Landscape Astrophotography with m43 - The shoot and Post Process (Image Heavy)

siftu

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This is how I do landscape astrophotography. There are a thousand ways to skin a cat so take what you want from this post. I'm writing this post as a follow-up to the photo I recently posted, which generated a bit of interest on the forum.

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New Zealand-Night by Siftu, on Flickr

1. Preparation

Ok before even touching the camera you want find an interesting location you want to be shooting at. I do landscape astro and so I try to find something interesting in the foreground and not just a shot of the sky. For this shoot I knew I wanted the lake and mountains as my foreground. The mountains were miles away from my shooting location so I needed a long lens for that part but on the other hand, to capture the milky way without star trails you want the widest possible lens so you can have a longer shutter speed. Knowing I needed two lenses for the shot meant that I needed the final image to be a composite of at least two shots.

There are apps for your phone showing moon rise and set and the direction. I use TPE which I think is available on android and iOS. To get the most details out of the Milky way you don't want a moon out, but for my foreground I did want it out to give a little definition to the mountains. My two shots are now going to be hours apart.

There are also apps showing you where the Milky Way will be visible. For this I use stellarium but there are other apps which do the same thing. During the day, before the shoot, play around with these apps and figure out the best times to be out, you can usually fast forward in time to see where everything will be.

Obviously you also want a cloudless night. This is out of our control but I say it because I have often wanted to out out and shoot the stars to find out there are none. You also have to look out for light pollution from city lights etc. They reflect back from the atmosphere and wash out the sky. This is the main reason I'm and occasional astro shooter, I live in a heavy light polluted area.

You need a tripod for this stuff and pretty much any camera which support RAW and has some kind of intervalmeter. Learn how to use it during the day! I didn't check out the intervalmeter and had to learn it on the night. Lucky I had the E-M10 manual loaded to my phone so it wasn't too bad.

2. The shoot.

This is the easy part. Put your camera on the tripod. Put the mode dial in "M" for manual. Set your white balance to tungsten if you like the blue sky, white balance can be changed during processing anyway so it's not critical. Make sure you are shooting in RAW and manually set your ISO (not auto-ISO). Set live view boost on because we will be focusing in the dark and focus to manual. Set the shutter release to 2 or 10 second delay to reduce vibration and I also have 0 second shock set. Lastly make sure dark frame subtraction is on to help reduce noise.

The foreground.

For this shot I used the O75mm, I didn't need to worry about the shutter speed because I wasn't going to use any of the stars from this shot. I opened the lens up to f2.8 and set iso 400 for 60 seconds. I used the magnify to focus the best I could. One trick is to point to a light far away (moon, boat, street lamp etc but far away)and focus on that until it becomes a point on the lcd/evf, then recompose back to your subject.

Keep in mind you can stack the foreground images as well. I did not on this shot but I would have got better results if I did.

Take the shot and review. Make sure your histogram is showing some data creeping to the right hand side. The more the better here but it's a balancing act between shutter speed and iso which result in noise. In my shot I knew I didnt need the mountains that bright so was happy to underexpose.

The background (aka stars)

This is the part which makes the photo. How do we get the Milky Way? I swapped to my Rokinon 7.5mm f3.5 fisheye and went to a location away from light pollution and very open with no trees etc in the way. The wide angle lens allows us to keep the shutter open longer without star trails thus we can lower the iso to keep out some noise. This sky was shot from the shore of the lake about 30 mins drive away in -1C temperature. Make sure you put in a newly charged battery, you don't want to be half way through the shoot and the battery dies.

Lonelyspeck has a nice online calculator with suggestion of settings for your particular lens.

http://www.lonelyspeck.com/milky-way-exposure-calculator/

I used an exposure of 25 seconds at iso 1600 f3.5. I set the intervalmeter to take 30 shots with dark frame subtraction after each shot. Having since done a little more testing I would have no hesitation pushing iso 3200 or 6400 with this stacking technique.

3. The Processing

The Sky - Stacking

First off, sorry Mac users I did all the stacking using Deep Sky Stacker which only runs on Windows. No doubt it's possible via photoshop and other applications but I will be explaining this method.

Below is best link out there I could find explains all the details with screenshots. This explains it all in far more details than I'm going into. Read it all for the best results.

http://www.stevebb.com/deep_sky_stacker.html

First import all the RAW files for the sky. I didn't use dark frames or anything else because I used dark frame subtraction in camera.

VhL8a3Dh.jpg
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The key for me getting a good result was in the following screenshot, explained better in stevebb's link. You want to get the number of stars it aligns down to around 50. My default setting had over 15000 stars and the results were terrible. I had all the corners way out of alignment. But bringing it back to 50 stars worked great

eCdCu4Vh.jpg
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Go for a coffee and come back in 10 mins.

Now go through the article again and tune the remained of the settings. Just don't worry if you aren't seeing a lot in this view. We will get that back in Lightroom. Save the results to a TIFF

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The Sky in Lightroom

Import the TIFF file we just saved back in lightroom and go into the "Develop" module.

I tried to capture as many tweaks as I could in the following screenshot, including the adjustment brush on the milkway itself.

N1BXTs1h.jpg
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The Foreground in Lightroom

This was the easiest part. "Develop" the foreground to your taste. My tweaks are as follows.

e4tsxKWh.jpg
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I just aimed at getting a close color match between the foreground and the sky.

Combine both in Photoshop

Next we export both the sky and foreground to Photoshop. Sorry I'm running PSE 13 because I'm cheap.

Things to consider: Because the sky was stacked we have to crop the corners out which will make our image smaller. I shrunk the foreground image to match the sky image width.

Copy the foreground image as a layer on top of the sky. Move the images on the canvas to suit the composition you are after. I moved the foreground lower in the frame as I originally shot the mountains in the center of the frame.

I inserted a layer between the stars (bottom) and the foreground (top) which is just a graduated fill in white. I did this because I think it looks a little more natural to see a bit of haze/light between the mountain and sky.

Add layer masks to the foreground and expose just the.. foreground

I ended up with the following.

q2pBlqch.jpg
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Final touches back in Lightroom.

You could choose to do any final editing in the previous step, but I'm more comfortable with Lightroom and really wanted to tune the white balance between the foreground and background a little more. I added an adjustment brush and tweaked the white balance sliders to my taste. Did the final crop and then exported to publish to the web.

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So there we have it. Its a bit of work but I think the result is worth it.
 
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BeyondTheLines

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Great tutorial, thanks for that. I have the Rokinon so it's encouraging to see such excellent results with that lens and that you were able to successfully stack that many images. Now I just have to wait until I can get to a good location to try.
 

maritan

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A few things.

1. @siftu - good write up. Thanks. :2thumbs:
2. DSS can run on a Mac through Wineskin.
3. @wjiang will tell you what I found the hard way. The latest version of DSS is 3.3.4 and they have made some tweaks to make outputs better (or in my case actually useful).
 

siftu

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How long did you expose the milk way picture with the 7.5?
Oops I missed that part in the article. I have updated it.

Note: I did a test stack of 30 frame at iso 6400 and did separate dark frames after the shoot and still got very clean results. I will post these results when I get a chance.
 

siftu

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A few things.

1. @siftu - good write up. Thanks. :2thumbs:
2. DSS can run on a Mac through Wineskin.
3. @wjiang will tell you what I found the hard way. The latest version of DSS is 3.3.4 and they have made some tweaks to make outputs better (or in my case actually useful).
Great tips. I did see there was a newer version but I was happy with my results on 3.3.2. Of course if you install fresh use the latest!
 

siftu

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Here are 2 stacks.. (Full size available)

ISO 1600/25 seconds/f3.5, in camera dark frame subtraction x30

JhzBrcVh.jpg
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ISO 6400/25 seconds/f3.5, dark frames taken separately in the car on the way home x 30

8ySfS4Eh.jpg
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A couple of points here. The top one was taken with low light pollution. This is the biggest factor in getting good results for astro. Both images to my eye have almost no noise. This just proves to me you can really push the limits with stacking.
 

Turbofrog

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Those are indeed extremely clean!

Thanks for the write-up.

I had okay results with my single exposure using the 7.5mm fisheye at f3.5 and ISO 6400 @ 40 seconds, but I noticed a tiny bit of star trailing at 100%, and it did require some NR in Topaz DeNoise to get the results that I liked. Sounds like I should be stacking! Knowing what I do know, I'd go for something similar to your settings, with definitely a shorter exposure like 20-25s.
 

sammykhalifa

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Those look great. Thanks for the tutorial and the images.

I guess I have one concern. So the sky and the foreground are totally different shots and different angles of view, right? I know that that's "how it's done" but in the back of mind I'm thinking about how the Milky Way would be a different size and location compared to the foreground if I went there myself to take a look. No that I'm against post processing and the like, but I don't know.
Heck, who am I kidding, it looks great and in the end that's what I'd rather have.
 

siftu

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Those look great. Thanks for the tutorial and the images.

I guess I have one concern. So the sky and the foreground are totally different shots and different angles of view, right? I know that that's "how it's done" but in the back of mind I'm thinking about how the Milky Way would be much smaller compared to the foreground if I went there myself to take a look. No that I'm against post processing and the like, but I don't know.
Heck, who am I kidding, it looks great and in the end that's what I'd rather have.

Yeah I really don't care about how accurate it is or isn't. I change color and all sorts too. It's the image I had in my mind which I recreated. Some people wont like that and that's fine. As I said in the post, take it or leave it. Also if you went there to take a look your eyes couldn't see the Milky Way as good as this anyway. Remember that's how I chose to do this particular shot. Next time I might do a single image, the time after two exposure from the same location with the same lens. For me it's the end result I'm after.
 

wjiang

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Those look great. Thanks for the tutorial and the images.

I guess I have one concern. So the sky and the foreground are totally different shots and different angles of view, right? I know that that's "how it's done" but in the back of mind I'm thinking about how the Milky Way would be a different size and location compared to the foreground if I went there myself to take a look. No that I'm against post processing and the like, but I don't know.
Heck, who am I kidding, it looks great and in the end that's what I'd rather have.
Heh a 75mm FoV on m4/3 is basically like a short telescope. It won't even fit a constellation in the frame. The full scale of the Milky Way is huge and impressive in person, more so than a still image can really capture.
 

sammykhalifa

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Yeah I really don't care about how accurate it is or isn't. I change color and all sorts too. It's the image I had in my mind which I recreated. Some people wont like that and that's fine. As I said in the post, take it or leave it. Also if you went there to take a look your eyes couldn't see the Milky Way as good as this anyway. Remember that's how I chose to do this particular shot. Next time I might do a single image, the time after two exposure from the same location with the same lens. For me it's the end result I'm after.

I didn't mean to make my first comment kinda negative like that. It looks really great and above anything I've ever done I know. I definitely "take it" instead of leaving it, heh.
 

siftu

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I didn't mean to make my first comment kinda negative like that. It looks really great and above anything I've ever done I know. I definitely "take it" instead of leaving it, heh.
Yeah I know what you meant and didn't take it negative at all. Now get out there and shoot :)
 

tg9413

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Great write up. A side question, anyone has idea how those panorama milky way shot is done with foreground involved? I sit in the dark the whole night can't figure out a way to capture the top of the arc of the milky way with foreground no matter what position is the milky way is at in the sky :(
 

wjiang

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Great write up. A side question, anyone has idea how those panorama milky way shot is done with foreground involved? I sit in the dark the whole night can't figure out a way to capture the top of the arc of the milky way with foreground no matter what position is the milky way is at in the sky :(
A motorised pano head, setup to do multi row panoramas (vertical as well as horizontal). They're set up with nodal points, etc so you can do nearly 360 if you want. Short of that, you typically need to go for a vertical shot with a fisheye or a UWA, hence why I typically use the 7.5 FE for this stuff.
 

tg9413

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A motorised pano head, setup to do multi row panoramas (vertical as well as horizontal). They're set up with nodal points, etc so you can do nearly 360 if you want. Short of that, you typically need to go for a vertical shot with a fisheye or a UWA, hence why I typically use the 7.5 FE for this stuff.
hmmm okay.. ya stupid me.. multiple or rows of pano, in that case it all make sens then. widest i have is 12mm right now.... let me see if i can pull that off before i make another investment . thanks for the great tips!
 

walter_j

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A motorised pano head, setup to do multi row panoramas (vertical as well as horizontal). They're set up with nodal points, etc so you can do nearly 360 if you want. Short of that, you typically need to go for a vertical shot with a fisheye or a UWA, hence why I typically use the 7.5 FE for this stuff.

What pano head would you recommend?
 

gingergirl

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Set live view boost on because we will be focusing in the dark and focus to manual.

First of all, great photo and thanks for such an informative and detailed post! Wow!

I was out last month trying to shoot the milky way, set my lens to infinity and I turned on the live view boost but I couldn't see anything in the view finder and had to guess when composing my shot. My shot exposed properly, but I just can't see to compose it. What am I missing? I was using an E-M1 and 12-40 lens.
 

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