Tips for photographing the glow
The ethereal light can create a unique image
The Zodiacal Light is an elusive quarry to track down visually, but can also be a rewarding target to capture on camera, especially when incorporated into nightscape astrophotography. You’ll need to plan carefully to get the best shots, so I’ve broken down the process with some tips on how to go about chasing this ethereal glow with a DSLR.
5. STOP DOWN TO AVOID VIGNETTING For the clearest Zodiacal Light shot you’ll want an evenly illuminated field of view, with minimal vignetting (darkening of frame corners). This may mean you have to reduce the aperture of your lens. Minor vignetting can be processed out, but getting the best data in camera is preferable.
7. MOSAIC IF NECESSARY If your DSLR and lens combination doesn’t quite have a field of view wide enough to encompass the whole Zodiacal Light cone, take several images to make a mosaic later in image-editing software. Remember to leave plenty of overlap so you don’t have any gaps in your final composited picture.
8. STRETCH IT OUT For the Zodiacal Light one of the simplest and most effective post-capture enhancements is a ‘curves’ adjustment – available in most image-editing programs. To do this, open the curves tool and tweak the diagonal adjustment line so it resembles a shallow, diagonal S.
3. TRACK THE SKIES With a fast, prime, wide-angle lens and a high ISO setting on a DSLR, it’s perfectly possible to get decent Zodiacal Light images using just a static tripod. But in order to use lower ISO settings – and therefore get a cleaner image – a motorised mount is the way to go.
4. CHOOSE YOUR LENS WISELY The Zodiacal Light extends across a huge portion of the sky. This means you’ll want to think carefully about how you might frame it. Ideally, you’ll need a lens–DSLR combination that provides a field of view of at least 50° on the long side to capture the glow in context against the darker sky.
6. BRACKET YOUR EXPOSURES There’s a sweet spot for photographing the Zodiacal Light – where there is a nice balance between the background sky darkness and the prominence of the base of the ‘cone’ – that only lasts a little while. Bracket your exposures, either manually or using the pre-programmed function.
1. SCOUT A (SAFE) LOCATION To get the best chance of capturing the Zodiacal Light you’ll need a clear, low horizon to either the east or west – depending on when you’re imaging. Open, or high, ground away from objects like buildings, treelines, hedges and tall hills can be a good place to start.
2. AVOID LIGHT POLLUTION DOMES Pay particular attention to where any domes of light pollution – from distant towns or cities – might be on your horizon. Try to avoid shooting from locations where these would be aligned with where the ‘base’ of the Zodiacal Light sits, as they can mask its presence.