Entry 6: Astrophotography ProgressEntry 6: Astrophotography ProgressDiary

TheTravelingSeeTheTravelingSee3 years ago
(Disclaimer: This is not a tutorial. I am not an expert on astrophotography nor would I ever claim to be. Feel free to ask questions if you have any, but don't assume that I actually know everything that I'm talking about. I'm learning as well. I will also most likely ramble about trivial or inconsequential things in this article, so bear with me.)

Hello again. As it's been a sufficiently long time since my last entry, I am finally ready to get around to sharing my progress in the field of astrophotography. For those who haven't read my last entry on astro but feel inclined to learn more about the rough details of my progression, go ahead and do that first before continuing. Otherwise, I'll simply describe what I have learned about astrophotography since I last practiced.


As some of you may remember, I took the above photo on the 17th of August 2018 at Lake Tahoe, California. Although this was a notable progression from my last attempt at astro (depicted below), I still wasn't satisfied with the clarity of the Milky way. At the time, I was also experiencing some technical limitations as the version of Lightroom and Photoshop that I was running at the time did not support RAW or ARW files from newer cameras like the Sony A7 iii, which was what I was using during that time.


For those of you who don't know, you typically want to take astro photos in the RAW or ARW format as they are uncompressed and retain the most information that can be extracted during the editing process. The inability to edit in RAW/ARW is essentially akin to trying to create a unique paper airplane that has already been folded a couple times. Naturally then, I first went on to obtain the latest versions of both software to prepare myself for my upcoming astro endeavors.

Another important thing of note that I did not know initially when first starting out with astrophotography was the importance of the time and location in which one chooses to take the photos. Obviously a location with low light pollution at night should produce the best results for astro, however, I hadn't considered that the Milky Way galaxy was only visible to the Northern Hemisphere during certain portions of the year. This is a useful tip of information that can help a novice astrophotographer with their time and effort should they understand the space cycles of their respective hemispheres. For California on the Northern Hemisphere, the optimal times to take astrophotography would be during late April until early October. Any time passed these months will only yield general starlight, which isn't bad if you wanted practice on astro focusing or if that was your preference of photography. But otherwise, the date was essential.

As previously stated, the outcome of my last astro photo did not yield an optimal view of the Milky Way. A look at the raw photos for the image didn't leave me with much to work with in terms of the editing process. All astro photos are heavily edited, but having the rudimentary base by which to edit will add to the authenticity that wouldn't otherwise exist in a photo that didn't actually have the Milky Way in it.



This time around, I had specifically planned my trip to Inyo National Park in California to prepare for the perfect viewing of the Milky Way. The below images were taken at Lake Sabrina on the 27th of June 2019 at 12:30 AM on a Sony A7 iii with a 16-35mm f/4 at ISO 4000. I was greatly pleased by the outcome of these images but I think the results speak for themselves.



Finally, I was able to capture the stars as I had hoped, just beyond the mountain range that surrounded the area. One thing of note that I also did not consider when first attempting astrophotography was the fact that you really have no clue what you're taking a picture of until you've had a few test shots first. This is because the camera will not be able to display the stars or your surroundings on the LCD screen or viewfinder until it has been sufficiently exposed to light for a prolonged period of time (typically 30 seconds). This also means that setting up a shot with a scale figure becomes infinitely more difficult as you cannot reliably frame the photo in just one or two shots. It'll be a system of trial and error before you finally frame your image correctly. And of course, each image takes 30 seconds of exposure and another 30 seconds to process in the camera. Needless to say, this can become tedious. At least in my experience. If someone has a less arduous method of doing this, please let me know.

(P.S. I am aware that other astro figure photographers take the photo of the figure separately from the background itself in order to later edit them into the photo so that they won't have to spend as much time taking photos of the subject. I couldn't be bothered to do it in this way and simply take both photos on site)

In order to edit an astro photo that has a subject in the foreground, you'll almost always have to create a composite between two images. One image will have the focus on the subject in the foreground and the other will have the focus on the background. Something that I've learned since taking these astro photos was that, no matter how good the low-light capabilities your camera has, it will likely be necessary to illuminate your subject in the foreground slightly in order for them to appear in the image at all. An example of what I mean is shown below.


As can be seen from the original photo, if a source of light doesn't illuminate the subject in the foreground during the 30 second exposure, it will be more difficult to pull out the fine details from the image used in the composite. This being said, these were the raw photos that I managed to take while I was out there.





In order to slightly illuminate the figure in the first photo, I used a headlamp that I covered with my hand in order to allow minimal light to actually hit the figure itself. After a 30 second exposure time, that little bit of light will translate into a rather well illuminated subject.

In the second pair of photos, I did not do this very effectively and, as a result, was left with another rather dimly lit subject. This later became an area of concern during the editing process when the figure lacked much of the detail that I would have liked to retain.

After some quick light modifications in Lightroom, this was the result.



From here, the composite in Photoshop was made by applying a vector mask onto the layer with the illuminated subject. With this, I could then edit and remove portions of the image without actually damaging the layer itself.



As you can probably tell, the subject in the second photo was so deteriorated by the lack of detail that I was forced to edit in the subject from the first image into the second. Regardless, after having made the actual composite, the entire editing process boils down to matching the lighting of both images and making sure that both the background and foreground are distinct from the other.

To do this I applied layers that brightened the Milky Way, all while trying to maintain a focus on the figure itself and how it interacted with the light around it. Although these images are not perfect, I must say that I am proud to have produced them or, at the very least, been able to advance my skills to this level.



For those of you curious as to how I edited these photos in a bit more depth, here is a link to the behind the scenes video that I created to accompany these photos. I apologize if the video glosses over some details or proceeds too quickly. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comment section below and or send me a message.

I haven't been taking photos of this kind for very long at all, but this is just a testament that if you have the passion for it, you can do it as well. Thank you for reading if you've made it this far and stay tuned for more coming soon!

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Amazing work , keep it up
3 years ago
Bringing the hobby to your door.

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