This and That

Random bits of my life

How to Photograph Jupiter

Posted by Avital Pinnick on November 3, 2010

Jupiter and three of its moons

This photo took me a lot longer than I expected — three separate sessions in one evening! I guess I should be grateful that I got it at all. I’m not completely satisfied with it, so I may try again another night.

The first time I made the mistake of using the short range of the 55-250mm zoom. YES! You read that right. I must be having a senior moment (it was my birthday according to the civil calendar; main celebration was on the Hebrew date a couple weeks ago). I got the shot but when I looked at the EXIF data, I was dumbfounded to see that I had shot Jupiter using a 55mm zoom. I actually did manage to capture the planet and three moons with 55mm (so all you owners of kit lenses can try this) but it’s a lot clearer when you use a longer lens. In the dark, I hadn’t noticed that my lens was not fully extended.

So back I went to the balcony, this time with the outside light on. I set up the tripod, wrestled the tripod into position (I still haven’t replaced this crummy tripod), put the longer lens back on the camera, put the camera on the tripod, attached a cable release, turned off image stabilization, turned off autofocus, set ISO to 1600, switched the file format to RAW, switched the operations mode to manual, turned on live view, zoomed in with viewfinder to check focus, and took the shots. They look nice and bright, much clearer than the previous ones.

I rush to the computer and downloaded the photos, only to discover that the exposure times were too long. Argh. I had nice bright blurs. Instead of star trails, I had planet and moon trails.

I went back outside, repeated the whole process, and took much shorter exposures. (I confess I was operating in Stubborn Mode.) It’s still a bit too bright and not as focused as it could be, although that might also be partly caused by tripod drift. My cheap tripod isn’t sturdy enough for a DSLR with a long lens. So I would like to try this again, with sharper focus and a slightly shorter exposure time.

My recipe:

  • Canon DSLR (mine’s a 450D but almost any DSLR will work)
  • 250 mm lens
  • Tripod (stool is also a good idea because you’re going to be hanging out for a while)
  • Cable release (focusing is so tough that you really don’t want to shake the camera by clicking the shutter)
  • f/5.6 (maybe I’ll try f/8 or f/11 next time)
  • Image stabilization off (recommended to turn it off if you’re using a tripod so that it doesn’t introduce its own shake)
  • ISO 1600
  • RAW file format
  • .5 second exposure
  • Manual focus (autofocus won’t work in the dark)
  • Live view mode (much easier to focus manually when you can see it on the LED screen)
  • Canon Digital Photo Professional (to reduce the noise and convert the RAW file to JPG)
  • Picasa (to crop the JPG)

Actually, you can still photograph Jupiter if you have a point-and-shoot with a good zoom. A friend of mine did it. While the results aren’t as good as what you would get with a DSLR, you can definitely see Jupiter and two of its moons.

Update: According to EarthSky, November 2010 is an excellent month to try this because Jupiter is relatively closer to earth this year (EarthSky article). Also, if you haven’t already done so, try downloading Stellarium, the free open-source planetarium software (Stellarium home page). You can type in your geographical coordinates and altitude and it will show you what’s visible right now (or in the past or future). You can search for stars, nebulae, constellations, and planets. (I was curious about photographing Saturn and discovered that it’s visible at 4 a.m. at this time of year from Israel. Think I’ll wait a few months.)

Blogging Break

And now on to other matters…. I’m probably going to have to take a break from blogging because I have foot surgery scheduled next week. I’ve been told that I’ll spend about 10 days at home on painkillers and another two to three weeks on crutches.  😦  Who knows — maybe I’ll be so bored during my convalescence at home that I’ll be blogging day and night. Or maybe I’ll be in so much discomfort that I’ll only have sufficient energy to knit and check Facebook.

15 Responses to “How to Photograph Jupiter”

  1. Cipher said

    Great information, thanks. I have recently starting trying to photograph the night sky (in fact I was trying to shoot Jupiter last night) and this gives me lots of ideas.

    • Avital Pinnick said

      Once I got the basics (like using the right range of the lens — DUH!) it was pretty easy to get the shot. Good luck!

  2. tinebeest said

    Oh, that is nice to know a simple lens and some patience can do this too!

    Best of luck with the foot surgery; may it solve the problem and heal up quickly!

    • Avital Pinnick said

      Absolutely! It’s actually easier to do than I had thought but sometimes it takes a little trial and error. So I figured the rest of the world might as well learn from my errors. 🙂

  3. pam said

    I never thought this would be possible without all kinds of expensive equipment and attachments to control the movement of a telescope so that it was in sinc with the movement of the earth and on and on and on. Wow! Must be because digital is so awesome!

    The very first night that is clear and I can see Jupiter, I will be outside following your recipe! Am very excited. My 18x zoom should work great!

    I will check out Saturn too – just in case!

    Thank you for sharing this great news!

    And all good wishes for a successful surgery next week and the best possible outcome.

    I have an anti boredom idea! Why not challenge yourself to take at least one really great shot from your bed or couch every single day you must be there. It will train your eye to see things you never saw before.

    I know – a crazy idea but it beats going nuts!

    • Avital said

      Thanks, Pam! I like the idea of trying to take a great shot from bed or the couch. That will make the convalescence more interesting.

      Saturn? What a great idea. Wonder whether that’s possible with my lenses….

  4. […] Thanks to Avital Pinnick, who published a great post on how to photograph Jupiter. […]

  5. Cipher said

    Hooray! Used information from your post and got a decent shot of Jupiter. And I linked to your post. 🙂

  6. aswirly said

    Hey, you haven’t gotten your manfrotto tripod yet? Sorry to hear about your blogging break. I hope the surgery goes well with no complications and you have a good recovery.

    • Avital said

      Not yet, I’m afraid. I plan to but still haven’t gotten around to it. Maybe I’ll do it on-line while I’m recovering. Anyway, thanks for the good wishes!

  7. June (Groggy!!!) said

    Hi Avital, Thanks so much for your wonderful article, and best of luck. Treat yourself to the tripod – you deserve it!

  8. Nick said

    I am trying to get a good picture of Jupiter too but unfortunately I am not able to buy the needed lenses. What should my configuration be to get the best out of my kit 18mm-55mm?

    • Avital Pinnick said

      I don’t know how to break this to you, but there is no way that you will be able to photograph a reasonable photo of Jupiter with that lens, unless you have an amazing, pro-quality DSLR body (and if you did, you wouldn’t be using that kit lens with it). Since shooting Jupiter is a one-off thing, not a future hobby, I recommend that you try borrowing or renting a good telephoto. Do you belong to a local camera club? Neighbourhood chat list? Or do you have friends who have the same brand of camera? That’s where I’d start looking. You only need it for one night, preferably a moonless night without clouds. Check the weather report and a program like Stellarium to make sure that Jupiter will be visible at a reasonable time in your part of the world. Good luck!

      • Nick said

        Well I did get some good ones but I obviously I couldn’t get any moons, I have a Canon 350D btw. I might get the lens though , unfortunately no friends or relatives who could have one for me but I might be able to get one. No I won’t be taking pictures of Jupiter for the rest of my life but I am only interested in astrophotography in general so a lens like that will be useful for all my pictures, more than my current one anyways. Thanks for taking time to reply

    • Avital Pinnick said

      If astrophotography is your niche, then get the best you can afford. You won’t regret it. You should do some research because it is a specialized field. My lenses, while adequate for amateur photos of Jupiter’s moons, wouldn’t be up to scratch for someone seriously interested in astrophotography.

      It’s a pity you don’t live closer to me — I would be happy to lend you a lens! 🙂 Get yourself a decent lens as soon as you can afford it, because the 18-55 isn’t all that great. I had one for a couple years and was very happy when mine broke because I had a good reason to get something better and I’m much happier with my photos. Even more than a decent camera body, a good lens is the element that really takes the pictures and makes the difference. My everyday lens is the Canon 18-135mm and I’m very happy with it. My main telephoto is the 55-250mm. They’re both around $300-350, so they’re not terribly expensive.

      If you find Canon too pricey, consider Tamron and Sigma. Also, check the higher end photography stores in your area because many of them sell refurbished equipment and a used lens is better than none!

      And get friendly with other Canon users — seriously! My 450D’s autofocus died a week before I had to photograph a bat mitzvah on Israel Independence Day. You try borrowing a camera body on a major holiday (the only camera rental place is on the other side of the country and requires 10 a.m. pickup). Boy, that’s a real test of friendship. 🙂 I managed to borrow a 400D from a colleague and enough CF cards to do the shoot. Also fortunate that the camera had 2 weeks left on the warranty, so no charge to have it fixed.

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