How much 'real' are astrophotos nowdays? The old days of one-shot film camera astrophotography are now gone forever and today is easier than ever to digitally combine shots taken from different cameras, focal lengths, locations…
Have a look at this picture. All the individual components are real, actual photos that I took at August 12, 2016 at Bodiam Castle, England, but in order to produce the image, I had to do a number of things:
- Stack several images for the startrails. If some of the startrail shots had something annoying (like a plane trail) I could easily remove it. (I have done it many times!).
- Change the startrail layer to semi-transparent for the meteors to look better.
- The meteors showing here were taken during a 4 hour shooting whereas the trails are only 1 1/2 hour because the famous British clouds ruined the rest of it.
- I have moved the meteors from their original positions by rotating the entire field of view having Polaris at the centre and masking out all the stars using photoshop except those in one shot (the one with the big meteor behind the clouds). This is a technique to visualize all the meteors on a single frame, simulating the meteor shower radiant. It is not a clean and accurate process. After the rotation the distortion of a typical wide field lens will completely mess up the stars and the exact meteor positions will be a guesswork. Also it is REALLY tempting to move a meteor on a better position, especially if after the field rotation it shows in front of a tree or building.
- Finally, I have used yet another layer for the castle to look better from the beginning of the shooting when the medieval building was nicely illuminated by the Moon.
After spending hours behind a computer monitor to produce this result I have started to wonder where is this line that separates astrophotography from creative art?
I'm tempted, for the next meteor shower instead of having to worry about cameras, equipment, settings, post processing, to just go out, lay down on the grass and enjoy the sky!