On noise, stacking and a positive outlook on life

Did I ever mention that I like to shoot the night sky and the stars above as well as beautiful landscapes? This kind of photography is called astrophotography and it can be quite as difficult, but can also be quite spectacular.

Gazing the M31

I’ve read somewhere something quite extraordinary that all photographers should bear in mind, and that is that our camera only captures light, it is our mind that captures the images. And in astrophotography, it really blows my mind that the light that my camera’s sensor captures is light that has traveled enormously vast distances, ranging from mere 25 light years away (that is 236.518.261.814.520 km. !) to 2000 light years away!!

But it is not as simple as it sounds… You see, in order to get light from so far away captured, you need to leave your shutter open for quite a long time. But then rises another problem, even if you’ve got your camera set on a tripod, you have to deal with the rotation of the Earth (and it turns oh-so-fast!), or else you’ll get the so-called startrails instead of a fixed dot of light.


One solution to that problem, is to mount your camera on a telescope that itself is mounted on a mount that can rotate and always have focus on a certain spot at the sky. That is called piggybacking, and you can take that even further, and attach your camera directly to the eye-piece of the telescope, and capture magnificent nebulas from the depths of our cosmos.

But still, even if you have the money and dedication to do all that, you are faced with another problem. And that is, noise. And no, I’m not talking about the sound coming from your nearby basement where a bunch of 17 year-olds have gathered and are covering the “Burzum” band, I’m talking about all those spots that pop up in your photo, especially when you try to do long exposures (the dreaded hot-pixels). But, there is a solution to that too! And it’s called, stacking.

What you do, is take a bunch of pictures. And when I say a bunch, be my guest. The more the merrier. The logic behind that is that while digital noise is random, the light coming from a star is always there on the same spot (even if it isn’t, due to the earth’s rotation, the stacking programs usually auto-align the images themselves), so the program can identify and separate these 2 (and you need many captures in order to help the program make that separation as good as it gets), and removes all the random noise from your final image. What you get, is fascinating images with so many stars that you won’t believe that were there in the first place! Add some Lightroom/PhotoShop magic, and you’ll get the constellation of Cassiopeia like this:

Now, I’m not even as experienced as I would like to be, but I’m working on it. But I woke up today with a strange thought in my head… Aren’t the decisions we make in our lives a result of stacking too? We live, and capture experiences through the passing of time, and the more experiences the better, because then we’ve got a nice statistical sample of errors, bad choices, mistakes, but also some cherished moments, good decisions, happy times…. And each decision we make, is taken based on all those that were taken before it (as the great Ansel Adams said; “You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved”), weighing the pros and cons each time through a different point of view, inner thinking and judging.
Of course, it is up to us to either make a good experience-‘stacking’ or botch it up, and that takes practice too. But in order to separate the noise from the golden stuff that will stay with you for the rest of your life, you need to collect experiences. So, live! Get off your lazy ass, turn off the computer and go out, meet people, love another human being, argue, fight, quit your job, take up a hobby, go somewhere new, something!
Don’t let your life become a still-shot of the same repetitive event!


3 thoughts on “On noise, stacking and a positive outlook on life

  1. Pingback: On the meaning of photography, and digital processing | Through the Looking Glass

  2. Pingback: On the year that passed, and the one that’s coming | Through the Looking Glass

  3. Pingback: On the Meaning of Photography, and Digital Processing | Photograph IO

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