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Old 05-08-2010, 08:15 PM   #1
Hans Moleman
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Default Shooting a night sky (focusing)

Last night I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to try to take some photos of the starry sky, but they didn't turn out. It was out of focus, or looked a bit shaky. I was using a tripod too.

The first shot I actually ended up really liking, but it could have been better:



Then there's this, I wasn't pleased at all at this shot, I thought it would be better, and less out of focus


What can I do to improve night shots?
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Old 05-09-2010, 03:59 PM   #2
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All kinds of fun scenarios being thrown out there lately.

The bottom photo would be the "easier" of the two to approach, getting your focus at night. Over the winter, I ran into the same problem while trying to shoot some trees lit only by the full moon. The trees were way off and I'm not sure if I ever got the focus right. (The issue was compounded by my wussing out due to the extremely cold air and wanting to stay in my nice warm car. Between not having a steady shooting platform to mount my tripod and what was probably a pretty good heat mirage from the heat rushing out of my car, I probably doomed myself all around.)

There's a couple of ways to get your focus at night. First is to hope your camera's AF system can pick up enough ambient light. Failing that totally, you can try adding your own light. Some cameras have an AF assist light or you can add a flash that will add an AF assist. Those can be pretty weak. A flashlight will often do a better job lighting things up for focus if things are close enough, such as your bottom picture from the looks of things. Once you do get your focus, do whatever it takes to keep the focus from readjusting. Put the lens/body into manual focus mode and don't touch the lens at all if you can help it.


If the object is further, such as my trees or your top photo, you will either have to find stronger illumination (can be kind of difficult) or take your set-up during the day before to get everything set. Leave marks where you had set-up your tripod and don't readjust anything on it if you can help it. Tape your lens focus ring into place and try not to disturb it at all, especially if it is a zoom that has an extending barrel. (That will be the hard part.)

The final method for something far enough away is to manually focus your lens to the "closer side of infinity". Go out during daylight and focus on far off objects and note where the camera is focusing in relation to the infinity symbol. It usually isn't racked all the way out. You can try using this as a last ditch effort. Of course, there is also the chance you could do a stellar job of manually focusing at night.... some people can, I sure can't.

Er, I have more but it is time to leave. Be back in a bit.
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Old 05-11-2010, 10:03 AM   #3
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Great tips on the focusing side of things there Chimp.
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Old 05-11-2010, 12:42 PM   #4
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Concurred, very good info! I haven't done any night photography yet but I'd imagine that you could always try to do the hyperfocal thing (http://www.dofmaster.com/charts.html). I've been meaning to play with that but hadn't stopped long enough to do so lol
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Old 05-12-2010, 12:36 AM   #5
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@Chimp, I'll keep those suggestions in mind! I've thought of the making markings where to set up tripod/have it set up before hand, but the main problem is that if I decide at the last minute late at night I wanted to take a photo. Manually focusing on the trees proved to be a problem, what I ended up getting was the most in-focus it would allow me. I think next time I need to go out into the field and wait until sundown to take a picture, less obstruction!
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Old 05-13-2010, 07:31 PM   #6
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Hans: I like the first shot. The streaking object is pretty cool.


CHH: Thx for the pointers bud!
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Old 05-17-2010, 12:36 PM   #7
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The only problem I have with the hyperfocal method is that the focus point for stuff far out usually falls somewhere past the scale on the lens. It works fairly well with wide to regular ranges but once you hit teles, it falls apart as you either have no DOF or the lens is only marked to 50 or 100 feet and you need 300 or something like that. :S

I forgot where I was going to go with the rest of it from before but I will add that it is very, very important to make sure you take any and all camera shake out of the equation to the best of your ability. Lock down on a sturdy tripod, weight the tripod down if you're able, use a remote, use any sort of shutter delay you have available and avoid the wind. Then it is just a matter of making sure your camera can handle it. I can tell you right now, the D80 isn't so stellar in this department.

I recently saw photos from a guy shooting the night sky in Colorado.... wow! I NEED a D700 now. My D300 just isn't going to cut it anymore.
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Old 05-17-2010, 01:31 PM   #8
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Live View, IMO, is awesome for helping with that. Set it for a 2 second delay on Live View and you're good

That D700 is a hell of a sweet camera man.
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Old 05-22-2010, 02:16 AM   #9
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I've noticed that upping the ISO has given some improvement, I worked on a pouring street at night photo, there was a huge difference in the photo going from iso 200 to iso 800, iso 400 was doable. The iso 200 was out of focus/blurry.. but without changing anything BUT the iso it was IN focus. I've posted the result below, would say.. doing iso 1600 be doable for a night sky or would it be too grainy?

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Old 05-22-2010, 07:13 AM   #10
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That depends on how pleased your are with your camera's noise characteristics. When I shoot B&W, I actually like to introduce some at the camera level since it happens much more pleasingly and randomly there than in post. Some people can't stand any noise in an image at all.

I'm a bit curious as to what you are using for support that you're having issues with blurring when you lower the ISO?
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Old 06-22-2010, 01:03 PM   #11
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[/QUOTE]


Thatss a nicee picture...well done
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Old 06-11-2011, 04:00 AM   #12
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Picture which you share with us is nice, the photography work of that picture is good, this is neat and clean picture.
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Old 02-25-2012, 01:11 AM   #13
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Night photography is an interesting subject.. We can play our subjects to come up with a good result and do some post processing and achieve the look that we want..
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