Sunday, November 29, 2015

Quick Nebula Processing with Instagram's Surprisingly Powerful 'Structure' Tool

I spent hours in Photoshop working on my first processing pass of this Orion nebula photo I took last year. It was my pride and joy and I even printed out a hard copy of it to have framed. While I still love the look of the photo, I tried punching it up a bit for a new Instagram post - and I was pleasantly surprised how powerful the 'structure' Instagram tool was for enhancing the dust clouds in this nebula photo. It does go a little beyond the more natural look I'm going for in my nebula processing, but it didn't take it too far into cartoon world.

nebula astrophoto edit in instagram
Orion nebula photo from this post, before and after a super quick Instagram edit with the 'structure' tool
While Instagram really isn't suited to do the heavy lifting for astrophotography processing, this quick tweak was definitely a little icing on the cake before posting the image to social media. I used the editing tools 'structure' and added some saturation and darkened the edges with vignetting. It took like 30 seconds!

orion nebula in instagram
Instagram has the right amount of editing tools, very powerful tweaks and not overwhelming options

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

500th Blog Post Stats Spectacular!

It's my 500th post on Stellar Neophyte Astronomy Blog! I thought I'd mark the occasion with some unnecessarily detailed stats about the journey so far.

I published post #1 on April 26, 2012 - that was 3 years 6 months and 30 days ago. OMG I was in my 20's back then!

My longest hiatus was 99 days starting May 9, 2015 when I returned the lenses I was borrowing from my mother-in-law so she could take them on vacation.

My second longest hiatus was 47 days starting September 23, 2012 and coincides with when we got our first puppy. I've only had a total of 4 breaks longer than 20 days - not too bad! I think it's safe to say I found a hobby with some staying power.

I've photographed 5 comets:
Out of 256 different label tags, my most-used label is Moon with 118 posts tagged.

I photographed (often very poorly) 64 out of 110 of the Messier objects catalog. Little fuzzy gray blobs still count as long as you can identify them!

I photographed the 2012 transit of Venus, 2 total lunar eclipses, and 1 partial solar eclipse.

In almost 4 years I generated 409GB of data in approximately 48,403 shutter actuations across 2 camera bodies.

My blog has received 374,581 all-time pageviews. My most popular post was How to Photograph the Moon on an iPhone using Exposure Lock, which received 54,760 of those pageviews.

blog traffic graph
Traffic spikes during months with newsworthy astronomical events

I noticed a while ago that my blog traffic follows the lunar cycle, and also spikes whenever astronomical events are in the news. The biggest spike was during the September 27 super blood moon lunar eclipse with 7,250 sessions in one day.

blog traffic graph
Traffic spikes during the full moon

In case you're curious, I've made $383.77 with Google Adsense so far, which comes out to just over $0.75 per post - a fact that I probably won't share with my husband who gets annoyed by the amount of time I spend blogging :)

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Pink and Purple Sunset in the Suburbs

This is my favorite little piece of roofline in my sub development (is it weird to have a favorite roofline?). I use the chimney in shots with the moon all the time, and I love that I can just barely see the top of the silo across the street. It makes me feel less walled in knowing I can see something on the outside.

There was a pretty good sunset on the November 6, 2015 and I captured the changing light with every frame. It went from orange to magenta to purple.

sunset roof line
f/7.1, 1/160 sec, ISO 1600, 300mm

purple sunset
f/7.1, 1/4 sec, ISO 200, 300mm

purple sunset
f/7.1, 1/5 sec, ISO 200, 300m

Crescent Moon (5%) Setting over Roof with Chimney

I saw the slim crescent moon last night as Chris and I were walking out of O'Charley's (which is a totally great and totally under-rated restaurant by the way). I looked it up on PhotoPills to see what percent illuminated it was, and it was about 5% - so now my slimmest but still worthwhile for a photo.

I made a timelapse of the moon setting behind the roof of my neighbor's house, and also pulled some individual frames out. There was some great earthshine on the dark side of the moon, and I'm glad the chimney across the way provided a little bit of foreground interest.

crescent moon
Single frame Canon T5i, f/9, 1 sec, ISO 1600, 205mm

crescent moon
Single frame Canon T5i, f/10, 1.3 sec, ISO 3200, 300mm

crescent moon
Single frame Canon T5i, f/9, 1.3 sec, ISO 1600, 300mm

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Canon DSLR Astrophotography: Andromeda Galaxy Improvements

The last time I tried to image the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), I was still just testing out my Orion EQ-1 mount and trying to learn how to align and how it all worked. That time I only took 9 light frames and got my (at the time) best image stacked. Just 9 frames! That shows the benefit of the motor-driven mount for sure. But since then my Canon DSLR astrophotography has gotten a little better.

After I learned the mount a little, I imaged the Orion Nebula (every beginner's favorite target I'm pretty sure), but didn't go back to Andromeda.... UNTIL NOW! Last night I did a proper treatment of M31 high in the sky directly overhead and with very favorable conditions. Here's how it went down.

Canon DSLR astrophotography
Sometimes you don't realize how far you've come until you look back.

I aligned slightly to the bottom left of Polaris. Without cross hairs or a finder scope, I'm really just aiming at the center focal point through the viewfinder and hoping for an approximate alignment. I think my best is about 20 seconds, but that night I got 13 seconds without star trails. Not great, but not bad for a simple motor. I bumped it a few times and I'm sure I knocked it out of focus a bit, especially with this lens that seems to jump if you touch it.

Next I had to find Andromeda, but since it was directly overhead, I couldn't do my usual technique of star hopping through the viewfinder. In fact, I couldn't even get my head under the viewfinder. I pulled out the folding screen (this thing has saved my butt a few times) and just started firing off test shots in the general direction. It only took me 16 shots to find the fuzzy blob and then I zeroed in on it.

Canon DSLR astrophotography
Canon T5i on Orion EQ-1 motorized mount (single speed, no tracking)
canon DSLR on motor tripod mount
If it looks awkward, that's because it was! I couldn't even see through the viewfinder, I had to just guess and click around for a little while to find my target.
I wanted to at least give M31 equal treatment compared to my Orion shot that I love so much, so I let it click away for about 30 minutes doing 160 or so 13 second exposures. Individual frames look like this one (although not all have an airplane buzzing the fuzzy galaxy blob). Quite a close approach considering the field of view is around 5 degrees.

andromeda airplane
One of the frames I had to throw out, but kind of a unique image that shows what Andromeda looks like in a single 13 second exposure, and a near miss from an airplane. 

The first thing I did after stacking in DSS (total exposure time 31 min 24 sec) was to crank the curves all the way up just to see what might be hiding in there. I don't use this as a final product, but it is a quick way to see what to shoot for in Photoshop teasing it out bit by bit with curves to avoid the grain of this rough pass. This also proves that I'm not just drawing an oval around the center and turning up the brightness! It really is that bright compared to the surrounding sky. It looks like I just drew a ring around it, but that's really the galaxy itself!

canon dslr andromeda galaxy
Cranked the curves all the way up in DSS just to get an idea of what might be hiding in the pixels. It's too grainy to use, but gives me something to shoot for in Photoshop where I have to tease it out bit by bit to avoid the quick-and-dirty grain from the DSS pass at it.
I'm a little rusty at deep sky stuff. I used curves in Photoshop to tease out the contrast between the dust trails and the brighter parts. I spent about 2 hours on it. My best Andromeda Galaxy (M31) by far! I'm a little rusty on the post processing, but the motor driven mount is night and day compared to a fixed tripod. Really pleased! Might even get a print!

canon dslr andromeda galaxy
Canon T5i on Orion EQ-1 mount, stacked in DSS, 159 subs at 13 sec, f/5.6, ISO 1600, 300mm; 27 dark frames, 24 bias, and 15 flat frames (re-used the ones from last year and they seemed to work just fine).
Take your vitamins and don't skip the flat frames! I'll never go back to not using flat frames on anything that I'm seriously trying to improve on.

Active Sunspot Region 2443

Had thin clouds on Sunday but I wanted to try to get a photo of active sunspot region 2443 that I've been hearing so much about. I haven't taken many sun photos with my DIY solar filter for my DSLR, but when there is an especially large active region they are fun to catch.

I had a little haze - well, more than haze, I had thin clouds I was trying to shoot through. The sunspot active region was large enough to see even though the clouds without a telescope. I just used a 300mm lens with the DIY solar filter over the top.

The hardest part is focusing with the additional filter over the lens and the glare of trying to look at the camera display screen in the daylight. Auto focus doesn't quite do it with the additional layer over it, of course the clouds don't help either.

November is looking good for some stargazing, but I don't think I'll be taking many more solar images during the week. By the time I get home it's already getting dark!

sunspot through clouds
Active sunspot region 2443 on Sunday, November 1, 2015 - Single shot with Canon T5i edited in Instagram
Instagram actually does a good job bringing out the contrast in sunspot images. I didn't list the acquisition details under the image above because I cheated it too much. Below is the original image out of the camera, which in this case is my trusty Canon T5i.

300mm sun image
Canon T5i single frame at f/7.1, 1/30 sec, ISO 100, 300mm

For comparison, here is a look at what the face of the sun looked like at the same time, but through much better gear from the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO).

soho image

And if you were wondering, this is what my setup looked like. Identical to my setup last year, but with worse atmospheric conditions. In both cases, stacking actually didn't do much good and I ended up using single images.

canon solar filter
Canon T5i and home made solar filter attachment