Jewels of the Night Sky

Being a lazy person I have never been that much fond of Astro-scapes or Night Photography. Astro photography needs skill, knowledge of Planetary movements, Astronomical events and lots and lots of patience and hard work. To be very frank I am really lazy to gather those skills and knowledge and neither do I have much patience. Although whenever I find it convenient for me I try one or two compositions involving Night Skies. After the wave of photographs across the globe of the comet NEOWISE, now I am witnessing a wave of photographs of Planet Jupiter and Saturn with significant amount of details using DSLR and Tele lenses. After seeing those beautiful images almost every day in my social media account’s timelines, two days back, I also decided to give it a try as luckily I have some good equipment with me.  But I was not sure from where I needed to start.

As a first step I downloaded the App Sky Map and tried to figure out where were those Jewels of the night sky. And I laughed at myself when I came to know that the brightest star that I have been seeing these days from my balcony is the Jupiter. Before even starting to shoot I figured out my composition in my mind. I decided to use Moon as symbol of scale for both the planets Saturn and Jupiter. I knew that I will have to use a very long focal length as well as crop the images further so that I can see the planets and their possible details (if I would be lucky enough).

Image 1: I am sharing my steps of making this image so that if someone wishes to try, can have some basic insight, how it can be done. I am mentioning the steps as per my composition idea. First step was to select the background. In which background I will use to make this image. So I decided to use Jupiter and its four visible satellites. All five of them were in single line. Along with them I wanted to have some background stars so I decided to keep an exposure of 1 second with F-5.6, ISo-800 with my Nikon D850 and 500 MM F-5.6E PF ED VR lens. In the images given under you can see the Jupiter and its moons in the same line. I decided to fix this exposure as an acceptable one after a trial and error process. Longer shutter speed would have given me trails in my stars and shorter shutter speed would have exposed the night sky less than my liking. So I shot this image with the already mentioned exif data at 500 mm focal length. This was the last image I shot actually. Let’s number this image as Image 1 for further reference.

Image 1: Background image: Exposure 1 second with F-5.6, ISo-800 with Nikon D850 and 500 MM F-5.6E PF ED VR lens at 500 MM focal length.

Image 2: 2ndly I had a go at Saturn. It was difficult to focus the star as I decided to use a 1.7X Tele converter with my 500 MM lens and set my Nikon D850 at 20% in camera Crop mode to get a total focal length of 1020 MM. Even after using a solid Manfrotto tripod, at 1020 MM of focal length (500 MM x 1.7X x) x 20% it’s never easy to set focus on a dot in the night sky. Setting focus at infinity never works for me, means I never rely on it. So I used the live view mode of the camera, used its zoom button and set the focus on the Saturn manually, I locked the focus and then used timer mode of the camera to shoot the planet. It took me only three attempts to get an acceptable result. Exif data of Saturn shot is 1/60, F-9.5 (5.6 x 1.7X), ISO-1250 at 1020 MM focal length. Why 1/60 and not less than that? So that I don’t over expose the planet and lose any possible details.

Image 2: Saturn, exposure 1/60, F-9.5 (5.6 x 1.7X), ISO-1250 at 1020

Image 3: As third step I shot the Jupiter the same way I shot the Saturn. Setting focus of Jupiter was lot easier as it is a bigger and brighter planet than Saturn. But the exposure had to be different because of the brightness of the planet. It has more light source on itself than Saturn. So my exposure was 1/400, F-9.5, ISo-640 at 1020 MM. In only two attempts I got the details. While shooting both these two planets I was not seeing the rise of the Moon in the sky. May be it was rose somewhere above the horizon but it was not there in the sky I was witnessing. So I decided to wait till I saw the Moon.

Image 3: Jupiter, exposure 1/400, F-9.5, ISo-640 at 1020 MM

Image 4: After around 1 and half hour I went out and saw the beautiful Moon in my sky. This one was my fourth step. Shooting the moon became more difficult for me than the planets as I decided to go hand held. At 850 MM focal length, my shutter speed should have been minimum 1/800 to 1/1000 to be able to effectively use it hand held. Again the subject was relatively larger, hence I did not shoot this image at 20% in camera crop mode. The exif of my Moon shot is 1/400, F-13, ISo-800 at 850 MM. Why F-13, so that I could get maximum details of the moon. As per my composition plan, the moon is supposed to appear largest in my presentable frame. At 850 mm, 1/400 shutter speed never can give good result if you are using it hand-held. I was feeling too lazy to set the camera back on the tripod again. So I decided to go for my short cut formula of using the continuous shutter mode of the camera and shot a good number of moon shot continuously. This technique often works for me, especially when I had to shoot birds in relatively low light. Later I took the one which I found sharpest among all (I am still thinking while writing this article, whether I should get a proper image of the moon using my tripod).

Image 4: The Moon, Exposure 1/400, F-13, ISo-800 at 850 MM

Image 5: So my Fifth Step came into equation while processing the image. I put the Jupiter Saturn and Moon took, in image 3 and image 2 and image 4 respectively, in image 1. Jupiter was my first inclusion as in Image 1 I already had a reference of the placement of the Jupiter along with its four satellites.  So replacing it, was easy for me. Then I put Saturn and moon as per my composition plan. I put them all together keeping in mind about their actual positioning as showed me by my Sky Map App, but I DON’T CLAIM ANY ACCURACY of the planetary positions of the elements. Then I cropped the entire image so that I could get the actual proportion of all the elements in the frame. While cropping I had to increase the size of the Moon by extra 20% to be able to line it up with the actual focal length of the other two planets. If you remember I shot Moon at 850MM and other planets at 1020 MM.

Image 5: Composition Layout of Moon and Planets.

Image 6: A guide to a possibility of a different composition. All the above six images I mentioned were without proper processing in software. I just did little bit of basic adjustments in my raw images to get a similar light setting using the software Adobe Light room. Once I cropped the image as one can see in my cover image I furth­er processed the image in Adobe Photoshop 2020 version. I believe I have cropped almost 100% of Image 5 to get my result. I kept the final output as simple as I can, as I like it that way.

Image 6: Composition reference at 50% cropped version.

Conclusion: Long focal lengths, a good quality prime lens and the dynamic range of Nikon D850 helped me get the colour reference of the planets and due to D850’s 45.7 MP sensor size, I got decent amount of details in all those four images.
So, here it is, I also got my Jupiter and Saturn with a size reference to the Moon. I kept all my subjects at same focal length (or made them equivalent) to get my desired result a-part from the image 1. So you can say, the satellites of the Jupiter would have appeared 70% larger th¬an what it is right now if I would have keep the image 1 at 850 MM. The final output is an image I made, with four Images I took. I hope this article will help a few. You can write your views in comment box below the blog.

The Jewels of the Night Sky.

2 thoughts on “Jewels of the Night Sky”

  1. Bijaylakshmi ( chiki)

    Speechless! Just loved your images and all your explanations.. It could be well understood by anyone.. Thanks for explaining in such a simple way… Keep up doing good things for further. Waiting for more photos like these.

    1. Thank you so much. Please keep inspiring me always. I shall definitely try to better my efforts and deliver more.

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