Fuzzy Constellations


I’ve tried for years to create the effect of fuzzy haloes around stars to pop out the brighter stars and make the constellation pattern more obvious. It’s the “Akira Fuji” effect, named for the ace Japanese astrophotographer who has long perfected the technique with beautiful and widely-published results. I’ve tried various soft focus and diffusion filters, scratched UV filters, vaseline-smeared filters, breathing on filters, etc., etc. None have worked well. Till now.

The Kenko “Softon” filter offered by Hutech Scientific works fabulously well! It’s a tough filter to find in local camera stores here — but Hutech sells it. And it really changes the way I do constellation shooting, making any previous shots obsolete. I take several shots without the filter then one or more of the same exposure with the filter in place. I stack the two types of exposures  in Photoshop, with the fuzz-filter layer blended with a Lighten mode to a varying opacity to “dial in” the level of fuzziness that looks good. Too much and it looks overdone and fake.

The technique also pops out the star colours, like here on red Betelgeuse amid the blue-white stars of  Orion. This was from January 2011 from my backyard and is a stack of four 5-minute exposures w/o filter and one with. All with the Canon 5D MkII and 50mm Sigma lens, a terrific combination for constellation portraits.

— Alan, January 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

Canis Major Hopping


On one of the few clear nights so far this winter I was able to make Canis Major obey for a while and pose for a shot of the canine constellation hopping along my horizon in the south. From my latitude of 51° N he never appears high in the sky, though the placement on the horizon does make for a photogenic winter scene. Here, you can see the Messier star cluster M41 just below Sirius, the Dog Star, the brightest star in the night sky and the bright jewel in the collar of Canis Major (according to some depictions of the constellation). This is a stack of five 4-minute exposures  with the Canon 5D MkII at ISO 800 and a 50mm Sigma lens at f/2.8, plus a single 4-minute exposure with the Kenko soft filter to add the enhanced hazy star glows.

– Alan, January 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer

After the Blizzard


We’ve certainly had our share (more than our share!) of snowstorms and blizzards so far this winter, though nothing like people down east have experienced. The one saving grace is that after the storm the sky often clears beautifully. In this case, on January 30, 2011 we had very clear blue skies, but filled with ice crystals of just the right shape (hexagonal) and orientation to produce a classic solar halo, with prominent sundogs on the 22° halo and a hint of an upper tangent arc, or is it an upper Parry arc? A trace of a circumhorizontal arc is also visible parallel to the horizon. Solar haloes are fascinating and often unique — each one can display a slightly different set of halo phenomena.

The website Atmospheric Optics gives great information and reference works.

– Alan, January 2011 / Image © 2011 Alan Dyer