Shooting The Shooting Stars With A Go Pro
Like many people I have always enjoyed those exceptionally dark, clear nights in the spring and through the summer. The ones where the moon takes the night off, the ones that are perfect for looking at the stars. You can take pictures of the stars any night that you want but the best nights are when the moon is new. The key to great astrophotography is darkness. The last couple of nights have been a real treat for us on Delmarva (when it comes to star gazing anyway) and we have a many more on the way. Here is how you can have a little fun and take amazing photos that are worthy of the Smithsonian! Ok, maybe they won’t be opening an exhibit in DC but your friends will think it is!
I remember the first time that I saw an image of the Milky Way Core in print. It was a National Geographic article and it was two pages wide. The image was spectacular. It was if someone replaced the sky that I am used to seeing each and every night with one taken from the Hubble Telescope. it was as if you could reach out and touch the sky you would return with a wet hand from the freshly painted masterpiece that was now frozen in time in front of me. That was one of many amazing shots that I so desperately wanted to be able to take myself. Of course, that was rather difficult with my current camera- a cheap brownie that used film (the kind that you had to take to the store and wait a week to see how bad the pictures came out).
Thankfully, you can take amazing images that are just as amazing with some equipment that you probably already own!
Everything you have seen in this article was captured with a GoPro. It doesn’t even have to be a Hero8- these were all taken with a Hero5! Older GoPro models will work as well but there is an advantage to using the models with ProTune.
There is a lot of information out there on the how’s and whys. What to adjust for this and that- however, that’s not what we are here for. Today it’s about quick, fun and easy. It is about getting you outside tonight, so you have something other worldly to share tomorrow!
First, get everything together:
Tri-pod or other secure mount
The largest SD card you own
(Optional) USB powerpack ( more on this later but an external power pack will come in handy!)
GoPro Charging cable
NightSky App ( the free version )
First, lets set up the GoPro.
We want to set the camera for NightLapse, then adjust the settings in ProTune-
I recommend the following to start :
Iso Min 100
Iso Max 800
EV Comp: 0
One you get back to the main screen, enter into the timelapse settings to set the interval and exposure.
Shutter: 30 seconds
*If you find that you have a lot of ambient light, you may want to try a couple of test shots to make sure you aren’t getting an overexposed or “Blown out” Image. You may need to cut the exposure time back. Even Auto will produce really great images but you may not see as much of the detail you were looking for.
Once you have the camera set, we need to decide how long we are going to shoot. If you use the internal battery you can expect two to three hours of life which is good for several hundred shots- more than enough to get some really great stills and a short time lapse. The disadvantage? You will have to wait to set the camera out. Here on Delmarva the Milky Way doesn’t start to show itself until around Midnight and really peaks around 2-3 am. This is also during the Milky Way Season ( Yes, it is a real thing ) between March and October.
The alternative? A USB power pack. I personally use one from Anker power but any brand that has a 5a USB output will do. Simply remove the GoPro battery and plug the USB power in. Wham! Depending on the storage capacity of the battery you can power that little guy (GoPro) for a year!
As with everything though, there is a trade off. When the GoPro is plugged in it is no longer waterproof so save that for the clear nights!
That’s it for the GoPro. Now, to find a spot.
There are many ways of locating the ideal spot to point the camera, but I have found that the Night Sky app works the best- plus it is free! There are other ways of course. Heck, the GoPro is a wide enough lens that you can usually make out just fine pointing the camera towards the East/South East. Remember, more often than not the environment is going to dictate where you have to point the camera and that’s ok. You might not be able to capture the Milky Way from your backyard, but odds are good that you can still get some really cool shots!
The idea location is dark and away from traffic. Try to avoid lights as much as possible. Again, do not fret if you don’t have the perfect spot. Go for it. I cannot stress enough how much fun this can be, and it doesn’t need to be perfect! Get creative! Clip it to the rim of the basketball net or to a tree- put it inside the tree! Natural landscapes make for really interesting backdrops. HAVE FUN!
Once you have found your spot, frame the image best you can, double check your settings and hit record. That’s it! Walk away and don’t touch it again until the morning. ( If you are setting up in the dark and don’t have a reference, you can always set a light out on a railing or a fence that you want to use as a border. Simply move the camera so that the light is in the center of the image then slowly point the camera higher towards the sky until the light is just at the bottom of the image, or where you want it. Don’t forget to turn out the light!)
The video clip above was made by pulling the images directly from the camera and stringing them together in a video editor. If you don’t have it already, you can download “GoPro Quik” and the process will be automated for you. Heck, you can even add fancy camera pans and music! All it takes is to open up GoPro Quik, import your media from the SD card and the software does the rest!
If you want a little more freedom you can use open source and free software like Blender or you can try out Adobe Premier or Final Cut Pro for free for 30 days.
Finally, Mac has iMovie, which frankly is a free version of Final Cut that is damn near as powerful.
Share your results! Let us know what camera tricks you would like to see next. Happy shooting!