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Entry 5: Photographing the StarsEntry 5: Photographing the StarsDiary

TheTravelingSeeTheTravelingSee2 years ago
(Disclaimer: This is not a tutorial. I myself am completely new to the field of astrophotography and am taking my time in learning its nuances to the best of my ability so please don't take a lot of what I'm writing here to be a "good" representation of how to take these types of photos. This entry is mostly to depict my progress and improvement in astrophotography over the last few months. I hope that you may find some interesting insight on someone else's approach to astro. Enjoy!)

It's been a while since my last entry, so I think it'd be a good time to start splurging on some new ones.

Ever since joining the MFC community, many photographers have come to my attention as being particularly excellent in their abilities as figure photographers. One individual of note, is the great Eyeland, who continues to deliver incredible works of art as seen below.

https://c1.staticflickr.com/9/8671/16228206721_3859013735_b.jpg

Naturally, seeing such a unique style of figure photography, I wished to explore astro for myself. A task that proved much more difficult than I had initially anticipated.

To date, I have attempted astro on three separate occasions. Improving slightly upon the last trial every subsequent time. My research into astro techniques were rather haphazard in the beginning, and I simply ended up running to the beach at sunset to see if I could make any progress from simple trial and error.

I quickly came to realize that the difficulties of astrophotography came less with one's skills as a photographer, but more with the timing and location of your shooting. Evidently, a beach in southern California, even at night, had far too much light pollution from the neighboring city to act as a good location for astrophotography. This, coupled with the fact that I had no idea what I was doing, led to some rather undesirable results.

(Taken on the 26th of March, 2018)
https://preview.ibb.co/kykfCz/DSC01737.jpg

https://preview.ibb.co/hzVDXz/DSC01761.jpg

The first photo was taken on the Sony A7 ii with a 55mm f/1.8 lens at f/10 and an ISO of 6400. The exposure time was at 1/6 of a second. The second photo was taken with a manual 35mm Minolta lens wide open. The exposure time was at 25 seconds. Every photo that I took that day was also taken in JPEG (I know).

If you know anything about astrophotography, you'd be able to tell that those are some absolutely horrendous settings. Something I also learned on this particular outing was the importance of equipment. If I wanted a good astro photo, I'd need to upgrade from my current setup of the standard Zeiss 55mm, to an actual wide angle lens that would be able to capture more of the scene.

Suffice to say, while reviewing the photos at home, I was unsurprisingly dissatisfied. But it made me all the more determined to improve. On the next outing, I put a lot more effort into the planning of my next astro shoot. I decided to head to the top of Big Bear mountain in southern California and photograph some images at the peak (just three days after my first shoot). I had waited for the weather reports to indicate clear skies, as to not corrupt the photo with obstructive clouds, and I brought along a much sturdier tripod to mount the setup on this time around.

Once up the mountain, I came to realize that the lights of California plagued even the very peak of Big Bear mountain, but it was a definite improvement over the last time. I set up my equipment and waited for nightfall anxiously, this time doing much more research. I ended up with the image below.

(Taken on the 29th of March 2018)
https://preview.ibb.co/hOVYze/DSC05442.jpg

This was taken on my Sony A5100 (I was not able to bring the A7 ii at this current point in time) with a manual 16mm f/2.8 lens with a 30 second exposure at ISO 100. The APS-C sensor of the 5100 cropped the 16mm to become 24mm however. This time around, I took the photos in RAW for superior editing capabilities (for those of you who don't know, shooting in JPEG means that the camera itself will compress the image file and make its own adjustments such as some minor color correction, sharpening, etc. Shooting in RAW provides you with the data of the original image file, allowing for greater opportunities for editing).

Some may recognize this photo if you follow me on Instagram. It was made to be the last image in my "The Story of Miku" series of photos. But regardless of that, a few pressing issues still showed through with the photo.

Although the location was an improvement over the last, I could not find a reasonable location in which I could completely avoid the lights of the small town that was situated at the summit of Big Bear mountain. Also, at this current point and time, I was not using any sort of device or tracking system that helped me locate the position of the Milky Way as it appeared in the sky. This, along with the light pollution is why you cannot see the classic "galaxy" look in the photo.

Also, although my settings had improved a bit, the limitations of my equipment still shown through. Now, I understand that if I were a competent photographer, that equipment shouldn't matter as much. But even so, I found it difficult to focus on Miku and the sky at the same time with a lens that was not made for a Sony body (I was using an adapter) on top of the fact that the 5100 has some pretty mediocre low-light capabilities. I would later find out that the correct way to photograph a figure in astro is to make a composite of two images. One with the focus on the sky, and one with the focus on the figure.

Despite all of this, I had gone through a fair bit of trouble to get the photo and decided to just edit it. Then came another realization. I had no idea how to edit astro photos yet. I tried my best with what limited content I had and eventually ended up cheating to try to include the "galaxy" look.

https://preview.ibb.co/m6pU5K/Miku_Final_WSig3.jpg

Even at the time, I understood that this was not a very good photo, but I also "needed it" to complete the Miku story series, so I decided to post it anyway. It would be another five months until I attempted astro again. But this was not without even greater preparations.

A group of friends and I decided to go off on a trip to Lake Tahoe, CA. We started planning shortly after my previous astro attempt so I thought that this would be the next best opportunity to photograph something decent. Lake Tahoe is a famous location for astrophotography, and I knew that I would only have one opportunity in order to get this right (It's an 8 hour drive from where I live).

So I got to work. Literally. I took up a part time job so that I would be able to completely upgrade my equipment to be ready for Tahoe. My determination was so great that my motto for the months leading up to the trip became, "Everything is for Tahoe." After a few months of working and limiting my purchasing of other items (nendos included *sob*) I finally managed to gather enough money to buy myself the new Sony A7 iii and the Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 lens (among other things). I felt ready.

Armed with my previous experience and the A7 iii's superior low-light capabilities, I managed to capture the following photos while on the lake. And I was most pleased with the results.

(Taken on the 17th of August, 2018)
https://preview.ibb.co/ekHAUe/DSC01153.jpg

https://preview.ibb.co/jJrthz/DSC01160.jpg

https://preview.ibb.co/cj9eNz/DSC01167.jpg

The above photos were taken on the Sony A7 iii with the Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 at ISO 1000 for 30 seconds. They were shot in both RAW and JPEG. (By the way, that REALLY bright star... is the moon)

Finally. I had been able to capture the stars. But despite my fun on the beach, I still had a more pressing matter to attend to... figure photography.

I had actually taken a whole case of nendoroids up to Tahoe with the intention of taking a crap ton of nendo photos (astro included). But once I got to the location, I thought it'd be appropriate to try my hand at scale photography for the first time. So decided to use my kimono Miku scale figure that I had brought along instead.

As you can see from the third photo above however, I still didn't know exactly how to focus on both the sky and the figure at once. Let alone actually illuminating the figure once we were out there. But at this point in time, I was very proficient in the skill of image compositing (taking multiple images of varying focus and merging them into one). So we improvised with the lighting.

https://preview.ibb.co/fyp2aK/DSC01171.jpg

We used the flashlight from our phones and diffused it through one of our shirts to just barely illuminate Miku. It created this effect, where the figure was completely bathed in orange light. Next, I focused on the brightest star to bring the sky into focus.

https://preview.ibb.co/evP79e/DSC01172.jpg

After the photoshoot, I was extremely excited to sit down and start editing. The magic of an astro photo doesn't come out until it's been edited after all and, unsurprisingly, the process was just as difficult as I remembered.

As I soon learned, getting the beautiful coloration of the galaxy at night is not always "natural" and oftentimes comes along with the editing process. And to be honest, I still didn't really know what I was doing.

I first started with the composite and merged the two images together.
https://preview.ibb.co/fD1haK/First_Scale1.jpg

Then came the color correction. In the photo, the orange/yellow light on Miku had to become much darker and more bluish. I matched it with the sky as best as I could.
https://preview.ibb.co/hu5VUe/afafasfasd.jpg

And lastly came the enhancements. Basically just adding a "glow" to the stars and galaxy while also brightening up Miku and darkening the grass.
https://static.myfigurecollection.net/upload/pictures/2018/08/25/2045419.jpeg

All together, the edit took around four hours of trial and error. Even now there are things that I could improve upon. But I think that the image turned out alright. You can take a look at the sheer number of layers that I used here. I kind of threw organization to the wind somewhere along the way.
https://thumb.ibb.co/mmQKNz/Screenshot_1.jpg

All in all, I am satisfied with my progress, but I'm not good enough just yet. There is still so much to learn and improve upon. I even reached out to the legendary Exkurogane for his advice (I'm friends with him on his Facebook :3) and he provided insight on his own astro ventures.

This image ended up winning POTD for the day that it was posted. A proud achievement for sure, but I've a long way to go. Eyeland himself actually made a comment on the photo, giving his own constructive criticism (the ISO that I used was far too low), and stating that he actually never took an astro photo while the figure was on set. He would add them in post while taking their picture in a separate location. Interesting to say the very least.

Hopefully I can continue to grow as a figure photographer in the coming months. I've been losing some of my motivation recently, but writing articles like these is always invigorating. Hopefully you enjoyed the beginning of my journey into astro and will continue to follow me in the months to come.

Cheers!
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Comments4

Crazy, we were actually in Tahoe (north side for me) at the same time! I love the lake, going down on the rocky beach and watching the stars at night was a sight to remember. Your Tahoe picture looks really good, can't wait to see more of your progress!
2 years ago
Thanks for showing your progress. It's fascinating to see a person's progress until they get the result they want. Good job!
2 years ago
Thanks for sharing!!! Trying new photography ventures is a bit exciting, fun at times, stressing at times...and even can be quite frustrating...LOL! But for me when I finally get something I'm happy with it seems worth it in the end. I think your pic turned out beautifully and the fact that you didn't have to edit in the figure after (which is what I do ... a LOT of times in my pics) is something to be proud of, as that can take extra photo skills there making the initial job even more difficult, so hats off to you. :D

I am CERTAINLY no pro, but I think your pics are beautiful! :D Great work and great article!
2 years ago
Oooo very interesting! Thanks for sharing your lovely process and pictures!
2 years ago
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