It's been about a little over a year now since I had my Nikon D850 astro modified by Spencers Camera. The modification allows me to capture some colors/gases/nebulas in the night sky that are not seen with the human eye or by a sensor in a normal camera. When thinking about modifying your camera, you have several options to choose from. The 2 most popular are Full Spectrum and Visible + H-Alpha. I decided on the Visible + H-Alpha. I wanted a dedicated camera specifically for night photography and my goal was to capture some of the red hydrogen gasses up around Orion and in the Cygnus region of the sky.
These 2 images show the Cygnus region of the night sky which has some good nebula colors. I think this portion of the sky is underrated because most people just want to shoot the galactic core. I can't blame them. Our galactic core is pretty amazing but there are so many other great features to our night sky depending on the time of the year. In the Northern Hemisphere we only see the galactic core from March to October, give or take a few days...So from October to March you don't want to just catch up on sleep, that's boring... get out there and shoot things like Orion. Orion is the big Winter constellation that dominates the sky. Cygnus the swan and Denab are also 2 great things to shoot... Let's not forget about our nearest neighbor, Andromeda Galaxy. You can see Andromeda above the cabin in the image above. Andromeda is 2.5 million light years away from us, yet we can throw on a 14mm wide angle lens and still capture it... How cool is that!?
What I really wanted to talk about in this short blog is the process I go through when capturing these night images with an astro modified camera. Above, you will see the RAW file on the left and the processed and edited file on the right. You can see all the beautiful nebula colors that were captured with the sensor and then brought out in post processing. A regular camera doesn't have the ability to capture these hydrogen gasses..
This is a single RAW file straight from the camera.
The other night I went out for my first Milky Way shoot of the year. I thought it would be fun to do a step by step process to show what goes into creating these images.
This RAW file shows the red that is captured by the filter. You can use different white balance settings on your camera to find the one that works best for you.
The image you see here is what it looks like after my basic raw processing. You can now start to see the Lagoon Nebula's magenta color and some of the gasses around Rho Ophiuchi which stems from the Pipe Nebula. If you kind of tilt your head and look just to the right of the Lagoon Nebula (magenta dot in the middle) you'll see what looks like a horse tipping back. The longest front leg is the Pipe Nebula and the stars at the end of that is the Rho Ophiuchi Cloud complex, it's very colorful.
Hard to tell in this image but this is the stacked image to reduce noise. This is a combo of 60 images which all had the basic raw processing done to them. They were then stacked in Starry Landscape Stacker to reduce the noise and this was the image as it came out. Now I am ready to use this image as my sky image.
With some slight edits in color, contrast and tonality, this image is now ready to be blended with my long exposure foreground.. Stacking images alone can dramatically improve image quality. If you want the BEST image quality, blending is optimal.
This long exposure foreground of 15 minutes shows the stars streaking across the sky, the Milky Way in the upper right because it had moved that far from when I was doing the single shots. It also shows a little bit of daylight coming on the horizon to the left. By using a 15 min exposure at ISO 64, the foreground will now be as good as you can get it in terms of low noise and good color.
I then mask out the sky from the Long Exposure foreground, blend in the stacked sky and make some final adjustments to create a little depth as well as match color tones and bring out a little bit more detail in the sky. When doing the stacking, for best results in terms of low noise, it's best to reduce the contrast of the images you're going to stack. It does a great job to reduce the noise but the image looks flat and so you always need to do a little more work once they are stacked to bring back some of the natural details in the sky. A little big of "digital gardening" and now I have an image that has incredibly low noise, lots of detail and can print big.
If old abandoned buildings and dark star filled skies are of interest to you please contact me for night workshop on the eastern plains of Colorado and sometimes into Kansas.. You can find more info here www.letschaselight.com/workshops Not only do we work through the in field process, you will also get processing videos which detail the process once you're back home. I offer free zoom sessions to all my students to make sure they never get stuck and can always be improving their work.
Thank you for taking time to read the blog and if you have any questions, please don't hesitate to ask!