This and That

Random bits of my life

Posts Tagged ‘astro photography’

Dance of the Planets

Posted by Avital Pinnick on May 26, 2013

Dance of the planets

Tonight, Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury formed a tight triangle over the horizon. If you have a clear view of the western horizon, you will be able to see this phenomenon until May 29. The last time this occurred was May 9, 2011. If you miss it this year, the next time will be Oct. 17, 2015, but you still have a couple nights!

It was surprisingly cold and windy on my balcony. I bundled up with a hat that covered my ears and kept my hair out of the way and a windbreaker. My camera was set up my sturdy tripod on the balcony, and I kept one hand on it at all times. The photo has not been cropped or altered.

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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.

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