Photographing the Milky Way (Part 2)

Last June, I blogged about my first attempt at capturing a shot of our own galaxy – the Milky Way. Earlier in September I headed out again into the wild on a dark moonless night, for another round of astro photography. This time around I had high hopes of getting a shot of the Andromeda galaxy, the nearest galaxy to our own, which around September starts showing up in the early night hours just above the horizon. Unfortunately I failed miserably, as the lens and technique that I ended up using, didn’t really cut it.

The night however didn’t completely go to waste. Prior to my trip to Italy this summer, I mentioned that I had purchased a Sigma 10-20mm ultra wide angle lens. This lens is great for landscapes, but it is equally good when it comes to astro photography. At its widest setting (10mm), this lens can stay open for nearly 40 seconds on an APS-C camera such as my own, without capturing any trails. The trick here is that the closer you zoom into a star, the easier it is to detect the trail of the star caused by the earth’s rotation. Time is key here, because you want the shutter to stay open for a longer period of time so that you can record as much light (and hence more detail) as possible without at the same time capturing any trail.

Here is the result of my second attempt at the Milky Way with my new Sigma lens.

Milky Way - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and my Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 3200, F4.0, 35 secs.

Photographing the Milky Way (Part 1)

Last Saturday was a dark moonless night, making it an ideal night for astronomers and astro-photographers, to head out into the wilderness and stare at the night sky. For me this was my third outing of this kind, with the first attempt being over a year ago when I managed to capture the Polaris star trail. Since then I’ve been itching to give astro photography another try, only this time try and capture a near space object such as a star cluster or galaxy. Perhaps the easiest to photograph, primarily due to its sheer size and proximity to Earth, is our own galaxy – the Milky Way.

The picture below shows a portion of the Milky Way, which given the time of the year, its spiral arch can occupy a significant portion of the night sky. Below, is my friend Philippos – a buddy of mine who got me hooked into spending Saturday nights in the freezing cold out in the wilderness! He himself has invested a ton of money to purchase his telescope kit, which we are able to use to take pictures of deep space objects (by mounting the camera directly onto the telescope, effectively replacing the eye piece) and of near space objects (by piggybacking a second DSLR camera on top of the telescope). The telescope itself has an equatorial mount which when aligned correctly, it tracks the rotation of the earth, making both mounting methods quite effective since you are able to eliminate any star trails.

This picture however was taken with my camera mounted onto my tripod, and setting my exposure time to 20 secs. Any longer than that (given that I was using my 24-70 mm lens at the wide angle end) would have resulted in star trails – something that we wanted to avoid. To make Philippos stand out, I asked him to stand still, then used a red flashlight to effectively paint him into the picture.

Suffice to say that with warmer nights to come, I will be giving this technique several more tries. It is by no means an easy ordeal as there are a lot of technical variables to account for (more on that in a future post), so all I can do is read up and practice, practice, practice!

Astronomer - 1920c

Taken with my tripod mounted Canon 60D, and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens at ISO 1600, F2.8, 20 second exposure.