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Astro Photography

Thursday 27 April

Myself and 4 photography club friends decided that we would attempt something new by setting off late one evening (or should I say early one morning) in order to obtain images of The Milky Way. Before attempting this I read a great deal on the internet about what was involved. Here is a brief precis:
  • It would be necessary to wait for a clear night that was also moonless (as its light would overpower the lesser stars)
  • Go with somebody else and ensure you have a powerful headtorch. You will be in the pitch dark .
  • Use the widest angle lens available to capture as much of The Milky Way as possible
  • Use the widest aperture in order to gather as much light as possible
  • Use a high ISO. I used 3,200
  • Use an initial shutter speed of 30 seconds
  • Turn off manual focus so that the camera is not focus hunting
  • Focus on the stars and check focus by blowing up your first image on the camera screen to check it is sharp. It is necessary to do this as nothing can be seen through the viewfinder
  • Include something of foreground interest (tree, building or a figure) and take a separate exposure for it having focussed on it. This can be merged with the star shot in post-processing
  • Apply the “rule of 500”. This simply means that you divide the focal length of your lens into 500 to arrive at the longest exposure possible. In my case my 17mm lens into 500 gave an answer of 29.4 equating to a shutter speed of 30 seconds. Any longer than this and the movement of the Earth would cause the stars to become blurry streaks
  • Use mirror lock-up so as to reduce camera vibration
  • Use an app such as Stellarium (http://www.stellarium.org/en_GB/) to establish exactly where the Milky Way will be at the time you intend to photograph it. It is possible to change the intensity setting for the Milky Way in the app so that it shows very clearly. You can view the stars visible from any point on Earth using Stellarium. This is an incredibly powerful tool for any aspiring astrophotographer


So I went to bed at 8pm on Wednesday night and arose at 12.30am on the Thursday and ate my breakfast (the earliest ever breakfast for me). My friends arrived at 1.30 and we drove the 20 miles to Burnham on Crouch, Essex. This is a small coastal town that we had previously scouted out as giving us a good chance of a dark sky unpolluted by any nearby street lighting. We parked in a marina car park, walked past many yachts, and proceeded a short distance along the coast to a point where there were some benches to make for an interesting foreground. We then spent the next hour taking shots of the sky in the general (south east) direction that we knew the Milky Way to be. Although we could see stars we could not actually make out the Milky Way very clearly. However, our cameras were more powerful than our eyes and it was clear from the screen previews that we were succeeding.

The Milky Way
 


After taking about 24 photos over a period of an hour we returned home. I climbed back into bed at 4.30 and when I awoke I did not know whether to have breakfast or lunch.

An enjoyable few hours was then spent on the PC using Photoshop to bring out the best in my Milky Way images.