An unreliable memoir

Hot pixels and the death of the dark

Hot pixels and the death of the dark
I was in two minds about posting this shot. Here’s why.

On 30th August 2014 I took a photo and instantly a thought came into my mind: this shot, but with stars. It took me nearly six months to get the shot and I’m not happy with the result, but I’ve learned along the way and although the output is not up to par, I want to document the journey.

As we drove towards the location the skies cleared and the bank of low clouds obscuring the horizon dissipated. No moon, hardly any wind – this had to be the night. When I took the original shot my thought was that this location should have dark skies. How wrong can you be. I expected some glow from Plymouth but that could be dealt with by angling the camera. What I hadn’t anticipated was the security light on the church, and the whole point of this shot was to get the church and the stars in. Clearly we’re talking about multiple exposure layer masks to get the shot I really wanted, but in truth I’m not sure how far down that post processing road I want to go, as opposed to the idea of capturing a moment in time rather than constructing an image. The light on the horizon to the left is the Eddystone. I think the bright light to the right is Falmouth lighthouse, Penlee being hidden off shot to the right. What I hadn’t anticipated was the amount of light pollution from Looe and Falmouth on the right side of the image.

Taking photographs of stars isn’t easy. I never expected it to be, but in honesty I underestimated the difficulty. Standing in a steeply sloping muddy field in the dark focusing and leveling the camera become guesswork. The spirit level in your iPhone doesn’t help but because there’s no good reference surface to level it on. Most of the good starry sky shots you see come from full frame sensors which are much more suitable for this than crop sensors. The D5200 sensor tends to be noisier than I’d like when you push the sensitivity, but I made a fundamental mistake. The D5200 is rarely as sharp as I’d like either so I tend to keep in camera noise reduction off or minimized. But now I understand about long exposure noise reduction (clever stuff), so I need to try again with that on.

So this isn’t about the shot (for which I apologise). It’s about the journey and it’s about learning. I need to try again. And probably again after that. Or just stick to macros.

Nikon D5200 Nikkor 18-55mm 18mm f8 20s ISO 1000

6 responses

  1. As you say, good to learn about these things as you go. Did you just go to Cornwall this weekend to take the photo, or were you there anyway? It seems long way from Leicester to stand in a muddy gully.
    I know what you mean about not wanting to spend too long post processing, did you take a series of shots with multiple exposures in case you felt motivated to play at some point?
    Did you try longer with less ISO, or did the church blow out totally?
    And I know what you mean about liking Macros.
    [I’m getting tempted by the rumoured D7200, as an upgrade from my D5000…. Though the full frame 750 would be nice … ]

    Liked by 1 person

    January 19, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    • AJ Cann

      I was there for other reasons, but lucky with the weather! Yes, I took lots of shots but they all have the same problem. The problem isn’t the ISO but the actual sensor characteristics. At exposures longer than one second the sensor heats up and generates noise. Long exposure noise reduction is a clever way of dealing with that (Google it!). All the shots are under exposed which hasn’t helped.

      D750 – yes please!


      January 19, 2015 at 5:29 pm

  2. I have just looked it up & checked. It’s on on my camera.
    Ice packs??


    January 19, 2015 at 5:49 pm

    • AJC

      Not sure your sensor would welcome that!


      January 20, 2015 at 8:32 am

  3. I can totally understand the frustration of not getting the shot you envisioned, but what you have posted is beautiful. I haven’t played around with long exposures on my D610 yet, but I did some this time last year with my D5100 and had fairly good results without noise (35-45 second exposures I think, but it was in below 0 temperatures). Generally speaking though, I’ve had really good results using Nik software Dfine for noise reduction – one click and it takes care of everything.


    January 19, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    • AJ Cann

      Thank you.
      I want to go back and try again now that I have a better idea of what to do, but it’s not likely to be soon I can find any dark skies again.


      January 19, 2015 at 7:01 pm