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I will start this small article with my premise:

“If you over-process a night sky image to the point of destruction it will have better results for the general public”

To make my point more clear I will show what I mean with a couple of images. I will start with this photo I took of the Winter Milky Way from the South Hemisphere:

This is a photo I like. It was taken from a very dark location away from light pollution and shows the beauty of the Milky Way from Carina to Scorpius. Dark nebulas as the pipe nebula in Scorpius or the Coalsack nebula in Crux are clearly visible. Other nebulas as the Lagoon (M8) and Triffid can also be identified. The image shows the Milky Way brighter than what can be seen with our eyes because the camera is more sensitive to light but there’s not a huge difference.  For an observer that was in that place this photo will be a good representation of what he saw and felt at that moment.

Now let’s apply a lot of contrast, saturation and sharpening to that very same image. The result is this:

In astronomical and photographical terms the photo is now destroyed. The sky is never pitch black as the photo shows it, the Milky way is never that bright, the fine details are gone and everything is now reduced to a bright blob of light against a very dark sky. It sounds terrible and it is terrible but believe me that the general public will prefer this overdone image to the original. And I also think I didn’t overdo the image enough, more damage can be done and more “spectacular” the photo will be.

I’m not going to do the experiment of uploading both photos to photo-sharing communities because I don’t like to use my viewers as Guinea Pigs but I’m totally convinced that the overprocessed image would win the battle by a huge margin.

So why is this happening? I think it is because the public, without a knowledge of astronomy, is likely to believe in almost any image of the night sky you present as something real. They have not enough knowledge of the sky or astronomy to say the photo was totally overdone.

If you present a photo of a green cow the general public will reject it saying things as “I like the photo but not the processing”, “This is not real”, “overdone”, “photoshopped” and if they have a bad day you can get something as “this is not photography”. Been there, done that.

This happens because everybody knows cows are not green, so when they see a green cow they know the image has been manipulated and they feel the photographer tried to fool them, the result is a rejection towards the photo. If you do the same with a night sky image presenting a bright green Milky Way arching above the hills of a landscape the public will love it. They just don’t know the Milky way can’t be that bright, they just don’t know it is not green and they just don’t know what astronomical features were destroyed in the processing. So without a reason to think the photo is overdone they will just admire what they see and love the photo. The comments will be “stunning”, “I never thought the sky could be so beautiful”, “your location has some amazing skies” and so on.

Even photographers will think the photo is great because they can’t tell the degree of processing applied if they don’t know hoq the real thing is. When photographers without any familiarity with the night sky start their journey in astrophotography or night landscapes they tend to overprocess the images too. This is easy to explain as they try to produce with the photos the result they will like as vieweres.

So what happens if you are a photographer with a knowledge of astronomy? Do you try to keep your photos honest and real but with your artistic touch or do you just overprocess the photo to the point of destruction to impress the public? To be honest I have no idea of the answer to this question.

As an example Iwas asked to present some photos for an exhibit recently and I had to decide between honest photos with a low impact to the public or destroyed photos to generate some “wows” I went with the first option because I need to like my photos too but from a sales, marketing or visibility point of view that’s certainly the wrong decision.

This is a view of the Milky Way above a lake in Patagonia. I took the artistic license to make the sky a little more blue than what it really was but there’s not a huge difference from the real thing. The Magellan clouds are visible on the left and they have the brightness that matches what you would see from such a dark location. There are even some traces of airglow near the horizon, that’s the brightness of earth’s atmosphere and it can only be seen in very dark places without light pollution. You can see them as bands or streaks in a greenish color. I was there and the photo represents what I saw, and what I liked in a good way.

It’s interesting in astronomical terms and I hope it’s also a beautiful view of the night sky, but can I do it better? worst?

When I show this overdone version people say “wow” they point how bright the Milky Way and the Magellan Clouds are, they ask about the location, and viewers with good eyes signal there’s a hint of “aurora” at the horizon. I can either be happy with that or just embarrassed because nothing they say is real and the photo has been destroyed. The big Magellan cloud looks like a light tube up there, I feel terrible to even show this as an exercise but print this photo big in metal paper and you have a winner. You will see people gathered around the photo, you will see photographers that want to take a workshop with you and there’s a chance you can even win some contests with such a photo, it’s novelty, it’s unique, it’s bright, it’s destroyed.

If an astronomer sees the photo, professional or amateur he will be  disgusted. But how many astronomers do you see around you now? As I say “you can’t argue with success”.

If you browse online you will find plenty of images of the Milky Way and other night sky features described as “stunning” when they are actually overprocessed shots to the point of destruction. The question is how many viewers notice that and if that is or not important to the photographer. In most cases the photographer is honest with his own processing, he just doesn’t know he is destroying the sky in the photo, he processes until he likes it. Honest photo, honest viewers, but nothing is real.

This is something that I have been thinking in the last weeks and I think it can create an interesting debate about what is the right way to go. It’s a terrible Dr Jekill and Mr Hyde feeling, I know I can make my photos more succesful if I just make them more horrible to me.

Maybe this is in some way similar to what happens with HDR. The general public loves HDRs, they are bold, bright and they look very real but many photographers don’t because they know the image is overdone to a point they don’t like it any more. So what do you do? Do you process to your likes or do you process to be succesful? Believe me you don’t want to feel that way.

If you ask me I prefer to avoid the wow factor and I hope the viewer can get interested in the night sky and learn how many beautiful things can be seen out there, the importance to fight against light pollution and that if the photo is honest there’s probably a lot to learn from it and that it can be beautiful too. If I get a “wow” from a photo that I know is not overdone then I will feel really good, the only problem is for that to happen I need to go thru many many low impact photos when I could just do a little overprocessing. The debate is now open.

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There are a lot of interesting astronomical events for photographers at the end of 2011, on October 21st we had the Orionids meteor shower, then Jupiter will be at opposition on the 28th. Venus starts to climb higher and produces some interesting conjunctions with the moon and mercury. Finally Mars also starts to climb higher in the sky and becomes brighter. The 2011 show ends on December with the 2011 Geminids meteor shower, always a reliable event even if the moon is bad for this year’s show.

I went out two nights, the 20th and 21st of October for the Orionids. The first night I tried from the coast of light-polluted Buenos Aires, I battled against winds of 40km/h and struggled all night long. The result: Zero meteors, I had hopes for a bright fireball to survive light pollution but it didn’t happen.

This is how the sky looked from my light-polluted spot:

Orion from a Light Polluted City

Orion from a Light Polluted City

Can you see Orion near the horizon? It’s difficult in the photo, easier with the naked eye.

Just before sunrise there was a nice conjunction between the Moon, Mars and Regulus. I took a shot from the same location before packing and going home:

Moon, Mars and Regulus

Moon, Mars and Regulus

For the night of the 21st I escaped to a rural area trying to win the battle against light pollution. It’s not easy when you live in a 10+ million people city like Buenos Aires, you need to drive more than 200km and even then you’ll find yourself near yet another city.

I drove to the County Observatory of Mercedes, 100km away from Buenos Aires. The observatory has nice rural skies, light pollution is only a problem in the direction of Buenos Aires to the East. Unfortunately Orion rises at the East so the battle was on again. The skies were much, much better and I managed to shoot two nice Orionid fireballs just before midnight.

Orionids from Argentina

Orionids from Argentina

The photo was selected as Amateur Astronomy Picture of the Day, thank you!

At 3am the moon emerged from the horizon and clouds rolled in, so it was time to go home. I took a shot of the cloudy nightscape with a fisheye lens to show how bright Jupiter was near opposition.

Jupiter at Opposition

Jupiter at Opposition

Jupiter shines at -2.7 magnitude you can compare it against the brightest star in the sky: Sirius at the top right of Orion. The Pleiades cluster is also visible in the photo. Even with the clouds you can see many more stars from this rural location than from a light polluted place. I will try to be in an even darker place for the Geminids, it just needs some weather help.

Finally a Stellarium capture of the Conjunction between Venus, Mercury and an ultra-thin moon just after sunset for October the 28th. If weather is good don’t miss it!

Moon-Venus-Mercury on October 28th

Moon-Venus-Mercury on October 28th

As usual I’ll be posting the photos as I process them in my Nightscapes Gallery at my website.

I have also added a new option for Matted and Mounted Metal Prints at a good price in the strange event of a visitor liking one of my photos 😉

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Jupiter & Venus

Jupiter & Venus

During May 2011 four planets gathered in the sky, that’s known in astronomy as a “conjunction”. There were infinite conjunctions during may as the planets moved along the ecliptic showing many different configurations. The event favored observers in the southern hemisphere as the planets were higher in the sky and the nights are longer during May. The first photo shows Jupiter (top) and Venus just before sunrise, daylight made the other planets fade but Jupiter & Venus were still very bright.

Venus vs the Sunrise

Venus vs the Sunrise

In this super-wide view bright Venus is still shining in the sky even if only a few minutes before sunrise. The waves are from a river: Rio de La Plata, the widest river on Earth. In a windy day the river can be quite similar to the ocean choppy and wavy.

Conjunction at Night May 5

Conjunction at Night May 5

At the beginning of the Month we had Venus high in the sky with Mercury on the side. Jupiter and fainter Mars are below. It’s quite a sight to see Mercury that high in the sky and during the night and that is only possible in the south hemisphere where Mercury is further away from the Sun and the sky is dark at 6am.

Dawn of the Planets

Dawn of the Planets

The same configuration from May 5th at Dawn. Venus and Mercury at the top with Jupiter and Mars below them. Jupiter is going to rise fast later in May.

May 15th at Night

May 15th at Night

By the middle of May (15th) Jupiter was high in the Sky, Venus, Mars and Mercury gathered below, starts from Pisces and Cetus are also visible in the photo.

Conjunction at Dawn May 22nd

Conjunction at Dawn May 22nd

One week later Jupiter was escaping fast from the conjunction while Venus, Mercury and Mars were shining even a few minutes before sunrise. In this photo some thin clouds were covering the sky and the first light of the morning lit them in several colors. Venus is so bright that it can shine thru the cloud layer.

4 in Line

4 in Line

On May the 28th the thin Moon joined the Conjunction. Jupiter, Venus and Mars follow the moon in a straight line. Mercury was still below the horizon. Several stars from Pisces, Aries, Cetus and Triangulum are visible in the photo. There is a small satellite trail just in the middle of an asterism known as “the circlet” in Pisces. If you look close you will see the stars make a circle with the satellite trail just in the middle of it.

The Great Alignment

The Great Alignment

At the end of the month, May 31st the moon was very thin and on the side of the 4-way conjunction. The four planets are in a straight line here, Jupiter is at the top left and then Mars, Venus and Mercury.

Venus by the Moon

Venus by the Moon

A few minutes earlier only Jupiter had risen from the Eastern horizon and the moon was a lot brighter, they formed a beautiful conjunction in the sky.

The Show Ends

The Show Ends

The last photo is from May 31st just seconds before sunrise. The thin Moon and Venus are still visible and the first rays of sunlight coming from below the horizon create a shadow in the sky. The last display of a nice set of planetary conjunctions.

I have more images from the Conjunctions on a special set in my website:

http://www.luisargerich.com/may2011

And a Slide show:

http://www.luisargerich.com/conjunctions-2011

One of the photos was published as NASA’s Astronomy Photo of the Day:

http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110507.html

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Sunrise at La Azul (60 mpx)

Sunrise at La Azul (60 mpx)

When doing panoramas I usually try to avoid really thin images as they are hard to visualize, hard to print and usually look like a color ribbon more than a photograph. That’s why I usually shoot panos between 2:1 and 3:1 ratios. Nevertheless in this article I will present some 6:1 panos and some ideas I’ve had for them.

Volcanic Sunrise at La Azul

Volcanic Sunrise at La Azul

The first obvious advantage is that I can choose from many sub-compositions from the big pano, for example from the first image I chose this composition to make a standard 3:1 panorama. With a high megapixel camera and a pano there are really plenty of megapixeles to choose from, sometimes details that are not easy to see on the field appear when you review the images and you can think about the best composition for the format and use you want for the image.

La Azul Lagoon (420 mpx)

La Azul Lagoon (420 mpx)

Another advantage of a gigapixel panorama is that you can use a Zooming tool to look for very detailed things while at the same time keeping the very wide view that you have in the panorama. A zoomable version of the photo where the viewer can look at very fine details is a great way to preview the level of detail you can get with a big print. Try zooming at the lagoon pano by following this link.

Plateau's Profile (150 mpx)

Plateau's Profile (150 mpx)

Finally you also have some creative ideas for printing. Like dividing the big panos in several smaller prints. From two 3:1 prints for opposite walls to many vertical shaped prints that can be put one after the other to create the visual flow needed to see the whole panorama.

With modern cameras a huge panoramic image is not difficult to make you just need to take the photos and then use a good software to assemble all the images, there are many nice advantages in a super-resolution image.

The Images in this article were stitched with PtGUI pro.

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Infrared Tricks

White Lagoon

White Lagoon

Besides having a nice effect on foliage and achieving a long exposure effect at daytime an infrared filter can make a scene look completely different than what it really was. Infrared light is invisible to the eye so what the camera is getting with the infrared filter is something that you can’t imagine or preview thru the viewfinder, sometimes the result is just a disaster, I’d say 80% of the time but from time to time the filter does make a scene interesting.

A Very Cold Summer

A Very Cold Summer

In this photo the idea was to turn a hot summer scene into a winter landscape, the lagoon was covered in vegetation and the IR filter made it white so it seems frozen but is only covered in green. The muted colors in the rest of the scene contribute to the winter-effect. Taken at 10:00 am and 38C on a hot summer morning.

The Night at Day

The Night at Day

The idea here was to simulate a night shot, the photo was taken at 11am in the morning under a blasting sun. The Infrared filter makes things reddish and if you swap the blue and red channels reddish becomes blueish. Blue hues are usually linked to night scenes so our brain may think this is a night-time photo. The whiteish foliage simulates the effect of moonlight over the scene.

Not an Ocean

Not an Ocean

In this scene the infrared filter makes the green vegetation red and the brown water blue, this along with the long-exposure effect makes the scene simpler and more beautiful than what it really was. The shot is a panorama made from 9 vertical shots stitched together.

The infrared filter is a nice way to make photos with “bad” light and is also a nice way to see a scene in a different way, you just put the filter and roll the dice to see what the result is. If you have the patience to discard all the failed experiments you can find a nice result here and there.

Photos taken With a Canon T2i, 28mm F2.8 lens and Hoya R72 Infrared filter.  Exposure times around 10-30 seconds at ISO 400.

Some of these images are now part of the Fantasy Gallery on my website. A collection of real photos that don’t look real, or something like that…

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My 2010 Selection

Yes, this is the mandatory “best of the year” blog post with the photos that I liked the most. You must be tired of tweets, RSS feeds and blogs announcing “best of 2010” features so I appreciate your visit to this post.

I’ll start with the image that I liked the most from 2010

Our Galactic Neighborhood

Our Galactic Neighborhood

I took this photo at the hills of Azul, 300km south of Buenos Aires. The skies were dramatically dark and the sight of the Milky Way was impressive. I had never seen a shot with the Milky Way and the Magellan Clouds in the same landscape and this was my chance to do it. It won some astrophotography awards with this picture, including picture of the week at Ice In Space and Amateur Photo of the Day.

The Forest's Energy

The Forest's Energy

This photo is from a small forest near Miramar, Argentina. The forest has allegedly some magical powers, there is a geomagnetic anomaly that produces energy and people go there to embrace the trees, do new age rituals and heal their minds and bodies. I went to take pictures and this is the way I depicted the “energy” that this interesting place has.

Strike One

Strike One

I was trying to photograph distant lightning at the horizon from the beach. I never noticed I was under a huge storm cell until I saw the cloud in the camera LCD!. The storm came my way and believe it or not I had to run. It wasn’t fun to be chased by a storm while carrying a big metal tripod. The photo was chosen by Flickr staff and featured in the Flickr blog. Works for me!

Moonrise by the Candlelights

Moonrise by the Candlelights

This photo shows the moon rising above rocks at the beach, the light on the rocks comes from a nearby fire. It was chosen by Scott Bourne to introduce me as one of the finalists for emerging photographer of the year. I didn’t win but I’m very happy I got that far. When I took the photo I didn’t see it as something very special but everybody seems to like it and it has grown on me.

Miramar Equinox

Miramar Equinox

I was happy to find these rocks because they looked like fingers and I thought it would be a good idea to point them to the sun as it was rising. What I didn’t expect was the reflection from high clouds in the tidal pools at the rocks. I think I took thousands of photos and this was the one I liked the most. It’s what it is all about.

Geyser Rock

Geyser Rock

This rock has a hole at one side and another one at the top. When the waves hit the front hole water enters the rock and the pressure makes the water exit thru the top hole as a Geyser. The conditions for this are not very common and I think the shot was never tried at night. I used a flashlight to paint the splash and let the camera do the rest. I think I will try again with a closer framing for now I just like this shot.

Here we go again!

Here we go again!

After 4 days waking up at 5am wanting to photograph the sunrise only to find clouds and nothing interest it finally happened. I got a nice sunrise with some beautiful clouds and the luck to find two crossing waves just in front of my camera. This is why the photo is called “here we go again” because no matter how bad the conditions are there is always tomorrow and the only secret is to be there when it happens.

Thank you for reading this boring post and happy 2011!

More photos at my site: http://www.luisargerich.com

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The last time a total Lunar eclipse took place on the 21 of December was 1648 years ago. In 2010 the event repeated, a total lunar eclipse was visible in most of the Americas during the summer or winter solstice depending on which hemisphere you live.

The 2010 Solstice Eclipse

The 2010 Solstice Eclipse

From my location: Buenos Aires, Argentina the eclipse started at 3:27am in the morning with the moon setting, moonset was during the totality stage so we only saw half of the eclipse. Fortunately the other half is just symmetrical to the first part but in reverse order and as the moon approached the horizon an optical illusion made it seem bigger than what it really was. A giant red moon looming over the horizon, that’s something you have to see!

Totality

Totality

I took photos every 2 minutes with a Canon T2i (550D) and a Canon 400mm F5.6 lens, the 1.6x crop factor of the 550D combined with the 400mm lens gave me a field of view of 640mm. I decided not to use the 1.4x teleconverter as it would make my lens go from F5.6 to F8 and the totality phase of the eclipse would take a long exposure time resulting in a blurry photo due to the Moon movement. The moon moves quite fast in the sky, I had to chase it with my camera from shot to shot. A micrometric head like the Manfrotto 410 helps a lot in that task.

Before and After

Before and After

During totality the moon is in the Earth’s shadow so it is not lit by the sun but from Earth’s own light, when the atmosphere is clear the moon turns very red, in years with volcanic eruptions the moon can turn brown chocolate or be completely black. During this eclipse the stratosphere was very clear resulting in a bright red moon during the totality phase.

Solstice Eclipse Starscape

Solstice Eclipse Starscape

It’s very difficult to take a photo of the stars with the moon included in the frame, the moon is so bright that gets totally overexposed producing flares glare and diminishing the stars. During the totality phase of the eclipse the moon was very dim allowing the capture of the moon against a background of stars in the same field of view.

You can check more photos at my site: http://www.luisargerich.com

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