, faster and sleeker.
That was the first signs of something wrong. Occasional apps that would only work on iPad 2. Few and far between but there already not supporting the original machine less than 12 months after launch. Then came the new iPad, less than 24 months after I got original iPad and with it an announcement that iOS6 when it launches in the autumn won’t be supported on the original iPad.
What this means in real terms is that your original iPad is very much dead. Sure, it’ll still work but this is when the flood of iOS6 only apps will start to appear and owners of that original iPad will start to get left behind. This is now the Apple way, force the hardware upgrades by means of software updates that cripple the original device. Remember iOS4 on the original 3G iPhone? iOS4 ran like a dog on the 3G so the world went out and bought iPhone 4. You can be sure iOS6 will run like a dog on iPhone 4 so the world runs out and gets iPhone 5.
I’ve had enough of this and I’m getting off this particular bandwagon.
Now, to the original point of this post, imagine if Nikon or Canon behaved like that? I could go out now and buy a Nikon D4, the newest of the new and stick on a 30 year old Nikon lens and it’ll work. I could go out and buy a brand new Nikon lens and stick it on a 12 year old D70 and it’ll work. Buy a Nikon camera and a Nikon lens and it’ll work forever, or at least until components fail. It won’t stop working because Nikon want you to buy their new shiny lens rather than your old one that works perfectly well.
We expect and demand this of companies such as Nikon or Canon and there’s a lot of brand loyalty out there. If you buy into one system few ever change. There’s no real need to. I have a 10 year old Nikon lens; I paid around £500 for it new. I could, with confidence by any new Nikon body safe in the knowledge that it’ll work just fine, it will in another 10 years time too yet less than 2 years after spending £500 with Apple I’ve got a technological ornament? Nikon aren’t changing mounts forcing me to upgrade, no, they make sure that even if they do make changes previous kit will still work in the way you expect it to.
I can even look at my 6 year old PS3, a more direct comparison to an iPad than a camera maybe. I can buy any new game for this system and it’ll work, regardless of the age of the device, it’ll work. That’s value for money, that’s not being ripped off, that Apple, is how you should be treating customers. It’s all very well driving technical innovation but lets not forget those that have forked out their hard earned in these difficult financial times that helped you become the richest company in the world.
In the race to stay ahead, Apple may find the tides about to turn, Nikon and Canon however will still be the major players in their field in 20 years time, and I wonder where Apple will be in 20 years time?
I’ll also point out that prior to writing this I have owned… Apple Quadra 800, 15gb 3rd gen iPod, white MacBook, black MacBook, 1st gen iPod Touch, 3rd gen iPod Nano, 20″ iMac, iPad, i5 MacBook Pro, iPhone 2G, iPhone 3G and an iPhone 4. If Apple can piss me off they can piss anybody off!
It’s gone beyond funny now.
Seriously, the Scottish summer has put a major dampener on my enthusiasm for photography this year. There’s only so many pictures you can take of rain soaked Edinburgh before it gets very long in the tooth indeed. I done a blog post a wee while back about not letting the rain put you off, that’s fine when you get occasional rain but not constant heavy rain!
I’ve never done a landscape shot for weeks, what’s the point? I don’t need any more shots of Edinburgh with dull grey skies and the camera gear isn’t all that keen on being wet all the time.
I’ve never done an astro shot since I don’t know when. What’s the point? Nearly total and constant cloud cover has all but stopped that particular pleasure and the telescope lies gathering dust having only had one brief spell of use in the last 6 weeks or so. Nearly every visible phase of the moon has been blocked by it being too low to see over the house or more often, thick cloud. Saturn has all but gone and I’ve no confidence at all in being able to see the Jupiter/Moon occulation this weekend at all.
I can’t get a clear shot at the sun either, we see a faint glow now and again but it’s not enough to get any sunspot detail.
Normally I spend a lot of time in summer down by the Botanic Gardens, not this year. My style of floral photography usually involves unusual angles etc, and lying in wet and mud to get a shot it’s really my idea of fun so that particular pleasure has gone for now too.
Macro shots in the woods are out, I usually combine it with walking the dog but there’s so much mud the dog gets caked and it’s a total pain.
All I seem to have done for weeks on end is macro insect shots from things I find in the garden, there just doesn’t seem much point doing anything else. It was a brief bit of interest chasing the flooding around Edinburgh at the weekend getting pics but that too involved being wet for nearly the whole day, caked in mud and there’s a sore throat in the post too.
Roll on autumn and winter and some decent photography weather!
Summer is a time of mixed emotions for me. Sure, the nicer (!) weather is welcome and overall more pleasing temperatures but it’s also a time I ease off on any landscape photography. The daylight is harsh, the sunrise is too early, the sunset is too late and let be honest here, it does rain a lot in a typical Scottish summer. That’s why every year around June to August my attention turns mainly to macro photography.
The summer months are bumper months for macro lens usage, more flowers about and in turn, more insects which are my principal targets for close up shots. Living in Edinburgh with the Botanic Gardens just a 15 minute drive away is pretty fortunate, especially for floral stuff but it’s amazing what you can find with a little wander around your garden or any nearby grassy/bushy area.
Insect life in particular is rife at this time of year and if you know where to look then you’ll have a myriad of subjects close at hand. I have a particular patch in my back garden where some wildflowers grow; I leave this deliberately as every summer it’s teaming with potential macro subjects but any bush or even hedge if you look close enough will turn up some interesting beasties.
Flies are the most abundant. Approach your chosen area with caution, keep back and just look. I mean, really look. You’ll almost certainly find some flies, particularly evening, while the sun in still up but not as hot as earlier in the day. Most flies are quite tolerant of an approach as long as you are stealthy and don’t rush in on them. Set the camera up well away from your target and move in slowly. Using a macro lens I like to find the subject in the viewfinder from far out and slowly move in increasing the magnification until I’m at full 1:1 on the lens. Now gently move until the subject in focus, you might have to rock back and forward a bit to get it, microscopic movements but as soon as you see focus in the viewfinder, take the shot.
Even with a flash you might be lucky enough to get a few goes at this. Using a ring flash and a setting of around f16 greatly helps with the depth of field and getting any sort of focus at all. Always focus on the eyes, if only one part of your shot in sharp you want it to be the eyes.
If your subject flies off, just pull back slowly and scan the immediate area, they don’t always move far at all. Hoverflies are particularly good as they will fly off and seconds later come back to exactly that same spot so don’t abandon immediately unless you find another target to try.
Other good places to look are as simple as the grass, you’ll often find insect life on a daisy and indeed any plant of any sort is worth checking out. Try to look for surfaces that have warmed up during the day. Wheelie bin lids, car roofs and plastic garden furniture are all spots where flies sit and funnily enough, clothes lines and pegs are places I’ve found loads in the past.
Other things like spiders like little hidey holes, try windowsill outsides, clothes poles, vegetation near a wall and you never know what will turn up.
In 5 minutes outside on a dull night I managed to photograph a few flies, a spider and a ladybird all less than 20ft from my front door. You really don’t need to travel far for macro photography, just stay where you are and eventually it’ll come to you!
All shots taken with a Nikon D7000, Sigma f2.8 105mm EX DG Macro and Marumi ring flash.
The sun, the giver of life on this planet and so important to photography. It provides the natural light photographers crave after but it’s a subject in itself that few other than astrophotographers ever attempt. Loads of people will have a crack at photographing the moon but few will take on the dangers of the sun but it’s not as hard as you might think even with some standard photographic equipment.
Of course, using a telescope with a solar film filter or a dedicated solar scope will provide the best results but you can still capture those sunspots with possibly, what you have already.
Before we proceed though, a warning. Photographing the sun is dangerous, I cannot stress this enough. Blindness can occur in seconds and photographic equipment can be ruined just as quickly but proceeding with some caution you can minimise risks and catch pictures of the surface of the closest star to Earth. I accept no responsibility for any lack of sight or melted cameras that may result from the following, you try this at your own risk.
OK? Not freaked you out? Let’s get started!
Firstly you will need:
DSLR camera (preferably)
As big a lens as you have (I use a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 and 2x tele giving 400mm)
At least one 10 stop photographic filter or enough filtration to get as much as 10 stops.
The 10 stop filter is essential. If you don’t have one, can’t get access to one or can’t replicate with other filters DO NOT proceed. Some filter sets come with 3 standard ND filters, 0.9, 0.6 and 0.3 which stacked will give you 6 stops, which is NOT ENOUGH but if you can add others in there to get to 10 stops on you go.
For extra safety I like to shoot with the DSLR tethered to my MacBook pro using the Nikon only Sofortbild software to control the camera but you can get away with a standard remote control on the camera, it’s just not quite as easy.
To get started, mount your camera on the tripod and add the 10 stop filter to the lens, set your focus to infinity and using the live view feature on your camera or laptop preview, locate the sun. Once you have it, cover the lens to stop heat build up. Now, switch on Exposure delay mode if your camera has it, close the lens up as much as you can, f22 or higher, I use f32 on my own setup. You should be in manual exposure mode, so set your exposure to as high as it will go, typically around 1/4000th and your ISO as low as it will go, typically ISO100.
Now, you’re good to go, uncover the lens, take the shot and cover the lens again. Now you can check what you have. You should have a white-ish disc, sunlight is white not yellow and if sunspots are visible then there will be darker areas on the disc. From here you can adjust exposure to get the best possible shot but DO NOT exposure for any length of time, keep the exposures in the region of thousandths on seconds, you do not need to go any higher at all.
If no sunspots are visible it may be that the side of the sun facing us has no activity on it at the moment, check http://www.space-weather.com for an up to date listing of active visible sunspots. If there are sunspots and you cannot see them on the shot you may be overexposing, dial in a faster shutter or up the f setting to as high a number as it will go and try again.
The darker dots are the sunspots. I’ve also added a little false colour to make the shot look a little more like what people expect the sun to be.
It’s possible using http://www.space-weather.com to identify the sunspots and label these up on your shot.
That’s all there is to it, it’s not that difficult with some pretty normal bits of photo equipment and take the proper precautions and you’ll be fine. Do please remember though, never look at the sun through the camera viewfinder, even with the filter on place and never leave your camera focused on it for long periods of time. Have some respect for the subject and you’ll be fine and get a shot of something not that many ever attempt.
Equatorial mounts, Newtonian reflectors, refractors, registax, counterweights, polar alignment, autostakkert, wavelets, webcams, tracking motors, collimation, Saturn, Venus, avi’s, sharpcap… Astro photography, it’s enough to put you off just thinking about the bewildering array of stuff to learn. What the hell are those things, where are they, what do they do, how do I use them? Well, with a little perseverance it DOES get a bit easier.
Take the telescope and mount to start with. When I first got it I had no idea what I was doing, Even now the EQ5 mount seems more like an instrument of mental torture than something to mount a telescope on but I am getting used to how it works. I’ve never attempted an accurate polar alignment yet mainly due to how late it is in summer until I can see Polaris but even a rough alignment is enough to get you moving. Simply set your latitude on the mount, 55 degrees for Edinburgh point the North leg funnily enough North and make sure the mount is level. It’s not perfect but it’ll allow you a go at some planetary imaging at least.
Just doing the above steps I’ve found that it’s adequate enough to keep a planet in the field of view for ages with the tracking motors engaged. It wouldn’t be any use at all for imaging deep space objects but for now, for planets and moon its working ok.
The tracking motors too came with the vaguest of instructions, now though I’m confident enough to find my target, lock the clutches and start the tracking and it works fine.
So, as I’d got hold of a Philips SPC900 webcam, all ready to be used with the scope and the skies had cleared it was time to give this planetary imaging a shot.
There’s not a lot of targets at this time of year, Venus is rapidly heading for its appointment with the Sun in June and Jupiter is long gone is the twilight sky. Saturn is getting higher and Mars to be honest has never been my favourite subject so Venus and Saturn were to be the targets.
When I setup, only Venus was visible in a still twilight sky. I can’t wait till dark as it’ll be lost behind the neighbourhood roofs. It’s so easy to locate in a twilight sky and the crescent shape is very visible in the scope and it’s quite a thin crescent now too. After centering Venus in the eyepiece I slipped in the 2x Barlow and made sure it was centered and then switched to the webcam.
Luckily for me, Venus was still there with the webcam and using the free capture software, SharpCap I was able to get it centered on the camera and adjust the settings till I got a clear view. I got a couple of short captures with the webcam until Venus was lost to the shed roof. I then ran the avi file through another free bit of software, Autostakkert which stacked the best frames from the movie.
The resulting image was saved as a TIFF and then opened in Registax 6 where you can adjust the wavelets. I have no idea what a wavelet is but it certainly works and greatly brings out the image detail and sharpness. I then finally opened the image in Photoshop CS5 for some final tweaks and this was the end result.
A million times better than I’ve managed with the DSLR, the webcams much smaller sensor gives a much bigger final image which in turn lets you get more detail. Using a webcam also lets you capture those microseconds of clarity through the atmosphere where the viewing is at its clearest and the stacking software puts all these together to get your final image. It takes a bit of getting your head around but it does work!
Saturn was next up and this was the AVI file I processed to get to the final image:
It’s probably way too long but after processing this in the same way as the Venus image I got to this final shot.
Which is a vast improvement on my best with the D90 attached to the telescope:
As you can see, there’s a lot more detail in the stacked image, some colour too.
For a first shot with this style of imaging I’m pretty pleased especially as the seeing was pretty bad. There’s a lot of room for improving especially with the software end all of which I’ve hardly even scratched the surface of yet. I also need to get hold of a quality 5x Barlow lens to get a larger image. Lots to do, I just a few more clear nights!