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. The 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!
The 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:
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.
The 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!