We’ve all see those impressive shots of the Milky Way with a suitably spectacular foreground and probably wished you could take a similar photo. We decided to see how difficult it really was, and provide some tips that we found useful.
I set off originally, with an ancient Fuji Finepix 9600 Bridge Camera that I’d forgotten I had and managed to get some stars fist go. Well, I thought I had, but it turned out to be a load of noise and the old technology really wasn’t up to scratch.
Roll forward a week, a massive hit to the Mud and Routes bank balance and we set off with a Canon EOS600d DSLR, a selection of lenses and a tripod from the depth of the eighties. A couple of urban trips were required to get used to the controls, and a few more to master the manual focus! So we got some satisfactory results, and step by step, got closer to the sharp night shot (after switching off the Image Stabilisation!), and broke the tripod.
It was fortunate that the weather was perpetually overcast, so the wait for the new tripod wasn’t too painful, and there was a spare lightweight one hanging about that did the job in the meantime. It was just a matter of waiting for the conditions, and when they did arrive then we’d have to go for it.
Roll on almost five months, and there were finally some clear skies on the hills! There’s a new carbon fibre Giottos tripod, Tokina Lens and a tracker for capturing the stars.
The kit taken was a 11-17mm Tokina Ultra Wide Angle f/2.8 lens that’s almost custom made for Milky Way photography, a 300mm Zoom lens just in case we could get a shot of the moon, as well as the Canon EOS600d with kit lens, cable release/timer and an iOptron Skytracker for tracking the stars. This final bit of kit is probably worth an article in itself and basically allows you to take a shot of the stars without them trailing as it tracks the movement of the earth. This does mean that it’s only good for star shots as it will blur the ground in the process. However, there’s a nifty Milky Way mode that allows you to double the exposure while minimizing any trailing of the stars or the blurring of the ground. The results won’t be perfect, but the distortion is not meant to be too obvious.
Tonight, I concentrated on getting a star-scape rather than anything else, which really is rather easy, just don’t pick a night with a bright moon like we did! It goes to show that even in sub optimal conditions, you can still get some shots worth using as your wallpaper if nothing else.
Stabilise the camera on the tripod, set it to manual, focus on infinity, open the aperture right up, set the ISO to 800ish and your shutter to about 15 seconds depending on the lens and you should have something resembling stars. You will usually need to mess about with the settings from there, but it doesn’t take that much practice to get a passable shot. You may well get noise, but you’ll still get a shot of the mountains and stars which is still pretty cool! I’ll go into details in a later article, perhaps. Milky Way photography will be covered though, but it isn’t the best time of year to capture it.
The cost of such a project isn’t cheap, with a minimal set-up costing somewhere in the region of £500 for the DLSR and tripod.
Click here for some more hints and tips.