So for quite some time now I’ve been trying my hand at a bit of astrophotography. Now before you guys go thinking the above shot is mine, let me burst your bubble and tell you I’m nowhere near that level yet. But I will be using the image further down for illustrative purposes. But have been trying to take a such a picture since I’ve started. I’ve gone out all over at crazy hours of the night to capture the milky way, but all my attempts at getting a shot similar to the one above get thwarted by circumstances (which are for the most part out of my hands). Right here is my first shot at the milky way with a DSLR camera ever! I was lucky enough to have a clear sky, which allowed me to see the milky way with my naked eyes from my backyard. I quickly ran to the darkest place in my neighborhood (which was an overpass) to take some shots. Although I managed to capture the pretty side of the milky way in these shots, you probably also notice the sky is bright orange. This is known as light pollution and is basically the product of the ambient light (in this case street lights) shinning into the air and reflecting off of the water molecules and other gases suspended in the atmosphere. I needed to find a darker spot to more color and contrast between the stars and the rest of the sky. I guess I hadn’t really learned my lesson from the first attempt since a few weeks later I drove up above the city to attempt another shot of the milky way. Not only was the city below way too bright for astrophotography, but the incoming light shining through my optical elements was creating all sorts of ghosting and flaring with this lens. It did not help that air traffic was also shinning light across the sky, although it was a pretty cool effect. Overall, the milky way is only faintly visible in the top right corner of the shot. Another problem with this picture (literally) is that the composition is pretty blah. The reason for this is because I was trying to capture both the city and milky way (which would never work because of the lighting anyways), but because I did not adequately plan, the milky way was already super high in the sky. In order to escape the city lights I took a trip to the Big Island of Hawaii, a much less urbanized island in the Archipelago. I had chance of going to Kilauea at night and observing the glow of the active volcano. I had long wanted to frame a shot with the crater and the milky way in the back ground, but once again I did not plan accordingly. The milky way was not going to rise for hours and the moon (which bane of astrophotography because of its brightness) would be up before I would ever get a chance of seeing it. So once again this was another flop, although not completely because it was my first time to see an active volcano and go to snap some pretty cool shots around the park earlier in the day. I’m not sure if the glow from the crater would’ve harmed the exposure of the milky way. I finally learned how to escape the light. I ceased the opportunity of driving up the top of Maona Kea (tallest volcano/mountain on Earth) on the Big Island of Hawaii, since the location is not burdened with light pollution and other such “kryptonites” to astrophotography.
We saw more stars there than we had in our entire lives. But once again we were racing against the moon rise, which was glowing off in the horizon. I must admit that I was not thrilled with these shots of the milky way. They looked nothing the amazing pictures you typically see with all sorts of distinct shapes and colors. My pictures of the milky way resembled a faint smoke, hardly distinguishable from a cloud. I have since learned that the milky way has multiple parts to it, which I will illustrate below. Above I was able to find a picture which illustrates my point perfectly. The bottom right you may observe a bright and color portion of the milky way, but a large portion of it is what I like to call the butt of the milky way. It’s resembles a celestial fart and mostly just a bunch of star dust streaking across space. However, the photogenic portion of the milky way is in the bottom right. Although this particular shot is still really good, the photographer did still miss a large portion of the pretty part of the milky way. To find the pretty part of the milky way you need to use a planisphere to predict where constellations such as Scorpius, Kaus australis and Scutum (to name a few) will be, because these are the constellation which are associated with the pretty side of the milky way. There are many apps and programs which can help you track where and when the milky way will appear. My favorite is Stellarium. Not only is it free, it works will all processing types and is the most easy and complete software I’ve tried. Once I discovered the stellarium software, I studied the perfect time to go out and get my shots. You also have to mindful of the lunar phase and when it will rise of set, because like I mentioned before, that junk will ruin your shots. I found the prefect night and a sweet subject on the side of Koko Head looking out towards Lanikai. The Milky way was going to rise to the East around 11:45pm and the moon was not going to rise till 1:50am, giving me plenty of shooting time. Once we hiked up to the spot, I realized it was super cloudy and all my shots were going to be ruined (I just can’t win). I had checked the weather for days prior and they assured us that it was going to be clear. Very frustrating, but there was nothing I could do. We played around and did some light painting… Also when you go with people, make sure they know how long you are willing to stay to get your shots. They can get quite antsy watching you look through your view finder after like 5 minutes. My buddies wanted to commence their decent, but I was sure I could wait the clouds out and finally get my shot. And I’m glad I did because the clouds parted just long enough for me to capture 2 or 3 shots of what I had long hunted. The pictures are not amazing compared to the pros’, but they were tantalizing to me because of the amount of work I had put into getting them. As you can see I had tried my friends patience for too long. You can see their flashlights at the bottom of the frame as they began their decent. Again the shine in the horizon is the rising moon. I had stayed till the limits of my window of opportunity and had done everything I could. I will continue my quest of capturing the most amazing milky way pictures I can. It’s definitely a learning experience, but I will not give on delivering dope shots to you guys. But this has been a glimpse of my ongoing battle with capturing the milky way, a glimpse into my Star Wars.