Our NEOWISE Experiences

Did you get out to shoot NEOWISE? The comet that took the astro photography community by storm last month? I hope so. It was a great excuse to escape the humdrum of life for a bit and to really push the boundaries of what we’re comfortable with. In this episode we’re talking about our experiences and the fun times had in making these images.

Links Mentioned in today’s show:

TOM’s Website and other links: https://tomwagnerphotography.com

and @tomwagnerphotography on IG

KIRK’s Website and other links:


@milkywayphotographers on IG

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Main Topic

Kirk and Tom, Welcome to the show!

Today’s show is all about our experiences in shooting the comet NEOWISE. And really my hope is that we’ll be able to inspire the listeners to get out there and shoot the heavens regardless if there’s a comet or not, but also, when the next comet comes around hopefully they’ll be prepared. 

Back in the catalog, May 10 and 13 episodes, we did a two-part series on beginning astrophotography. Those skills are valuable for sure as well, but in this episode, it’s about the fun, the techniques and the results. So let’s get to it.

I should mention that the images will be in the show notes and on the podcast listener fb group. I’ll also share them to the Master Photography Podcast facebook group so you can see them there as well if you’d like. 

Whitman Mission (Brent)

ISO 1600  –  24mm  –  f/4  –  13 seconds  –  Multi Frame Composite. Canon 5D4

This is a blend of two images. With one image processed twice. So in Photoshop it was actually three images. I photographed the wagon while lighting it with my cell phone light. Then I blended those two together to make a seamless image of the wagon nicely lit. Then I processed one of those frames for the sky, making it a bit brighter, and then used a luminosity mask to select the different portions and blend them together. I then did a custom control lighting adjustment layer to tone down the areas in the foreground that got too bright.

Random Oklahoma 1 (Tom)

This is a composite of two images, one for the foreground and one for the sky. The foreground was shot at 24mm, f/8.0, ⅙ sec, and ISO 100. The sky was a combination of 10 images, stacked to reduce noise. They were shot at 105mm, f/4.0, 5 sec, and ISO 3200 (5 images) and ISO 6400 (5 images).

Random Oklahoma 2 (Tom)

This is another composite, with the sky composed the same as the previous photo mentioned. The windmill was shot at 105mm, f/8.0, ⅕ sec, and ISO 100. I chose a composite here so I could get some detail on the windmill.

Windmill (Brent)

ISO 800  –  78mm  –  f/4  –  20 seconds. Mounted on a star tracker. This causes the foreground element to blur a bit but it’s only noticeable when really zoomed in. I still have yet to finish processing this one. I got the foreground much lighter (with a flash light) and I plan to blend it in, we’ll see how that transition goes! Given the movement likely to have some problems.

I also made a time lapse on this one and posted a video on making the timelapse to YouTube.

Over the wheat field (Brent)

ISO 6400 (1600)  –  18mm  –  f/3.5  –  10 seconds

This is a composite that was loads of fun to make. I’m an “ISO SNOB” usually, meaning I want to use the lowest ISO possible. For this one I took two exposures. One at 6400 ISO for the sky, and another at 1600 for the wheat. I used a flash light to bump up the light in the 1600 ISO shot and simply did an overlay in PS. It became it’s own luminosity bump of sorts. The end result was higher technical quality in the wheat but also still capturing the comet real nice in the sky.

I talked about a similar shot on the Master Photography Podcast that published Aug 6. 

Mt Hood and NEOWISE (Kirk)

7/11/20 Sony a7iii

Sigma Art 105mm f/1.4

3200 ISO f/2.5 3.2 sec

Stack of 15 photos

Sky processed separately from foreground. 

I wanted to get a photo of the comet where it was a prominent feature of the image. That meant I would need to use a longer than a standard 50mm lens. After seeing online photos taken with everything from ultra wides to 300mm, I decided I wanted to use a lens around 135mm. 

With that goal in mind, I started to think about what kind of foreground I could use. I knew the comet would be at a compass direction between N and NE. The first foreground that came to mind was Mt Hood. I searched Google Maps, Google Earth, Stellarium, and PlanIt Pro for Photographers for several hours. I found an excellent location that was 30 miles from the top of Hood.

A rented Sigma Art 105 mm f/1.4 lens was used for all the frames. I stopped the lens down to f/2.5 to sharpen the corners of the shots. I used PhotoPills to determine the longest shutter speed I could use and still get the stars to be points. And then, I set my camera’s built-in intervalometer to take 15 images. I took the photos at around 3:20 am as the comet passed over the top. 

For processing, my friend Marybeth Kiczenski, shelbydiamondstar on IG and FB, offered to process it for me. Since I love the look of her astro landscape photos, I jumped at her offer. She used Sequator to stack the frames for the sky. She then stacked the same images in Photoshop for the foreground. She then loaded both as layers into Photoshop and applied a mask to blend the two. Next was color grading it using Photoshop’s “Selective Color” function. She flattened the image and then used several functions in Nik Collection. Usually, she uses Topaz Denoise, but she felt this photo didn’t need it.

I’m super happy with Marybeth’s results. I think it speaks for itself!

Shooting the Perseid Meteors by Kirk Keyes

The Perseid meteor shower runs from mid-July to near the end of August. The peak of this year’s shower occurs around August 11, 12, and 13th. There is a quarter Moon up for the latter half of the nights, so that means you’ll want to shoot from when astronomical twilight ends until a bit before the Moonrise. So start around 10 pm until about midnight or 1 am on those nights. You can still shoot after the Moon rises – it’s just that the dimmer meteors will not stand out as much. But the bright ones will still look spectacular! 

Photographing meteors is actually not too difficult. You’ll want a camera with manual settings, a wide and fast lens, a tripod, and an intervalometer to trigger the camera. 

The Perseid shower is one of the brightest and has one of the greatest number of meteors during the year. They radiate from the NE part of the sky, and can be seen mostly all night from the northern hemisphere. Look for them to stream away from the constellation Perseus. You don’t know where that is, that’s OK. I don’t really either! 

So look for the big “W” near the Little Dipper – that’s the constellation Cassiopeia. It’s close to Perseus. You don’t need to aim your camera there, that’s just where the meteors will generally appear to originate. But they will appear all across the sky. 

Find as dark of a location as you can as you’ll see more meteors with darker skies. If you can find a foreground subject, that will add interest to your photo, but you will probably catch more meteors if you simply aim the camera overhead!

Then put your camera on the tripod and put on a fast and wide lens. Something like a 24mm or wider on full-frame (16mm for APS-C). Then set it to its widest aperture. Adjust your ISO to 1600, and focus on the stars. 

Then take some test shots at 10, 15, 20, and 30 seconds. Look at the histogram for each one, and use the exposure time that places the hump on the histogram about 1/3rd from the left side. Don’t use one that’s too far to the middle, as you’ll blow out the sky in your images. 

Then, here’s the hard part – set your intervalometer to shoot shot after shot, and let it go! Bring a lawn chair, a blanket or sleeping bag, and something warm to drink. And lay back and watch the show as your camera shoots away!

Later, look through your photos. Hopefully you caught some good ones. If it’s a good shower this year with numerous meteors captured, you can blend them onto one image. It makes a cool photo, and you will probably see that the meteors actually do radiate from one location in the sky.