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Fun Taking Pictures in The Dark

From: Stephen D.
Sent on: Friday, May 30, 2014 8:18 AM

Congratulations Rich for this morning's pano shot of Letchworth in the D&C.  Also look at the great turnout we're expecting for tonight's star shoot at Hemlock Lake!  I won't be there, but for those who are new to the group, be sure to ask Rich or Carl or anyone else standing nearby who looks like they know what they're doing if you have any questions or difficulties at all.  If photographing the sky after dark is new to you, it might help to remember that you'll be facing multiple challenges - all of which will be conspiring against coming home with good results.

For starters, if you go tonight without a tripod, you're just kidding yourself.  Low light success demands that all three of our cameras' light management tools (shutter, aperture and ISO) will be strained to the limit to let in more light -- shutter most of all.  Any shutter speed slower than 1/60th of a second will be motion-blurred without a tripod, and believe me:  The 1/60th light will have been finished an hour before you even got in your car to make the drive down.

Your camera might also try to open the aperture to get some of that light that it's starved for.  Open apertures of course tend to compress DOF's, or that part of our pictures that's in focus, measured from front to back.  That means that depending on what lens you're using, both the foreground and the background of your image will be blurred from that.  Longer lenses exacerbate the problem, and shorter lenses tend to be less affected.

Probably the most noticeable issue you'll encounter though, is high-ISO noise.  Increasing ISO (aka "film speed" in the old days) makes the sensor more sensitive to light, which is a backward way of saying that it "adds" more light to the scene.   That's  exactly what you'll need in the pitch-dark environment needed for star photos, and noise in pictures like tonight's is inevitable, to one extent or another.  Noise is such a perennial problem with this kind of shooting that camera manufacturers have begun to include a "noise-reduction" function for very slow shutter speeds (like those you'll be using tonight).  Noise in cameras is the same as static is in radios.  That is, when it's there, It's there whether there's any "music playing" or not.  The way this setting works in our cameras is that when you take a picture, your camera takes two pictures:  One of the scene; then another one afterward of the black inside of your camera to record the camera-generated noise only.  Then it automatically subtracts that noise from the image proper.  It doesn't get it all, but it does improve the image.  Clever, eh?

If the clouds cooperate tonight, come ready to be frustrated in the dark, to learn some new skills, and mostly to have fun with your RPEG camera friends!


PS.  A tiny flashlight around your neck  :  )




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