Beginners guide to The galaxy

This will be an easy to follow beginners guide to photographing the night sky. Nothing super complicated and with a few fun techniques thrown in.
First off, the settings I mention in this guide are only suggestions for starting points, your settings will depend entirely on your circumstances but I will get into that later. Beware, once you get a hang of this you’ll never want to stop.

My first tip is that you download an app that lets you identify the things you see in the night sky. My favourite one is Stellarium, can be used both on your phone and on a computer. It will help you identify constellations, nebulae, clusters, galaxies, planets and even satellites you see floating by. Knowing what you’re looking at and capturing in your photos makes the whole experience so much more exciting!

Screenshot from the app Stellarium

So, what do we need in terms of equipment?
You’ll need a camera with the option to use manual settings, a lens which gathers lots of light and a tripod or any surface where your camera will lay perfectly still for several seconds.
What do I mean when I say ‘a lens which gathers lots of light?’ You need to choose a lens with a low f-stop (like f/1.2 up to f/2.8 but up to 4 will also work reasonably well.) That will be a lens with a large aperture.
Low number = large aperture = lets in lots of light.
High number = small aperture = lets in a smaller amount of light.

Most Smartphones these days will have the option to use manual settings and you can definitely get pictures of the night sky with a phone!

Manual mode on a Huawei P20 Pro

We have our camera, lens and tripod and are ready to go! Now comes the hard part, finding a dark sky. They are few and far between these days with the amount of light pollution in and around our cities. The amazing photos you see of a bright Milky Way are taken in properly dark locations so if you can, try to get as far away from light pollution as possible.
When it comes to the aurora, it shines much brighter than the Milky Way and can be seen right in town in places like my home town , Kiruna, Sweden.If you can’t get to a properly dark location then have a go where you can.

Getting started

Set your camera in manual mode.
Focusing will be the trickiest part and can make or absolutely ruin a picture.
You’ll want the stars to look like tiny pinpoints of light, to achieve this there are a few techniques to try.
If the moon is up you can use auto focus, just point your camera at the moon and focus, then switch it over to manual focus and don’t touch it again. Check the image on the camera’s screen, zoom in and make sure the moon is actually in focus.
If you don’t have a bright light source far away to automatically focus on (like the moon or a street light far away) you’ll have to do it manually.
Switch over to manual focus and turn it to the infinity symbol and then just a tiny bit back again, take a test shot and check if the stars are in focus. If not, try again until you get it!
Then make sure you don’t touch the lens again and accidentally bump it out of focus.

I’m lucky enough to live where dark skies are all around, even here in town it’s possible to get the Milky Way visible in a photo. These settings will be suggestions on where to start and then you adjust from there. The best way to learn, I find, is to just try and fail many, many times.

Settings

Try setting your ISO to 800, aperture to the lowest possible number for your lens or phone, and the exposure length to 10 seconds.
Hopefully you’ll see a whole bunch of stars in your photo!
If you’re in a very dark location, turn your ISO even higher and do longer exposures.
Your digital noise (the grain you see in photos) will increase with a higher ISO number, this varies quite a bit between different cameras.
If you’re in a town or another bright location you might need to dial it down a bit instead.
There are light pollution filters you can get but I haven’t tried any myself so I won’t go into how well they work.

So that’s a starting point and hopefully you got an idea of how it works.

When it comes to the aurora, all rules are thrown out the window! The aurora is constantly moving and changing. It’s changing in shape, color and most importantly – brightness.
The starting point I mentioned is a good place to start with the aurora as well but you will have to adjust.
If the aurora is very bright you can lower the exposure time quite a bit, all the way down to below 1 second in some cases. On the other hand, when it’s very weak and barely even visible to the eye you’ll want to do a longer exposure.
If it’s moving rapidly you might want to capture the shapes, the spikes and twists and turns. To do this you’ll need to lower the exposure time to freeze the movement and maybe instead turn the ISO higher depending on how bright or weak the aurora is. It also depends on what type of photo you want to get, maybe you don’t want to freeze the movements but you want a smooth, green sky instead, then you do a longer exposure and again, depending on how bright the aurora is you adjust your ISO accordingly.

I will insert a few photos here and write down the settings I used to give you an idea.

The Milky Way in Holmajärvi

The Milky Way shot in Holmajärvi here in Kiruna, Sweden. I shot this with a Sony a7s and a Samyang 20mm f/1.8 lens. Settings: ISO 3200, f/1.8, 25 seconds.

This is a location with barely any light pollution at all, on this night the Milky Way was the first thing that caught my eye when I stepped out of the car. On a moonless night like that, at a dark location, you’ll need to push your settings, high ISO and long exposures! One thing to think about is the focal length of your lens, preferably choose a wide angle, 12-20mm or so. The more zoom you have the shorter your exposures will have to be or you’ll start seeing startrails because of the rotation of the earth.

The Milky Way on the edge of town

Compare that first picture of the Milky Way with this one. They were taken at the same time of the year but this one was shot at ISO 800, f/2.8, 30 seconds and the major difference is that this one was shot right on the edge of town so much more light pollution in the way. You can still see the Milky Way with the naked eye but just barely. Location really makes all the difference!

Panorama of the aurora shot behind my house, in town.

I shot this with a Nikon D800 and a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens at 14mm. Settings: ISO 400, f/2.8, 4 seconds.

When it comes to the aurora it is much easier to see despite light pollution but you will always get a better experience if you get away from all the lights. I shot this panorama right behind my house in town, it was a very bright display so it was an amazing show despite all the city lights.

As you can see, my settings here are very different from the ones I suggested as a starting point before. Because this was shot right here in town, the foreground is already illuminated by the lights from my street right behind me, the sky is illuminated by light pollution from the town, hence the purple glow and small amount of visible stars. The aurora was incredibly bright and active though so still very easy to photograph. If I had done a longer exposure with a higher ISO the highlights in the aurora would have been blown out and just appeared white, as you can see on the left where the town centre is located.

The aurora through the mist on the river in Nikkaluokta

I shot this with a Nikon D800 and a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens at 15mm. Settings: ISO 640, f/2.8, 25 seconds.

Here I’ve done a much longer exposure because the aurora was much, much weaker. The foreground also allows for much longer exposures in this location, my absolute favourite, Nikkaluokta. There is next to no light pollution whatsoever, no people or noise. Just you and a blanket of stars. The bright area on the right is not from any type of city lights it’s simply due to the time of year this was shot. The very last night of August and the very start of our dark period after a summer of midnight sun.

The corkscrew corona

Shot with a Nikon D800 and a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens at 14mm. Settings: ISO 1250, f/2.8, 0,5 seconds.

This is an example of an extremely short exposure, half a second. This was an incredibly bright display with coronas appearing one after the other, moving rapidly. I really wanted to capture the shapes created in the corona so I did several super short exposures. This amazing corkscrew formation only appeared like this in one 0,5 second frame and then it had turned into something else. As you can see I bumped up the ISO to compensate for the short exposure time. Once it clicks (heh) this will all just come naturally to you, the relationship between the ISO, aperture (f number) and exposure time.

Try using manual settings during the daytime as well and it will all make sense pretty quickly!

Astrophotography with a phone

Yes, it can be done with most modern smartphones. You won’t get anywhere near the quality of a DSLR but you can definitely get decent photos for posting online for example. I have to admit that I’ve never made a serious attempt at getting a good astrophoto with my phone, I only use it to take quick snapshots to post on twitter as a ‘hey! There’s aurora right now!’ and then I grab my camera. But those snapshots make it clear that it definitely is possible.

You’ll need some type of tripod or stand for your phone to keep it absolutely still during the exposure. Open your camera app and set it to Pro mode (that’s what it’s called on a Huawei P20 Pro, might be called something else on yours) where you can use manual settings. There are also several apps you can download that let you do long exposures on a phone. I won’t say anything about them because I haven’t tried them but that can definitely be an option.

Manual settings on a Huawei P20 Pro.

Once you’re in there, it’s really the same as working with any other camera. Try the settings I mentioned before and adjust as needed and see what you get! You will want to set it on timer to avoid any shake when you press the shutter.

This is one of those snapshots taken from my balcony. I didn’t use any type of stand so it’s not at all sharp, it’s by all means a horrible photo but it does show you that you can indeed capture the stars and aurora with a phone. Just don’t do it this way, do as I say, not as I do mmkay? If you use a tripod and frame your image properly you’ll get something way better than this. 🙂 I have seen pictures of the Milky Way taken with a phone so that can also be done but again, it won’t be the level of detail or quality as with a proper camera.

Have Fun!

Here’s a fun technique as promised.
This is not a Photoshop job, this effect was achieved in camera and is incredibly easy. I simply did a long exposure of the Milky Way, 30 seconds, once the exposure started I waited a couple of seconds and then, while the shutter was open, I slowly and very carefully turned the lens to zoom in. You can see that there is a bit of camera shake even though I was extremely careful. A few more tries might have done the trick but I only did the one.

Warp speed through the galaxy

Shot with a Nikon D800 and a Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8 lens starting at 14mm and zooming all the way in to 24. Settings: ISO 1000, f/2.8, 30 seconds.

Another way to get a more interesting photo is to create panoramas. With editing software like Adobe Camera RAW or Lightroom it’s super simple.
You simply turn your camera on its side and shoot in portrait orientation, still on a tripod. When you rotate the camera to take your next panel of the panorama, make sure you overlap at least 40% of the previous frame. Make absolutely sure you keep your camera level for all exposures or the whole panorama will be tilted or the software might not even know how to stitch your panels together. Keep going until you’ve got the width you want. If you use Lightroom you just check all the frames you want in the pano, right click and select ‘photo merge’,  ‘panorama’ and boom, you’re done.
I always do lens correction before merging to get rid of any vignettes in the original frames.

The Milky Way, Venus, Mars, the Andromeda Galaxy, Pleiades, aurora, the Zodiacal light and airglow.

Shot with a Nikon D800 and a Nikkor 14-24mm at 14mm. Settings: each panel shot at ISO 2500, f/2.8, 30 seconds.

I always shoot in RAW format and I suggest you do too, if you don’t know how to develop/process RAW files yet you’ll be happy you have them once you’ve learned. You can usually choose to save both a RAW copy and a jpeg, if you don’t know how to handle the RAW’s, make sure you select that option.

As you’ve seen in this post, the settings will depend entirely on the circumstances of the night and location you’re in. This is why I always say no when people ask me to always write down my settings every time I post a picture. It just wouldn’t be very helpful to anyone. Everyone is free to ask though and I will always happily answer.

I hope you found some of this helpful!

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I’m fine, really

If you follow me you have probably noticed that I haven’t posted much new photography for quite a while.
I took a break.
It wasn’t planned at all, it just happened. One day I realised that I hadn’t touched a camera for many weeks.
I think all of us have these periods, one day you wake up and your inspiration, drive and desire have just vanished.
If you’re like me and live with anxiety and a constantly present bud of depression, the more time that passes the harder it will be to pick back up. That thought alone creates even more stress and there you are, in a downward spiral without a clue how to climb back up.
This would be where those ‘self-help gurus’ turned this blog post into an article on how you can easily snap yourself out of it in ten easy, breezy steps (with a few well placed ads for ‘natural remedies’).
Well, I’m not one of them so that won’t be happening here, sorry.

Pretty, old, picture because hey, it’s something to look at.

When living with depression, it will feel like one of the worst things you can do is stop doing the things that you love, the things that make you feel good and more so, good about yourself. I’m not saying this as any sort of expert, I’m only speaking from my own experience. I know that when I take away the things that bring me joy, the dark disaster thoughts get more room.
Am I seriously ill and I just don’t know it yet? Will I die in a fiery car crash if I get behind the wheel today? Will an asteroid hit earth tonight? Will I be horribly judged if I post this photo? Will they think I’m an idiot if I reply to this tweet?
Many years ago I let those thoughts take over because I wasn’t equipped to handle them. I was left with an overwhelming feeling of not being in control of anything which in turn lead to me alternating between starving myself and binge eating. My own food intake was something I could control so I did, that landed me in a treatment facility for seven long weeks.
I think that I can confidently say that it won’t happen again.
Everyone who lives with anxiety, depression and panic attacks will know that every dark period teaches us more than any professor ever could.

Look! A squirrel!

I know that I will be out of this period soon, that’s always the case. I couldn’t trust in that back then because I didn’t know, I hadn’t lived through it enough times to know for sure that it gets better. Now I do. It gets better.
Now I’m in a place where I feel OK about taking a break, even if it’s from something I really love.
I even think it might be healthy to do just that, take a break. If you find yourself suddenly lacking that drive and passion for the thing you do, if possible, try just not doing it for a while.
For me, the result is usually a completely renewed love, a fresh perspective and even more joy once I pick back up again.
I don’t know why I felt the need to post this at all, no one has complained about the lack of new photos. In fact, people have been absolutely lovely!
But that’s the thing with anxiety, it’s that little nasty devil on your shoulder, whispering into your ear that any minute now everyone will figure out what a fraud you are so you feel the need to explain yourself even though nobody asked.

As I said, I have no simple solutions, no miraculous remedy. I’m just venting.
And I just want you to know that if you’re struggling with similar things/thoughts, you are not alone and you’re not crazy (trust me, I have it on paper from actual doctors.)

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Imposter syndrome and messed up sense of self worth

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Don’t compare yourself to others, ok? Just don’t.
This is ‘do as I say, not as I do’ kind of advice because I do just that from time to time and I can tell you it’s not worth it!

If you are approached about your work by someone who admires it, then your work deserves the admiration. That’s it, as simple as that. It’s so easy in theory, if you put yourself and your work down, of course others will follow suit. If you say your photo is not worth paying for, then why would anyone want to pay for it?

It’s so incredibly easy to be mean to ourselves, we tell ourselves things we would never say to a friend. I would never tell someone their work sucks or that they’re simply not good enough or deserving of the breaks and chances others get. Never! So why can I tell myself those things without thinking twice about it?

Imposter syndrome is a real son of a bitch and isn’t good for anyone.
Do you ever (all the time) feel like you’ve gotten to where you are by pure luck? That it’s just a matter of time before everyone realises that you don’t really know anything at all, that you’re a fraud? When people reach out asking to pay for your hard work, your gut reaction is ‘why?’ When you win an award you can’t fully enjoy it because part of you is afraid they’ll take it back when they realise you weren’t really worthy at all?

Yeah, it’s a real SOB.

I don’t have any real solutions for this so maybe I shouldn’t be writing about it at all. I guess I just want to let you know that you’re not alone if you’re dealing with the same type of thoughts.

I read something that really struck a chord with me, I can’t find it again but here’s the gist of it,
‘has anyone told you these things? Has anyone approached you and said you and your work sucks and isn’t worthy? No? Then it’s all in your head’.
And it is, it’s all in our heads.
As I said before, if someone is praising your work then it’s worthy of praise!

I fake it a lot, a whole lot. Fake it til you make it, dress for the job you want, not the job you’ve got.
I’m not saying I fake my photos, hell no, I’m saying I fake confidence a lot of the time and I can tell you that it works. With time you start believing yourself, at least a little bit.
I fake it because I don’t want anyone else to sell themselves short. Be proud of yourself and what you do, when you get a compliment, dare to fully take it in and be grateful. There’s NO need to tell them all the reasons you think they’re wrong. And on the flip side, when you get real comments like the ones you tell yourself, that are just saying you suck and lacking any constructive criticism, just let them go. Let them go or let that person know how messed up it is to say that to a stranger, because it’s always a stranger. Just don’t ever let it get to you. Don’t let that one negative comment drown the ten positive or constructive ones because it’s just in your head. Like I said before, I would never tell anyone their work is crap just for the heck of it and I’m sure that you wouldn’t either so don’t let anyone do it to you.

 

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I can promise you this, letting the self doubt take over leads you down a deep dark spiral. It makes you miss incredible opportunities, you’re laying out trip wire for yourself and you’ll just keep falling.
No matter who you are or what you do, how big or small your ‘following’ is, how many ‘better’ or more accomplished people there are in your field – just be proud of yourself. Be proud of and truly enjoy every little accomplishment. Tell yourself that you’re good enough. Our brains are pretty easily manipulated so I mean it when I say ‘tell yourself’. If you say it often enough you’ll eventually start to believe it.
I’ll get there too one day.

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A summary

Winter is coming to an end and so is the aurora season. Our nights are now getting much brighter and soon there will be daylight round the clock.
It’s with mixed feelings I see the starry sky go this time. It’s always sad not being able to stargaze at all but this year I’m happy to welcome summer.
Not many photos were taken by me this autumn and winter. At the beginning of the season I relapsed in my disease and was too sick to go anywhere at night. Then my beloved Tellus suddenly fell ill and left us way too soon.
Weeks after that I had my radiation treatment and am still recovering while waiting for the results.

Needless to say, this season has been awful.

I still wanted to share a few photos taken in the last eight months.

This was the start of the season. The end of August when nights were finally dark enough to see the light. I shot these, by the Bengt Hultqvist Observatory here in Kiruna, an observatory owned and operated by the Space High School.

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Next up is this September night out in the village Holmajärvi not far from town. The first sighting of our beautiful galaxy, The Milky Way. The aurora also put on a show that night. Our galaxy is not the only one visible in this photo, in the top left corner just to the left of the satellite trail is the Andromeda Galaxy. Our neighbour 2,5 million light-years away.

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Later on in September I shot this. My most treasured photo. It’s not by any means technically perfect, it’s a snapshot in our backyard but it means the world to me. Tellus and I enjoying the autumn night while the aurora shines above. ❤️

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And then everything happened. Life fell apart, hearts broke. This was February 4th, almost a month after Tellus passed. My first time out stargazing behind the house since it happened.

The aurora flared up as I was climbing the plowed up snow hill so I sat down and teary eyed took this picture.

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That’s this whole season summed up. Time for a fresh start, time to heal. Time to soak up the sunlight, watch everything come back to life. Watch my new family member Wil Wheaten grow up and create new adventures together.

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Can you really see colorful aurora with the naked eye?

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We’ve all seen the photos, bright shining green lights, sometimes even pink or purple.
The stunningly beautiful aurora borealis, the northern lights.

We’ve also seen the articles with headlines asking if we can really see them.
Do they really look colorful to our eyes, are they really bright or is it just photo editing magic?

Every such article I’ve read was written by someone who briefly, maybe for a weekend, visited a region where the northern lights appear and a lot of them came to the conclusion that no, it’s all enhanced photos.

This post is not written by a visitor, someone out to spend a few days investigating the truth.
This is written by someone who lives in one of those regions.
Here in subarctic Kiruna, Sweden, the aurora is just as normal as clouds in the sky. To those of us who have spent our lives under winter skies of green, the existence of brilliantly bright and colorful lights in the sky isn’t up for debate.

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Can you see them shining bright and colorful with the naked eye?   Undoubtedly yes!

Will you?
Impossible to say.

The thing is, you can never know for sure if there will be visible aurora on any given night.
There are forecasts but there are so many variables to take into account, you can never look at a forecast predicting a massive event and be certain that you’ll see anything at all.

The aurora can occur all year and at all hours of the day or night so why do people talk about the aurora season?
The answer is simple: sunlight is incredibly bright, the aurora doesn’t stand a chance to outshine our nearest star.
In the arctic region summer is dominated by the sun both day and night, the same goes for the antarctic region in winter.
During that season it’s impossible to see the aurora.

From September until mid April, that’s the “aurora season” for us in the North. On most clear nights during this period there will be aurora.
You can see the most mind blowing shows, rapidly moving beams of colorful light, flowing veils of green and pink. The kind of sight that makes you stop and stare and gasp for air.

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So why do these writers say that it’s all camera magic? I’ve even seen one say that it’s impossible for the human eye to see any color at all in the aurora.

The answer is this: they were simply unlucky or, possibly, have bad night vision.

There won’t be spectacular shows every night.
Sometimes it’s no more than a faint haze on the horizon, a colorless dim band stretching from east to west. You’re not sure if it’s a thin cloud or something else.
In those cases your camera will give a very different image. That faint colorless haze will be green and/or red in your picture.

Sometimes it’s a slightly brighter band reaching higher in the sky, maybe a hint of color and you can see that it is moving.

Sometimes – and these are the times us aurora lovers live for – it’s like a massive explosion in the sky. Lights dancing in every direction, seemingly shooting out of a dark center spot directly overhead. So bright and intense that it feels like you can reach out and touch it.

You can find yourself experiencing any of these examples or even all of them in one single night but you can never know beforehand what you will see.

That is part of the allure of the aurora.

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If you find yourself reading one of those pieces on how the colorful lights aren’t really colorful at all, just sit back and think about simpler times ages ago.
Ask yourself why there are old legends about the aurora from every culture around the auroral zone.

Why did Finns centuries ago come up with stories about how those mysterious dancing lights were really caused by the flaming tail of the Firefox, if they couldn’t even see them?
Or in Norse mythology where there is a legend saying that the shining northern lights were reflections from the armour of the Valkyrie?

There certainly weren’t any fancy digital cameras back then when these legends were born so I would be willing to bet that those people saw the lights just as vividly as we do now.

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Those of us who have fallen madly in love with the elusive aurora and spend countless clear nights out waiting for them, we do it because when those spectacular shows happen, it’s one of the most beautiful sights a human can ever lay their eyes on.
We wouldn’t be out there in – 40°C weather waiting, sometimes for hours, for something that wasn’t worth it.

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Let’s talk about gear

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One of the questions I get asked the most, besides “when can I see the aurora, will it be there on Thursday at 8.30pm?” is about which camera I use.

I always answer, of course, but what I really want to say, and sometimes do, is that it doesn’t matter.
Yes, an expensive pro camera will probably give you more resolution, maybe a bit sharper pics, maybe shoot a few more frames per second but ask yourself if you really need it.
None of my cameras are considered professional level by the way.
I’ll be honest, I love Nikon (nope, they haven’t sponsored me in any way) the Nikon gear I own is all amazing, I like the menus, the placement of buttons and gears, the design and most importantly the results I get.

That’s my honest opinion BUT I realise that this is largely because the first proper DSLR I bought happened to be a Nikon (D7000) and I learned the menus, buttons, dials and got comfortable with it to the point where I can use it for my astrophotography in complete darkness without having to see the buttons.
As the years went by and it was time to get a new camera I decided that I wanted to step up to full frame and of course it needed to be a Nikon.
By this time I had acquired lenses for the previous camera and I really didn’t want to sell all those and have to learn a new system.
This is how it goes for many of us.
As I said, I do love it, it does the job and it does it incredibly well! Even though the Nikon I use now is almost 6 years old (D800).
Not to mention that it works great even in -40°C weather AND survives being forgotten out in the yard overnight while it’s snowing (don’t try that at home, it was not a nice surprise to wake up to).

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Shot at -42°C with the Nikon D800

The thing is, no one has mentioned a change in quality in my images when I switched cameras (I also use a Sony a7s), not followers on social media and not magazines, newspapers or anyone else who has published my photos through the years.

Even back when I first started, when I used the cheapest camera I could find, an entry level Olympus pen, I got comments from people saying “wow, you must have a great camera!”.

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Shot with the Olympus pen

And that’s my entire point.
No, you don’t need the most expensive pro camera when you’re starting out. Let your gear grow with your needs. Sure, if you’re shooting mainly fast paced sports events you will need a camera that can shoot more frames per second. And yes, it’s great having a full frame sensor when shooting astrophotography but the image is created by you.
You’re the one making that photo, whether it’s with the most expensive camera on the market or your phone.
If I give my camera to another photographer and have her shoot the same scene I just shot, our pictures will still be different from each other.
If I have Ami Vitale shoot a scene with her phone while I shoot the same with my DSLR, I’m willing to bet that her phone pic will be a million times better than my “real” pic.

Maybe I’ve just been reading too much in the various photography groups on Facebook lately and this gear obsession isn’t that common? I don’t know. I just wish that we would stop pixel peeping so much and focus more on the images.

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Let’s talk about it

Yesterday I posted a tweet about an upcoming photography exhibition where some of my work will be shown. I mentioned that I will not be speaking at the show opening because I just can’t handle it. I was asked why and answered honestly and bluntly: because of severe social anxiety, who knows why, I wish it wasn’t so. 

This prompted one person to privately message me saying I just need to get out of my comfort zone.
Now this isn’t something I haven’t heard many times before. This isn’t new to anyone with social anxiety, depression or any other sort of mental health issues.
This post isn’t aimed at that person, at all, but that message pushed me to write this post.

I have been very open about this in interviews and on my social media sites. It’s not something I’m ashamed of or find embarrassing and no one should! It’s just what it is. We’re all different and that’s good.

My journey in photography/art is probably very similar to those of many others.
You see, mental health issues are very common in creative people. Why is this? I don’t know, I’m no expert but I can speak for myself and based on the response to posts I’ve written about this in the past, I’m far from alone.

I started photographing as a form of therapy, a way to be in the moment, to force myself to really take in my surroundings, to notice things I hadn’t seen before and appreciate the immense amount of beauty we pass by every single day.
This started after I had been suffering from severe anxiety, depression and eating disorders for years, been on medication and then admitted to a treatment centre for months.

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Creativity reduces anxiety, depression and stress.
Whether it’s writing, painting, playing an instrument, creating sculptures, knitting or photography, it will make an actual difference in you. This is not hocus pocus, it’s just how we’re made and there is plenty of research to support it.
Maybe this is why so many of us with mental health issues find ourselves in creative fields. Doing these things releases dopamine, our own natural antidepressants.

Living with these issues is a constant challenge, trust me, if we could just “get out of our comfort zones” we’d do it in a heartbeat!
If all it took was for a stranger to say “hey, lighten up”, that would be amazing.
The thing is, that really doesn’t help. The exact opposite happens. What you’re doing when you offer these platitudes is placing yet another boulder on our shoulders. Making it our fault that we are the way we are, that we could change at will if only we wanted to.

A simple way to avoid this is to refrain from offering solutions to a perceived problem unless you’re actually asked.
I’m sure I’m guilty of doing it myself, we could all do better.

I’ll add this final part just because I know I would love to hear that someone else experience these things too. I’ve been through this so many times now that it’s become my normal and I know that I won’t pass out and nothing horrible will happen. If you’re “new” in the game of anxiety, I hope you can find some comfort in that. You’ll be fine, it’ll get a little bit easier to handle every time.

What will happen on Tuesday, the night of the show opening, is this.
I will be stressed all day, my muscles will be tense, especially in the back and neck. I will force myself to go to the venue where I will become incredibly aware of every single thing happening in my body. I will find it hard to walk normally, stand, sit, talk, breathe. I will bring my camera to act as a buffer between myself and the outside world, taking pictures and experiencing the night through the viewfinder. I will hope that no one approaches me but I’ll be happy when they do.
That doesn’t make sense, you think? Nope, it doesn’t to me either.
I’ll try so hard to act normal, to the point where I forget what normal looks like.
When I’m finally home again I’ll get a “high” and be incredibly happy that I did it, then I’ll crash.
I’ll be exhausted, mentally and physically, for days, I’ll most likely have a horrendous headache from the tension in the neck when I wake up the next morning and it’ll last all day. I’ll spend weeks going over every minute in my head and think of all the things I should have done differently.

I’m not sure why I’m even writing this post, maybe it’s just a way for me personally to sort my thoughts or maybe it’s because I know for sure that there are many others out there who’ll recognise themselves in this.
This post doesn’t offer any solutions, no remedies, no quick fixes, just words.
I sometimes find comfort in being reminded of the fact that I’m not alone. There are countless others sharing these issues and experiences so I guess I hope that someone out there might find some comfort in this.

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How I edit my aurora photos.

I decided to make a video showing how I work on my aurora photos.

I figured it would be easier to just look at my screen instead on me trying to tell you in words.

I’ve never done a video before so it’s very amateurish and far too long! It was twice as long but I’ve cut out two clips, one where I edit an underexposed corona and one with a winter scene with messed up white balance.

If I ever do another one of these I promise I’ll keep it very short and only focus on a single image.

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Photoshopped!

44s

Brilliant aurora on a winter night

Can we ditch the term “photoshopped”?
What most people mean when they toss that word around is “manipulated”, an image far from what the photographer saw at the time, an image with elements removed or added in the editing process.

I shoot in RAW, as I’m certain a lot if not most photographers do.
When you shoot in RAW you get an unfinished picture. It will be lacking in contrast, saturation etc. It is up to you to process/edit it to get the final result you desire. This is often done in Lightroom or Photoshop with Camera RAW.
This is when you can make sure your final image reflects what your eyes saw or you can go crazy and create a true work of art nothing like what it really looked like.
Or anything in between.
This is entirely up to you and there are no rights or wrongs in art.

However…

If you’re producing journalistic photos you need to keep it real and true.
If you’re calling your work “nature photography”, well then you need to keep it natural. Don’t merge images taken at different locations at different times and call it a photograph.

Those of you who shoot in jpeg get a finished picture straight out of the camera but guess what? Those edits I mentioned are still made but they’re done in camera and decided for you by the people who made that camera.

When you choose one of the different “shooting styles” that many entry level cameras have, your camera sets everything for you. Doing this can produce pictures that are much more “unreal” than any RAW file heavily processed in Lightroom. (yes I’ve tried).
Many photographers will say “it’s natural, straight out of camera, not photoshopped!” when in fact your camera has done the “photoshopping” for you, basically slapped a filter on the picture and given you zero control over the final product.

You can manipulate the scene in camera when you shoot in RAW as well, of course.
Change the white balance to get weird colors, underexpose, overexpose, create motion blur, zoom in or out during the exposure etc.
Are those pictures entirely natural just because they came out of the camera like that?

GalaxySmallI created this starburst effect by slowly zooming in during a 30 second exposure.

And what is “natural”?
When you stand in a beautiful landscape watching the sunset, is the landscape in front of you pitch black? No?
Well if you take a photo and expose for the sky it will be.
Is that natural? Or is it a more natural result if you pull up the shadows in your RAW-file to show the foreground as you saw it. Or if you take three exposures of different lengths and merge them into an HDR image to show a much higher dynamic range, more in line with what your eyes actually saw.

2019-01-03_12-21-16sunset photo with the shadows pulled up in Lightroom

And then there’s those of us who also do astrophotography. Long exposures of the starry sky.
Our eyes will never see the bright colors in the Orion Nebula or the subtle colors of the Milky Way but our cameras do!
The information is there and our cameras capture it.

2018-09-04_02-32-20Single exposure of the Orion Nebula

A long exposure of the starry sky in a dark location will show many more stars than your eyes can see, straight out of camera with no editing at all. Is that “natural”?
To get a good photo of the Milky Way you absolutely have to do a lot of processing.

I just get so tired of seeing the phrase “photoshopped” thrown around when 90% of the time the person saying it doesn’t have a grasp of the meaning of it or the process.

If you really mean “manipulated” then say that and ask the photographer (politely) about their process. Any honest photographer would gladly answer. 🙂

If there’s any interest I’ll write a post about how I process my aurora photos!

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