The Great Conjunction

The Great Conjunction

In an earlier post, I provided some tips on taking photos of a pretty rare celestial event, as viewed by the Earth. Perhaps one of the tips should have been to double check you’re taking the right gear out to record the event. I forgot my longer lens setup in my other car — and what I was left with was my X100F which has a built in 23mm.

The Great Conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter and an Owl

This photo shows the conjunction, without a ton of detail, but it does have some other items of interest. On the right side of the photo, there is an owl — which I only noticed when I got home.

On the bottom left, there is a bright “star” which sits on Lockheed Martin’s Waterton Canyon campus. The star was first lit in the late 1950s to mark the holiday season. It turns on the day after Thanksgiving through to the New Year. The star sits at 6,687 feet on Warren Peak. It is about 148 feet wide, and 173 feet tall.

The two planets ought to still be close tomorrow night — I might try going back with the correct gear.

Jupiter and Saturn Conjunction

Jupiter and Saturn Conjunction

Today is the day for the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. They will appear to be close together in the sky, the closest they’ve been in 397 years. Here are some tips to photograph it tonight (source: NASA):

General tips

  • Jupiter and Saturn will appear brighter than nearly every star. They can be seen easily from large cities, and dark sites.
  • Dark skies will allow you to see fainter stars, but Jupiter and Saturn are bright enough that you don’t necessarily need to go to a dark site to take compelling photos of them. If you have a clear view toward the southwest, you have the chance to take some great photos.
  • Think about composition. Jupiter and Saturn will just appear as points of light. To make your photo more interesting, try to frame the planets with something – the silhouette of a tree, an outdoor landscape, the arch of a building, or even a neon sign.
  • Experiment with both wide-angle and telephoto shots. In early December, the two planets will be about 2 degrees apart, and will get progressively close toward December 21. In order to show them clearly in your photos, you might use a wide-angle composition early in December, and zoom in later in the month as they get closer.
  • Be sure to go outside on a few different nights, and see how their separation changes.
  • Using a tripod will help you hold your camera steady while taking longer exposures. If you don’t have a tripod, brace your camera against something – a tree, a fence, or a car can all serve as a tripod for a several-second exposure.
  • These planets are visible in early evening, and you’ll have about 1-2 hours from when they are visible, to when they set. The color and intensity of the sky changes during that time. Stay out for an hour or more, and try to capture shots with both the bright colors of sunset, and the darkness of the oncoming night. A photo from the same location can look completely different just an hour later!
  • The crescent moon will pass near Jupiter and Saturn a few days before the conjunction. Take advantage of it in your composition!

Tips if using a cell phone camera

  • Jupiter and Saturn will be bright enough to detect in many cell phone cameras. You won’t see additional detail by zooming in, but you can frame Jupiter and Saturn creatively.
  • Some recent cell phones have a ‘night mode,’ which will automatically stabilize a long-exposure, even without using a tripod. This can be great for capturing the dark foreground of your photo. Some phones will let you use ‘night mode’ on exposures up to 30 seconds, if you also use a tripod.
  • Many cell phones have a wide-angle lens. Try using this to place a subject in the foreground, with Jupiter and Saturn above them.
  • At the time of conjunction on December 21, Jupiter and Saturn may be too close to separate clearly in your photos. Images taken a few days before or after the conjunction may show them more clearly.

Tips if using a DSLR camera

  • Set your focus to Infinity (Manual Focus mode), so the planets will be sharp. Set your aperture wide open, to let in the maximum amount of light.
  • If you have a tripod, it will help you take long exposures. If not, you can still take some great pictures with a short shutter speed (< 1/4 second). If your camera or lens has an image stabilizer, be sure it is turned on.
  • If your photos show that the camera is not steady, shorten your shutter speed. You can also use a photographers’ trick to get a sharp photo when hand-holding: set up your camera to take multiple exposures, then hold the shutter button to take a series of photos. While some will be blurry due to camera shake, you may find a few that are sharp.
  • If you use a 200 mm telephoto lens, you should be able to see Jupiter’s four bright moons in a short exposure. Saturn’s rings will usually need a longer lens or a telescope in order to resolve clearly.
  • To capture Jupiter and Saturn as sharp ‘points’ while using a tripod, use a shutter speed of up to a few seconds. More than this and the Earth’s rotation will smear out the planets and stars. If you are using a wide-angle lens, you can use a longer exposure.

The weather locally looks great, so I’m hoping to get out for some pictures or to at least see the event.