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Moonset over the Gariep River, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park, Northern Cape, South Africa

Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70 mm f/2.8L II USM lens @ 26mm. ISO 800. Evaluative metering, 5.0 sec @ f/13 in manual exposure mode

This is a short blog of some images taken after sunset and before dawn of the landscapes at Tatasberg Reed Cabins and also the night sky. The blog on our trip was fairly lengthy, so decided to do this as a separate blog. If you got here first and wish to look at the Richtersveld blog – click [here]

The image above of the setting , near-full moon was captured in the pre-dawn light. The 1DX’s noise performance is very good and ISO 800 is as good as my 1D M4 at 200 or 400. The light in the Richtersveld is harsh and there is a lot of reflection from some of the rocks. With almost always cloudless skies, it is quite difficult to get suitable contrast during some of the daylight hours. The hours after sunset and before sunrise presented an opportunity to try something a little different.

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A seven image vertical panorama of the Southern Milky Way

With astrophotography the moon phase is one of the main factors. We arrived at full moon. However, by the third and fourth night the moon was rising much later, so the few hours after sunset and “twilight time” provided good opportunities. Not necessarily ideal as there is always some residual colour (usually brownish-red) during the first part of the night, but this was more than offset by the lack of light pollution.

I captured a number of images of the southern milky way with a mountain in the foreground to give perception. What I really wanted to capture was a panorama of the milky way. Because of the  size across a single image and the relative length of the milky way, I decided to do a panorama of about a 110° arc of the southern sky , centring on the milky way. With a reasonable overlap, I captured 7 images which were later stitched in Photoshop to produce the image on the left.

I used a Canon EOS 1DX mounted on a Gitzo 1548 tripod with an Arca Swiss Z1 Double Pan ball-head  with quick release. The mounted camera was lowered into the 90° position on the ballhead. The camera was kept in vertical mode and the top pan (one next to the release plate) was used to keep the camera and lens aligned with the milky way as I panned over the target area.

A Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens was used at a 24mm focal length. All functions were set to manual with the shutter speed set at 20 seconds. To get sufficient light at this shutter speed and using the largest aperture necessitated an ISO of 3200. The pan head helped tremendously in getting a good arc with the milky way centered. In fact, when I did the stitching very little cropping was needed.

Processing took careful attention. I employed the Canon proprietary software, Canon  Digital Photo Professional® (DPP) for the Raw Conversions instead of using either Lightroom or Photoshop CC . I used the excellent guide “Professional Photographers’ Guide to Noise Reduction” by Arash Hazeghi, in which he correctly maintains that this software is superior to ACR for higher ISO images. I converted all 7 images with the same settings. You can sync these in DPP, by the way. They were then opened in Photoshop where they were merged into one image. I tried this a few times but could not get the last two images to align – either they just were out of alignment or the software just ignored them. On careful examination of the actual images I found that these last two images in the sequence were the wrong way around. It would seem that once the camera had gone through the 90° vertical on its way to 110°, the images are inverted. Problem solved and Photoshop did an excellent job of aligning and merging the images. I did use the peripheral illumination slider on each of the images in DPP to reduce the vignetting of the full frame 1DX with a 24mm lens.

A few layer adjustments in Photoshop (curves and saturation) and I had an image of close on 2GB. The DPP conversion process handles the colour noise very well, but I did also use the Neat Image® plug-in. (Also recommended by Arash)

As the image was captured early in the night before the waning near-full moon had risen, the pointers of the Southern Cross are directly above the cross itself. The Southern Pleiades (Theta Carina Cluster) is visible just above the mountain horizon (the mauve/red area). The Great Rift is the bright area near the top of the image. This is a series of overlapping, non-luminous, molecular dust clouds that are located between the Solar System and the Sagittarius Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.

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Southern Milky Way, |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park

Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 1DX with Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm. ISO 3200. Evaluative metering, 20 sec at f/2.8 in manual metering mode

In this image , in the wider landscape format, you are able to also see the Small Magellanic  Cloud in the lower left hand corner (looks like a small cloudy haze in the sky). At a distance of about 200 000 light-years, it is one of the Milky Way’s nearest neighbours. It is also one of the most distant objects that can be seen by the naked eye.

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The Great Rift, Milky Way Galaxy. |Ai-|Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park.

Tripod-mounted Canon EOS 1DX with Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens. ISO 3200. Evaluative metering, 25 secs at f/2.8 using manual metering mode.