One of the most important parts of traveling is definitely capturing the memories. However, there are times where what we see is nothing like what the photograph captures.
One of the most difficult scenarios is night photography, especially astrophotography. Here, I will show you one of my personal examples that I had the pleasure to photograph and the difficulties I had encountered.
A lot of people photograph Volcano Fuego in Antigua Guatemala, but a lot of people are not satisfied with the results, especially after having to climb Volcano Acatenango for 6 hours to capture Volcano Fuego.
Here you will find everything that is required to capture a volcano erupting with the stars, including settings, preparations beforehand, gears required, and of course the editing process.
Gear Required to Capture a Volcano Erupting
Camera Body for Photographing Stars and Volcano
A lot of people think that the camera body itself will make a huge difference in the quality of the photo you take, but this cannot be farther away from the truth.
In the case of astrophotography (or photographing stars) and capturing a volcano erupt, having a full-frame camera body is very helpful.
What does it matter to have a full-frame camera? Because the sensor will usually be better on a full-frame camera. And that means your camera will be more usable in low-light situations.
THE BUDGET OPTION
Sony Alpha A7II Full-Frame Mirrorless Digital Camera w/ 28-70mm Lens
Light, portable, and full-frame, this is my current camera that I use for traveling. It has everything a photographer needs, A tilting screen, in-camera stabilization which reduces camera shake at low shutter speed, and much more.
The camera also features an electronic viewfinder, which means what you see on the screen is what the picture going to come out to be. It really feels like you are cheating.
The autofocus is great and rarely misses which 24.3 MP. This is everything that I need.
THE MORE EXPENSIVE OPTION
This is the upgrade from the Sony A7II above. Everything from the sensor to the dynamic range of the camera is better than its predecessor.
It still has all the pros of its predecessor being a light-weight portable camera.
If you want the best of the best, this is the one I would recommend. However, it is not necessary to capture the photo of a volcano erupting with the stars.
Lenses for Photographing Stars and Volcano
If I had to rank the importance of a lens, I would rank it at number 2. The number 1 being skills and proficiency of the camera and number 3 would definitely be the camera body.
Many people think that the camera body is the most important item but that cannot be farther from the truth. Here are the lenses that I recommend for your astrophotography and traveling needs.
Note: These are lenses that fit on the cameras I recommended above. If you are using these lenses with other camera bodies, make sure it fits!
The Economical Jack-of-all-Trades Traveling Lens
The Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 is literally my bread and butter. The focal lengths are so flexible that it is so perfect for traveling. In our case, the 28mm at f/2.8 was just perfect enough for me to capture the stars and the volcano.
I am not going to go in-depth about the sharpness and the chromatic aberrations and etc, there are better websites for those. This lens scores really well on all the categories.
More importantly, the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 is one of the best value-for-money lenses in the market.
The Ideal Wide-Angle Lens For Astrophotography
Sony 16-35mm GM Wide Angle Zoom Lens
If money wasn’t a problem and weight and portability weren’t as well, my weapon of choice for astrophotography is definitely the Sony 16-35mm f/2.8 GM Lens. This lens offer much more flexibility than the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 at astrophotography.
This lens is the top of the game at what it does.
If you are looking for the best-quality photo at no matter the cost, I would recommend this one to you.
Otherwise, there are others that will suffice.
Tripod for Photographing Stars and Volcano
When it comes to a tripod, I am looking for one that is lightweight and portable. Not only does it have to be lightweight, it also needs to be able to hold the weight of your equipment (Lens+Camera Body).
Ideally, it is a minimal tripod with the basic function, I don’t need one that pans or anything.
Again you are probably hiking hours to these destinations, so you don’t want anything too bulky.
Lightweight Tripod for Equipment < 8.8 lbs (4 kg)
MeFOTO Classic Aluminum Backpacker Travel Tripod
The MeFOTO classic aluminum backpacker travel tripod has everything you need but at half the weight of the other tripod.
When I first bought this tripod 3 years ago, I thought it was poorly made due to the weight. But now it has become one of my best travel companions. Light and portable, I could bring this thing on any hike that I want.
Make sure your equipment is less than 8.8 lbs (4kg) before purchasing this. Or else, it might not be able to support it.
Lightweight Tripod for Equipment < 17.6 lbs (8 kg)
The MeFoto classic aluminum roadtrip travel tripod is an upgrade from the MeFoto backpacker travel tripod. It is very similar in design except that this one weighs a little bit more and can support double the weight.
You want to get this one if your equipment is very heavy, otherwise, the other one will suffice.
The MeFOTO Roadtrip Travel Tripod goes for $142 on Amazon.
Settings on Your Camera Required to Capture a Volcano Erupting and the Stars
Now that we have the equipment and the logistic part of the problem solved, we are going to look at the technical aspects of photographing a volcano erupting and the stars.
The settings I had used to capture my picture was:
ISO 2500, 28mm, 20 s @ f/3.2
You might be able to just copy the settings, you might not. It depends on how much ambient light you have (how much light is the moon emitting, surrounding light, and more).
But don’t worry, I will teach you what those numbers mean and how you can find your perfect setting to get the perfect picture.
ISO for Capturing Volcano Erupting and Stars at Night
Ideally somewhere from ISO 800-3200
ISO determines the sensitivity of your camera to light. The higher the number is, the more sensitive your camera is to light.
So it must be a good thing that the ISO can go up to 51200 or however high it is? True and false.
After a certain ISO, the grain in the photo will be out of control and unusable. For a full-frame camera, ISO 3200 is usually when you can see the grains. So the lower your ISO, the less grain/noise you will have.
Also, ISO is very important in reducing discoloration in your image. If you take the same image with 100 ISO and 12800 ISO, you will notice there is significantly more noise in the 12800 ISO one. The color in the images will also be different. The one with 12800 ISO will look very different, not anything close to the original colors with the human eyes.
But If you lower it too much to ISO 100, you won’t have enough light to capture the stars and volcano eruption.
Hence, I recommend an ISO 800- ISO 3200 for your volcano erupting with stars photo.
Aperture for Capturing Volcano Erupting and Stars at Night
As low as possible (Preferably between f/1.8 – f/4)
Aperture or f-stop is a term for measuring how wide your lens open and hence how much light your lens allows in. The wider the aperture, or the lower the f-stop number, the more light it allows in.
If you have seen numbers like f/1.8, f/2.8, f/4, those are the f-stop numbers.
Another thing to know is that aperture determines the amount of lens blur you will get. The lower the f-stop number, the more it will be (f/1.8 will give a lot of lens blur).
Depending on the lens that you have, you might only be allowed to go down to f/2.8, or f/4, or even f/5.6. That is why it is important to have the right lens. Any of the lenses I recommended above will do the job.
I had chosen an f-stop of f/3.2 and a focus on the background of the volcano erupting so that I would get lens blur on the person in the foreground. That way it’s easier to keep your eyes focused on what’s more important, the volcano erupting.
Shutter Speed for Capturing Volcano Erupting and Stars at Night
As low as possible while still getting the proper exposure (15s-25s)
Shutter speed is the last bit of the exposure triangle (ISO and Aperture being the other two points). Together, they make up the exposure (or brightness) of your photo.
If it is a still object and you have a sturdy tripod, theoretically you can have as long of a shutter speed as you want without getting any blur.
But wait a second, the stars are constantly moving very slowly due to the earths rotation. How will that affect the photo?
The truth is, depending on the focal length of your lens, you cannot have your shutter speed for too long.
How long is too long? Adjust your focal length to the desired composition, take a photo with a certain shutter speed, then examine the photo after. When you zoom in, do the stars look blurry? If it does, lower your shutter speed either by lowering your f-stop or increasing your ISO.
The lower your focal length, the longer your shutter speed is allowed to be.
For that reason, I recommend anywhere from 15s – 25s as your starting point.
Framing and Composition
Usually, I frame my pictures in two ways, the most important subject in the middle with balancing elements of the sides(thirds or so). I wasn’t able to do that here in this photo because there were only two elements, the person and the volcano.
I would have to put both of the subjects in the middle of the photo, which would cover part of the volcano.
So to balance the photo, I had to put both subjects on the thirds of the photo. One on the left third and one on the right third. Then I purposely blur out the person by using a low f-stop to keep the reader’s eyes on what is the most important, the volcano.
Colors that are primary in this photo are red (subject 1, person), orange (subject 2, volcano), and blue-greenish (background, sky).
If you look carefully, you will see that the three colors form an isosceles triangle on the color wheel. This color palette is called the split-complementary color scheme and is one of the color palettes that will be very pleasing to the eyes. The sky color was changed in post-processing to achieve that color, and the color of the subject(jacket) was carefully picked out.
Final Step: Post-Processing
After you have your desired photo, you want to post-process and adjust it to what you had visioned. For post-processing, I use Adobe Lightroom for overall adjustments and Adobe Photoshop for more micro-adjustments. Here I will list out the steps to achieve the final picture.
Step 1: Create the Composite (If Needed)
This part is could be skipped if you already have every element of the photo you want. For me, I was very unlucky and wasn’t able to pose and get the volcano to erupt at the same time (Volcano erupts every 30 minutes to hours).
For that reason I have two separate photos, one of me posing, and one of the volcano erupting.
Keep in mind that you cannot move your tripod at all or you won’t be able to composite (“overlap”) these photos.
Here is a tutorial on how to do create a composite by blending in one photo into the other.
Step 2: Global Adjustments Using Adobe Lightroom
It’s very important to have a goal in mind before you start editing. My goal was to create the color composition underlined in the Color Theory section, which consists of three colors: red, orange, and greenish-blue.
The other important part was to adjust the “brightness” of the stars to make it “pop” more.
Step 3: Export to Adobe Photoshop and Eliminate Distractions
Your image is very close to being done! If you are satisfied with what you have, your job is done.
But when I looked at the photo, my eyes are inevitably drawn to the chimney-like object next to the subject’s foot. I cannot help but look at that first in the picture.
So to remove any object that you do not want, Adobe Photoshop is your best weapon of choice. Check out this tutorial on how to remove anything on Adobe Photoshop!
Step 4: Export Your Photo and Share on Social Media!
Show off the fruits of your labor!! Upload the photo onto your social medias and share with your friends!!
For those interested in seeing the final image, here’s the link to the photo of volcano Acatenango erupting on my Instagram.
–Don’t forget to share this post if you found it helpful!! Any additional questions you can contact me via the Contact page or through my Instagram.
–Want to know how you can climb Volcano Acatenango? Check out this guide I’ve written on hiking Volcano Acatenango.
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