The Beach is Closed, The Sky is Open.
+Fraser Cain Asked that I write a bit about my next post so I thought I would speak a bit about how relatively easy it is to obtain shots like this with a standard DSLR camera and lens if you find a place dark enough to gather the faint light of the milky way and can set your ISO high enough to properly expose the shot before star trails become a significant factor. The other significant obstacles are noise from high ISO and long exposures. Finally, you have to know exactly where in the sky and when you can shoot with maximum effect.
This was a 30 second exposure with a Nikon D7000 (cropped sensor) with a Nikon 12.0-24.0 mm f/4.0 lens set to 12mm. It was a particularly clear night so I was able to get away with an ISO setting of 1000 but I normally shoot between 3200 to 6400 when using an F4.0 lens or greater F Stop. I find that the wider the angle lens, the better but I have taken great shots with a standard 18-105mm kit lens at F5.0 set to 18mm.
To minimize noise I not only clean it up in post processing, but also set my camera up for High ISO and Long Exposure Noise reduction. This will make you wait nearly as long as the exposure time (another 30 seconds) to process inside your camera so you will have to be patient after the shutter closes.
Next, you should turn Vibration Reduction/Image Stabilization OFF and, of course a very steady tripod is a must. I set up the camera with a remote shutter release and program it to require two presses. One for mirror up, and the second to actually open the shutter a few seconds later once vibrations have subsided.
It is CRITICAL that you preset your focus tack sharp infinity. I usually do this by setting up before dark and using auto focus on the horizon. If that is not possible and there is a light on the horizon you can activate AF with, use that. If you are in total darkness, you are going to have a very bad time of it but will have to focus manually and keep checking your LCD at max zoom. If you can find Jupiter or a star bright enough to see in live view, this can also be helpful. Once focus is set place the camera in manual focus and don't touch it or zoom in or out unless you want to start over again.
As to the proper settings, you ideally want to use the lowest ISO setting that will still give you full detail of the Milky Way bands so I normally extend my exposure time to 30 seconds, open my aperture wide open (smallest number setting) and try 3200 ISO to see what the picture looks like. Of course, if you have a wide angle with fast glass you can go much lower but its normally not necessary, just convenient and gives less noise to process later. I have a priority system. If I am getting sufficient light or even too much, the first thing I will reduce is ISO which is the most detrimental to a great shot. If I can get the ISO down to less than 1600 I will go up one more F stop as you will get a clearer picture as you move towards the center of your range. Finally, I will reduce shutter speed if lucky enough to be in a totally dark place where the bands are actually that bright. This will reduce the effect caused by star trails.
Lastly, or should I say.... firstly. You have to know where and when to shoot. The answer to that is fairly straight forward. Galactic center is located just above (or if you are in the southern hemisphere - below) the spout of the "Teapot" of Sagittarius. Its normally in the southern sky in the summer in the northern hemisphere and is best seen after the spring equinox and before the fall equinox. Also, you will be wasting your time if the moon is in the sky. Try to set up during the new moon or after the moon is down and past civil twilight. If you do not know how to find Sagittarius there is software available. One that is free is called Carte Du Ceil which you can locate on google. Starry Night is a great commercial alternative especially if you are a really serious advocate of night sky shooting.
You can find additional shots I have taken of the night sky at StarfireImagery.Smugmug.Com
I hope this helps some of you to get out there and get some great pics. Just be careful. Its highly intoxicating and addictive. ;-)