Joshua Tree and Interminable Clouds

It was pretty late by the time we got back to our rental so there was less night left than you might think.

One AM … Too Many Clouds (also really forking cold and windy)

Two AM … Too Many Clouds (also really forking cold and windy)

Three AM … Too Many Clouds (also really forking cold and windy)

Four AM … Slightly Less Clouds (also really forking cold and windy). Screw it, let’s give it a shot.

There was SO MUCH we didn’t know on that first trip. The most obvious and embarrassing was where exactly the Milky Way would be in the night sky. And there was so much sky glow and cloud cover we were guessing — it’s not like it was visible to our untrained eyes. We were probably looking at Bortle 6 (maybe 7) skies.

I’ve just gone hunting for those original images of the Milky Way. Shockingly, I have the RAWs but no post-processed images. I think I must have thought (at the time) that they were so awful that they weren’t worth attempting any work on. In a way, it’s too bad because I would like to show you how I processed the images at the time. In the intervening 16 months, I’ve learned quite a bit so it’s really not possible to recreate how I would have processed the photos then. Here’s what I’ve done instead: I post-processed the image twice; once using PixInsight and Photoshop and the other using just Photoshop (as I would have done at that time). So here you go, my

First Light

The first image was processed only in Photoshop, the second in PixInsight & Photoshop.

So the first surprising thing about this image is that I had never processed it. I was so disheartened by that failure of a trip that I decided the image wasn’t even worth putting some time in on. Ok, some technical about this image:

Camera:Nikon D7100
Lens:Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8
Tripod:Indouro AKP0/AT014
Focal Length:76.5mm (effective)
Exposure:15 seconds
Aperature: f/1.8
So, clearly it was either too early or too late for me because ISO 180? That’s not even a native ISO on my camera. It’s one of those weird in between ones.

Final Thoughts

This image isn’t even as bad as I thought it was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not good by any stretch of the imagination but in my mind’s eye it was much, much worse.

Clearly I got my exposure settings wrong. 8 seconds would be about the max exposure time with this kind of lens and my camera. The ISO was way too low (although I’m looking to test using just 200, 400, and 800 for Astrophotography which is a different story) and there was no reason to shoot that lens full wide open. I could have gone with 2.8 (a sweet spot in Astro) or even 3.2 and the image would have been better because there would have been less vignetting and star distortion.

The PixInsight version (number 2 above) points out the need for calibration frames. Obviously I could have used more integration time (more exposures) but a lot of the artifacts in that image are due to the lack of calibration frames — primarily Darks and Flats.

It was really interesting to revisit my “first light” shots and not disheartening like I thought.

So, tell me about your first light down in the comments. If you have an image link me up — I’d love to take a look!