Stars, Aurora, Lightning and That Plane- My Favorite Images From 2013

Stars, Aurora, Lightning and That Plane-
My favorite images from 2013 (In order of the date they were taken)


Room With A View

Room With A ViewHarvest Sky

Harvest SkyFly Me To The Moons

Fly Me To The MoonsLookout

LookoutCrater Lake Boat Shed

Crater Lake Boat ShedTranquility


CascadeThunder Valley

Thunder ValleyField Of Dreams

Field Of DreamsDiving In

Diving In


Finding The Center

Finding The Center“Finding The Center”

In my opinion one of the most important keys to being a successful night sky photographer is learning the night sky.  Technique and equipment help, but if you don’t know at least a bit about what you are photographing, and where and what time of year/night to find certain features, then you will be shooting in the dark in more ways than one.

Most people associate the Milky Way with the section of sky in the above image, but the fact is that every single thing (with three exceptions- The Andromeda Galaxy and The Large and Small Magellanic Clouds) that we can see with our own eyes in the night sky without the aid of binoculars or telescopes is part of The Milky Way.  It is our home galaxy and it surrounds us all.  Some areas of it are more photogenic than others though, and the section above is certainly a crowd favorite.  So how do you find it?  The central bulge of the Milky Way is centered around the constellations of Sagittarius and Scorpius.  Scorpius is probably one of the easiest constellations to identify because it really does look like a scorpion (if you use just a little bit of imagination).  Most constellations you have to use a LOT of imagination.  Sagittarius as a whole is one of these, but it does contain a familiar asterism called the “Tea Pot” (upper right- pretty much upside down).  So if you can find these two in your night sky then you are looking at the center of our galaxy.

Smart phone apps are good for showing you what you are currently looking at but it is no good turning up to a spectacular location only to discover that the section of sky you wish to image is in completely the wrong direction to the scene you wish to capture, or it is the wrong time of year for it to even be in the sky.  So by learning the night sky you can plan your night sky shots in advance.  I use a planetarium program called Stellarium and it is great for learning when and where certain areas of the night sky will be.

Image details:
Canon 5D MkII
Star Tracking with an NEQ6 Pro Telescope Mount
50mm F/1.8 lens at F/5.6
ISO 800
4 image panorama
6 minute exposures


Fly Me To The Moons

On the 18th of February 2013 the planet Jupiter and our Moon had a meeting in the night sky.  For most of the world it was visible in what is know as a conjunction, where Jupiter and The Moon are close together.  However there was a relatively narrow strip of the Earth where Jupiter would actually pass behind The Moon in what is called an occultation.
The place where I live in southern Australia was just outside of this occultation path by about 50km.  If I stayed home I would see Jupiter and The Moon very close together indeed, but at no time would Jupiter disappear.  I wanted to photograph and observe a proper occultation so it meant packing all my telescope and photography gear into my car and heading further south.
After checking the weather and cloud forecasts and figuring in travel and setup times I decided on a general location, actually not too far from where I grew up in central Victoria.  After driving about 200km I arrived at my chosen location at about 10:30pm and I had my telescope aligned and up and running by 11pm. Jupiter was due to start its pass behind the moon at about 11:40pm.
The equipment I was using for this shoot was a 10inch (250mm) F/4 Newtonian Telescope mounted on an NEQ6 Pro Telescope Mount.  The telescope has a native focal length of 1000mm.  The camera I decided to use was a Canon 60D which is directly hooked into the focuser of the telescope by way of some adapters.  As this camera is not a full frame camera it has a crop factor of x1.6.  So I was effectively taking images of The Moon and Jupiter at a focal length of 1600mm (1000 times 1.6).  The mount is a tracking mount so once it is setup properly it can follow objects in the night sky and keep them centered in the field of view by countering the effects of the rotation of the Earth.

I had the camera imaging The Moon and Jupiter at about 10 second intervals when I noticed the lights from a plane close to the moon. I realised that there was a chance that it would pass in front of the moon, so I quickly canceled the remote timer I was using to take the shots and instead started shooting high speed continuous frames. I lost the plane in the glare from The Moon as it got closer so I wasn’t entirely sure if I had got it or not.  After a minute (long enough for the plane to have passed by) I stopped shooting frames and went back through the images on the camera.  It was a good thing that I was on a deserted country road because my scream of excitement would have echoed for miles.  I had managed to get the plane crossing the moon in five individual frames just as Jupiter was about to be occulted by The Moon, as well as a further 7 or so frames with the dissipating jet trail.  I knew right then that I had captured something unique.

“Fly Me To The Moons”

The image above is a two image composite. Click to enlarge.  The Moon, Jupiter and the plane are all one single image. I then took an overexposed image to bring up the Galilean Moons of (from left to right) Io, Callisto and Europa. Ganymede had already been occulted by The Moon.

I thought it would be fun to make all the plane transit images into an animated GIF.  I have to give a big thanks to Russell Preston Brown at Adobe for his help with this.  Russell made a tutorial, featuring all of my plane transit images, in which he explains how the above animation was created here:

A behind the scenes look at my telescope imaging the Jupiter and Moon occultation.  Note how low in the sky The Moon was at the time which made the seeing conditions less than ideal so I couldn’t get as much detail in the Moon and particularly Jupiter as I would have liked.

Nancy Atkinson from Universe Today wrote a lovely article labeling it “Luckiest Photo Ever”.  Not quite sure about that but I am certainly not complaining.  You can read that article here:

Update (25th of February,2013)             APOD!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Featured as the Astronomy Picture Of the Day

Yes, I was very lucky to get this shot.  I don’t know if I will ever top it, but I will continue to go out into the night and point my cameras at the sky.  You just never know…….



My Favorite Images From 2012

I thought I would put together what I consider to be my top ten images from 2012.  Some of them are far from my most popular, but all of them hold great memories for me.  In order of the date that they where taken.

“Southern Skies”
This was the first time I tried stitching together a landscape astrophotography panorama.  Stitching is far from perfect but it sparked a love affair of nightsky panos.

“Rising Tide”
I researched and checked out this location months in advance.  As soon as time and the weather allowed I  headed back.  By already being familiar with the location it was a lot easier to compose this shot.

“The Transit Of Venus”
Last chance in a lifetime event.  By far the longest time I have ever spent on an image.  Months of planning and experimentation to find the right technique.  Two hours of setting up and packing away the gear on the day.  Over 6 hours of imaging and about 10 hours of image editing to bring it all together into this single image.

“The Hanging Gardens”
9 image vertical panorama.  The night I discovered the “magic moon” phase.  Bright enough to light up the landscape, but not so bright to wash out the Milky Way.

“The Golden Mountain”
Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.  Sometimes you just get lucky.  Managed to get a break in the snow clouds which allowed the sun to bathe the mountain in soft golden hour light.  The only sunlight I saw all day.

“The Sentinel”
10 image panorama.  Driving home from work a different way that I usually go I noticed this rock formation.  A few hours later I had this shot.

“Beam Me Up”
Single 30 second exposure + twirling a head lamp around myself = fun under the stars.  Really happy with how the light painting turned out in this.

“Earth, Air, Fire and Water”
My first time capturing an Aurora Australis display on camera after several failed trips.

“Aurora Australis”
Taken the very next night after the previous image.  With the aurora display still going but not as strong as the previous night I wanted to try and find a nicer composition.

“Pioneering Spirit”
Wallaces Hut, Alpine National Park.  After a month or so of not doing much photography due to work commitments and poor weather I was desperate to get away from the house as soon as work finished for the year.

Frequently Asked Questions

I have got to a point with my photography that I am literally being inundated with questions about how I do some of my photos.  I simply do not have time to answer them all in full individually anymore.  It is seriously restricting the free time that I have to pursue this hobby and take those pictures that seem to have become so popular.  So for my well being and hopefully to the benefit of those who ask me so many questions, I am doing this write up.

Saying to someone: “I love your photographs.  You must have a great camera”  Is like saying to a chef: “That food was delicious.  You must have a great oven.”

:bulletblue:  Not really a question to start with, but it might help some to see a list of the equipment that I can/have/will use to do my astrophotography.
– Canon 6D
– Canon 5D Mk II
– 14mm, 24mm, 17-40mm, 20mm, 50mm, 75-300mm, 90mm  Camera Lenses
– 10″ F/4 Newtonian Telescope
– 80mm ShortTube Guidescope
– Synguider Autoguider
– NEQ6 Pro Goto Telescope Mount
– Vixen Poloarie
– Coronado PST (Personal Solar Telescope)
– Modified webcam for astrophotography
– Variety of telescope eyepeices, adapters and accessories
– Home made barndoor tracker.
– Three camera tripods.

Like I said- a LOT of money

:bulletblue:  How can I take photos of the moon with just a camera?

Get yourself a tripod.  Learn to use your camera in fully manual mode.  Use live view if you have it to manually focus on the moon.  Use the longest focal length you have.  Use settings of ISO 400, F/5.6 and 1/125th of a sec (crescent) 1/500th sec (quarter) 1/1000th sec (gibbous) or 1/2000th sec (full moon) as a starting point.  Take a test shot and adjust the shutter speed to get the right exposure.  Delay the shutter or use a remote to eliminate vibration.

:bulletblue:  How do you do your startrail images?

The best online tutorial I have seen will tell you everything you need to know and more
You can also use this  or this program to stack your images.

:bulletblue: How do you photograph the sun without frying your camera and eyes?

I own one a proper solar telescope (Coronado Personal Solar Telescope) which is a perfectly safe way to view the sun and with the aid of a couple of adapters also allows me to photograph it.

:bulletblue: I want to buy a telescope and take photos of deep space objects like you do.  What do I need?

This is a big question and one of the ones I get the most.  You need to ask yourself what do you want to image the most (planets, other galaxies, nebulae, etc.).  Each answer has it’s own list of equipment that is better than others.  It’s not that you can not image everything with the one setup but some are more suitable than others.
It’s not all about the telescope.  The mount is the most important aspect of astrophotography.  Bad mount + great telescope = bad photos.  Great mount + any telescope (or even just a camera and lens)= great photos.  This is my deep space astrophotography setup…..

The mount cost nearly three times as much as the telescope.  Expect to pay about $1,500 Australian Dollars to get the minimum good mount for deep sky imaging.
I can highly recommend purchasing this
I can highly recommend joining a local astronomy club to try before you buy and learn from people already doing it.
I can highly recommend joining online astronomy forums like “Cloudy Nights” or “Ice In Space” and asking lots of questions.
I can highly recommend subscribing to astronomy magazines

:bulletblue: How do you do your landscape astrophotography or what settings did you use?

It does not matter what settings I use unless you have exactly the same equipment I have and are standing next to me in the same conditions.   If you dialed in the same settings that I have used I can almost guarantee that 99 times out of 100 that you will get an image that looks nothing like mine or you wouldn’t even be able to use the settings because your equipment does not allow it.
To work out what you can do with your equipment check out my other blog post here……

Once you fully understand the 600 Rule all your other camera settings will flow off that for fixed tripod astrophotography.  If you don’t like what the 600 Rule says for your equipment- buy better equipment.  That’s what I did.
I can highly recommend you buy this eBook
And/or this eBook as well
Get outside at night and practice, practice, practice.  Learn the night sky.  Not all the night sky is as photogenic as some areas.  Get as far away from light pollution as you can.

:bulletblue: I have purchased all the equipment you have, and I have read all the resources you have, and I have my images but they still don’t look anything like yours.  What do I still need to do?
Image processing is vital to astrophotography.  It is not a hobby to take up if you have an aversion to using image editing programs.  For deep sky images you can easily spend as much time processing the images and digging all the faint detail out of the data, as you did outside taking the shots.  Watch this YouTube vid to see a very good tutorial on basic deep space astrophotography image processing .  A lot of the techniques used can also be applied to landscape astrophotography.

I am constantly learning and refining how I process my images and I will only stop learning the day I die.  One thing I have seen come up a lot lately is the word Photoshop.  As in comments like “Fake.  I believe that this image has been photoshopped”
Photoshop seems to have become a bit of a dirty word in terms of photography for some people.  It has become a term for compositing or faking images.

Do I use Photoshop to paste a stolen or computer generated star filled sky image over my own landscape shot?  NO, I do not.

Do I use Photoshop (or Lightroom, or Camera Raw, or Digital Photo Professional, or PTGui Pro, or one of the multitude of other image editing programs available) to edit my images.  Of course I do.  And unless you are using a film camera, you do too.  Even if you are just taking a jpeg digital image straight from the camera to your computer, the data has most likely already been edited by your camera and does not represent exactly what you saw with your own eyes.
If I use an image editing program to crop, straighten, White Balance correct, saturate/desaturate, sharpen, apply/remove vignette, adjust exposure or contrast, etc. is that “Photoshop”?  In my opinion, no.  They are standard actions which have been applied by photographers ever since the first picture was developed in a darkroom.  Image editing programs like Photoshop are, for me, just a digital darkroom in which I develop my images.
Everything you see in my images is captured by me and my camera and more often than not, in a single exposure.  The only exceptions to this are generally my startrail images  (where I stack multiple images to show the stars motion across the sky), my solar images (where I do one exposure for the surface of the sun and one exposure for the fainter prominences around the solar limb), my panorama images (where I stitch multiple single images together to capture a larger field of view), and my deep sky images (where I do a number of exposures to improve the signal to noise ratio).  When ever I do do multiple images I always declare so in the image description.  If I have not mentioned multiple exposures then the shot was all done in a single image.

Steven Christenson has a great online article in which he talks about his thoughts on image processing and composite images and it echoes my thoughts exactly.  Check it out here…

Well I hope this has helped set you on your way to doing astrophotography like I do.  From now on if anyone asks me how I did a shot I will simply be directing them to this blog  (if I have not already described how I did it in the description).  I will NOT be expanding on anything I have talked about here unless I feel the need.  You now have the resources I used to get going in this.  What you do with them and how far you want to go with it is up to you.



Aurora Chasing

I am not lucky enough to live in a location in the world where aurora occur regularly, but occasionally if the solar storm is big enough they can reach my area.  I thought I would share some of the links that I use to determine whether or not I go aurora chasing.

The first thing I look at if I hear of an incoming solar storm are weather/cloud forecasts and what the current moon phase is.  A bright moon will wash out all but the brightest aurora.

A good site to hear about incoming solar activity (and other space news) is:

For Australians there is a great Facebook group which focuses on Aurora Australis.  You can be assured that if it going to happen or it is happening you will hear all about there:

Two sites I use a lot for cloud predictions are:

If the moon phase is good and I have looked to see if I will even be able to find clear skies, I then start looking a bit deeper into the strength of the aurora activity to see if it is a chance of making it as high as my latitude (-35 degrees).  Some of the sites I look at are: Southern Hemisphere aurora oval prediction.  Bigger and more red the better. The more negative the Bz reading is the better. Ideally a Kp Index of 5 or greater. Solar wind prediction site.  Find out if any Coronal Mass Ejections from the sun are due to arrive.  Predictions are plus or minus about ten hours and are never guaranteed.

There are also various aurora alert services that you can sign up to but I wont list them here.  It can depend on what mobile device you have as to what service is available to you.

What happens if it all comes together………..

Aurora In The Alps

Pinks and reds is what I can mainly expect from my location.  It would take an exceptionally large solar event for me to get those wonderful greens dancing overhead.

Happy aurora chasing.