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Gear Essentials

Lesson 5 from: Beginner's Guide to Astro Landscape Photography

Peter Baumgarten

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Lesson Info

5. Gear Essentials

Next Lesson: Camera Settings

Lesson Info

Gear Essentials

After landscape photography, this has probably become one of the fastest growing styles of photography, mainly because of improvements in camera design and lens construction over the last few years, but you don't really need a lot of gear to get into it. I know when I first started getting into astrophotography, I really didn't think that my camera gear could do it or that I could do it. It didn't take long for me to figure out that, actually, you don't need a heck of a lot. You need a camera body, a wide angle lens and a tripod. And if you've got those three things, you can at least start experimenting with some night sky photography. Now, with regards to the camera body, ideally which should be something that's probably come out in the last five or six years, or even more recently, sensor technology has improved dramatically over the last five or six years. I certainly noticed it with the cameras that I'm shooting with. If you have an older camera, then having something that at least...

has full manual control. Nothing is shot in auto at night. Your camera just can't do auto at night, so it has to be fully manual. It doesn't matter whether it's full frame or crop sensor. I'm using Micro Four Thirds and I get fantastic results. More important than the actual camera body and sensor is the lens. You need a lens that is capable of gathering as much light as possible. So, if you have it in your kit already, then something with an F-2.8 aperture would be ideal or even larger. F-2, F-1.4, F-1.8, in that range. As far as a tripod goes, you may want something that's quite solid. I like mine because I can get low to the ground for those shots where I really wanna accentuate the night sky. But, really that's all you need. Now, within my kit, here I've got a couple of camera bodies. So, what I'm shooting primarily with right now is the Olympus EM-1X. It's a nice, rugged, light-durable camera. It's got great sensor technology in it and it can certainly handle, you know, the kinds of conditions that I shoot in because I'm not just a night sky photographer. I'm shooting around water. Gets completely soaked. Here, we're in a rather dry, dusty environment. I know that it can handle that, no problem. I also carry around the E-M1 MARK II and it's a slightly smaller footprint in your hand. You can also add the battery grip because sometimes at night, having additional battery power can be really useful. But, even if you have an entry level camera, within the Olympus line-up that I know the best, so I'll talk about it. The E-M10, Mark I, II or III, I've done quite a few astro shots with those 16 megapixel sensor, and I can still get fantastic results. These are both 20 megapixel sensors. As far as my lenses go, my go-to baby is this little guy. It's a 12-millimeter F-2. It's not a pro-line lens, it's a premium lens. It's got great construction but it is a small lens. But, with an F-2.0 aperture, I can easily focus it manually and it let's in a lot of light, but weighs next to nothing. I also love using my fisheye lens, in here somewhere. Here we go. All right, there's my eight millimeter fisheye and that will give me 180 degree field of view and we're certainly gonna try to do a couple of shots with that tonight. And sometimes you can get some really cool snaking of the Milky Way. It does distort your horizon, which I normally don't like for regular landscape shooting, but at night, that doesn't seem to bother me as much. Although, it's easy to correct in post if you would prefer a straight horizon line. Another lens that I like to shoot with on occasion, because of it's field of view, is the 7-14 F2.8 PRO lens. That's the one that's on the EM1X right now. And then I brought another one that's a super fast lens, the 17MM F1.2. Now, if you are in the market for a new lens, faster is not always better. You do have to be careful of lens construction and some issues that can creep up with some lenses. Try to make sure that you're getting an aspherical lens, right, so that, this is glass that has an irregular shape. It's not part of a perfect sphere. And that can help eliminate chromatic aberration, which you can often see in some images where you get this purple fringing around areas of high to low contrast areas, like a star. You've got the bright star nestled in amongst the inky blackness of space, and you'll get this purple ring. You wanna try to find a lens that doesn't give you that kind of chromatic aberration. Now, that's relatively easy to correct in post. Lightroom does it in one movement of the slider. But if you can avoid having it in the first place, that's better. A far bigger issue actually is something called coma and that occurs around the edges of your frame. And the stars, the brightest stars, will actually look like they've grown wings and they look like little doves, and it can be quite pronounced. And some, I've seen some tests run with really expensive lenses. Fast, expensive lenses and they can produce more coma than a lens that's half the price. So just because you're paying a lot more for a lens doesn't necessarily mean you're getting a better quality image, especially at night. So those are a couple of things to look at. Another item that you might wanna have in your kitbag is a remote cable release. Something like this, that'll plug into your camera and that'll allow you to trigger your camera without you actually having to touch the shutter release button, because you don't want that camera to move one bit. If you don't have a cable release, there's certainly another work-around. You can use the delay features on it. You can set a custom delay at one second, two seconds, five seconds, whatever you feel is necessary. Now, of course, we are gonna be working at night, so, you wanna be able to pull out a headlamp of some kind, or a flashlight, right? I'm using a rechargeable model so I can turn that on. I've got a couple of settings on this. I've got a brighter setting, right? A dimmer setting. And then, ideally, you want one that's got a red light setting on it. It takes a while for your eyes to adjust at night and every time you turn on the bright lights. I won't shine it right at you, but every time you turn that on your eyes, your pupils are contracting, right? And therefore, less light is getting in once you turn it off, so it takes your eyes a little bit of time to adjust. So having a good quality headlamp is good. If it's not rechargeable then bring along some extra batteries. I've also got a small little flashlight in here that allows me to do some additional panning if I wish to. All right? Or if my headlamp craps out on me, the last thing you wanna do is struggle to find your way back to the car and, you know, at two in the morning, after everything's done, because you're headlamp has gone on the fritz. All right. I've got a few other things in my bag that I would use for like, landscape shooting that, you know, I wouldn't pull out at night. I've got a longer lens that I might use in the evening. I've got some filters in here but the majority of what I'm using is a 12 F-2 lens, a 7-14, an 8 millimeter fisheye, and then I might pull out the for a slightly narrower field of view, but a brighter image because it's shooting at F1.2. The other thing to keep in mind when you are shooting with a faster lens, some lenses when they're wide open, actually are a little soft. And you have to stop them down in order to get your stars to be as sharp as possible. You don't wanna have to do that if you can avoid it. One of the reasons why I stuck with Olympus is not only because of the construction of their body but they make amazing glass. Some of the best glass in the industry and I'm not getting coma wide open. I'm getting nice, sharp stars wide open. I'm really happy with the gear that I've got. But, you don't need a lot of gear to get started.

Ratings and Reviews

Lana Froemming

I purchased the Creative Live + Olympus Step Outside Conference Bundle some time ago, and it has taken me this long (too long) to view the astrophotography class. Although not a beginner, I have been using Olympus gear (EPL5 & EM1) for about 7 years now, I have only dabbled in astrophotography – and as a result, blown my fair share of what should have been killer shots. When I did give it a go, I obtained most of my settings’ tips by combing through Peter’s blog posts and then racing out the door. Although I feel that I know my camera pretty well I still learned so much from this course. I appreciate that he walked the viewer through multiple night time photography events including shooting the milky way, the moon, aurora, meteor showers & star trails as well as talked about the different camera features including night sky panoramas, in-camera multiple exposures, live comp & time lapse and presented a variety of lens choices and why (plus so much more). What I love about Creative Live is that once you purchase a “class” you own it and can return to your classroom over, and over again. I also appreciate that they work with experts who are also amazing teachers. Peter is one of those.

Doug Marshall

Some classes are just fantastic and this is one of them! Peter Baumgarten is a wonderful presenter of his extensive knowledge, experience and passion for the subject. This is a course I will return to watch again and again. Highly recommended if you are like me and are interested in getting into astrophotography and landscape.

elizabeth chambers

To my way of thinking this was the best photographic genre instructor featured during the Olympus Step Outside series. He may be a more seasoned instructor than the photographers demonstrating landscape and bird photography. Whatever the reason, I thought he seemed to understand his audience particularly well. Great advice and the post processing was interesting. Likely because of my familiarity with Lightroom, I found the post production done by the bird and landscape photographers rather mundane whereas the astro photography post production was new and interesting to me.

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