Archive for August, 2012

The Instagram Generation

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?”

“YES”

“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?”

“YES”

“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!


Astro-photography success at last?

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.

Double Cluster, Caldwell 14 8 August 2012

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.

M13 Hercules Cluster 8 August 2012

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!

Andromeda Galaxy

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.

Moon 9 August 2012

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!


The Astro-Photography frustrations continue…

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.

Full Moon with Skywatcher 200PDS 2 Aug 2012
Moon with a Nikon D7000 and Skywatcher Explorer 200PDS

Full Moon with 70-200mm 2 August 2012
Moon with a Nikon D7000 and a Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 and 2x tele

Full Moon with Samyang 500mm Reflector 2 August 2012
Moon with a Samyang 500mm reflector lens

Ring Nebula Skywatcher 200PDS 2 August 2012
Ring Nebula with a Nikon D7000 and Skywatcher Explorer 200PDS

Hercules Cluster Skywatcher 200PDS 2 Aug 2012
M13, the Great globular cluster in Hercules with a Nikon D7000 and Skywatcher Explorer 200PDS