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It's Milkyway Time



Well it is that time of year again when the Galactic Core of the Milkyway is back above the horizon, which allows us to see and photograph our amazing night sky in all of its glory. The only problem at this time of year, is that it doesn't appear until the early hours of the morning, which means either a very late night or heading to bed early with the alarm set for an ungodly hour. But it is so worth making the effort to drag yourself out of bed.


Don't worry if you are not one for getting up early, as the year progresses the elevation of the Milkyway totally changes into more of a vertical position and by the time true darkness returns in August it will be shining brightly above your head, as soon as it gets dark.


Photographing the stars can be frustrating and you have to get the perfect conditions to get that killer shot. For example this week it is International Dark Sky Week and I always try to get out and take a couple of images. On 2 occasions this week, I had had an early night, the alarm was set and the weather forecast was perfect, totally clear skies before the last of the waning moon would rise. I woke up on both occasions only to find that some clouds had sneaked in from the North and ruined the shots that I had planned.


The forecast for early Saturday morning had looked perfect for a few days. It is not often that you get totally clear skies on a new moon night with temperatures below freezing. However that is exactly what we got and it was such a fantastic morning, spent in the company of a great friends.


There are a couple of things to remember when shooting the stars. Firstly the image that you will see on the back of your camera if you are shooting in RAW will look totally different to the one you see on your computer when it comes to post processing. That's because your camera displays in the image in JPEG format. You also need to know how to set up your camera in the dark and more importantly focus in the dark. If you are new to taking dark sky images then I have a free E-book available within the "Shop" page of this website which will give you all of the basics to get you started.


When I first started taking images of the night sky, I followed the 500 rule to the letter. By doing some simple maths, you can work out how long your exposure can be before the stars will start to trail. All you have to do is divide the focal length that you are shooting at into 500. So for examples if you were at 20mm then the dividing it into 500 would give you 25 ( seconds). This would be the maximum time you could shoot. The problem is that formula was created in the days of film cameras and there is a lot of debate that it is not 100% accurate any more. I would agree with this.


I now half the time that the formula gives. Let me explain why. The image above is a 8 shot panorama shot at 16mm. For each image I used a 15 second exposure, the maths would say I could have gone to at least 30 seconds. But to get the stars pin sharp I chose to shoot at 15 seconds and increased my ISO to 6400. Hang on a hear some of you saying, that will dramatically increase the noise in the image, making it very grainy. You are dead right, it does exactly that. However if you take multiple images and then stack them together in either Starry Landscape Stacker on a Mac or Sequator on a PC then the software takes an average of the noise and during the stacking process totally cleans the image up. Oh the wonders of modern software. There are lots of instructional videos on YouTube about this subject and I would totally recommend you having a look.


Thats it for now. Stay safe everyone and look forward to catching up with many of you soon.





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