The night sky can offer so much for viewing. The Milky Way (our home galaxy) is amazing to view and photograph, but the best part of it, the galactic core, is at its best during the summer months and isn’t even visible in the winter season. With the right equipment and location you can capture all the beauty and vastness that lies around us. The biggest thing with both viewing and photographing the night sky and the Milky Way is finding a dark location away from the city lights. Light pollution will not only obstruct the viewing of the stars, but also make an unwanted glow in the sky while photographing. The images will show us much more than our eyes will see. So the first things you’ll need to have are a DSLR, tripod and preferably a wide-angle lens. Then your concern will be finding the location of a dark sky. For this you can go online to find maps on light pollution (for further information visit www.darksky.org). The International Dark-Sky Association is helping to protect, maintain and save the night skies around the world.
Preparation is Key
The preparation and equipment used in photographing the Milky Way is key to capturing the image. A newer DSLR is recommended because with these low-light situations you’ll be running high ISOs and trying to bring the most light into your sensor. Using a nice, wide aperture is another factor when taking night images. The modern DSLR cameras have very good low-light capabilities and will have less noise and grain compared to the older DSLR cameras. You’ll be wanting to use a camera that can go from 1600-6400 ISO without going too high or into the expanded ISO range. The second major thing you’ll need is a very sturdy tripod. With long exposures the littlest movement will ruin your images. The goal is to capture points of light and not star trails. Wind and even soft ground can make a big difference. Soft ground while walking around can shake the tripod, and wind can not only shake the tripod, but can have the potential to knock your camera over. Using an intervalometer, remote shutter or self-timer is what works best as even the pressure from your finger pushing down the shutter button can shake your camera enough that the stars won’t be points of light.
Some other things to bring along are hand warmers and fasteners such as a cut sock, elastic or band to hold them to the end of your lens. Keeping the lens hood on will help to protect from dew, moisture and frost. Temperature changes happen often during the night and a frosted or dew-covered lens will ruin the images.
Getting your eyes to adapt to the darkness is another point that should be made. It can take up to two hours for our eyes to adjust fully to the darkness.
To read more of “Shooting the Milky Way” and to discover how you can do it with your existing equipment please pick up the Summer/Fall 2014 issue of OPC today!