By Mike Busch
You may have noticed some beautiful Milky Way shots in last week’s best of the Long Island Sun Chasers. Most of on Long Island don’t think of the Milky Way much because we live in one of the most crowded Metropolitian areas in the world. According to a recent report from NOAA, the Milky Way is now hidden from a third of humanity. As you can see on the map below, Long Island is not an ideal location!
After reading that, you might not even bother but with the right conditions you can still spot the Milky Way in our area with the naked eye. The Milky Way season in our part of the world runs from March to October in the Southern Sky, with the best viewing of the core between late April and July. No matter how great the conditions are, the view with the naked eye pales to what a modern DSLR and editing software can come up with.
If you are going to give it a try, I would recommend a full frame camera with a wide-angle lens with a low aperture. A tripod is a must and be prepared to adjust your camera in manual mode.
As far as specific settings, you will need to constantly adjust to conditions but a decent baseline is a 20 second exposure, Iso at 2000, and F 2.8 if you have it.
The hardest thing to do is focus. Since you are using a wide-angle lens and won’t have anything bright enough to see in the view finder, you will need to manually focus to infinity and then adjust for the sweet spot. With many lenses that means spinning the focus ring slightly back from infinity, for some reason that may be your sharpest position.
Once you have a shot in focus and the exposure correct your work is not done. Most likely you will have a flat image in dire need of processing. I use Adobe Lightroom for my RAW images and in a matter of seconds I can bring up the detail of the stars using contrast, highlights, clarity and my new favorite slider for stars, dehaze. Don’t expect any dazzling images in your viewfinder, the raw files will be very bland, below is a my favorite photo of the night right out of the camera before Lightroom.
Time lapse video is also an option, below is about 100 images condensed into 10 seconds. To get a good one I would need much more time.
Yesterday, I set my alarm for 4:00 a.m. and headed to the Cupsogue side of Moriches Inlet which is a fairly dark spot. The Moon set around 4:30 so I had that in my favor but conditions were not ideal with a low mist and high clouds moving in from the west. Below is the best I could do but will certainly be trying again as the season improves.
As a bonus, I waited for Sunrise and a few morning Seals before heading home on page 2.
More Images on Page 2