Photographing Milky Way

Can we photograph milky way or part of it from earth ?

Yes we can ! Even  though not in full , a part of it as we are inside it!  and there are lots of photographs of milky way shot by photographers before. Just Google it.

Inspiration

When ever I used to see pictures of milky way photographed by using a DSLR,  a sense of awe engulfed me and always used to wonder how to do it , my cousin Arjun (http://arjunhaarith.blogspot.in/)  attempted it during his treks in the Himalayas  successfully and his pictures egged me to try on my own! And this set in the urge to get a decent picture and the quest began!

Successful attempt

Arjun’s picture instilled some kind of obsessive madness to record this on my camera. Me and  Murali (www.muralisantham.com ) had many discussions on cracking this code and we did try to shoot in Hampi , but the light pollution negated our efforts. We also figured out with right tools , technique and a mathematical formula we can crack this ( see method to madness below )

During our recent trip to mountains of south India  we cracked it and pictures are shown below. 

The light on the left is not a fire but a light trail left by moving Car…

The red leaf is due to effect of my car’s tail lamp on the plant nearby …

Method to Madness

As always I’m happy to share the techniques used :

  1. Identify a place which is completely dark , which is devoid of any light pollution
  2. Next  figure out where this is in our night sky and and what time it is above the horizon , a simple google or a right kind of app will help! Yes we did do some research to find out where it is visible and we found out it will be visible at the horizon    in Northern hemisphere at 4 AM IST in Jan 2018. 
  3. Choose the right camera! For the Milky Way you are going to want to get as much light into your camera as you can before the rotation of the Earth starts to blur your image. So using a camera that can shoot a decent image at 1600 or 3200 ISO is a wise choice ( My Nikon D750 it was )
  4. Choose the right lens! When choosing a lens, I would recommend a very wide angle lens; something that will allow you to capture a huge portion of the sky. The main reason is because the Milky Way is massive! It will stretch across the entire sky and to get it in your composition can be challenging. The wider your lens the more you will see — by wide I mean small focal length. As you get more comfortable shooting the Milky Way you can move in closer with a larger focal length to capture the galactic core and so on. To start out look at something in the 14mm — 24mm range. (My 15 MM lens from Venus optics it was )
  5. Use a proper tripod! The exposure can go upto 30 seconds based on a formula, so usage of a tripod is a must. ( My Manfrotto 190DB it was )
  6. Point the camera at that location ( its not that clearly visible to naked eye )
  7. Exposure ! This is the trickiest  part .  For me ISO was 1600 and the aperture was fully open to optimise the light falling on the sensor , but shutter speed is something which is tricky , because a longer exposure will leave a star trail and lesser exposure will not be enough to record light on the sensor, but a mathematical formula comes to help. The formula is called 500 rule and it is 500 Divided By the Focal Length of Your Lens * crop factor  = The Longest Exposure (in Seconds) Before Stars Start to “Trail”!  so for me it was 500/15   ( 33 sec ) ( D750 is a full frame Fx camera so no crop factor )  I used a 30 sec exposure … ola I  got it and the result is there to see.

Cheers

Goutham Ramesh