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08-27-2018, 03:22 PM   #1
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Setup for KP + 21mm Ltd Astrophotography in Grand Canyon This Labor Day Weekend?

Hey everyone!

After 15 long years, my family and I are finally revisiting the Grand Canyon this weekend! (Was almost too young to remember the trip back then)

Apart from checking out the Canyon itself, I'm going to take my camera out with me at night and photograph whatever stars I can, even the Milky Way if even barely possible. I also don't have the GPS unit with me either for astrotracer, yet. And tight schedules didn't allow for planning the trip around the lunar cycle. In any case, this will be my first time seeing the true night sky without much light pollution, so I'm gonna be happy with whatever I get.

With my KP, I'll be taking my favorite 21mm lens, along with the nifty 50mm f/1.8 and 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Tamron lens. I will most probably just stick with 21mm for the standard star photos, and maybe switch to the 50mm for star trails. To those who have shot astrophotography with the KP, what settings do you set for the body/sensor itself? Do you turn off noise reduction? Up to what ISO would you say with or without in-built noise reduction from the accelerator is tolerable for astrophotography with the KP? Does the 500 rule apply (15 seconds with the 21mm x 1.5)?

08-27-2018, 03:40 PM   #2
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I'm no expert at this but:

On the k3ii I try to stay within iso800.
Practice focusing to infinity if you're never taken photos of stars before. Use live view or a few high iso exposures to check focus.
With only 15s at a time per exposure, you should plan on stacking if you want higher quality.
Same for long shutter noise reduction, take dark frames and substact in post if you want to turn nr off. This saves time because you don't wait for each exposure.

Check out the astrophotography series here on PF!

Last edited by aaacb; 08-27-2018 at 04:32 PM.
08-27-2018, 04:00 PM - 1 Like   #3
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Having been there but not knowing anything about astro at the time (and very little now) I didn't try any astro. But I did view the stars. My advice is dependant on where you are staying and your plans. But I'll relay what I know:

1) If you don't stay in the park, skip the first lot or two and don't go to the main lots unless you are super early. Park and then ride the shuttles. After dark you can leverage the observation posts that had previously been so crowded you couldn't turn around. You'll be the only one out there.

2) Take a small led flashlight and play with a tripod and light painting. You can light things up 100's of feet away with a basic light. So you can take pictures of the stars and then light up the canyon walls in the foreground if you setup the shot right.

3) No hiking below the rim after dark - you have to be out of there unless you have a permit to stay below which you need to have planned a long time ago.

4) Don't forget to enjoy the place for what it is not just the photo opp. The place is hard to imagine and photos are great but just look around some... it's astonishing.

5) If you want to go down below rim on a day hike and don't want to deal with as much crowding - try the Kaibob trail and go to the OohAhh point and back. That point allows majestic views overlooking a huge expanse and sticks out all by itself. It is a vast and impressive view that can toss perspective into your face.

I really want to go back with my gear - last time I had very little gear and can't locate any pictures.
08-27-2018, 04:10 PM - 1 Like   #4
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1. Look up when the moon rises or sets to get pictures with darker skies.

2. Consider taking some pictures of the canyon & sky when the moon is up to get an image of the star field and lit canyon which is a really cool effect.

Have fun at night! (You can sleep when you are dead )

08-27-2018, 11:54 PM - 1 Like   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by aaacb Quote
I'm no expert at this but:

On the k3ii I try to stay within iso800.
Practice focusing to infinity if you're never taken photos of stars before. Use live view or a few high iso exposures to check focus.
Infinity!!! Learn to find this damn thing. You can try to do that on upcoming night.

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08-29-2018, 07:53 AM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by Belcik Quote
Infinity!!! Learn to find this damn thing. You can try to do that on upcoming night.

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That is so true! I have tried to go for some leisure astro with the 20-40 ltd and focussing to infinity was a bigger hassle than I have expected. But in the end I kept it at the maximum hard stop, which seemed to be quite the sharpest for infinity (Iwould have thought that it might focus somehow beyond infinity there, but in this case it does not seem so).
08-29-2018, 10:26 AM - 2 Likes   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by CPLTarun Quote
Hey everyone!

After 15 long years, my family and I are finally revisiting the Grand Canyon this weekend! (Was almost too young to remember the trip back then)

Apart from checking out the Canyon itself, I'm going to take my camera out with me at night and photograph whatever stars I can, even the Milky Way if even barely possible. I also don't have the GPS unit with me either for astrotracer, yet. And tight schedules didn't allow for planning the trip around the lunar cycle. In any case, this will be my first time seeing the true night sky without much light pollution, so I'm gonna be happy with whatever I get.

With my KP, I'll be taking my favorite 21mm lens, along with the nifty 50mm f/1.8 and 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Tamron lens. I will most probably just stick with 21mm for the standard star photos, and maybe switch to the 50mm for star trails. To those who have shot astrophotography with the KP, what settings do you set for the body/sensor itself? Do you turn off noise reduction? Up to what ISO would you say with or without in-built noise reduction from the accelerator is tolerable for astrophotography with the KP? Does the 500 rule apply (15 seconds with the 21mm x 1.5)?
I assume a tripod.

Shoot RAW, of course, to get the greatest flexibility in PP, where astrophotos really take form.

Shoot manual, with the largest aperture at which the lens will produce a good image. For the 21mm (don't have one myself), it is probably wide open.

Without astrotracer or equatorial mount, the 500 rule applies.
For single-shot images, ISOs up to 3200 or even 6400 may yield good results. Experiment to find the best for the situation at the time.
For stacking, I use about ISO 800.

Don't forget that pushing exposure in PP for later-model Pentax cameras (includes KP) can recover a great deal of shadow (dark) parts of an image. Again, experimentation, if time is available, will lead to better final results. Of benefit here would be the ability to do some PP on-site if you have more than one night to take images. That way you can correct exposures for the next night on-site.

For noise reduction, if taking a single image rather than stacking many images of the same scene, use the in-camera noise reduction (subtracts the noise with a dark exposure immediately after the regular light exposure, all in one operation). For multiple exposures of the same scene for stacking, or for star trails (where the in-camera noise reduction causes breaks in the trails), turn off the long exposure noise reduction and take separate noise "dark" exposures (with the same exposure settings, but the lens cap on (make sure the lens cap doesn't leak light)), which are stacked and subtracted from the regular light exposures in PP. This is an astrophotography technique, so familiarize yourself with how to do it (check out the astrophotography group in the forums). My guess is that stacking of exposures of the same scene (not star trails) will not be required for the images you are talking about. This stacking is certainly used for images of deep-sky objects that are very dim and require lots of exposure time.

Infinity focus is important. Set camera to manual focus. Enter live view, hit the OK button to get the 10X magnification, turn the focus ring to get the tiniest star images, then tape down the focus ring, recheck focus to make sure the taping didn't disturb it, hit OK to get out of magnification. Leave live view. Set the 2-second timer (not the 12-second one) to prevent mirror slap from causing jiggles in the exposure. Shoot your 15 seconds in regular manual mode. Check results and adjust.

Best of luck (that cloud stuff can get in the way) at the Grand Canyon. A truly great place!
08-30-2018, 10:15 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by TedH42 Quote
I assume a tripod.

Shoot RAW, of course, to get the greatest flexibility in PP, where astrophotos really take form.

Shoot manual, with the largest aperture at which the lens will produce a good image. For the 21mm (don't have one myself), it is probably wide open.

Without astrotracer or equatorial mount, the 500 rule applies.
For single-shot images, ISOs up to 3200 or even 6400 may yield good results. Experiment to find the best for the situation at the time.
For stacking, I use about ISO 800.

Don't forget that pushing exposure in PP for later-model Pentax cameras (includes KP) can recover a great deal of shadow (dark) parts of an image. Again, experimentation, if time is available, will lead to better final results. Of benefit here would be the ability to do some PP on-site if you have more than one night to take images. That way you can correct exposures for the next night on-site.

For noise reduction, if taking a single image rather than stacking many images of the same scene, use the in-camera noise reduction (subtracts the noise with a dark exposure immediately after the regular light exposure, all in one operation). For multiple exposures of the same scene for stacking, or for star trails (where the in-camera noise reduction causes breaks in the trails), turn off the long exposure noise reduction and take separate noise "dark" exposures (with the same exposure settings, but the lens cap on (make sure the lens cap doesn't leak light)), which are stacked and subtracted from the regular light exposures in PP. This is an astrophotography technique, so familiarize yourself with how to do it (check out the astrophotography group in the forums). My guess is that stacking of exposures of the same scene (not star trails) will not be required for the images you are talking about. This stacking is certainly used for images of deep-sky objects that are very dim and require lots of exposure time.

Infinity focus is important. Set camera to manual focus. Enter live view, hit the OK button to get the 10X magnification, turn the focus ring to get the tiniest star images, then tape down the focus ring, recheck focus to make sure the taping didn't disturb it, hit OK to get out of magnification. Leave live view. Set the 2-second timer (not the 12-second one) to prevent mirror slap from causing jiggles in the exposure. Shoot your 15 seconds in regular manual mode. Check results and adjust.

Best of luck (that cloud stuff can get in the way) at the Grand Canyon. A truly great place!
Thanks for the tips and pointers. I'm shooting over two nights and I have my laptop with me, so I'm hoping to get some PP done in between to get even better photos on the second night, as you suggested.

08-30-2018, 11:15 PM   #9
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Does the KP, like previous Pentax bodies, have invariable ISO? As in, ISO 800 is just ISO 100 with brightened exposure? If that's the case, if I nail down my exposure, I should be able to change ISO to 100 for maximum dynamic range in the sky, correct?
08-30-2018, 11:38 PM   #10
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Yes, 15 seconds is a good rule of thumb for exposure time with your gear. DA 21 is f3.2, let's assume that it's sharp enough wide open.

I'll suggest ISO 3200 for a start. A guideline for night sky exposure is get the histogram peak around 1/3 of the way from the left. Take a test photo at ISO 3200 and check the histogram. There's leeway, just don't pin the histogram all the way at the black left end, and don't go too far to the right and overexpose too many stars.

I do not have the KP, but have used 3 other Pentax DSLRs (Kr, K-5, K-1) for astrophotography. I've always turned off noise reduction on my Pentax cameras. I leave it on for micro 43. Shoot raw and process later.

This weekend gives you a decent window for the Milky Way. Don't fully trust my times, I just did a quick lookup for Saturday Sept 1 and might have made errors:
  • Sunset 18:55. You need to wait another 90 minutes (exact wait time varies by location and season) for "astronomical twilight" when the sky darkens for optimum Milky Way viewing. Stars will be visible before the Milky Way. Take some photos during blue hour.
  • Astronomical Twilight 20:25. The brightest part of the Milky Way will be to your S/SW.
  • Moonrise 22:49. That's for Saturday, it rises even later on Sunday.
Focus is very important. Make sure you know how to zoom in on your camera's live view. Turn the focus ring to infinity, aim at a bright star, zoom in on liveview, tweak focus until the magnified star is concentrated into a bright, tiny point. If you see zero stars in liveview, you might be at minimum focus or check your lens cap A distant street light can work as an alternate focusing target. Reaim for composition without moving the focus ring. Periodically recheck focus, in case you bump it or temperature changes throw it off.
08-30-2018, 11:45 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by CPLTarun Quote
Does the KP, like previous Pentax bodies, have invariable ISO? As in, ISO 800 is just ISO 100 with brightened exposure? If that's the case, if I nail down my exposure, I should be able to change ISO to 100 for maximum dynamic range in the sky, correct?
Good question.

I'm uncertain about the KP but I don't recommend that technique to start, regardless. Your raw photos will be so underexposed you won't be able to assess your composition. You can crank ISO high to compose, then reduce it to 100 for the actual photos, but you'll increase your risk of other mistakes such as ruined focus when you keep playing with camera settings.
08-31-2018, 06:13 PM - 1 Like   #12
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Thanks so much for the helpful posts, everyone!

I think I'll stick to iso 800-3200. How would you recommend I setup the shoot for star trails?
08-31-2018, 07:00 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by CPLTarun Quote
Thanks so much for the helpful posts, everyone!

I think I'll stick to iso 800-3200. How would you recommend I setup the shoot for star trails?
The KP has a timed bulb mode. ISO 100, 20 minutes. Get it all in a single photo so you don't have to learn how to stack.

Alternatively, using Manual mode instead of Bulb, take a continuous sequence of 30 second shots at maybe 800 ISO. Use the interval timer and you'll get many images to stack later. Trick is to set intervals for minimal delay or you'll get small gaps in the trails. Timed bulb mode bypasses that challenge.

Many other ways to do it, including with wired trigger releases, too.
09-02-2018, 05:50 AM   #14
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Nothing to do with lens selection. However since your time is short ? Don't be afraid to jump on one of the three FREE bus loops. Saves tons of time trying to find places to park.
The Watchtower also provides nice architecture for nighttime Astro.
Ive spent at least 240 days at the G.C. over the last 30 years and never get tired of the entire experience......Enjoy !

Last edited by Ronald Oakes; 09-02-2018 at 05:57 AM.
09-21-2018, 03:03 PM - 6 Likes   #15
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Thanks everyone for your help! I was able to go out and shoot for two nights. During the first, I didn't really get any great pictures, but I used the time to learn how to setup the camera and get the stars' exposure right. With the 21mm fully open at f/3.2, I had to raise my ISO to 6400 for decent results that I could examine on the LCD. On the second night, I finally got some rather nice pictures of the Milky Way. In fact, there were better than I ever could have imagined getting with my lack of astrophotography experience, I was so excited!!!


I ended up going with the stacking method, combining several dozens of 13 second exposures at ISO 6400 for each photograph (3 unique angles total), using Sequator, no Astrotracer. Because this was the first time I got to see and photograph the Milky Way, I decided to just photograph the sky and not worry about foreground elements and composition. These were also taken as part of a project for my photography project in school, which requires me filling up as much of the frame as possible with stars. Here are the pictures

Angle 1:


Angle 2:

Angle 3:

Link to the album on my Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/159212015@N03/albums/72157673671656218

Last edited by CPLTarun; 09-21-2018 at 03:05 PM. Reason: Adding Flickr Link
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