[ebook review] For many amateur photographers, the night sky is an intimidating subject. Even a beginning photographer understands that good photos require good light, and there is very little of that in the night time. So, night sky photography must belong in the realm of the professional photographer – after all, you need special equipment to shoot in the dark, don’t you?
That’s why I was so excited when I read the new ebook by Phil Hart – Shooting Stars. He explained that most modern DSLR cameras are equipped with advanced image sensors that make it possible for almost anyone to capture amazing images of the night sky. But knowing that your camera is capable of taking good photos at night doesn’t really help much if you don’t have the right instruction. And that’s where Shooting Stars excels.
Phil Hart’s cleverly-titled ebook Shooting Stars provides just the right instructions so even an amateur photographer can take high-quality night sky images. Phil has been photographing the night sky for nearly twenty years. His award winning photos have been published in books, magazines and popular websites around the world. He runs very popular night sky photography workshops and has used his teaching skills to great effect in the ebook.
His ebook is remarkably cheap – $19.95 for over 100 pages of world-class tutorial on taking images of the sky. Here’s what’s inside:
The Sky at Night – The first section of Shooting Stars gives you a basic overview of some astronomical concepts, including a brief explanation of the celestial sphere and some basic information about the night sky as it changes from one season to the next in the northern and southern hemispheres. It also provides a detailed look at the phases of the moon, and a lunar table for the year 2012, although that will only help you out until the new year comes around. (Lunar tables aren’t difficult to find online, though, so for the internet-savvy that’s not really a problem.) This section also touches upon the problems of unfavorable weather and light pollution.
Night Sky Photography – Here’s where you’ll get some hands-on experience. This section delves into the technical elements of night sky photography, with information about lenses, focusing, shutter speed and ISO. It also includes a handy list of essential equipment, such as tripods, remote releases and filters. Then it talks about some of the particulars behind different types of night time landscapes, such as high-dynamic range twilight scenes and moonlit landscapes.
Anyone who has ever experimented with long-exposure night-sky photography knows that star trails (the natural movement of the stars that creates circular patterns on your image) can add tremendous drama to a night sky image. This section also provides a useful camera settings chart that includes exposure times, recommended ISO and aperture settings as well as information about how to configure settings such as white balance, image quality and drive mode.
Have you ever looked at a histogram, and then thought to yourself, “one of these days I’ll spend some time figuring out what the heck a histogram is?” Now is a great time to learn, and Shooting Stars gives you a good overview of how to interpret the histograms of your night sky images so you can produce even better photos. The section on color and saturation is also particularly interesting explaining how light pollution, moonlight and “airglow” can affect the appearance of your images. And now that you’ve captured those images, the author goes on to provide information about how to process them, and then goes into step-by-step detail about accomplishing this task in popular image processing software packages such as Photoshop, Lightroom and ACDSee Pro.
Wonders of the Night Sky
And now for the best part – the inspiration! This section lists a number of different celestial features, including “noctilucent clouds,” the Milky Way, meteors, comets and the Aurora Borealis (just to name a handful). For each item on the list, Phil describes what it is, gives details about the best time and place to find it and tips on how to photograph it. And there are also, of course, a number of beautiful images to inspire you and show you what is possible with almost any DSLR.
Finally, at the end of the book you get a great little cheat-sheet that tells you which settings to use to capture night sky scenes, star trails, the moon and even timelapse video. This is the part you’ll want to print out and bring along with you when you go out to do your own night sky experiments. The nice thing about these charts is that they allow you to jump in and start taking photos immediately, so you can capture some great images right out of the gate.
Overall, Shooting Stars is a great guide to photographing the night sky. And (maybe even more importantly) it doesn’t require you to go out and purchase a lot of extra equipment (or a telescope!) Almost everyone with a good DSLR is going to benefit from the material in this book, and the gorgeous photographs alone are almost certain to inspire even those of us who have only a passing interest in night sky photography. This book is not, however, for photographers who have point and shoot cameras, since quality night sky photography remains difficult without a DSLR.
I did find the book to have a little extra stuffing that isn’t necessary for the amateur, such as overly detailed explanations about how and why your camera records noise at higher ISOs (most of us don’t really want to know the technical specifics – just how to avoid noise or how to use it to our advantage).
There’s plenty of good here to overwhelm those few small unnecessary details, though, and if you’ve ever looked up at the night sky and thought to yourself, “wow, I wish I had a picture of that,” then this ebook is definitely the right one to inspire you and get you started.
At only $19.95, I think it’s a steal and definitely worth adding to your collection. Phil offers a 30 day full money back guarantee, so you don’t have any risk.
P.S: Shooting Stars is only available as an e-book directly downloadable and readable on your computer. There is no printed edition available but you are free to print the ebook on your own printer.