Beginners and the Milky Way

Warning! We are beginners. However, we are sharing so that perhaps, a maybe, you might be interested enough in night photography to try this. We have learned a lot already and are excited about the upcoming dark nights of June!

Dave and Karen were with me. Karen brought food (a highly appreciated item late at night and she makes a really good potato salad). For starters we made one mistake in not being at our shooting site early. I was looking for a place that I had spotted some days ago along I-8 between Casa Grande and Gila Bend, but had not gone back to thoroughly check it out. That made us late and we settled on a side road between Gila Bend and Buckeye that, as it turned out, was going to have light contamination incidents from side traffic. Additionally, because we were late we did not have time to really pick out the best foreground. But, we settled in with happy thoughts of at least seeing if we could get some shots of the Milky Way, regardless of the challenges.

Starting with Dave's image. Dave prefers keeping his images minimally processed.

ISO 2000, 14mm, f/2.8, 20 seconds with a Canon 7D and a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 lens.

ISO 2000, 14mm, f/2.8, 20 seconds with a Canon 7D and a Rokinon 14mm 2.8 lens.

My first shot shows the Milky Way lower on the eastern horizon.

ISO 1600, 24mm, f/1.8, 8 seconds with Nikon D800 and 24mm Nikkor 1.4 Nikkor prime lens.

ISO 1600, 24mm, f/1.8, 8 seconds with Nikon D800 and 24mm Nikkor 1.4 Nikkor prime lens.

As you can tell, white balance can make a difference. David set his manually at 4000. Mine was set at 3025. We both shot in RAW so we could have more control in post processing, but I noticed that I could not move the dial quite where I wanted it on those images that were shot at higher K values. Not sure why, but that is the case here.

The Milky Way rises and, as Dave explained, you can hold up your hand sideways and plan on the Milky Way rising about that much over an hour. So later . . .

ISO 400, 24mm, f/1.8, 13 seconds

ISO 400, 24mm, f/1.8, 13 seconds

This became the setting that I stayed with. Lots of experimentation!! I tried Long Exposure Noise Reduction in camera and could not tell a difference in the noise in the final outcome. I am betting that 13 seconds is not long enough for that setting to make a difference, at least not on my camera.

You may be wondering about that foreground tree or object. What a hoot we had with it. To give you an idea, let's use another problem we encountered. As a car would approach the road it would shine its lights right on our beloved, carefully picked out foreground. LOL!!

Gila Bend MW 5.jpg

Yikes!! It is not even Halloween! That sort of problem is OK if you are simply shooting some stills as you have just lost one shot. I was shooting a timelapse so it ruined the sequence. However, I did get enough shots in to know that I can set up a timelapse and the settings that I chose will work. I could actually see the whole Milky Way move across the sky. So cool!!!  Am jazzed about trying it again in a better setting. It is not just car lights that can interrupt a good shot. Just opening a car door can be picked up in the longer exposures.

Gila Bend MW 6.jpg

While the open door was light was accidental, it does show that controlled lighting might be the ticket in some instances to add interest. At least now you know that our foreground is actually a ragged cactus and an old tree!

Looking for Karen's images? Her camera has been sent to Canon for repair. She struggled with an older camera and finally gave up. In some cases gear just can't get you there.

A couple more thoughts. If you are interested in trying night photography let me know. You are welcome to join us. As for gear . . . I would not buy anything until you are sure you want to pursue this genre of photography. There are lots of resources online on shooting star trails, stars, and the Milky Way and I have lots of articles you can read. 

Was fun to share early learning. When Dave becomes famous for his night photography I am going to brag that I knew him when he was just beginning!!