Lots Of Dots


So there was a meteor shower... This calls for some long term exposures!

Alarm ringing for 0145, and out of bed I roll. On the road, driving, passing kangaroos, and glancing at my rugged, dedicated GPS (not a cellphone, mind you) for the turn-off that's barely able to be seen during the day.

Bouncing along the dark path in the outback, passing startled cows, and hoping the tires don't fling up the presents they've left ALL over the place, we pass the sights seen the day before, in our quest to find this ideal, secluded photo spot.


Off the path we go. Park. Tripod out. Zip; camera bag open, 14-24mm and D800e into the ring first.

0. Hang bag on tripod for extra stability and to cut down on vibrations...

1. Attach my little remote release... (no longer using radio triggered ones, due to batteries failing at the time of need)

2. Set the camera to mirror up (M-up) mode...

3. Turn live view on, and set camera to manual focus...

4. Zoom in and focus on a bright star, or, if none are available, the moon... (don't just set the focus ring to infinity, it's slightly off for IR photography)

5. Did I focus while the aperture was opened all the way up? No...

4a. Open aperture to f/2.8 so my focus is spot on...

4b. Zoom in and focus again... 

6. Turn off camera, and wait half a second before framing... (so when I look through the viewfinder, the numbers and meaningless symbols don't blind me)

7. Turn the darn thing on, and set:

      ISO- 3200

      Shutter speed- 20" (twenty seconds exposure, or use the 600 rule)

      Aperture- f/2.8 (was already there, phew)

      Long exposure noise reduction- Off (no need unless taking an exposure longer than a minute... or if you have an old camera ;) )

8. Take a test shot...

9. WOW! What an amazing shot! That's it, pack up and go home.




You're still there? Didn't quite come out the way you thought? Too noisy?

10. Adjust and fiddle with settings. 

*Don't be afraid to try the extremes of the camera. In fact, you SHOULD test the different settings in different combinations so that when you get home, you can see what each combination did exactly. Perhaps ISO 100,000,00,000 wasn't as bad as you thought. Maybe 20 seconds was too long, and instead of points of light, you're getting star streaks. Could your lens be not as sharp as you'd like at f/0.0001? You might have to stop it down.

Play around, you've got all night.

Eventually you should come out with something you like. Or you'll know what you need to do next time (maybe that tripod is a little rickety. Progress is what we have.


Oh yeah, it took me a bunch of reframing and readjusting all the settings to get this combination (14mm, f/2.8, ISO 1600, 20 seconds) And I'd rather not show some of the worse ones... heh. 

After a while, I realized that perhaps I could try something with a little longer focal length, again, experimenting. I tossed on the beautiful Zeiss 100mm Makro Planar, but it was too long, and even at 4 seconds and exposure time, I was getting just enough star trails that it made it look blurry. So I popped on the 85mm and found a happy medium. That combination created one of my favorites of the morning. (The other is the first image on this page)


A bit of the brightest portion of the milky way. 85mm, f/1.4, ISO 5000, 3 seconds

The last shot I'll show is of when I got bored of standing. I moved the tripod closer to the car and had it set up thusly:

24mm (to GET the star trails this time, if it were 14mm, they'd probably be about half as long)

ISO 100 (least noise, most dynamic range for recovery)

Bulb (one click past 30 seconds)

f/2.8 (if I had remembered, I probably would've put it at f/4)

Long exposure noise reduction ON

My butt sitting comfortably inside the car

Screen shot 2013-05-05 at 5.57.53 PM

As you can see, it was a little too bright, and I had to tweak it to get it to where I wanted:



At 2722 seconds, we have a 45 minute exposure.

Oh and don't forget to bring an extra shirt for when you're doing nothing but standing.


All images copyright © 2009-2017 Thomas Michael Ahern. All text and images appearing on this web site are property of Thomas Michael Ahern and are protected by United States and international copyright laws. No images may be used in any form without written permission of Thomas Michael Ahern and payment of required usage fees. To receive permission and reproduction rights, please contact Thomas Michael Ahern at cryptothink8@gmail.com.