Tag Archives: checklist

The Top 5 Night Photo Mistakes

Bixby Panorama

Intern: I would like to follow in your footsteps to become an executive like you. What is the most important thing I need to learn?
Executive: That’s easy, do not make mistakes!
Intern: But how do I learn not to make mistakes??
Executive: You learn best how to NOT make mistakes by learning from the mistakes you do make. Also pay attention to the mistakes others make. You won’t have enough time to make all those mistakes yourself!

So what are the most common foibles that you hopefully won’t have to make yourself when shooting at night?

  1. Failing to turn off AutoFocus. Unfortunately at night autofocus is usually not a help as many cameras will seek focus and not finding it, refuse to take a photo. Or just as bad, will hunt for focus, and settle on something that is way out of focus for each shot. In the same league: forgetting to check focus!
  2. Forgetting to format the Memory Card. You’ve got autofocus off, and you’re really excited about that timelapse or star trail so you get your intervalometer all set and start. Whoops. That card is nearly full so instead of hours of great stuff you’ll get minutes and a full card.  It is best to format the card in camera to avoid possible problems if the card was formatted on a computer or in a different camera.
  3. Omitting a check for tripod stability. Uh oh. If you blow this one, it might mean your camera falls over and smashes against the rocks. We’ve been horrified to witness such a spectacle on more than one occasion.  Or about as bad: your camera waves in the breeze and gives continuously fuzzy results.  Step away from that tripod and look from different angles. Is the center column vertical?  If you push in different directions does the tripod move? Did you forget to fully tighten the leg locks? Center column lock? Head? Check again, just in case!  Steven snapped a lens in half because his leg lock wasn’t snug and the camera simply collapsed in the direction of the unlocked leg.
  4. Neglecting to start the intervalometer.  If you’re using an intervalometer it’s not difficult to press the start button and walk away only to discover you really didn’t press the start button OR the intervalometer was locked in OFF mode so just completely ignored what you wanted to do.
  5. Wrong settings. It’s easy to do, you spent the afternoon getting perfectly framed milky-smooth waterfalls.  Now it’s night time and you set your exposure to 30 seconds, but you left your aperture at f/16 and your ISO at 50!  Ooops. Or you just took that super high ISO test shot … and in your eagerness to catch some meteors you leave the ISO in the stratosphere.

You’ll notice we didn’t mention:

  • Failing to take the lens cap off.
  • Forgetting to charge the battery.
  • Failing to bring memory cards with you.
  • Leaving the quick release plate at home.
  • Toting your camera bag up a mountain while your camera remains in your car.
  • Leaving the polarizer on…

We’ve done all of the above. You might find our “Stackers Checklist” helpful to avoid these pitfalls and many more. Many of our students carry laminated copies with them.

What was your most embarrassing or frustrating camera faux pas?

Astro101: Checklist

From the simple to the extraordinarly complex here is a list of things to take when you venture out to do astrophotography:

Starter Kit – Camera & Tripod

  • Camera
  • Wide field, fast lens (40 degrees or more, f/1.8)
  • Sturdy Tripod
  • Intervalometer – though a simple remote push button will work, too.
  • Memory cards
  • Batteries (plenty)
  • Binoculars
  • Green Laser (optional), see Target that Fuzzy
  • Planisphere / star chart / smart app like Star Walk.
  • Red head lamp / flashlight with red cellophane over them.

That’s about it.  This approach allow visual observation, and photographs of large areas of e.g. the Milky Way.

Intermediate Kit

Starter kit plus:

  • Intervalometer
  • Equatorial Drive + Polar scope + batteries  (Polarie for example)
  • Head/mount to put the camera on the Equatorial drive.
  • Stadium cushion or garden kneeler
  • Telephoto lens (zoom or prime)
  • Bahtinov Mask (focus aid)

Serious Intermediate Kit

All of the above plus:

  • Deep cycle marine battery (or astro power kit)
  • Laptop with imaging aid program (e.g. BackyardEOS, MaximDL, …)
  • BIG battery for your camera (or converter to use astro power kit)
  • Voltage inverter to power the laptop
  • Red cellophane to cover the laptop screen
  • Small folding table
  • Folding chair
  • Power strip, extension cords
  • Power inverter (convert 12 VDC to AC)
  • Modest sized apochromatic refactor, mounting rings, extensions, eyepieces, star diagonal, dual speed focuser, dovetail plate, heads up finder.
  • Optional: GoTo solution for the mount

Sold Out Astroimager

  • Large APOchromatic refractor or Reflector
  • Massive mount with GoTo control
  • Astro CCD image camera with thermo electric cooling
  • Filters for Hydrogen Alpha, Oxygen, etc.
  • Finder scope
  • Guide scope and autoguider
  • Lots of $$$$.
  • Large car to drive it around.
  • (optional) Sherpa to lift it all.

For more information, please attend a Webinar!  See the training list here, or see all events here.

Collecting and Processing Images

I have a Canon, and an windows machine. These two things together mean that I can use BackyardEOS ($25) to aid in the focusing and capture of night sky images; and I can use Deep Sky Stacker (Free!) to process my images.  Deep Sky Stacker takes some patience to learn, but it is mostly automated.

I understand “Keith’s Image Stacker” ($15) is available for Mac people – though apparently it’s not quite as powerful or as widely used as DeepSkyStacker.

Pricier and more complete options include ImagePlus, MaximDL, and much more. For a full list of options, prices and features, please see Jerry Lodriguss’s site.

 

Stacker’s Checklist

Note: Items in RED are suggestions and may be changed based on circumstances at the scene.

Site Selection

  • Sunrise, Sunset, Moonrise, Moonset and moon phase all known.
  • Safe area, travel paths known

Equipment

  • Camera, tripod, release plate, camera batteries, memory card, lens, intervalometer + batteries, lens hood, rain protection, headlamp, flashlight/torch, and items for light painting.

On Site

  • Tripod set up – no leaning (center column should be vertical) – leg locks tightened.
  • Camera aimed, leveled.
  • Camera locked onto tripod. Head tightened.
  • Tripod weighted/secure and everything is wobble free. Keep the tripod low and out of the wind for best stability. Do not extend the center column.
  • Neck strap removed or secured to prevent wind throw. Intervalometer and any other cord, or wiring also secure. Velcro on the intervalometer and the tripod leg is a handy trick.
  • Save GPS coordinates and/or mark site with glow stick / other?

Camera Settings

  • Manual Mode, Bulb exposure
  • ISO 200  (varies but from 100 to 800)
  • Single Exposure
  • LCD brightness down
  • Image review time off
  • Record in RAW
  • White Balance = daylight (Auto not recommended)
  • Aperture f/4 (f/2.8 to f/7.1)
  • Auto focus OFF
  • Image stabilizer (vibration reduction) OFF
  • Long Exposure Noise Reduction OFF
  • Mirror Lockup OFF
  • Auto Exposure Bracketing OFF

Timer Setup & Test

  • No delay, length of exposure = 1:59 minutes (adjust based on conditions. A 2 minute total interval is a good starting point), interval = 1 second, Num exposures >= 120
  • Timer cabled to camera
  • Test sequence (lens cap on) – Verify that second shot starts before canceling.

Focus & Final Framing

  • Check image composition, field of view.
  • Set camera to Aperture priority mode (not needed if it is already dark)
  • Take several bracketed shots in daylight or twilight: if it is already dark take a high ISO “range finding” shot. E.g. 2000 ISO for 30 seconds.
  • Pixel peep and adjust focus until sharp.

Battery and Card Shuffle

  • Remove memory card and insert second card. Format new card in camera.
  • Take second set of bracketed shots.
  • Return camera to Manual/Bulb mode.
  • Turn off camera and remove battery.
  • Reinsert battery (or insert fresh battery).
  • Verify that all settings are correct (See Camera Settings, above)

Final Steps

  • Check for wobble. Start by lightly jostling the camera, tripod, center column and even walking around in the area to make sure no movement occurs.
  • Set DELAY on interval timer appropriately (at least 5 seconds).  Goal is to start and/or end in twilight.
  • Secure cables for timer, external batteries (and neck strap). Do not block battery or memory card access.
  • Switch to aperture priority mode (so that your manual settings do not change), take a single image and re-verify focus. If already dark, take a high-ISO range finding shot for this task.
  • Switch back to Manual/Bulb.
  • Verify all camera settings as described in Camera Settings
  • Start Timer and verify that the timer is running.
  • If practical wait for first two shots to complete.
  • NOTE: You can leave the lens cap on for the first few exposure to collect DARK frames.

My thanks to Mike W. for comments and improvements to this checklist.

Additional References