During a full moon, night seems like a daylight, concealing all stars.

Focus

Taking a sharp image on daylight is already a difficult task, then how about during night time - especially for astrophotography when there is no light at all to guide you. This is another challenge that you need to tackle and to be honest, I also still find it difficult to obtain a really sharp image while doing night photography. Some people suggests to use hyperfocal measurement to get an infinity focusing. But then how to use this approach well if it is totally dark out there. Hereby I have my favourite way to get the object as sharp as possible which will be explained on below. It is not the easiest one, but I guarantee that it would be one of the simplest method.

Trial & error around the 'infinity'

Almost all of the recent lenses will have this feature marked on the focusing ring. This feature tells you that the lens will perform an infinity focusing if you turn your focus ring into this marking. However, you will find out that it will not be 100% do the job correctly. That’s why I always do trial & error by taking several shots while keep turning the focus ring slowly just around that infinity marking. Afterwards, I’ll check the result on my camera and compare it one by one in either 5x or 10x zoom in. Try to concentrate on the star’s shape and you will notice it easily for which capture that is in good focusing & which one is out of focus.

You see that infinity mark pointed by the arrow? Try to take the first shot when the focus indicator is right on that marking. Afterwards, slowly slide the focusing right to the bottom side - stop, - then take another shot. Do this until around 4 times & check the results eventually.

Bad-focused milky way

Bad-Focused Shot 50% Zoomed

Bad Focus Milky Way

Bad-Focused Shot

Well-Focused Milky Way

Well-Focused Shot 50% Zoomed

Good Focus Milky Way

Well-Focused Shot

Focus Stack

If you want to capture several objects in several different distances, then just do the above method for each focusing distance you aim for. For example, you take one set of trial & error focusing for the stars, then another set of trial & error focusing for the foreground. I think this will be the most conservative way to get the best possible result in term of focusing. Don’t worry if there is a slight movement or focal length difference when you are playing with the focus ring, because that will be easily fixed in photoshop by using auto-align layers.

Select all image layers then go edit - auto align layers. Voila! All those slightly movements will be adjust accordingly to suit the parent layer.

Exposures Stacking

Here comes the most essential part so you can produce a well balanced capture between milky way and the foreground object you assign. It is not actually a mandatory thing since you can still get a great shot by using a single exposure, especially when the light is sufficient to give you a proper details both for the background and foreground within one shot. However, if the light does not favour your side, still you can pursue your dreamy capture by taking several shots and combine it later on during post-processing. Sometimes, the result will be much more astonishing!

Path to the Stars

Taken on a relatively bright area, I managed to get this shot within a single exposure. The downside will be on the amount of the stars which are not that rich.

Bromo Stars

On Bromo case, whatever adjustment that I did in my camera, still I couldn’t get a good foreground details which can fulfil my expectation if I take the shot during that exact time. It was just too dark at that time and assigning a higher ISO will just ruin the image. That’s when I come to a decision for taking several exposures for my final image. If it is too dark at the moment and my camera is not capable to get the foreground details properly, so I need to wait until the morning light begins to shine.

Awaiting for more light, Be patient.

For this Bromo shot, I was standing by from around 1AM when I noticed that I need more light to give the amount of details that I wish for the foreground. Then the waiting period began. I simply need to stand by there, keep my tripod and camera fixed on the exact position, and waiting until around 4.30 or 5AM when the twilight starts to appear. Sunrise lights is required to capture those details that I need. Around 5AM, my patience begins to pay off when I pleasantly examine all the foreground details which have been captured.

Bromo Milky Way

Without the patience, I wouldn't get this kind of foreground details. Patience does pay off!

Shoot as many as you think required

Without persistence, waiting for 4-5 hours in a remote location - alone & awake - would be a tough job to do. That’s why it will be great if you have some friends that can accompany you during that waiting period or at least - you got mp3 player - as alternative to brighten up your night.

 

But instead of just sitting doing nothing, I suggest you to ocassionally take several shots between various periods. You know that the earth is rotating, means that the milky way position will be different from time to time. By observing this and take several shots along that night, you will have plenty of alternatives for which milky way position that will suit your foreground well. Keep in mind that several nature occurrences - in my case is when the volcano spurted its lava or during the sudden change of smoke direction - can also be properly documented. There is open-ending opportunity available during those 5 hours so just keep shooting and watch out your battery.

Conclusion

I am pretty sure that the above particulars are already sufficient to give you a basic insight for any kind of milky way photography. Astrophotography is damn cool and soon you will be proud of yourself when you have captured your very first milky way shot. It does possible for you to create a stunning night photography, so my final advice will be: don’t spend too much time on theory, go out there and press the shutter!

 

 

 

See you in Volume II when I’ll explain more on post-processing session !

Milky Way Single Exposure