the blog of Seldom Seen Photography

Night Moves – Milky Way Edition

Milky Way1“Workin’ on mysteries without any clues, Workin’ on our night moves” -Bob Seger, Night Moves

I enjoy night photography, though I’ll be the first to admit that I have a lot to learn. I have previously written on the topic. However, in that case, my post focused on night photography in the city. In today’s post, I’ll focus on night photography in the wilderness (or at least far from city lights).

During my recent backpacking trip in the Olympic Mountains, I played with night photography on two nights. My main focus on those nights was to capture some shots of the Milky Way. When shooting star filled skies, and not trying for star trails, here are a few hints:

  • plan your shot by seeing where the Milky Way will be – download the free program Stellarium, a planetarium for computers which can show you how the night sky will look anywhere in the world at anytime now or in the future.
  • pick a spot outside of cities – light pollution blocks many visible stars; my trip to the Olympic Mountains was perfect
  • for the best star shots, avoid times when the moon is up – like light pollution, moonlight will drown out many stars; it was just after new moon when I was in the Olympics, moonlight was not a problem
  • use as “fast” a lens as you can – I used my f4 17-40mm zoom because I wanted the wide-angle view. However, my f2.8 24-70mm lens would have been a better choice for its better light gathering ability
  • don’t be afraid of high ISOs, you will need it – I used ISO settings of 3,200, 6,400, and 8,000 coupled with noise reduction in Lightroom.
  • avoid shutter speeds more than 30 seconds, otherwise you will start getting star trails – up to 30 seconds typically works okay for wide-angle shots (perhaps up to 24 mm), but if you use a less wide-angle lens, you will need a faster shutter speed. The shots here had shutter speeds of 20 to 30 seconds
  • use a wide open aperture – I had my lens wide open at f4 (again, an f2.8 lens would have been better)
  • use a tripod – goes without saying
  • if you want some color to the sky, don’t wait until it is too dark – the length of time after sunset the sky will retain color depends on which direction you point the camera and your latitude (it gets darker quicker at lower latitudes); my shots here were taken between 1.5 and 2.5 hours after sunset
  • auto-focus will not work, so turn it off – auto-focus does not work in low light; to focus you can choose to take some test shots and check a magnified view on your LCD panel of some of the stars; alternatively, manually set the focus to the hyperfocal distance or biased to the infinite side of the hyperfocal distance (that’s what I did)
  • consider using less vignetting correction in post-processing – the profiled vignetting correction for my lens in Lightroom adds a lot of noise to the edges of the images (not a problem in full light conditions, bad news in low light)

 

Lunch Lake and Milky Way

Lunch Lake and the Milky Way – shot about 1.5 hours after sunset, f4, 20 seconds, ISO 6400

Glow on the Horizon

Taken 2.5 hours after sunset, there was still a glow on the horizon visible to the camera (but not my eye) – f4, 20 seconds, ISO 8000

Milky Way and Pond

Both this shot and the one at the top of the post were taken just a few steps from our campsite at Lunch Lake. The water is not the lake, but a small pond. The biggest problem I had here was that there are two campsites on the far side of this pond, and one group of campers kept turning their flashlights on. After several tries, I captured a shot without the light from their camp. Shot about 1.75 hours after sunset, f4, 20 seconds, ISO 8000

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5 responses

  1. Very nice!

    August 24, 2014 at 5:17 pm

  2. blogtendi

    Reblogged this on BLOGTENDI.

    August 24, 2014 at 6:53 pm

  3. Reblogged this on Hadel.

    August 24, 2014 at 8:42 pm

  4. Something Amazing! I love the datail you leave at the base of the pic! Very Nice Work!

    August 31, 2014 at 10:33 am

  5. Immagini molto belle e grazie per i suggerimenti.

    September 4, 2014 at 2:12 pm

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