Amateur Astrophotography  - 
 
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. ;-)

Regards,
Matt Pollock
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19 comments
 
Well done and thanks for sharing how you take images like this.
 
Thank you +Matt Pollock for this very thorough description! I have been playing around with my new camera, it hasn't really worked. Now i know what i did wrong :) btw gorgeous shot! 
 
This is perfect as I've been struggling the past few nights, especially with focusing, and tripod vibration (I have an el cheap-o) so I might upgrade soon.
Thank you very much for the info and happy New Year!
 
Excellent shot, and love the detail on how you did it. Thank you.
 
you must love the sky very much....lovely sky...
 
Gorgeous! I've always wanted to get a good telescope (the tiny retractor I was given as a kid was never very good) but I'm not sure I would have the time to put into it to get good results. I envy people who can do it.
 
+Helen Read No telescope is necessary for these types of shots. You take a long exposure with high ISO with a standard lens. The wider the better but a kit lens works fine. Read what I posted with the picture. ;-)
 
Great description +Matt Pollock. Nice to know most of what I've been attempting has been on the money. One thing - you mention cleaning up noise in post - how do you do that? I'm not too good with photoshop yet...
 
Alan, I don't use photoshop to remove noise from a picture. I find it doesn't work all that well for me. I do, however, use Camera Raw, and use the "Detail" menu and the Noise Reduction section to play with the luminance and detail sliders. You have to find a decent balance between softening the focus and removing the noise by playing with the sliders. If you can remove the noise at the Raw level it will be easier and more effective.  If you still have noise issues, you might want to look into other options. I have found Light Rooms luminance slider to be very effective. Better IMO than ACDsee Pros noise filter, Noise Ninja, or Topaz Labs Denoise.  
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