How to photograph Milky waters at Night

Overview

The following article will cover how to photograph milky waters in low light conditions. Milky waters include as well a “misty” type look for your photographs.

 

Composition

What do you need?

The first step in taking great lunar photographs is to obtain the correct gear and software. The following indicates the required gear and software with a short description of each:
Equipment
Description
A DSLR Camera
You will need a DSLR camera with Manual capability.
Manual capability will allow you to set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Ensure that your camera can operate in low light, and that it has adequate noise filters and ability to handle high ISO values. I personally prefer using Canon cameras.
A Wide angle Lens
You will require as well a good lens with the ability to set it to manual focus. Manual focus is required because the camera will not have the ability to focus automatically, and you would use manual focus to focus your star to pinpoint sharpness. It would be good if your lens has the ability to have fast-aperture wide-angle lens (ideally in the f/1.4 – f/2.8 max aperture range). I like to shoot in the 18mm range, and any lower mm range would be brilliant, as you would like to shoot as much as possible of the stars.
A Sturdy Tripod
You would require a sturdy tripod due to you shooting long exposures. Ensure as well that your tripod which will not shake when there is some wind.
Ensure as well that your tri-pod’s head can rotate horizontal and vertical. This will enable you to take landscape or portrait photographs.
A remote camera trigger
You would use the remote camera trigger to trigger your shutter without you touching the camera (avoiding camera shake), and to control the exposure time (ranging from a couple of seconds to a couple of hours) You can use as well an Intervalometer.
Flashlight
Ensure that you take along a good flashlight and headlamp. You will require the headlamp to see where you are going and to see the back of the camera when setting up. The lamp will as well be used to perform focusing your camera at low-light conditions.
Extra Batteries
Always take extra batteries with you, as taking photos over a long time period will drain your owner, and it will be a pity if you have to stop shooting because you do not have enough power with you. (No – red bull will not give your camera extra power :-))
Extra Memory Cards
Always take along an extra memory card. Especially if you shoot in RAW mode. Raw mode always eats up a lot of storage space, so it is better to have extra memory cards in your repository.
Chair
To have something to sit-on during the process
Patience
You would require a lot of patience capturing the perfect Milky Waters shot

Planning for your shot

Planning your photograph is one of the key things of taking the photograph.

PlanIt! Is the best tool that I have in my repository! With it you can run simulated star trails. View your location or any other location on maps based on terrain, road maps etc. There are too many feature the even star discussing it here, thus check it out. I use this application to check first where I want to shoot and secondly in which direction would be the nicest star trails in relation to your foreground. 

Item
Description
Site
PlanIt!
Description
AWESOME tool to provide you anything from milky way centre to star trails simulation
URL

 

Be sure to include points of interest in your foreground as this will enhance the visual look and feel of your photograph. Some interesting points I like to include is: Trees, houses, old ruins, mountain silhouettes, rocks and sand and still would like to include deserts.

Composing your photo

Mount your camera as well on the tri-pod and take a test photograph or two to ensure that you got your desired composition correct. Ensure that you place your tri-pod as well on a solid surface – which will ensure that your photograph comes out very sharp. Another tip is to connect a 2 litre water bottle to the bottom of your tri-pod (there is usually a hook onto where you can connect the water bottle) this will assist your tri-pod to become more stable. Connect as well your cable release, as this will ensure that there is no camera movement when you activate your shutter. Camera movement will cause your photos to display blurry, no matter how well you focus on your landscape and stars.

Make sure that you include the horizon or just the Milky Waters in your photo – thus think about what you want to photograph, and frame it then correctly.

Composition is one of the most important parts of shooting any type of photograph, and thus plans your photograph, and this will make the difference between a good photo and an awesome photograph. 

Setting-up

The following steps show you how to get ready:
1.       Connect your camera to your Tri-Pod
2.       Remove your camera-strap (the wind may cause the camera strap to move and thus have an negative effect on your camera)
3.       Connect your cable release to your camera
4.       Set your camera to M- Manual mode
5.       Set your camera to continuous shooting
6.       Set your shutter speed to 30seconds

TIP: If you’ve forgotten your remote trigger or cable release then you can do one of three things:
1.       Put your finger on the shutter for one hour – ouch
2.       Take an elastic band and an eraser (rubber) and rig the eraser on top of the shutter button
3.       Take masking tape and a small round rock and rig it on top of the shutter button
These solutions are not elegant but it works.

Check as we how you mounted your camera onto the Tri-Pod. You may need to change batteries during your photography session, and if the tri-pod mount is situated in front of the battery door then you will have to move the camera’s direction, and trust be you will never get the exact same direction of your camera again.

NOTE: When you mount your camera onto the tri-pod mount, then leave space open for you to open the battery door.  

Focusing

Focusing is one of the most important parts of taking photographs of the night sky. It is important to take the time to focus your photographs to pinpoint clarity, and it is one of the few times where you cannot rely on your camera’s autofocus system. Your camera’s auto focus system will not be able to focus on the night sky as there is not enough contrast for it to focus on specific stars due to the stars being too small and too little light being let into your camera’s sensors.

Follow the following steps to focus on the night sky:
1.    Set your lens to MF (there are two options AF (Auto Focus) and MF (Manual Focus)),
2.    If your lens has image stabilization, then switch it off (the reason for this is: in the evening your lenses will constantly try to stabilize due to the low light conditions, and may soften your sharpness of your image),
3.    If your lens has the infinity symbol on the focus ring (∞) then set move the focus to there. But if your lens do not have this setting then do not stress, just continue to the next step,
4.    Switch your camera’s live view on,
5.    Place the light approximately 10-20 meters in front of your camera,
6.    Point your camera to the light source,
7.    Zoom your lens out to the minimum (widest field e.g. 18mm) ,
8.    Turn your focus ring until you can see the light source with pinpoint accuracy. You achieve pinpoint accuracy when the stars do not look like blobs. This can be a painstakingly slow process, but well worth it, and lastly
9.    Move your camera that it points to the Stars

Once you’ve achieved the perfect focus, and then lock your focus on your lens (another flip button on your lens. This will ensure that you have perfect focus for the whole evening’s photos.

Note: For more information please refer to the following article: http://www.skyclik.blogspot.co.za/2016/04/time-lapse-how-to-focus.html
 

Camera Settings

Overview

The following guide will make it easier for you to get to the right setting for your camera, but you must always take test shots with different settings until you are happy with the outcome of your photo.

The three primary settings you should use is the ISO, Aperture and shutter speed. ISO, Aperture and shutter speed combination will determine the amount of light that gets captured, and it is essential that you get the combination right. 

Some settings considerations:

Live View: Switch off the Live View functionality, as this will reduce your battery power.

Noise Reduction: Turn OFF your camera’s Long Exposure Reduction setting (consult your camera manual to do this).
Metering Mode: I always set my camera to spot metering for Milky Waters shots, due to the amount of light emanating from the Milky Waters. Make always sure that you take your light metering on the Milky Waters, and then re-frame the shot according to your own criteria.

 

Primary Settings to set

White Balance: I would suggest setting your camera’s white balance to Auto White Balance, as this will give you flexibility if you want to edit your photo later on.

Aperture: I would recommend using a wide aperture range to increase the depth of field – from f/7.1 to f/11. I would first suggest using an aperture of f/2.8 and working your way slowly to f/11.

Shutter Speed: Set the shutter speed to 30 seconds. The longer this shutter is open the more “milky” or “misty” your eater photograph would be.

ISO: Set your camera to a low ISO (3200) – depending on your light. The high ISO will compensate for the white of the Milky Waters, and would allow as well for lower noise levels. If you see the photograph is to white then change it to 6400, or is your photograph is to dark then change this to 1600.

Exposure notes: If you like controlling your camera’s settings then set your camera to M (Manual), but if you are not so confident then set your camera to TV (Time priority) and play around with your shutter speed. If your camera is in TV mode then it would allow you to change the ISO as well, thus I would suggest reading the next sections as well. If your camera is in M (Manual) then this will provide you with greater flexibility to set the right conditions to your favour. 

Taking a Test Photo

It is always important to take a test shot first to see if your composition and settings are correct. Thus click away and take your first photograph. When you completed review the photo and see if you have the correct composition and exposure in your photograph. If you are not happy then play around with the aperture, and move the ISO a little bit up to 400 and play around with shutter speed until you have the desired effect.

In playback make sure that all the Milky Waters shots have pinpoint accuracy. If they are not very sharp then re-focus your lens until the ultimate sharpness can be obtained. If your photo is sharp then sit back and admire your first photograph.

Conclusion

Taking milky waters photos at night is quite easy, and all you primarily need is some moving waters, the right settings and some time.

I hope you enjoyed this article and have fun
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