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Milky Way

DSLR Photography Tips: Shooting the Milky Way on a Tripod

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It’s time for another Photoshop tutorial, along with some night sky DSLR photography tips.  This time, the subject is our glorious Milky Way galaxy.  There is nothing more humbling than spending a night under the band of stars seen from within our barred spiral galaxy.

The true beauty of our universe is displayed in the arching collection of stars known as the Milky Way.

In the image processing video below, I’ll show you how to use Adobe Camera Raw to get the most out of your DSLR image. I’ll also cover some online photography schools available for those who wish to learn more.

DSLR photography tips

The Milky Way from Cherry Springs State Park (2014)

Milky Way Photography with a DSLR

I’ve recently put together a resource for anyone interested in photography the Milky Way with their DSLR this Spring.  This includes everything from the best times to set up – to the recommended camera settings.  The Milky Way photography page found under Tutorials includes more information than on this post.

Night photography has become quite popular among all types of photographers, thanks to some inspiring photos of the milky way taken over the past few years.  Now, there are some incredible online photography courses dedicated to creating nightscapes. More on this below.

How to Photograph the Milky Way with a DSLR

Milky Way Processing in Photoshop

The photo above shows the difference a few simple edits in Adobe Camera Raw can make to your astrophotography image.  Click the link above for the full tutorial, or watch the video below.

No Star Tracker Needed

Photographing the Milky Way without a star tracker is an attractive idea to beginner astrophotography enthusiasts. Due to the limited equipment needed, it is often one of the first types of astrophotography attempted.

Modern DSLR Camera’s are well suited for Milky Way photography.  Here are a few tips for taking your first photo of the Milky Way:

DSLR astrophotography

The Milky Way as seen from Cherry Springs State Park

4 Things to remember when photographing the Milky Way

  1. Choose an ISO setting based on your shooting environment. The ISO will need to be much higher than you would normally use during a daytime photo. For moderate light pollution use 1600 to 3200. Pay attention to the histogram, and expose to the right. It’s a balancing act between noise and the amount of light collected. However, with enough image frames, even a noisy image can be smoothed out after stacking.
  2. Use your camera’s widest aperture, or close to it. Generally, you’ll want to let in as much light as possible, in the shortest amount of time. Fast camera lenses of f2.8 or below may need to stop down a bit for better star quality.
  3. Set your camera’s drive mode to a 2, or 10-second delay. Better yet, use a remote shutter release cable. Even the slightest movement created by pressing the shutter button can be enough to shake the stars up in your image. Also, make sure your tripod head is locked securely. A sliding tripod head in any direction will show itself immediately in the form of elongated stars.
  4. Shoot 30-second exposures.  This will maximize the light collected in each individual frame.  Yes, the stars may begin to trail (depending on your focal length), but this will only be evident when zoomed into 100%.

And remember, for the best results, you can’t beat a location well away from city light pollution.

Canon DSLR Camera for Astrophotography

The Canon EOS 7D

The image above was captured using a Canon EOS 7D and an 18-200mm Zoom Lens.

Long exposure Milky Way photography is not this camera’s specialty. The Canon 7D (Mark 1) is an excellent camera for nature/bird photography, but the amount of noise present at ISO 3200 and above leave much to be desired.

If you are new to photography, and in the market for a DSLR camera, a Canon EOS Rebel T6i would be a better choice. The Canon 7D has been replaced with the 7D Mark II, an excellent camera but an expensive choice for a beginner.

The example photo used in the tutorial was taken under the dark skies of Cherry Springs State Park. This is home to the Cherry Springs Star Party, which I will be attending this year!

Cherry Springs Star Party

Setting up my astrophotography gear at Cherry Springs in 2014

With some simple preparation and a bit of luck (weather wise), an incredible photo of the Milky Way is possible using a basic DSLR on a tripod.  This type of photography uses a stationary tripod, with no star tracking or autoguiding is needed.

An astrophoto of the Milky Way reveals our galaxy as a bright swath of light and color across the sky.  For all of the images of the Milky Way in this post, ISO 3200 and ISO 6400 were used.  This can create a lot of noise, which is why stacking exposures in Photoshop can help.

DSLR photography - The Milky Way

Looking towards Cygnus in the Milky Way

The brighter nebulae and star clusters near the core will stand out. The colorful red emission nebulas in Sagittarius are the easiest to identify, with M8 being the most noticeable.

Collecting a series of exposures is encouraged, as this will lead to a finished product with a much-improved signal to noise ratio.

Adobe Camera Raw

When you shoot RAW images using your DSLR, you open the door to powerful image processing capabilities.  Adobe Camera RAW (ACR) is one of my favorite tools for processing astro images.

Powerful Processing Steps in ACR:

  • Adjusting white balance
  • Reducing Noise and Chromatic Aberration
  • Setting a Lens Profile Correction

In the video tutorial below, just 3 sub-exposures are manually stacked in Photoshop for an image with less noise.

In this situation, stacking the frames manually in Photoshop can do a better job the Deep Sky Stacker. This is because the foreground objects in the image will throw the registration process off in DSS.  However, an image of the Milky Way with no foreground landscape will stack just fine in Deep Sky Stacker.

Limited exposures of 30 seconds on a tripod are all you need to produce an image like the one below.

30 Second Exposure of the Milky Way

6 exposures of 30-seconds each were used for this photo

By utilizing the powerful features of Adobe Camera Raw, you can make “game-changing” adjustments such as the all important – perfect white balance.

Online Photography Schools





The overwhelming popularity of night photography has led to the availability of many online courses on the subject.  These photography schools offer instructional material on everything from starry nightscapes to light painting techniques.

online photography school

Nightscapes: Landscape Astrophotography by Ian Norman

Skillshare Online Course: Landscape Astrophotography by Ian Norman

Everything I have learned about photography up to this point has been self-taught. However, the idea of completing a structured online course is an appealing option in the future.

The training programs usually list the required skill level before enrolling, although most courses cater to all levels.  No matter what stage of this hobby you are at, building a portfolio of images and learning new skills is always a good idea.

Canadian Astrophotography School (CAPS)

There are some new courses available on astrophotography, that deal with some of the image processing techniques used by the pros.  Canadian Astrophotography School features industry legends such as Ron Brecher as instructors.

Astro Photography School

Canadian Astrophotography School – Instructor Ron Brecher

These instructional courses focus on everything from astrophotography basics to advanced processing in PixInsight. I hope to attend CAPS in the near future.  You can visit CAPS on Facebook page for more information.

I hope that you find these DSLR photography tips useful when planning a Milky Way shot. If you’re looking for some more in-depth lessons on nightscapes and Milky Way photography, I’ve given you some of the options available to you.

Personally, I plan on developing my skills further both in terms of the acquisition process and image processing.

To stay up to date with my latest astrophotography tips and tutorials, please follow AstroBackyard on Facebook.

Related Posts:

How to Photograph the Milky Way – Tutorial

Astrophotography Cameras

Astrophotography Resources – Recommended Software

Resources:

Online Photography Course: Star Trails and Night Photography

How to Capture the Milky Way Using your DSLR (Video)

How to Photograph the Milky Way using a DSLR camera – WikiHow



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Finding Darker Skies

|Nebulae|2 Comments

Astrophotography in late August and early Septemeber feature ideal conditions for spending a full night photographing the stars. The nights are longer, the temperature is warm, yet cool at night, and the breathtaking Milky Way core continues to stretch upwards into the night, as nightfall sets in.

Right now, some of the first stars to “pop” after the sun has receded behind the Earth are Vega, Altair, Deneb, and Arcturus. Even more noticeably present are the intense glowing “wanderers” known as Mars and Saturn in our Solar System.

As the end of summer approaches, so does our nightly showing of the Milky Way core across the night sky.

 

Camping under the stars

Camping under the stars

On Friday, September 2nd I had the pleasure of visiting one of my favorite places on Earth – The CCCA Observatory. This is a dark sky area reserved for members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (Niagara Centre)  From here, the Milky Way dominates the night sky. Bright nebulae like the Swan Nebula, Lagoon Nebula and galaxies like Andromeda can clearly be seen naked-eye.

In Southern Ontario, views like this are unheard of.  Places like this give you a preview into what it must have been like to gaze up into the night, in a time before light pollution destroyed our visual connection to the Universe. (Can you tell I am a little bitter?)

 

Deep-sky objects in the Milky Way core continue to receive my full attention at the moment, as experience has taught me that these precious jewels only reveal themselves for a short period of time.

This mindset was responsible for my deep-sky object of choice on Friday night.  With over 2 hours of photons already soaked into this summer-long project, I opted to finalize this image over photographing a new target.  When the conditions are as perfect as they were on Friday, this decision is not made easily! 9 out of 10 times I will decide on the latter.




Latest Photo: The Eagle Nebula

DSLR Astrophotography - Eagle Nebula

My reliable equipment and proven methods for a successful night of imaging were evident in the prompt and ultra-smooth execution leading up to my first 5-minute exposure of Messier 16.  Balance, polar alignment, calibration and focus were extremely accurate – what could be better? I am reminded of the countless nightmare astrophotography sessions of the past where I had to learn this hobby the hard way and waste a perfect night under the stars. Not tonight.

Photo Details:

Dates Photographed: June 8, June 29, June 30, Sept 2, 2016
Total Integrated Exposure Time: 5 Hours, 59 Minutes (100 Frames) ISO 1600

Video: Camping Under the Stars

The temperature plummeted to 12 degrees by 1:00am, well below the forecasted low of 16.  The drastic temperature drop from 25 degrees during setup created a staggering amount of moisture on my electronics.  Seeing your beloved camera and telescope dripping in water does not get easier to accept over time.  It is an unnerving yet common experience for astrophotographers.




 

The first few frames I captured of the Eagle Nebula looked fantastic. The focus and framing of the 300-second exposures were exceptional. I continued to collect light on M16 well into the night until my frames began to brighten slightly due to low atmospheric conditions as the object began to set in the west.

Stacked frames in Deep Sky Stacker

My stacked image in Deep Sky Stacker – Before Processing

The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula

Although it didn’t make it into the video, I did shoot over 2 hours on another deep-sky object after the Eagle Nebula.  I decided to take full advantage of the pristine dark skies by shooting a subject of great difficulty from the city.  The Elephant Trunk Nebula has eluded me for years despite my keen interest in this concentration of interstellar gas.  My attempts from the backyard this year have been less than promising, with far too little exposure time to produce a fair documentation of IC 1396.

IC 1396 - Elephant's Trunk Nebula

The Elephant’s Trunk Nebula – Captured on September 2nd

Photo Details:

Date Photographed: Sept 2, 2016
Total Integrated Exposure Time: 2 Hours, 15 Minutes (27 Frames) ISO 1600

After soaking some serious dark-sky time on the Elephant’s Trunk, I diligently placed the cap on my telescope objective and began taking a set of dark frames.  By this point, the Milky Way had traveled to the other end of the sky, with the summer deep-sky favorites now long-gone.  I took some time to enjoy some familiar constellations rise from behind the Earth.  Orion made its ominous debut over my campsite, so I took full advantage of the photo opportunity.

In the early morning hours of September 3rd, the constellations provided a haunting warning of the cold Canadian Winter ahead.

 

Winter Constelltions including Orion

Orion the hunter dominates the early morning sky

 

After snapping a few exposures, it was off to bed to conclude my night of camping under the stars.  It was a lot of fun putting the video together, and it made the entire trip that much more memorable.  Aside from providing value to those learning about Astrophotography, the videos on my YouTube Channel serve as a timeline for my journey.  One that is that I am happy to share.

This website is constantly receiving revisions and updates, to improve its functionality and the way it delivers useful information.  Please excuse any hiccups as we grow!  I have recently added plenty of useful information to the resources page, to make sure that fans of this website are aware of the tools I use to capture and process my astrophotography images.  You may have also noticed that the photo gallery section has also evolved over time.  Lastly, to those of you who have been so kind to subscribe to AstroBackyard in their e-mail, I promise the first edition of this newsletter will be worth the wait!

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HaRGB Astrophotography

|HaRGB|6 Comments

Right now is the absolute best time of the year for backyard astrophotography.  The days are warm and the nights are clear, summer star gazing is here!  The core of our Milky Way galaxy has returned to our night sky here in the Northern Hemisphere, and with it comes many celestial delights such as the colorful nebulae located in and around the constellation Sagittarius.  For me, Summer astrophotography means pointing my telescope right where the action is – in the core of the Milky Way, soaking in as much exposure time as possible.  These days do not last long!  We have but a brief window to capture glorious deep-sky objects such as the Lagoon Nebula, Trifid Nebula, Swan Nebula, and Eagle Nebula.  All four of these glorious Messier Objects are worthy of several sleepless nights in the backyard.

Camping and Star Gazing

The warmer weather also means astronomy camping, to seek out darker skies and spend all night under the stars.  Spending time with family and friends around the campfire with my telescope collecting photons in the background is my idea of a good time!  My camping gear would not be complete without all of my astrophotography equipment coming along with me.  This includes everything from my tracking mount to my laptop!  I always book my camping trips on or around the new moon phase, and with a campsite that has a clear view to the South.  Luckily for me, there are many fantastic campgrounds located on the North shore of Lake Erie, which creates a vast dark area directly south of our location.  I recently spent a night at Selkirk Provincial Park for some astronomy camping on a warm, clear night in early June.

 

Camping and Star Gazing

The Big Dipper from our Campsite

 

Photography with the New APO

I am excited to announce that I am the proud new owner of an Explore Scientific ED102 CF astrophotography telescope.  This is a portable, light weight triplet apochromatic refractor – built for deep-sky imaging.  The increase in aperture is a welcome change from my now departed ED80 telescope I enjoyed for the past 5 years.  I have now had this refractor out a few times, and could not be more pleased with it.  I am thrilled with the fact that I can produce images with deeper, and more detailed results due to the increased size.  Going from 80mm to 102mm may not seem like a large increase, but when it comes to astrophotography, 22mm makes a BIG difference!

 

Explore Scientific ED102 CF

My new Explore Scientific ED102 CF Telescope

 

My first imaging session with the new Explore Scientific 102mm CF was on June 8th.  My deep-sky target of choice was the beautiful Eagle Nebula, an emission nebula in  the constellation Serpens.  I managed to capture just over 2 hours on this object from the backyard.  It was a weeknight, and I got about 2 hours of sleep before work the next morning.  WORTH IT!  I made a video about the dedication to this hobby, a small pep-talk if you will.  Despite the videos mixed reviews, I am still proud of this wacky, short little astrophotography video.

Speaking of YouTube, my channel has over 500 subscribers!  I cannot believe the response generated from my astrophotography videos.  It turns out that I am not the only one obsessed with photographing stars in the night sky.  If you haven’t subscribed yet, please do!  I can promise you many more useful astrophotography tutorials, vlogs, and equipment reviews in the future!

Astronomik 12nm Ha Filter

To add to the excitement, I have also added a new Astronomik 12nm Ha filter to my growing list of astrophotography equipment.  This is my first time diving into narrowband imaging, something I’ve been interested in for years.  This clip-in filter blocks out almost all wavelengths of light and only allows the light produced from emission nebulae and starlight to pass through.  What makes this feature so powerful t astrophotographers is the fact that it allows to image under heavy moonlight and light-pollution.  For a backyard astrophotographer such as myself, it is an absolute game-changer.  This means I can image twice as often, and produce more vivid and detailed deep-sky photos by adding Ha (Hydrogen Alpha) data to my existing RGB images.

 

 

Astronomik Ha Filter

Filter Purchased (For use with my Canon DSLR)
Clip-Filter (EOS) with ASTRONOMIK H-Alpha-CCD 12nm

Bought online from OPT Telescopes and shipped to Canada

 

HaRGB Astrophotography

Combining the RGB data with Ha for a stronger image

HaRGB Astrophotography

M16 – The Eagle Nebula in HaRGB

Anyways – about the Eagle Nebula.  I noticed the increased detail in M16 using the new telescope right away.  The super-sharp, high contrast images I have come to expect using a triplet apo were also evident right away.  I captured my RGB data of the Eagle Nebula on June 8th (About 2 hours), and returned to the subject on June 14th to photograph it using the Astronomik Ha Filter.  Because I use the filter ring adapter for my IDAS LPS filter on my Canon Xsi, the Astronomik 12nm Ha clip-in filter would not fit into the camera without the stock interior.  To make life easier – I captured the Ha data by clipping the Astronomik filter into my Canon 7D body.  This is the first time I have used the Canon 7D for deep-sky astrophotography.  I must say that I was impressed with the increased image resolution.  This makes me want to upgrade my aging 450D.  It never ends!  Here is my image of the Eagle Nebula combining the RGB data with the Ha:

 

Eagle Nebula in Ha + RGB

M16 – The Eagle Nebula in HaRGB

Photo Details

RGB:

Total Exposure: 2 Hours, 9 Minutes (43 frames) 
Exposure Length:  3 Minutes
ISO: 1600
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED102 CF
Camera: Canon Rebel Xsi (modified)
Filter:  IDAS Lps 

 

Ha:

Total Exposure: 1 Hours, 40 Minutes (20 frames) 
Exposure Length:  5 Minutes
ISO: 1600
Telescope: Explore Scientific ED102 CF
Camera: Canon EOS 7D
Filter: Astronomik 12nm Ha

 

Using H-Alpha as a Luminance Channel

Creating a HaRGB image in Photoshop

I still have a lot to learn about processing HaRGB images using a DSLR.  However, my early results are very promising!  I really love the way the H-Alpha data brings out the nebulosity without bloating the surrounding stars.  The common processing method of combining the Hydrogen Alpha data is to add it to your existing RGB data as a luminosity layer in Adobe Photoshop.  This is the method I have chosen to use, although I am still learning how to best accomplish this task.  You can read a simple tutorial on the process from Starizona.com.

 

Ha luminance layer

The H-Alpha (Ha) Layer of my image

Dark Sky Camping Trip

Camping Trip with Telescope

Our campsite at Selkirk PP

I wanted to take advantage of the dark skies at Selkirk Provincial park by imaging the Swan nebula from my campsite.  I had everything all ready to go including a perfect polar alignment, and my autoguiding system with PHD running smoothly.  The only problem – MY BATTERY DIED!  I captured one amazing 5 minute frame on the Swan Nebula before my battery pack’s low-power alarm sounded off.  What a heart breaker.  Normally this battery is enough to power my astrophotography equipment all night long, but I didn’t charge it long enough before we left.  Lesson learned!

To make the most of a bad situation, I decided to turn my attention to some wide-filed landscape astrophotography using my Canon 70D and tripod.  The moon finally set, and the sky was incredibly dark after midnight.  The milky way could easily be seen with the naked eye as it stretched across the sky.  This is something everyone should witness at some point in there life.  There is something about it that makes me feel connected with our universe.

 

Camping Milky Way

The Milky Way from Selkirk Provincial Park

 

As always, thank you for your interest my website, and this incredible hobby.  I’ll do my best to answer your questions so we can continue our journey together.  Please follow my Facebook Page for the most up-to-date astrophotography information.  It’s a great way to connect with me and other backyard astrophotographers chasing the same feeling.

AstroBackyard is on Facebook

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