Practice Makes…Better

Forget about that “perfect” fantasy. But practice does make things better.

My ISS photos (before last night) have recently sucked. You haven’t seen them because they’ve all be blurry and out of focus. This is because the original lens on my Canon Digital Rebel was something like nine years old, had taken literally tens of thousands of pictures on three continents, and started to finally act glitchy. I got a replacement which is new and fancy – and wants to do EVERYTHING for me instead of giving me override capabilities and control. In particular, it wouldn’t let me set the focus easily and then in the dark, when doing astrophotography, it wouldn’t focus on it’s own worth beans.

Out in broad daylight in auto focus mode? It’s a miracle, incredibly fast, some image stabilization built in, really sweet. In the dark when I simply want to set it to ∞ and leave it alone? Meh. But I’ve been working on it and finally started to get some good results last night.

Tonight’s ISS pass was much lower and dimmer than last night.

(Image from

Not worth the bother? Maybe I’ll just go watch it and not try to take pictures. (I can still do that, you know!) But then I realized that we might get clouds moving in for the next couple of nights when there are slightly better passes, so it might be now or wait a few weeks. I went with “now.”

I really like the results. I’m going to give you the 7.1MB and 9.7MB files (because I like you!) instead of compressing them down to under 2MB. Click on them to look at or download the full-sized images – it’s worth it.

As you can see, much dimmer than last night. But looking at the original images (this is a composite of ten 15-second exposures) you can actually see it rising from right behind Castle Peak. Very nice! And with all of the trees and rooftops lit up by street lights and yard lights and other house lights on the hilltops off in the distance, I really like the colors and framing. I like this picture a lot.

Coming around the right side of that big pine tree on the left (the first picture shows ISS disappearing behind it from my viewpoint about fifteen seconds earlier) I was able to track ISS all the way until it disappeared on the right behind our cedar trees. Most importantly, the focus is great, so I may have (“Don’t get cocky, kid!”) figured that part out.

The other really neat thing about this second image, which I take for granted but which many folks wouldn’t, is how it shows the stars spinning around the Polaris, the North Star. If you haven’t ever seen or noticed it before, blow this image up to full size and then look at the stars on the left and right. They’re all trails, little curved arcs, since the camera was fixed and the planet it was fixed to was spinning. The further you are from the pole, the longer the trails. Look at the first picture to see this demonstrated as well.

But in this picture, there are curved arcs on the left, right, top, and bottom. But near the center, those arcs get shorter and shorter and there’s one star that’s a dot with no trailing at all. You’ve found Polaris! It’s the star that’s at the “end” of the “handle” of the Little Dipper.

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