Shooting stars

Western Australia


One last night sky shot from our trip to Western Australia.  On the two nights I managed to get out with my camera at Smiths Beach, Yallingup, meteors showed up in almost every shot.  Very exciting!  Can you see my husband, up on the dune?

I knew there would be a chance of seeing the milky way during our visit.  Having never tried this sort of photography before, I read up on techniques before we went.  The following is what I read as adjusted by my experiences in the field. But remember, I am very much a beginner at this sort of photography!

For best viewing of the milky way, you need a location as far away from other light sources as possible.  So, away from settlements and roads, and on a night with as little moon as possible.  Luckily, our stay in Yallingup coincided with a relatively late moonrise.  On the first night, it rose two and a half hours after sunset, and later on the second.  That did mean I had to work quickly, as it is best to leave at least a two hour gap after sunset to be sure of a dark sky.  In the image above, the greenish light entering from the left is the moon still below the horizon but beginning to make its presence known.

I had read that a 30 second exposure was best as anything longer and the earth’s rotation would make the stars start to streak.  Although I stuck to this advice, now that I have seen my images on the big screen at home, I think that 20 seconds would have been better; there are signs of movement in my skies.

In order to get as much light as possible to the sensor, I used f2.8, the widest aperture my 16-35mm lens can achieve.  Depth of field is not a major issue at 16mm!  Of course, the very dark conditions that make the milky way visible also make high ISOs necessary.  I used 1600 or 3200.  As I mentioned in my last post, this introduces quite a bit of noise.  I am working on refining my editing to mitigate the noise (many thanks to those who have recommended noise reduction plugins – I will try them all!).  

Focusing is tricky in the dark too.  I had read that focusing to infinity was best but I found in practice it was better just a notch less than infinity.  Perhaps a quirk of my lens.  If you want to focus on something closer, like the pinnacles in my first star shot (reproduced below), then a torch shone on the object is invaluable.  Incidentally, I used my iPhone’s torch app to illuminate the pinnacles.  Otherwise, they would have been silhouettes.

Western Australia


Perhaps the trickiest thing of all is finding your way in the dark with a heavy backpack and tripod.  It was fairly easy on the beach but at Pinnacles it was a little bit daunting, walking out into the desert with no lights or signs to guide you if you lost your bearings.  My husband was worried about driving the car on the dirt and sand track so we left it in the car park.  Probably a mistake with hindsight!  Note to self: next time hire a 4X4.

One final note, I understand that the best time to view the milky way is during winter (so May-August in Australia).  I am going to make that my excuse for not seeing and capturing something like the winning image in Astronomy Photographer of the Year!   Inspirational stuff. 

18 thoughts on “Shooting stars

  1. Yes, the APOTY image is phenomenal but you had little time and no previous chance at it, and your shots are stunning. Natural talent I’d say. I think your Milky Way shots are very beautiful.

  2. Don’t know if you want to approve this (it will likely need approval because of the links), but I have some posts that speak to shooting high ISO at night (more observational than instructional).

    This is about taking “daylight” photos at night:

    This was my first try at night photography, and I was shooting at the recommended 20-30 seconds (the camera info is available on the associated SmugMug gallery by hitting the “i” icon):

    This last one was a year later, and my exposure time was much lower (1..5 – 4 seconds, or so), and again the associated gallery has the camera info. I was impressed that I could actually see Jupiter’s moons (confirmed with applests showing position of each moon):

    Again, not trying to drive traffic to my site (anti-social I be), and I won’t mind if you prefer not having all these links here, especially since my photos are nowhere near as impressive as yours.

    • Thanks. Very happy to approve this comment, links and all, because I know you are not attention seeking! It’s nice to have a chance to see some older posts by you. I will have a look at them later today when I have finally found some time for catching up with all the WordPress blogs I follow. I seem to have been in a whirlwind since we got back, organising various returns to University, work and school, plus two urgent print runs, but all done now.

      • Yes . . . my younger days, all naive-like and wet behind the ears (I used to shower back then).

        Not the hardened jade I’ve grown into . . . and, there’s no rush in reading these; I just wanted to point out to people astro-photography can be done in a near-urban environment as well, just not with the same results.

  3. Utterly marvelous, Rachel. My first experience with a night shoot was at the photo workshop I took last year. I was utterly frustrated not being familiar enough with my camera to find all the buttons and dials in the dark, but it still blew me away how much was picked up in the dark. A 30 second exposure looking almost like broad daylight. Hurray for you at getting it so right with so little practice.

  4. The Quadrantids meteor shower is active end of December to early January and that may be what you were seeing. I saw five shooting stars in half an hour while out looking for the northern lights in Shetland a few days ago and the sky was half clouded over. (I never got to see the aurora by the way.)

    I’ve never done any astro-photography myself and fancy giving it a try when I’m away in Shetland in February. I’ll have to give some thought to foreground; there’ll be nothing as interesting as those pinnacles but water won’t be a problem. Far too much light pollution where I live to consider it here. (I saw the Milky Way in Shetland but never get to see it here.)

    • Hi James Thanks, I did wonder but the site I read suggested the Quadrantids would be later. Yes, there is certainly way too much light pollution here in crowded Surrey. I think February in the Shetlands will offer some super viewing potential, if the clouds can be persuaded to stay away.

      Sent from my iPad


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