Stargazers take note: A comet from the outer reaches of the Solar System, nicknamed Neowise, is providing a spectacular show. It’s definitely a special heavenly spectacle, because it passes by Earth so closely, it’s visible to the naked eye. Neowise (aka C/2020 F3 NEOWISE) won’t be back for another 6,800 years. It will reach its closest point to Earth on 23 July, at a distance of just over 100 million km. The comet can be spotted across the northern hemisphere, approximately one hour after sunset and before sunrise.
Neowise is visible when the sky is dark enough to show it’s bright tail and makes for a special treat for astrophotographers.
So, here are a few basic tips for photographing the comet successfully.
First of all, you have to ask yourself when and where to set up the shooting location.
Your chances of spotting it are better, the closer the comet is to earth – which is the case between 15 – 25 July. You can easily track where the comet is for your location by using star-tracking and night sky apps. The chance of seeing it in the early evening improves – so long as the weather co-operates and the sky is nice and clear. That’s why checking the weather before heading out is crucial to a good photograph of the comet.
After checking the right timing, and where to see Neowise, pick an elevated spot, away from light sources. The further away from city lights the better.
As essential as the camera itself, is a tripod sturdy enough to take the weight of your gear and hold it still for up to 30 seconds.
Beyond that, you really just need a lens with a focal length of at least 100mm, though obviously the longer your lens, the more the movement of night sky objects will be magnified and the better your shot will be. Because you will be shooting in the dark (obviously!), you should shoot with a fast lens.
For focusing at night, you will want to switch your camera over to manual focus. Manually adjust the focus ring until you have a sharp pinpoint of light. In manual mode, we’ll need three things: a wide aperture; long shutter speed; and high ISO. This maximises brightness when shooting in the dark. Set your aperture to maximum because you want to let in as much light as possible.
Then, you need to use a suitable exposure time to ensure you get a sharp picture of Neowise. If you’re not sure how long to expose for, check the ‘500 Rule’ which suggests you take 500 and divide it by the focal length (in full frame terms) of your lens to give you the longest exposure you can use before stars begin to trail.
Because we are limited to relatively short exposure times, we need to bump up the ISO considerably. Expect to shoot at ISO 1,000 or more depending on how dark the sky is and the maximum aperture value of your lens.
Images of the night sky need to be edited slightly differently from daytime images, so make sure you shoot RAW so you can pull out more detail and colour in your final image.
Now, you may also want to use an external shutter release remote, turn on exposure delay mode, or use a self-timer mode to avoid camera vibration during the exposure.
Astrophotography takes patience and technical skill, but the results are worth the effort. We hope this article helps you to capture Neowise, this rare and incredible spectacle in the coming days.
So for now, we wish you clear skies!