Picture the Night Sky

On the weekend I headed up to Mt Buller which is close to the township of Mansfield in Central Victoria. Mt Buller is well known for it’s ski resorts during the winter and mountain biking in the summer. I was hoping to get some dark, clear skies to do some night sky photography. So armed with my camera and new tripod and a carload of warm clothes and food, I headed up to the Victorian Alps with my family to see what we could find.

For those Northern hemisphere readers, Australia is heading towards the summer months, although you wouldn’t have thought so. An unseasonably cold October, meant it actually snowed while we were up there, so the snowball fights were on, but not the best conditions so far for taking pictures of the night sky. The last night, though, was crystal clear and still, while cold (2 deg Celcius and dropping) the conditions were perfect for photography. Given the mountain is generally empty at this time of the year, it wasn’t hard to find a dark spot, a quick walk around the back of the lodge was plenty.

I was using the Canon 700D EOS DSLR camera with a 18-55mm IS STM lens which is just a standard kit lens. I had already manually focussed the camera on Venus at 18mm focal length, set the White Balance to Daylight and the trigger was set to remote. Choosing the largest file size and RAW, we were good to go.

First up the sunset with Venus, Antares just above the tree and Alpha Centauri on the left. This image was taken at 8:40pm looking towards the west. The camera was set to a 1 sec exposure, and an ISO speed of 1600.

Sunset from Mt Buller with Venus top right.

Sunset from Mt Buller with Venus top right.

This one is a longer exposure, and we can now see the stars coming out. At this point we were unable to see most of these stars with the naked eye and it is quite amazing to see these stars appear on the camera screen. I used a 4 sec exposure with ISO speed of 3200. This image was taken just three minutes later, but you can see how much more light comes in with a longer exposure and double the ISO speed.

Longer exposure of sunset.

Longer exposure of sunset.

Almost 10 mins later this one was taken looking to the South. You can see the Southern Cross between the wires of the chairlift. Same settings as the previous image, but 10 minutes more past sunset, the sky is looking much darker and more stars are emerging.

Southern Cross and emerging Milky Way

Southern Cross and emerging Milky Way

Another 15 mins passed and the Milky Way is really starting to emerge behind Venus. Now we are using a 1 min exposure time and 3200 ISO speed. At this point the sky and surroundings are pretty much pitch black, but in the image we are still seeing quite a bit of light from the setting Sun.

Milky Way emerging as the Sun sets.

Milky Way emerging as the Sun sets.

By this point, the Magellanic Clouds were clearly visible to the eye, so we swung around to the South and took this image of the Large Magellanic Cloud. As my husband commented, ‘it looks like you have done a really bad Photoshop job of putting a picture of houses over the sky’. Granted it does look a little odd, but I haven’t processed this image at all yet and the chateaux in the foreground were completely dark. Again the exposure was 1 minute and ISO speed 3200.

Large Magellanic Cloud above Mt Buller Chateaux

Large Magellanic Cloud above Mt Buller Chateaux

So while we were waiting for the camera to record the previous image, my friend who had already spotted a meteor, saw the ISS zooming across the sky and we managed to capture this as it went across the Northern sky from left to right before it entered the Earth’s shadow. Again we used a 1 minute exposure and ISO speed of 3200.

The International Space Station across the sky.

The International Space Station across the sky.

We then headed back to Venus and the Milky Way and took this final shot. Again the same settings, but this one I have altered the brightness and contrast in Digital Photo Professional the standard Canon software. Of all the images posted, this is the only one I have altered. More about that later.

Venus and the Milky Way after Sunset.

Venus and the Milky Way after Sunset.

So time for reflection. I need to work on the composition, how the images are put together with respect to the foreground. I would like to explore the exposure times, perhaps 30 sec and stacking. Unfortunately our fingers were frozen as were our jeans, so until next time I am in the hunt for some touchscreen gloves.

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