Milky Way, Night Sky + Photography Basics

milky way livi bautista

I guess everyone is fascinated by the milky way & night sky at a certain degree.

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I mean, there’s just this amazing thing about the milky way, night sky, stars and heavenly bodies alike, and most of us sometimes want to capture beautiful experiences for memory safekeeping. Fret not. Because of technological advancements, we can now take photos of the stars, DIY style. How? Here are a few points to take note of.

Disclaimer: I am not an expert astrophotographer and I will be sharing my knowledge that is based on pure experience and how I do things my own way. Thank you! This post is intended for people who are familiar with Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed. These 3 key elements “balance the photo”.

But for those who are not aware about the 3:

ISO SHUTTER APERTURE CHEATSHEET

(from lifehack)

cheatsheet

In a nutshell:

  • APERTURE controls the depth of field.. aka “labo ng background” so when you hear “gusto ko blurred yun sa likod!” adjust your ISO to the largest (lowest number example F/1.8) and let your subject move away from the background for a creamier look.
    • Portraiture, Weddings, Flora, Dramatic photography-  better when aperture is lower
    • Cityscapes, group shots and landscape shots – Set the aperture higher
  • SHUTTER SPEED controls the sharpness of your image. the higher shutter speed, the crispier the shot but less light will enter your lens. The lower, the brighter, the blurrier. 250 is ideal for crisp shots. Anything lower than that will require steady hands or a tripod. So…..
    • Action Photography – Basketball, moving objects, crisp motion must have a speed of 250 +
    • Soft Effect – Flowing rivers, marshmallow waters, nightscapes and astrophotography will require long exposures in order for more light to get it.
  • ISO controls the amount of light entering your images. Yet the higher ISO, the grainier the image. Night sky photography requires a high amount of ISO, fashion photography is cleaner when the ISO is set to the lowest value (100 for most cameras)

 

Now going back to the night sky and milky way…

night sky livi bautista

Milky Way in General Luna, Siargao

 

WHAT YOU NEED TO HAVE, DO AND FIND:

  1. Any digital camera that can be set to MANUAL mode – My camera’s body is a Fuji X-T10. The body with a kit lens can be bought at Henry’s for Php 34,000. This is the perfect travel camera for advanced photographers, in my opinion.
  1. A wide angle lens with a large aperture – My camera’s body is a Fuji X-T10 with a Samyang 12mm f/2. I like this lens cause it’s fast, wide and affordable (Php 13,500 from Henry’s) Though you can still use a kit lens 16-50mm, it’s quite slow.
  2. A tripod -This is required! I’m using a small tripod I bought in Japan for I think 2,000 yen. It’s called the Ultrapod and it can be tied to branches and placed on top of rocks. Great for hiking as well.
  3. Shutter Release/Timer – You will be taking long exposure photos and pressing the shutter might result to a camera shake. I am using a Fujifilm wired shutter I bought at the XPPH shop which can be found on Facebook. This is optional but is recommended. If you don’t have one, you can use your camera’s self timer.night sky livi bautista
  4. Find a CLEAR, DARK sky during a NEW MOON – For best results, search for remote areas with zero light pollution to avoid distractions that the camera might capture. Eg, my photo above: The camera captured the light from the clubhouse. The moon can even be a distraction when seeing the milky way, so it’s better to check the current moon phase.
  5. Locate the milky way’s brightest part – Go out camping in dark areas such as Tanay, Quezon and Calatagan if you’re from Metro Manila like me. Yet I’ve heard that the best spots to stargaze and witness the milky way w/ your naked eye are in Camarines Group of Islands and General Santos. I’ve seen the milky way w my naked eye in Angono, Siargao and Tagaytay-Nasugbu. If you want precise locations, use phone apps such as Star map. 
  6. Compose your image- Composition adds drama to the photo. Why not add trees as a foreground (which I did since it was the only available foreground lol). Having a foreground will create depth.
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    My test shot with trees as a foreground. RAW and straight out of the camera

  7. Set your camera’s exposure:
    1. ISO – Start with ISO 3200 when you’re in a remote area. Since I was in an area with light pollution, I lowered my ISO to 200
    2. Aperture – MAX OUT your aperture to the largest as possible. I used F/2
    3. Shutter – Try using 15″. Some recommend 30″ exposure but it can have star trails.
    4. If you are unsure, use this calculator from lonelyspeck: http://www.lonelyspeck.com/milky-way-exposure-calculator.
  8. Post process using Adobe photoshop. It’s up to you how to post process the image but I recommend not manipulating anything but the colors, levels and the contrast.

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 Tips and important details:

  1. The Milky way’s brightest part can be seen at around 1-2am when the skies are the clearest. It will rise to the South east. EDIT: The time of the Milky way’s appearance depends on the month and season. For more info, join the Phil. Astronomical Society group on FB. The members are very helpful!! =)
  2. Do not overdo your night sky photos – too much post processing may ruin the milky way and the stars’ natural beauty.
  3. As much as possible, do not use your camera’s screen for the camera might capture it as well.
  4. It’s trial and error – Photography is always a creative learning process and each time we take photos, we crave to achieve better photos.

Good luck! 🙂

More night sky photos:

  Nagsasa, Zambales

El Nido, Palawan; 14mm Samyang x Canon 6D

Marimegmeg, El Nido – Canon 6D 35mm Sigma Art 1.4

Mt Ulap Fujifilm XT10 Samyang 12mm

 

 

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