Cape Leveque Nightscapes with the Vixen Polarie

It was night 3 of our tour, our 2nd night at Cape Leveque and I was down on the beach at about 11pm, all alone with nothing but the dark skies and expanse of the Milky Way above me.

I was testing out the Vixen Polarie, and was keen to see how it could be used for nightscape photos (landscape astrophotography) in addition to the straight ‘sky’ shots, like this Milky Way image. The challenge of course, is that in normal nightscape photos we have to keep the exposure short enough so that the stars remain as points and not trails. When using the Vixen Polarie, we’ve got tracking on so can use longer exposures and the stars still remain as points, but during the tracked exposures, the foreground is also shifting and will become blurry.

The solution then, is to take 2 shots – one with the Polarie tracking on (to keep the stars sharp), and one with tracking off (to keep the foreground sharp). The images can then be combined in Photoshop using standard layer masks.

The Emu diving into the Indian Ocean

The Emu diving into the Indian Ocean

Depending on your foreground, it may be more difficult to get the layer mask correct, but with these rocks at Cape Leveque, the edges made for easy masking, especially when using a tool like Topaz ReMask.

The image above shows the Emu diving into the Indian Ocean. Both the foreground and sky are single 90 second exposures, with the Canon 5D Mk II, Samyang 14mm f/2.8 lens @ f/2.8, ISO3200.

The Southern Milky Way

The Southern Milky Way

The red haze near the horizon might be airglow, and was visible on the back of the camera and I certainly noticed ‘something’ with my eyes but the colour wasn’t visible.

In the shot above, the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) has just risen above the horizon. Both the foreground and the sky are single 2 minute exposures, one with tracking on and one with tracking off. They were combined in Photoshop.

The Northern Milky Way Rising

Turning around to the North East, the Milky Way wasn’t quite as bright but the rocks gave a great foreground scene. In this shot, both the foreground and sky are single 2 minute exposures.

Overall, I’m very happy with the performance of the Vixen Polarie. There’s very little trailing in the 2 minute sky shots, considering I didn’t polar align accurately. It also helped that I was using such a wide focal length.

There’s quite a bit of interest in these small, portable ‘trackers’ now – especially as landscape astrophotography / nightscapes is becoming a much more popular genre of photography. For the price, the Vixen Polarie (at AU$495) is good value, small and portable and can handle the weight of a standard DSLR and lens. Well worth checking out.

Thanks for looking.

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