It's not chocolate, but it is the Milky Way!

August 09, 2015  •  2 Comments

I'm an outdoors sort of chap, and love all aspects of our countryside, nature and wildlife.  I also enjoy taking on challenging photo 'projects', and for some time now I've wanted to make an attempt at capturing images of our brilliantly beautiful, Milky Way!  However, given my very dead car, I considered there wouldn't be any forthcoming opportunity for me to be able to make my way to the special so called 'Dark Sky' areas I am reliably informed one requires for effective Milky Way shooting!  So, taking matters into my own hands and always enjoying being up for a challenge, I set out to prove this myth wrong. Milky WayThe Milky WayDark Skies are indeed best, but the Milky Way can be viewed using just the naked eye in many urban areas!

I have seen many awe inspiring images of the Milky Way, and most of the time, accompanying these images is a story of wilderness, zero ambient light from cities or towns, and this all-elusive 'dark skies' status required.  The image on the left, though not brilliant, proves that this is not the case.  It was taken from the patio in my garden, in a sub-urban area not possessing 'Dark Skies' status, and clearly shows that anyone with the required knowledge and a half decent camera can do the same.

I am no expert, but I gather the location of the Milky Way alters slightly throughout the year and time of night, but where I live in Wales, during the month of August it essentially runs from a point mid way in the North Eastern sky, right down in pretty much a straight line to the horizon on the South Western skyline, Google will undoubtedly be a far better friend to you here than I can ever be.

Dark clear skies are of course best, so if you do happen to live close to a Dark Sky Reserve, or you are close to an area a good distance from towns and cities (>10 miles) where there are lower levels of ambient light - then you should head there.  However, if as like me, this isn't a possibility, then as long as the skies are clear and bright, you should be able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye - despite what you may have read elsewhere.  You will see it though, only as a misty screen in far distant deep space.  Get yourself away from street lights or house lights, and give your eyes at least 10-15 minutes to fully adjust to the light, giving you the best chance to see this misty, murky layer deep in the sky.  If you see it... you're onto a winner, congratulations... as that is the Milky Way!

Milky WayThe Milky WayPart of the Milky Way which at the time was directly above You won't find it easy to capture decent Milky Way images with a simple cameraphone or compact, as you will need full manual control, so, a camera that allows you to control your aperture, shutter speed, focussing and ISO settings will be what you need.  Any current DSLR will do the trick. So, once you've located the Milky Way in the sky where you are, place your camera in [M] manual mode, and use the following settings as a starting guide:

  • Lens: Wide angle is preferable so you can capture a larger field of view of the sky. I used an Olympus Zuiko pro 11-22mm set at 11mm
  • Aperture: f2.8 (or the largest aperture your lens will permit )
  • Shutter Speed: 30 seconds
  • ISO: depends on the quality of your cameras sensor as you will start to see copious amounts of noise when using high ISO's.  I set mine to ISO 3200 for the shot above! Use this as a starting point.
  • Focus mode: full manual focus (on lens and camera)

Position your camera on your tripod, and point it to the right area of the sky, composing your frame as required, and fire away! It's often best to review your image once it appears on your cameras display screen and adjust your settings accordingly.

Tips:

  • Some lenses have a manual/auto focus option.  If your lens has this option (not all do) ensure you have set both your camera and your lens to manual focus control, and set the focus point to infinity.
  • Try not to exceed shutter speeds in excess of 30-40 seconds as if you do, you will start to see 'star trails'
  • There's no need to necessarily worry about any orange glow you may see on your cameras display screen, or indeed when you have loaded the image onto your Mac/PC.  This may be due to an 'Auto White Balance' setting on your camera, and can easily be remedied in post processing.
  • Try to always shoot images of the Milky Way in your cameras RAW file format.  This offers you the greatest range of post processing options and allows significantly more flexibility in the image attributes you will need to amend on your Mac/PC.

Milky WayThe Milky WayThe Milky Way directly above me! Every Milky Way shot will have a certain amount of post processed applied, so you should have RAW image processing software such as Adobe Lightroom CC or Adobe Photoshop CC to obtain the best results.  I shall cover the post processing options in a subsequent blog post.  

In the meantime, if you notice dark clear skies where you live, why not be brave and have a go at capturing the beauty of the Milky Way yourself? I'd love to see and read how you get on, and please do feel free to ask me any questions or leave comments for me on my Twitter page by clicking here, John__Burns, or alternatively feel free to leave them here on my blog.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the Milky Way!


Comments

2.Steve Williams(non-registered)
Hmm, thanks for this, i'm kind of in the same boat as you, in that I have wanted to try this but never bothered due to the amount of 'orange glow' around where I live.
I was saving it for a long midnight drive up in to the hills, but I may just give it a go sooner.
Thanks for the settings too, always good to have a starting point, hopefully then a few careful tweeks here and there are all thats needed.

I'll let you know in due course how i got on!
1.Mark(non-registered)
Fantastic guide. I am only just starting out in photography and have an entry level dslr so guides like this are brilliant for me as I need all the help I get.
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