Witt’s End

It's Not About Stories People Tell, It's About …

A large part of the fun, and frustration, of astro photography is that you can rarely see what you’re making images of. If you’re shooting pictures of birds, or buildings, you see them in the viewfinder, do all the composition things, exposures, focusing, etc. With astro photography, what you’re taking pictures of might not even be there! It could be the light is just reaching us here on Earth and the subject, the nebula or galaxy, might be long gone. If you’re imaging the moon or one of the planets, you can be relatively sure it’s still there when you make the image. Another aspect of astro photography is that even while you’re making the shot, anything and everything might fly through the picture. Take the Great Orion Nebula, M42, for example. It’s 1,344 light years out there. To keep that in perspective, light travels at a rate of 186,000 miles per second, or, 5.88 trillion miles per year. Well, you do the math. Let’s say it’s a looooonnnnggg way off. So, the odds of something getting between you and the subject are great–about the same as trying to get an unobstructed image of your kid at Disney World. Airplanes and satellites (Elon Musk’s Starlink satellites are a real threat to astro photography, but that’s a subject for another discussion.) are just some of the human-made challenges.

The natural interference, clouds, birds, even humidity, can ruin a picture. Or, enhance it, as is the case with the image I made a couple nights ago of the Great Orion Nebula, M42. Clear nights here in northeast Ohio are rare. I think we’ve had four so far this year. So, while I was set up here on the edge of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, able assistant neighbor Les standing by for moral support, I fired away. In astro photography we shoot many images and use software to “stack” the many images into a single picture. I was about 35 or 40 images into the shoot, Les and I were watching the pictures being made on the camera’s screen, when zap! we saw a streak go through the middle of the picture. We looked toward the nebula but saw no airplane or satellite. One of those moments that make you say, “huh”.

The next morning, during post processing of the work from the night before, I came across two images of interest. I combined the shots into a single image and this was the result. We were photo bombed by a wonderful meteor. I’m not sure if it was bright enough to qualify as a bolide, however, it was spectacular. Did it ruin the image? Only if you’re a purest. And if you’re a purest, you best get out of the astro photography hobby. The reason for the gap in the streak is because the camera hesitates for one second between shots. As I said, this is two images, perfectly registered to yield a single picture.

2 thoughts on “What You See Ain’t Necessarily What You Get

  1. Ciba says:

    Another very informative and entertaining post! And well illustrated with a gorgeous photo. What luck to catch that meteor. Keep these coming, Clyde!


  2. Peggy says:

    Love your photos, Clyde💕👏👩🏻‍🦳


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