Wednesday, 26 October 2016

How to Photograph the Milky Way - Your True Colours by Matt Blythe

"Your True Colours" by Matt Blythe  
Click to enlarge

Culver downs on the Isle of Wight. The Isle of Wight is a small island off the South Coast of England.
This photo was taken around midnight during the month of July 2014.
I started taking photos originally with a Kodak 110mm "flip" camera and then on my 18th birthday I was gifted with a Ricoh XR-P 35mm. I was gifted with a DSLR for my 45th birthday which kick-started my enthusiasm for photography again. I have always loved night photography and successfully photographing the Milky Way is the greatest challenge because there is so much to take into consideration. Like finding the right spot, taking the right equipment, being safe at night on your own, knowing your way around the camera in the dark, etc. I was thrilled the first time my sensor ever recorded the Milky Way on camera and I still find gazing at the stars a mystical experience.
I parked my car in the darkest spot I could find on the downs that still had some foreground interest. The trees here grow kind of windswept as they are exposed on top of the cliffs facing south, and this made the perfect subject to frame the shot. The light in the Milky Way is starlight only and the lights from nearby Sandown (although technically they are "light pollution") gave a nice silhouette effect to the trees.
This is one of my first successful attempts to photograph the Milky Way and was taken with a Nikon D5200 and a standard 18-55mm kit lens and tripod and exposed for 30 seconds on the widest aperture f3.5 and ISO 3200. It took me three outings with the camera before I could even find the Milky Way! This was about my fourth Milky Way shoot ever and I didn't know much or care about light pollution at the time, which was lucky because it made the shot really. Creativity works like that sometimes, it is better than planning, although planning the shot in advance can be helpful.
In my camera bag
In my kit bag I usually have four lenses, a 50mm prime, an 18-55mm kit lens, a 55-300mm zoom and a 10-24mm wide angle which I now use to shoot the Milky Way. I always pack my trusty D5200 which is a surprisingly good camera for night photography. I also have a cleaning cloth (essential) and a remote shutter release, a couple of spare batteries, memory cards and a few filters. I also take a snack and a drink of water with me at night. If you become overwhelmed on your own at night you need a quick way to boost your carbs and rehydrate, it might be just enough to get you home but it is something to consider if you are going to a remote location.
Editing the Milky Way is always tricky. You need to add quite a lot of contrast to the sky without ruining the foreground or creating too much colour separation. I edited this image using Photoshop CS3 which doesn't have much in the way of noise reduction. I mostly used curves, contrast and some saturation to balance the colours and bring out the details and then sharpened the image using an unsharp mask and then applied the sharpening only where I wanted it with a layer mask. The final touch was cleaning up the long exposure noise and hot pixels in the shadows. I have since taken less noisy shots with a wider angle lens but I am quite happy with this one, as it was one of my first successful Milky Way shots.
Timing is everything when shooting the Milky Way. It needs to be at the right time of year for your part of the world (the summer months in the UK) and it needs to be a very clear night with no clouds and no moon visible. You also need a very dark location with no town or street lights positioned between you and the subject. The less light pollution the better. You also need patience and a way of being able to recognise the Milky Way because it isn't always easy to see it with the naked eyes. You can use an app like Star Walk or better still locate The Plough constellation of stars in the sky and go up perpendicularly from the base of the saucepan. The Milky Way runs more or less parallel to the base of the plough and the bright spot is always looking south. Lastly, you will need courage especially if you go on your own. Things that rustle or or go bump in the night can be quite disconcerting if you are alone in a dark place, so it is advisable to go with a friend. And know your camera! Where the buttons are and how they work because you will need to be able to do this by feel in almost pitch darkness. And remember to dress accordingly. It can be cold at night and two hours is usually enough to get a good set of shots unless you plan on camping at your location. Good luck and don't be discouraged if you don't get the perfect shot first time out. It is a learning curve and ironically, and like most things in life, what we judge to be our worst experiences, can often produce the best results. And either way, I hope this helps you to get the shot you are looking for...

See below for more Milky Way photos from this shoot (click the images to enlarge) :-

My First Ever Recorded
Milky Way Photograph!

July 2014

July 2014


Also check out my web site for more great photographs...

Copyrights Matt Blythe, Inner Vision Photography, 2016.