Stars over Shennong Valley, Lessons in the (Sony RX100) Lens

Taking pictures, as ubiquitous as it has become thanks to smartphones and Instagram, is one of those nicely conflicted activities. Whipping out a phone, carrying around a camera, sets one apart from the situation at hand, marks the stranger. It’s hardly conducive to making oneself at home in the place and time.

Then again, taking the time to set up a shot means calming down, getting into the situation. Looking for interesting angles and motives can even help see the familiar in a different light.

Being the one Western face deep in rural China, it’s not the camera that makes one so conspicuous, and a little staring back of/through one’s camera’s unflinching third eye is nothing compared to all the stares, double-takes, and stupefied comments about the sudden appearance of a veritable foreigner among the Chinese midst.

In the Shennong Valley, though, the camera-related lesson was a simple practical/technical one: Like I said before, we tend to fail to make ourselves at home with the tools we have at hand, falling prey to the promise of better updates to rush out and buy and finally get delivered the skill we already promised ourselves with the previous model. Meanwhile, the ‘old stuff’ probably has capabilities we still haven’t explored and learned to make good use of.

RX100M2Now, technically, the camera I was using there was a new one, the (updated) Sony RX100 MkII I got as replacement for the RX100 that went missing on the Hong Kong Trail. It is an updated model, but it’s all less a matter of updated electronics, and more to do with the switch from automatic modes to manual. Knowing at least something of how to operate that does, of course, also come in handy…

So, the two nights there, a little up in the mountains, with few clouds around and still fewer artificial lights, some stars were quite nicely visible. Seemed like the “Here. Now.” (an “at home in…” theme as per the Facebook page‘s profile pic) for a little photo tour, switching to manual and seeing how I could do at taking pictures of said starry skies.

Not too bad, if I may say so myself:

Night Sky Over Shennong Valley 1

Night Sky Over Shennong Valley 1

Night Sky Over Shennong Valley 2

Night Sky Over Shennong Valley 2

Night Sky Over Shennong Valley 3

Night Sky Over Shennong Valley 3

In fact, the camera captured way more stars than we were actually able to see with the naked eye…

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  1. Sahithya

    Hey hi! Curious to know if you used any specific settings to get these shots? I might do some stargazing sometime and I just got this camera. I have no knowledge of professional photography so was wondering if you could tell me if u made any manual settings to capture these?

    • Certainly I can (tell you), certainly you need to (use specific settings): There is a “night scene” mode, but it would have (very) limited usefulness here.
      What you want to do is use manual mode, set the aperture to its maximum (widest opening = lowest number, here f/1,8 if you don’t zoom, which you shouldn’t), and set the shutter to somewhere between 15 seconds and 1 minute.

      A tripod is essential! (And there’s sometimes still some shake from hitting the shutter button, which can be avoided by using the – 2 sec – self-timer to start the shot.)

  2. Eric

    What ISO did you use?

  3. Eric

    Sorry, spell checker went crazy.

    What I want to know is what ISO you use for night sky photography.

    • As low as possible, as high as necessary. It’s typically either 800 or 1600, but it depends on exposure time, of course, and on the desired effect.

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