Capturing Images of the Milky Way

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

There is nothing more stunning than a clear image of the Milky Way Galaxy arcing overhead. The Majesty of the Galaxy is on display and you can feel yourself on the outer rim of the immense ring of stars…

By far, the most difficult part of capturing images of the milky way is simply getting there, at the right time!

When To Go

To get a good shot you need to go when there is NO moon in the sky. The moon reflects so much sun back, from the sun, that it washes out the Milky Way. Find a Lunar Calendar, the New Moon is when there is no moon in the sky, and you can get decent shots plus or minus 2 days from the New Moon. So, each month there is a 5 day window for Milky Way shots. The hard part of this, especially in Western Washington, is matching the New Moon with No Clouds!

govan school house hdr

Govan School House, Wilbur, Wa

Astrophotography with a DSLR

As far as capturing images like this goes, the equipment list is rather meager. You need a decent DSLR (a full frame body is best, but not mandatory) a wide angle lens ( 10 to 20mm is best, 24mm is fine) a tripod and a cable release (or electronic shutter release) and that’s really all you need, equipment wise.

Once you get out to your spot and get set up set the camera on manual exposure mode and open your aperture up all the way (use the lowest f/stop number) and then, using the chart here, set your shutter speed.

As for ISO, that is really the only variable. Depending upon your camera I would suggest starting at a relatively low ISO, say, 1,000 and then work your way up, checking the images as you go. Each camera will have its own ISO sweet spot, often its the mid point between the lowest and highest ISO setting on the camera.

One more important item is focus. You must set your lens on Manual Focus. Auto focus will not work at night and so, before you head out, take some time and figure out how to manually set the focus ring on your lens to infinity.

star trails at diablo overlook, north cascades highway

Diablo Overlook, North Cascades Highway

There are several way to do this, one is look up your lens on line, looking for the manual, or advice as to how to set that lens to infinity. Or another way is to sit with your camera (set the aperture open all the way when doing this) and take test shots of something at least 50 feet away and then review the image on your camera, using the zoom function and keep testing until you find that exact spot for your lens where its set for infinity, then make some mark or note or what ever so that when you’re out in the field at night you know where to set it.

That’s it! Then you can leisurely move about, composing shots and have fun (make sure to check your focus ring from time to time, moving your rig about can often change the focus setting!)

As you recompose try different ISO settings and Viola! Nice shots.

liberty bell and the milky from washington pass overlook on the north cascades highway

Washington Pass Overlook, North Cascades Highway

Locations

To get decent images you need to get away from the lights of civilization. If you shoot near a city the entire horizon is washed out, no stars, or very faint. Two of my favorite locations are on SR 20, the North Cascades Highway, (which is part of the Cascade Loop). The Diablo Lake Overlook, and the Washington Pass Overlook both have lots of good parking, rest rooms and are user friendly in the dark.

Photo Tours

You might want to come along on a Night Sky Photo Tours. We meet and drive out to some location away from the lights of civilization where we can set up and get clear images of the stars. Drive in Tours are available, as well as Hike in Photo Tours where we visit more remote spots such as Fire Lookouts for our Photo Shoot! You can find out more, and see details and dates here.

Winchester Lookout

Winchester Lookout, Star Trails and the Aurora Borealis

Milky Way from Big Rock

The usual thinking of night sky and Milky Way images is that you must travel a good distance away from the lights of towns and cities to get any decent shots.

I don’t live nearĀ  big city, Seattle is 65 miles away, but there are several towns grouped together where I live. But I decided to head up to a local promontory called Big Rock to see about a few night sky images last weekend during the last New Moon.

These three images show that although the lights DO wash out the details of the stars there is still a chance to get some interesting images.

Mount Baker is visible as a small bump on the horizon. The green glow is the aurora borealis, adding some alien color to the edge of the sky.

Big Rock Stars 2 Big Rock Stars big rock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next New Moon is October 12th. If you’d like to register for the next Night Sky Photo Tour, here is the link.

Stars, Tent and Kids

Here is another shot from the other night along the Baker River.

Camped under the Milky Way 3

Camped under the Milky Way 3

I had in my mind several images, planning and scheming as we hiked in, having the kids in the tent illuminated with the I-Pad, having them look out of the tent, in awe at the stars.

Here is the i-pad shot. Not too bad! A little overexposed on the face of the kid (Dawson) holding the device.

Then I tried an image with them looking out of the tent. I used the red light function on my head lamp to illuminate their faces and this is what I got:

IMG_8179At first I didn’t even try to edit it, it looked so red.

But later I decided to give it a try. I edited (in photoshop, as a raw file) the foreground, then went back and edited the raw a second time, but edited just the sky.

Then I merged the two and did final editing.

That’s Joe on the left, wrapped in the sleeping bag. And my son, Max is the incredulous one on the right!

Not too bad!

I guess I’ll have to take the kids camping more often!

Looking at the stars

Looking at the stars

Mount Shuksan

This view of Mount Shuksan in the North Cascades (Washington State, USA) is the most photographed mountain in North America. This is due to its beauty (and Picture Lake!) and the fact that you can drive on a paved road to this very spot!

Here is an image I captured in the fall.

Mount Shuksan

Mount Shuksan

And here is a less common view, an image from last night!

Mount Shuksan and the Milky Way

Mount Shuksan and the Milky Way

Editing Night Sky Images

I have been working with Photoshop for some time. My learning curve has been rather slow and often painful! Slowly I learn new techniques for manipulating light and shadows.
Images of the night sky demand more work than daytime shots. The camera I have, a Canon 6D, and the 14mm lens I use allow me to set the exposure for 30 seconds.
In the unedited images you can see the strip of the Milky Way and in the edited images it pops out and grabs you!
Here is an image I shot a few years ago with a Canon T2i, a 15mm lens at 30 sec. and 800iso. Its a bit dark!
IMG_9217
Now the newly edited version.
Tent Under Stars
This next shot is from Zion National Park. I used the Canon 6D with a 14mm lens at 15 sec.
IMG_7154
Here is the edited image.
Orion over Zion
Liberty Bell and the North Cascades Highway, Canon 6D, 14mm lens at 25 sec. Before
IMG_2878
And after.
Liberty_Bell_Milky_Way
The last shot is of Mount Rainier from Crystal Mountain. Again using the 6D and the 14mm lens at 30 sec.

If you would like to attend a Night Sky Photo Tour and learn how to capture such images, here is the link with dates and prices!
IMG_4224
And the final version.
Mount_Rainier_Milky_Way
For those of you who are already Photoshop savvy, the most useful tutorials and techniques for editing starry night shots I have found are at Dave Morrow Photography.

If you would like personalized Photoshop Lessons with me online, here is the link!

Happy Shooting and Editing!

Photo Shoot at Crystal Mountain Resort

Last summer my friend asked me to come along on a nighttime imaging expedition. The plan was to capture images of Mount Rainier from the Crystal Mountain Resort.

Crystal Resort 2015 6

Mr Rainier and early evening light

 

Crystal resort 2

Gondola and Mount Rainier

 

The expedition aspect turned out to be pretty mild, we rode the gondola up to the resort and hung around all night, eating, drinking and once in a while taking pictures of the wonderful views!

Crystal Resort 2015 7

Preparing for photo action!

 

Mount Rainier just after sunset

Mount Rainier just after sunset

Here are images of the night’s activities!

crystal people 1

Evening light at Crystal Resort

Crystal Resort 2015 1

View from the Crystal Resort Restaurant

 

Crystal resort 1

Capturing snap shots in the evening light

 

Crystal Resort 2015 3

Milky Way

 

Crystal Resort 2015 4

Gondola Station

 

Crystal and signs

Directions to Summit House

 

MR 101 horiz

Mount Rainier

 

mr

Mount Rainier from Crystal Mountain

 

mr 101

Milky Way above Mount Rainier

 

My Favorite Images of 2014, Part 3

Here is the final (for now!) installment of my favorite images from this year. Thank you for following and Merry Christmas, Happy New Years and happy shooting!

Spider Meadows, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Spider Meadows, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Skagit Barn

Skagit Barn

Stars at the Diablo Overlook, North Cascades National Park

Stars at the Diablo Overlook, North Cascades National Park

Left Fork Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Left Fork Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Palouse Falls State Park

Palouse Falls State Park

Upper Lyman Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Upper Lyman Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness

Camped in the Glacier Peak Wilderness

Camped in the Glacier Peak Wilderness

Wheat Field at Sunset

Wheat Field at Sunset

Prusik Peak, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Prusik Peak, Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Samish River

Samish River

Milky Way over Skagit Valley

Milky Way over Skagit Valley