Planning, Photographing, and Editing a Telephoto Lens Comet Neowise Photo

Comet Neowise is probably going to be the most positive event of 2020, so here is how I immortalized this beautiful phenomenon.

Comet C/2020 F3, also known as Neowise, will be visible on the night sky throughout July. Exactly when it will be too dim to see and photograph is hard to say though. When I got news of this comet, I knew exactly what type of photo I wanted to capture. I was posing on a hilltop observing the comet photographed with a long lens to make a dramatic compression effect. I spent four nights hunting this photo and with some planning, I managed to get it.

One of the final photos

Planning

My biggest problem is actually my geography. As I am located in Denmark at a latitude of about 56 degrees north, our summer nights are really bright. As a result, the comet loses a lot of contrast to the background sky and it easily looks very dim. I only have a short window of about 30-45 minutes to get the photo when the sun is as far below the horizon as possible.

On top of that, Denmark is also a flat country, and located to the north the comet is relatively high above the horizon. This makes it hard to find a location I could use for a good telephoto shot with myself in the foreground. I needed a distance of at least 300 meters between me and the camera and an angle of about 9 degrees. This meant I needed a hilltop with an elevation of about 50 meters relative to the position of the camera. Did I mention Denmark is flat? On top of that, I could not have any vegetation in the line of sight and the setup had to face straight north.

There is nothing like strong Photoshop skills to visualize a plan!

Execution

Luckily, I could use my knowledge of the local landscape and I decided to go to a couple of characteristic hills in the middle part of Jutland, close to where I grew up. This turned out to be the perfect location as the hills exactly matched my criteria for altitude and I had a lot of space to move around and adjust the composition.

The hard part was I had to photograph myself from a big distance, and due to the settings of an open aperture to gather enough light, keeping the shutter speed down to avoid star trails, and to using a long focal length, I had to focus stack the photo. When the time was right and the sky was as dark as possible, I focused on the foreground, put my Sony a7R III into the intervalometer mode, and ran up the hill. I had already been up there to assess the location, so I had a good idea of where to stand and pose. When I came back down, I took hundreds of photos with the comet in focus as to have enough data to clean the photos for noise.

I made sure to take several photos of the foreground and the comet just to cover everything. I also went to the other hill but at that time, the sun had risen so much that the comet appeared much dimmer in the sky.

Editing

In the video above, I cover how I edited the different photos in more detail. The important part was to stack the photos in a stacking software. I used Sequator, which is a free and powerful software for this and the comet photos came out nice and clean of noise. This photo I stitched together with the foreground photos which was with different masking and blending mode techniques. I made sure to overlap the stars and silhouettes of myself to respect the focal lengths and perspectives. To remove the last grain and sharpen the photos I used DeNoise AI from Topaz Labs. The results came out better than I expected.

Probably my favorite photo of the night

Be sure to check out the video above and feel free to share your comet Neowise photos in the comments.

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4 Comments

Nox Vega's picture

What is the perfect hour?
I'm from Sweden and I went out last night, ended up in some wilderness. Nice place. Or so I thought.
Suddenly I heard something in the grass nearby. A huge thing, looking like a warthog (but much bigger, or what do I know, I saw a warthog only on YouTube) jumped out and started circling me and my car.
I said screw it, I'm out of here.
Went to another place, 10km further. There, I heard some moaning in the grass. Like a cow, just not a cow.
It sounded like something I wouldn't want to stick around to see what is making that sound, so I went home after that. Got 4 photos total and none of them of the comet.
I will try tonight as well. But this time I'm sticking to the city.
Very nice photo by the way.

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

Thanks, the best time would be when the sun is furthest beneath the horizon. So from 1-2 in the night :)

Aritz Atela's picture

Sharing knowledge and passion, as always, very useful video for those comet hunters and any person who loves astrophotography. ;)

Kai Hornung's picture

Really liked your excitement in the video!