Last Observatory Post!

One of the perks of going to visit the observatory with an astronomer is that I got access inside the telescopes, and also to the walkway outside the dome (which is about three stories up, and an excellent place to take sunrise/sunset pictures). I put a few shots from inside the telescope dome up on flickr, with notes about the equipment. The third photo in that series shows the little tiny holes in the mirror of the Harlan J. Smith telescope from when one of the telescope operators got disgruntled and shot the mirror with his gun.

Also over at the flickr set are a couple shots of the outsides of the telescopes during the day, and some sunset shots:

Silhouette of Trees

I mentioned in my first post that I took several series of photos with varied exposures in hopes of creating some High Dynamic Range (HDR) images, but what I didn’t realize was how incredibly windy it was. Wind is not good for HDR shots because the clouds move across the sky from one shot to the next, so there’s no good way to stack all the images and combine them. (Unless someone more photoshop savvy than me knows a trick for this?)

But I did get to do a bit of photoshopping with my night images. Sadly, I wasn’t able to make images of star trails, but with a ton of post processing I was able to generate this image that simulates what the observatory looked like at night (once my eyes were dark adapted):

Observatory and Stars

Edited to add: I meant to talk about the photoshop process for the night shot, but didn’t — basically I made the photo above by stacking two long exposures of the stars in the background, and then on top of that I added a (mostly desaturated) image of the telescope during the day (at 15% opacity). The raw images out of my camera looked like faint white dots on a black background and were entirely unimpressive.


  1. Cool photos! I’ve heard the story about the shot mirror, but this is the first time I’ve seen a picture! Thanks! May I use it in talks????

    • Absolutely! I have a bigger version of the picture (which makes it a little easier to see the bullet holes) if you want — just shoot me an email (cyoachim AT gmail DOT com) and I can send it to you.

  2. ooh, the night shot is cool!

  3. Beautiful photos those. I’m jealous of your night shots. I never seem to get those just right but then I am using a tiny old digital camera. You have a gift for capturing light that is quite moving.

  4. Cool Photoshopping. It’s so hard to get images to look like what we see at night. I think you did great–it kinda makes me feel like I’m there.

    • Thanks, Paul! I wish I could have gotten more of the stars — being out in the middle of nowhere Texas meant that there was very little light pollution, so I could see a streak of the Milky Way across the sky, and there were so many stars it was difficult to pick out the constellations. The experience made me appreciate how amazing the human eye is!

  5. That night-time shot is absolutely phenomenal. What is your secret to getting your camera to work like your eyes in adapting to low levels of light?

    • Hmmm…I thought I had described the photoshop process in the post, but I guess that was in the flickr caption or something (I’ve been posting these photos multiple places, so I forget what info went where!). Anyway, the camera totally wouldn’t do what I wanted, so I cheated. Using photoshop I stacked two long exposures of the stars to get the background, then I stuck a photo of the telescope that I took during the day (partially desaturated and at an opacity of about 15%) on top of that.

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