A photographer creates an epic panorama of the night sky using ordinary cameras

Photographer Samy Olabi spent a total of 70 nights over four years capturing 12,200 photos that took 2.2 million seconds to expose in order to capture the night sky using a mix of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras.

Olabi is an accomplished astrophotographer who has shot miniaturized scenes before using the real Milky Way galaxy as a backdrop. For the past four years he has been working on a new project to capture the night sky as seen from the Northern Hemisphere using conventional DSLRs and mirrorless and telescopeless cameras.

With practicality and portability as primary concerns, Olabi wanted to achieve the best possible results without any type of guidance system, astronomical cameras or telescopes. To speed up the process, he used multiple cameras with simple tracking mounts and different focal lengths.

Photo of the night sky by Samy Olabi

“It’s a proof of concept that with the right recipe, you can achieve perfect results. All you need is knowledge with tools and techniques,” he says.

The finished mosaic was captured in the dark corners of the Middle East, in and around the United Arab Emirates where he is based.

Pre-production

“Getting into deep sky astrophotography was a continuation of my astrophotography career,” says Olabi. “I wanted to do something different, jumping from project to project is what keeps my enthusiasm and passion going over the years.”

He says he believes in thinking outside the box and deviating from what a photographer “should” do, and cites his previous series of thumbnails as an example of this line of thinking.

“I don’t want complications, I don’t want cables, computers, power generators, telescopes or heavy mounts,” he says.

Photo of the night sky by Samy Olabi

After some serious research and thought, Olabi came up with a method that would use a set of small, portable, and easy-to-use equipment that he would rely on for the project. It would use a mix of Nikon D780, D810A and Z6 combined with a set of 10 lenses: a 20mm f/1.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/ 1.4, 135mm f/2, 70-200mm f/2.8, 300mm f/4, 500mm f/4 and a 600mm f/4.

He combined these cameras and lenses with a Skywatcher Star Adventurer celestial tracking platform and the Ioptron SkyGuider Pro and CEM25P mounted.

After assembling his tools, he had to plan the shooting carefully according to the phases of the moon and the weather conditions. He also had to take into account the light pollution which limited where he could shoot from. He relied on its location database in the UAE that he had previously set up.

The catching technique

Olabi says that a single final image in the mosaic above is actually the result of shooting four types of frames. To explain his process, he cites a celestial object, the Rosetta Nebula, as an example.

“The first step after pointing your lens at the object is to start exposing your sensor to the light emitted by that object, which is why we call it ‘Light Frames,'” he says. “It’s a process of collecting data from the same object over and over a certain number of times. [It is] similar to timelapse interval shooting, but the only difference is that the camera moves with the movement of the earth, keeping the object centered in the frame.

Photo of the night sky by Samy Olabi

He took shorter exposures with a higher ISO combined with a faster aperture, increasing the number of frames he collected and then could stack. He says this technique significantly reduces random noise and increases the signal-to-noise ratio.

“The secret lies in the calibration frames, which were intended to eliminate imperfections either in the sensor or in the glass,” he explains.

He says that due to the number of images he captures, properly handling the data and eliminating any unwanted or defective images is essential for the next step: post-processing.

This step is extremely time-consuming and requires a ton of time and computing resources, he says.

Photo of the night sky by Samy Olabi

“Each deep-sky object image takes about three to four nights to shoot and can take the same amount of time, if not longer, for post-processing,” says Olabi.

More to capture

Despite the vastness of what he’s already created and the years it’s taken him, Olabi says there’s still a lot to do.

Photo of the night sky by Samy Olabi

“I’ve reached some kind of accomplishment in this project, but I feel like I’m still far from done. There are a lot of objects that I still need to capture, and there are objects that I need to capture. review again. Some objects will require travel to the Southern Hemisphere,” he says.

“Perhaps that’s the beauty of it all: I always look forward to the next step.”

Details of Olabi’s method and more photos of his composite image can be found on his site.


Picture credits: Pictures of Samy Olabi

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