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Shooting Stars - How to Photograph the Moon and Stars with your DSLR
Submitted: Monday, 2nd April 2012 by Mike Salway

I've been a long-time fan of Phil Hart's night sky photography. His images inspire me and I've always aspired to produce the type and quality of photos that Phil does on a regular basis. He's won countless awards at the annual CWAS David Malin Awards, is well respected by his peers and is regarded to be among the top in his field for the type of photography he does.

When I learned that Phil wrote the Shooting Stars e-Book, I was keen to read it to learn some of his secrets to help me produce better images.

Shooting Stars - How to Photograph the Moon and Stars with your DSLR is a 129-page PDF e-book, available as a digital download from Phil Hart's website for only $24.95, or if you use the special IceInSpace Discount Coupon SSIIS, you'll receive a $5 discount making the book only $19.95. Once purchased, the book will be available immediately as a digital download (approx 40meg PDF). 

I read the book on my iPad in landscape mode, and works equally as well simply reading as a PDF on your laptop or computer.

The book is full of tips and tricks, beautiful images and unique insights that only someone like Phil, with almost 20 years experience shooting the night sky, can confidently share.

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Examples of some of the content

Today's digital cameras have come a long way in the last few years, and now it's within the reach of almost anyone to be able to take a satisfactory image of the night sky. Put your camera on a tripod, point it up and dial in a 30 second exposure - voila!

Of course there's a difference between taking average images of the night sky, and taking the type of exceptional images that win awards! In the book, Phil shares the process, the checklist, the techniques and the processing that can accelerate your learning curve and help you take better night sky images, much more quickly.

The book is divided into four main sections. You can also view the full Table of Contents.

Section 1 - The Sky at Night

The first step to taking better night sky images, is to understand some of the physics behind it - and I don't mean you need to learn physics, but it helps to have an understanding of why we see what we see at night, and how it changes throughout the year for your location and for different locations on Earth.

The first section of the book covers some basic astronomy concepts, has a set of star charts for various times throughout 2012 and also introduces the Moon phases, has a chart of lunar phases for 2012 and talks briefly about light pollution and the weather - all of which have an impact on the type of night sky photography you can do.

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An example page about the Moon from Section 1

Section 2 - Night Sky Photography

The next step to learning or improving your night sky photography, is to have a thorough understanding of your equipment - what you will need and how to use it. That includes the camera, the type of lens (a fast f/ratio is important!), focusing at night (it's harder than you might think!), ISO, Noise Reduction and other camera settings and of course all the supplementary gear you'll need like the tripod, bubble level, dew prevention gear, batteries and more.

This meaty section of the book starts by covering all of those mentioned above plus more, and then dives into the nitty gritty (suggested camera settings and more) and explains exactly HOW to take the different types of night sky photography, including:

  • Twlight Landscapes
  • Night Sky Scenes
  • Star Trails
  • The Moon
  • Timelapse Video

Each of the techniques is accompanied by some brilliant photography and all of the images show exactly which camera, lens, f/stop and exposure were used.

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An example page of how to capture Moonlit Landscapes from Section 2

Section 3 - Image Processing

So you've followed all of the advice about capturing night sky images, but you're not done yet. Image Processing can play a major role in ensuring you present the image you had in your minds eye at the start of the night.

That can include reducing noise, correcting white balance due to light pollution, brightness, contrast and saturation. And for timelapses or star trails, turning your images into a moving picture or a simulated long exposure from multiple short exposures.

This section of the book covers the important factors when processing night sky images, and has some specific examples of the techniques and settings you can use in Photoshop, Lightroom or other image processing software.

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An example page on Image Processing from Section 3

Section 4 - Wonders of the Night Sky

While any time is a good time to be outside capturing the night sky, there are certain special events, features and phenomena that will inspire you and show off the beauty of the night sky.

This section of the book talks about all of those special events and features, including Aurora, Twilight, the Milky Way, Lunar Eclipses, Comets, Conjunctions and more. It describes what the features is, and examples of the camera settings you'll need to capture them.

It's a real practical how-to guide for practically anything you're able to photograph in the night sky, and as a bonus, this section features loads of beautiful images by Phil.

 

 

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An example page of capturing Aurora from Section 4

Bonus Field Guide

The last section of the book provides a summary, in cheat sheet form, of all the camera settings you'll need for the various types of night sky photography. This is great for printing out (laminate it too!) and taking with you on your field trip.

There's also a handy reference for where in the camera's manual you'll find the settings you need for different types of cameras.

 


 

What I Loved

  • It's proven! You just know that the advice, tips and tricks that Phil is giving is tried and tested. For the beginner, you can simply follow the bouncing ball and start getting better images straight away.
  • I love the explanations of the WHY, without loads of technical jargon. The book was really easy to read and understand and doesn't require you to have years of experience in photography or astronomy.
  • The layout and structure of the book makes sense. It takes you on a journey and completes the whole story.
  • There are no 'secrets' as such. Phil explains everything he does that anyone with a digital SLR and tripod can also do.
  • The lunar phase table will be handy for beginners to know when New Moon is so they can plan their field trips.
  • I loved the real examples - eg: of shots taken between f/1.4 and f/4.0 and how it affects the stars at the edge of the frame, the size of the Moon at various focal lengths, inside, sharp, and outside focus, image processing, ISO settings and more.
  • The field guide is very handy - I can see people printing and laminating this to remind them of what to do out in the field. Like, making sure to remember to switch to RAW, or remembering to set the ISO. I've made plenty of beginner mistakes.
  • The book is full of stunning photography - it's incredibly motivational and inspiring. Phil really is extremely talented at what he does and his dedication shows, and it pays off. 

Improvements?

Who am I to tell Phil how to improve? :) The book is fantastic as it is, but a few suggestions:

  • The first section of the book covered The Celestial Sphere and I feel it would be the hardest page for a newcomer to astronomy concepts to understand. I'm not sure what can be done about it, except maybe get some feedback from beginners to see how it could be explained more simply.
  • I'm not sure how much value the star charts provide. I know that being an eBook, the star charts can be updated from year to year but experienced night sky photographers will use SkySafari, Stellarium or their other favourite star chart software to plan their shoot. Beginners most likely wouldn't understand how to read the chart, let alone be able to use it effectively to plan their night sky shoot.
  • I'd like to see the page on 'Planning' receive greater emphasis and maybe be a bit longer. It does cover everything, but I'd like to see a little more emphasis on finding the right foreground scene. The best night sky shots have great foreground scenes, or at least an interesting foreground - something more than the roof of a house or powerlines or half a tree. It can mean the difference between a good image and a great image. It could even include examples of foreground scenes done badly, compared to foreground scenes done well to show the difference it makes.
  • While I like the field guide checklist for the camera settings, I'd like to see an equally useful checklist to run through before leaving the house. It would include a lot of things covered in the equipment section, but would be useful to run through when preparing to head out into the field. It would include things such as:
    • Spare batteries
    • Spare memory card
    • Intervalometer
    • Dew prevention (heater straps, hoteez pads, etc)
    • Lens cleaning cloth (for when it dews up)
    • Warm clothing (gloves, beanie, jacket)
    • Red light headlamp
    • Bubble level
    • Review SkySafari or Stellarium to plan where the Milky Way, or the planets or Moon will be
    • Snacks, drinks
    • etc

Overall these are very minor critiques and certainly don't detract from the book as a whole.

Conclusion

I loved it. I'm reasonably experienced in taking night sky images but even I learnt some new tips and techniques that I'll be trying on my next night out. It was also a great motivational read for me - I'm keen to get out there again and start taking photos!

The book is a must-read for beginners and experienced photographers alike who want to capture the beauty of the night sky.

At $24.95 it's great value, and can be read in a few hours. That's a very small investment to make, in time and money, to take your night sky photography to the next level.

Don't forget to use the special IceInSpace Discount Code, SSIIS, to receive a $5 discount making the book only $19.95. Click on the image below to be directed to Phil's site where you can buy and download the book.

 

 

Review by Mike Salway (iceman). Discuss this review on the IceInSpace Forum. Affiliate Disclaimer.

 

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