Photographing Mars with a DSLR

Between May 28th and June 3rd 2016 Mars were the closest to earth since 2005 at a distance of 75.3 million kilometres away from Earth. Mars orbits the sun as well on an elliptical path which takes 687 days to complete, and it’s the different elliptical path of Mars and Earth which takes them in close proximity once every couple of years (approximately 15-17 years). The next “close” encounter with Mars will be in July 2018. Look up at the night sky during this period and look for the brightest red star in the night sky. This article focuses on how I photographed Mars and what settings you can use to photograph this amazing phenomenon.

Step 1: Getting Started

The following steps show you how to get ready:

1.    Wait for the sun to set,
2.    Make sure you have a fully charged battery, with a spare battery, as capturing Mars on continuous mode takes a lot of power from your camera,
3.    Mount your camera onto your tripod, and Connect your cable-release to the camera
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Figure  SEQ Figure \* ARABIC 1VMikhail Chubarets in the Ukraine made this chart. This chart was composed with images from a telescope, and I’ve included this for indicative purposes only. BUT this article will focus on how to photograph Mars with a DSL camera.

<![endif]–>STEP 2: Set the settings – Refer to the next page for the settings

STEP 3: Take a Test Photo
In Playback make sure that all the stars have pinpoint accuracy. If they are not very sharp then re-focus your lens until the ultimate sharpness can be obtained. If your photo is sharp then sit back and admire your first photograph.

STEP 4: Taking the photographs
STEP 5: Stack your Mars photos and enjoy it

Settings

White Balance:  Change the white balance to daylight. Daylight will produce the closest colour range to your visible perception. I usually shoot in tungsten but Daylight setting will capture the “true” colour of mars nicely.
Aperture: I would recommend setting your lens to the maximum aperture it can go to e.g. f/5 so that the maximum amount of light and colour can be captured by your camera.
Shutter speed: 1/60. I found that this fast shutter speed enables the camera to capture the fast moving planet the best. You can possibly use 1/50 or 1/80 as well but this will not produce the same results.
Zoom: Set your camera to its maximum zoom. I have a Tamron 150-600mm and took the Mars photo sequence with this lens.
ISO: Set the ISO to 12800. The high ISO will assist your camera to capture as much as possible light and colour from the mars image.
Stability: Mars moves extremely quickly in relation to the earth, thus you must ensure your tripod is stable. Ensure as well that you constantly re-frame your image to include mars, as it will move quickly out of the field of view of your camera.
Amount of Photos: I took 400 photos of Mars to create the composite image, but it is usually better to even take more of the photos of Mars to gain more detail in your composite image.

Compiling the image

Download AutoStackert from the following website: http://www.autostakkert.com/
AutoStackert allows you to stack multiple photos including planets to create a clear and sharper image.
Step 1: Open AutoStackert
Step 2: Click on Open Files, and select your first batch of mars photos. (In the open files dialog ensure that you’ve selected “image files” at the bottom of the screen)
Tip: I process the files in chunks of 25, because of my processing power of my PC. Thus if you take 400 photos as I did then repeat all these steps in chunks of 25.
Step 3: Set the image stabilization Radio Button to: Planet (COG)
Step 4: Set quality estimator to Edge
Step 5: Click on Analyse
Step 6: Type 001 into the prefix edit box. (002 to 999 for the next photos)
Step 7: Set the zoom to 40% (this will use less memory)
Step 8: Select the AP size to 200
Step 9: Scroll on the right hand side to the planet, and click ONCE in the middle of the Planet. This will set the primary focus of alignment, so that the application knows what to look for.
Step 10: Click on Stack button, and let the program finish.
AutoStakcert will automatically create the result in the folder structure.
Step 11: When you’ve processed all the batches (each block of 25) then select all the output files and stack them all together to get one complete image.
Step 12: You can now open this image in GIMP and modify the Contras, Brightness, Sharpness and Reduction of noise to your liking. The biggest thing is to crop your final image so that you can view MARS a lot better from close-up.

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