A very special visitor

Neowise | 20 sec | f/4 | ISO 1600| 41mm

Covid-19 is seriously impairing travel. While the job that pays the bills used to come with lots of business travel, I’ve been restricted to work from home since beginning of March. Also private travel is significantly reduced in Europe, and the streets of Nuremberg haven’t seen many visitors either. But our night sky has been graced by a very special visitor from outer space, comet Neowise. Properly socially distanced, it passed our planet at a distance of 103 million km or 64 million miles.

It’s the second comet I’ve been able to witness, the first being Hale-Bop in 1997, during the early days of digital photography. But now I had to try to capture the comet that has a nucleus of about 5km (3 miles) and a tail made gas and ions.

In the northern hemisphere, Neowise can be seen on the northwestern horizon, below the Big Dipper. While it was bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, the increasing distance form the sun and the crescent moon make it increasingly difficult to spot the comet.

As camera I used my Olympus OM-D E-M1X and the mZuiko 12-100mm. On a clear night, I put the camera on a bean bag on the sill of our bedroom window. As my usual starting point for any astro-photography, I dialed in a twenty second shutter speed, ISO 1600 and an aperture of f/4. I wanted to capture some context, in this case the silhouettes of the trees on the horizon, so I settled on a 41mm (82mm full frame equivalent) focal length.

The challenge came with setting the focus manually to infinity -autofocus was not an option, as it was practically pitch dark outside. My problem was that I never properly marked the manual infinity mark on my zoom lens. Sure, there is an infinity mark on the distance scale of the lens, but this is just an indication, not a precisely defined mark. So it was a lot of trial and error – each coming with a 20 second exposure and a subsequent 20 second noise reduction phase. before I could determine if I had a hit. It took me quite a few trials and errors before I finally got a satisfying result.

Lessons learned: Do some auto-focussing on infinity during daylight and make a mark on your lens were infinity really is.

In the end I was happy recording my memory of a very special visitor.

Wish you a great Tuesday – and stay safe!


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38 thoughts on “A very special visitor

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  1. What a nice capture. Whenever I’ve tried to photograph stellar objects like the moon, exposure has been a problem. As to focusing, I’ve always resorted to manual focusing, and then shooting on a timer as anything but a gentle touch will cause my tripod to shake. Very important when it comes to long exposures.

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words. The comet was visible every night (cloudless, of course) for about four weeks, initially just before dawn, later around midnight. Marcus

  2. That’s a gorgeous shot, and from your bedroom windwow, wow! It’s lucky that your skies were dark enough to do that. I like having the trees for context, and the warm, glowing colors are really nice. I don’t have any experience with astrophotography and rarely even shoot at night so it was good to read about the settings. I was surprised that you need to fiddle around until you got the correct infinity focus. I would have thought the mark on the lens would be good enough, since the object is so far away. Interesting!!

  3. I found this post fascinating especially I’m not much of a serious photographer. That’s also why I’m grateful for your perfect shots that amaze me. Thanks for this one especially!!!

  4. Wow! Stunning, indeed. For several nights I’ve set my gear on the balcony and tried to spot the comet, but to no avail. I think the light pollution doesn’t make it easy. Plus, we’ve had quite some crazy weather, on and off. So, I’m glad you shared this beautiful image. Impressive!

    1. Thanks, Alina, your kind words mean so much! I believe that from the metro region it would be impossible to spot, given it was not very bright and I had a hard time finding it, living far outside the city. Stay safe! Marcus

  5. Marcus, that is an incredible capture. I understand your several trials, but I learned from you how to go about it. Thank you your great share. I tried to see it, but since I live so close to the ocean, it was overcast at nights.

  6. Marcus, I thought about you, your family and how you all are doing. I hope everything is well. It’s sad that you are not allowed to work from home and traveling right now has so many restrictions.
    The photograph is unique!!! I have never seen a comet and I can imagine how you were excited creating this fabulous photo!
    Marcus, stay safe, stay healthy. All my very best to you and your family.

  7. Beautiful Marcus! Like John, I didn’t get to see it… but this photograph is awesome enough for me, wonderful capture.

      1. Thanks, Jill. Indeed, initially there was not much early press about the comet. I read the first article when it was already visible in the sky. Have a great weekend! Marcus

    1. Thanks, John, as always much appreciated! You should have seen it also in Vegas (it was visible in the northern hemisphere, but probably your light pollution is insane.Stay safe and cool! Marcus

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