Learning to View the Heavens
As I reentered the realm of photography last May, I began to explore different niches that I found interested me. I quickly discovered Astrophotography, which is a form of photography that focuses on the night sky. There are different types of Astrophotography, but in this blog series we will focus on the most basic forms of Astrophotography:
· Landscape Astrophotography
· Deep Sky Astrophotography
I would like to stop here to provide one important note…….. I AM ONLY A BEGINNER! This blog is intended to chart my journey with photography, and specifically to note where I am and what I am planning. This blog will be based on my small amount of experience, lessons learned, and research performed. I am open to questions, suggestions, corrections, and the sharing of night sky passion. With that being said, lets dive in!
Photographing the Milky Way
My journey into Astrophotography started with a desire to photograph the Milky Way Galaxy. I did some basic research online and quickly discovered that in order to see the Milky Way, one needs a clear sky (duh…) and just as important, a dark sky. The problem is light pollution. Living in a big city like DC, there is simply too much light pollution to properly see the stars. So, the first thing one needs to do is to find a dark spot to travel to. This is where darksitefinder.com came into play; it will help you to find the closest dark location to shoot from (Darksitefinder.com, 2019). If you live out west, you’ve got options! If you live out east, I hope you’re ready for a drive! Here is the dark site map for quick reference.
Referencing the dark site map, I found Spruce Knob in West Virginia. Perfect! Now I began planning my trip to shoot the Milky Way. Equipment. Now comes the important question: what do you need to photograph the Milky Way? My first trip to Spruce Knob I only had an Olympus OMD 10 Mark III mirrorless camera and a tripod. I had three lenses for it: an M.Zuiko 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ Lens, and M.Zuiko 40-150mm f/4.0-5.6 lens, and an M.Zuiko 9mm f8.0 Fisheye body cap lens. Were these any good for Astrophotography? I had no idea at the time.
Fast forward a few weeks and I was at Spruce Knob Lake. It was 12:30 at night, I had used an iPhone app called Photopills (Photopills.com, 2019) to determine where the Milky Way would be, and I was set up with my Olympus camera and a tripod. It was a clear night and I saw all the stars more clearly than I think I ever had. I took my first photo, and it was an amazing shot of all black. Yeah. Pretty disappointing.
I had forgotten some very important settings for Astrophotography (and photography in general). These are:
· Shutter speed
Now, there are more settings that are very important to Astrophotography, but these three settings are absolutely crucial! The aperture setting will determine how much light is collected through the lens. A large aperture (or low aperture number) lets more light in, often making it better for shooting the stars (Astropix.com, 2019).
Shutter speed indicates how quickly the shutter will open and close (Astropix.com, 2019). This in itself provides the Astrophotographer with a host of problems and a great deal of potential.
Finally, ISO is the measure of sensitivity of the camera’s image processor (Astropix.com, 2019). The ISO setting can make a huge difference in what is captured in your shots, as well as the amount of noise in the image.
On my first attempt with Milky Way photography, I quickly played with these settings and was able to capture the following image with my Olympus OMD 10 Mark III with the 14-42mm lens.
I was totally excited that I was able to capture images like this with such little knowledge! I was a complete stranger to post editing, so I made a few simple tweaks in Apple Photo and began planning my next attempt. On my second attempt a learned a valuable lesson: YOU MUST PLAN ACCORDING TO THE LUNAR CYCLES! I traveled to Spruce Knob lake and found the moon sitting in front of the Milky Way all night. So, on my third attempt I planned for weather, the moon, and the Milky Way position in the sky. This time I used my brand-new Canon 80D with a Tokina AT-X 11-16mm f/2.8 wide angle lens. With a little experience, a great deal of planning and preparation, and some luck with the weather, I was able to get shots like this:
Another big difference with this successful second attempt was the use of Lightroom and Photoshop for post editing. However, I was still limited by exposure time and was a total newb to post editing. So, on my third successful attempt at the beginning of September I used an iOptron StarGuider Pro with my Olympus OMD 10 Mark III and a Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 ultra-wide-angle lens to capture the following image:
Notice a difference between these three shots? This is what I will be breaking down in this initial blog series. I will explore the three key settings used when shooting the stars, the planning involved (and oh boy is there a ton of planning involved), the techniques used, the equipment (full frame, crop sensor, or mirrorless?) and my upcoming plans. This will be an evolving blog series that will incorporate my lessons learned, research conducted, and new work as it become available (the last shot is not even on my website yet as of this date). So, the next blog post will focus in-depth on the three crucial settings: Shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO.
Astropix.com. (2019). Catching the Light: Quick start guide part 1 for beginner digital Astrophotography. Accessed from http://www.astropix.com/html/i_astrop/quick.html
Darksitefinder.com. (2019). Dark Site Map. Accessed from
Photopills.com. (2019). Photopills: Shoot Legendary Photos. Accessed from