Most of the times that I photograph the Milky Way I intend for it to be the main feature of an image. Choosing moonless hours of the night is a must for that to occur. Sometimes, though, you can use the moon’s glow to add a special element to the scene, as I did with this photograph from early in 2017. The location was Gerroa, Australia.
On the night, I did shoot a lot of Milky Way images up until around 9:30 pm, when the moon was due to rise. Rather than pack up and head home as the sky started to brighten from the lunar glow, I stayed on the beach and got some frames of the Milky Way plus the moon just as it peeked over the horizon.
I rather like the result!. Photographed with my Canon EOS 6D camera, a Rokinon 24mm lens @ f/2.4, using a 10 second exposure @ ISO 3200.
I guess he just wanted to get in on the act, the driver of the 4WD who sped through the area where I had my camera set up shooting this star-trails image. He didn’t have any idea that his car was to appear in my photo, he was simply driving along this road that skirts the Bamarang Dam near Nowra, Australia. I know this because after he passed through he stopped the car, turned it around and came back to see what I was doing. “I hope you’re not setting up a police speed camera,” he joked. After I told him what it was I was up to and showed him some of the photos I’d already gotten he headed back off into the night. The LED bank on the vehicle’s bumper gave me some good foreground lighting, at least.
If you spend even just a little time looking at this photo you can see the different colours of the stars. It’s cool that we can use a camera to let us see the wonderful colours up there above us.
This star-trails image is made up from 205 single images that were shot over a period of just under two hours. Each individual photo was captured with Canon EOS 6D MkII, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.8, 30 sec @ ISO 6400.
In orbit down-under
Captured in the very wee small hours of a Saturday morning in August of 2017, this photo captured the International Space Station passing over the opening to the Minnamurra River in southeastern Australia. The moon had risen and even though it was only 6% illuminated that was enough to light up the scene for me.
Out on the horizon is the light-trail of a cargo ship that was moving down the coast carrying a load of who-knows-what to who-knows-where. This single image is a composite of seven original shots, each capturing 13 seconds of movement of the ISS across the sky. I used the free software “StarStaX” to overlay the seven photos and then filled in gaps in the ISS’ trail using Photoshop.
The original photos were taken with a Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 13 sec @ ISO 3200.
This is a vertical panorama created from nine separate images and shows the Milky Way rising from the north-north-east up towards the zenith (the point on the sky that’s directly overhead). The bright white band of light on the horizon at left is from the town of Berry, a little under 4 km (3 mi) away. A quick flash of my LED lamp–with its “warm” filter fitted–lit up the crossing gate and lights just enough to show their detail here.
Created from nine separate images, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.8, 13 sec @ ISO 6400.
Together through time & space
“We all travel the Milky way together, trees and men”
That quote is by John Muir, the Scottish-born American naturalist, author, and early advocate for the preservation of wilderness in the USA. In the US he is known as “Father of the National Parks”. Muir loved the outdoors & nature and spoke wide and far about the joy that came from being human and experiencing creation.
I feel that way when I’m out at night, standing under and photographing the stars. Those times are spiritual, invigorating, inspiring and totally sublime. I’ve done my best to convey that in this photo, viewing the complexity of the Milky Way through the simple branches of a dead tree.
Two adjoining shots were stitched together using Autopano Pro 4.4 to create this 16x9 view. Each frame was captured with Canon EOS 6D, Canon 40mm @ f/2.8, 13 sec @ ISO 8000.
Look both ways
In July of 2017 I visited this level crossing on a rural railway line and captured a couple of vertical panoramas. It’s probably too small to see here but I caught a meteor as it flashed across the Milky Way’s core region, just underneath the “Dark Horse” nebula, aka the “Galactic Kiwi” for we Southern Hemisphere folk.
This vertical panorama was created using nine overlapping images that were each shot with a Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 13 sec @ ISO 6400.
Citrus under the stars
My wife’s sister and her husband live near the rural city of Lismore, Australia. Their property is in a place where there’s very little light pollution so I only had to walk out to their driveway to find a spot to shoot the Milky Way when visiting them a few years back. What a change that was from my usual expeditions of hundreds of kilometres on Friday or Saturday nights!
Amongst the 100 or so shots I captured that night was this seven-image panorama, showing the Milky Way standing almost vertical over their fruit and vegetable garden. The orange fruit on his citrus tree adds some colour to this shot that I don’t normally see in a foreground. Just above and to the left of that tree you can see the Southern Cross and Pointers, with the planet Saturn showing as a white spot on the neck of the Dark Horse nebula.
Created from 7 single frames, each captured with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.4, 25 sec @ ISO 6400.
Despite the brightness of the moon I still managed to get quite a bit of colour and detail around the Milky Way’s core region in this image that I captured at Kiama, on Australia’s east coast in February of 2017. The moonlight spilling across the basalt towers and boulders in this deserted quarry gave me the feeling of this having been shot on another world orbiting a star other than our Sun.
My camera with its red LEDs and the tripod legs invoke the image of a probe sent from earth to investigate the surface of this exotic world. The light of the moon shining into the lens caused the red spot to the right of centre.
This is s single shot captured with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.8, 13 sec @ ISO 6400.
This panorama of the night sky was shot in April of 2017 at a place called Tharwa, in the Australian Capital Territory. Just as the US has the District of Columbia for its national capital, Australia’s capital city of Canberra is located in the Australian Capital Territory.
Arched overhead is the glorious Milky Way and its galactic core. The two white blobs hovering above the horizon on the right are the Small and Large Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies of our Milky Way. The lovely bottle-green colour to the background sky is caused by atmospheric airglow, which has similar colours to the aurora but is caused by a different process.
This panorama is made up from 42 images that were stitched together using the software Autopano Pro. Each shot was captured with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.4, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
Three galaxies from halfway
Australia’s highest mainland mountain is Mt Kosciuszko, located in the Snowy Mountains region in my home state of New South Wales. With its summit at 2228 metres (7310 feet) above sea level it’s by no means one of the world’s tallest mountains but it’s the best we’ve got. Just over 60km to the northeast of that mountain is the spot where I captured this panorama of my beloved Australian night sky. The elevation there is 1000 metres, about halfway to the top, you might say.
There are three galaxies visible in this photo. The largest and most obvious is our own collection of stars, the Milky Way, with its galactic core area hovering over the western horizon just to the right of centre. Over in the top left of the scene are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, travelling through space with us on our journey through what is known as the “Local Group” of galaxies. Apart from the two Magellanic Clouds every other star, star cluster and wisp of interstellar dust in this photo is inside the Milky Way. Some clouds way off in the distance obscured some of the Milky Way over on the right of the image.
This panorama was created from thirteen overlapping photos, each captured with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Starlight. Moonlight. City lights.
The 140+ year-old St Matthias Church looking lovely in the moonlight while the Milky Way is keeling over towards the west. With the 20 second exposures I used to capture the Milky Way’s detail, the camera caught light from the rising crescent moon and so the church and the grass around it look well lit up here. The moonlight was also bright enough to cast a selfie-shadow of me and my camera at the lower right of the shot.
There’s a yellow-white glow coming from behind the church from the lights of Canberra, Australia’s capital city, about 50km (30mi) away. The large, bright and white orb above the power pole on the right is the planet Jupiter, very close to setting for another night. The sky looks a bit mottled and patchy due to fog that was thickening up and on the left you can see a few clouds that were drifting in and starting to ruin the party for me. After this it was time to drive home–with a safety sleep along the way–where I slumped into bed at 8:00am.
This is a vertical panoramic image, created from 7 individual frames, each captured with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.8, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
Amphitheatre of the stars
"Lights, camera, action!" They're the clichéd words used when speaking of filmmaking rather than taking photos. Still, I had all of these components in play to create this star-trails photo in the stony amphitheatre of the abandoned quarry at Bombo Headland, New South Wales, Australia.
Lights? I used the warm tungsten beam of my trusty torch ("flashlight" for the Americans reading this); a round, white photographic reflector to spread that light over the rocks and cliffs; and the glorious glow of the stars above. Some ambient light from the Kiama lighthouse–out of shot at right–plus the sodium lamps, aglow at the nearby sewage treatment works, also helped to light the scene.
Camera? My camera was mounted on a tripod, shooting a 20-second-long photo then waiting one second before grabbing the next shot. Over forty-five minutes, my faithful Canon captured 118 frames.
Action? How do you show movement in a still image? The rotation of the earth in those forty-five minutes was enough to make the stars look like they are drawing lines on the sky. The blurring of the waves breaking in the small inlet also gives a sense of movement. I was walking around, placing the torch to light up various features of the quarry, providing a further idea of motion as the beams were recorded by the camera's sensor.
Created from 118 single frames, each shot with my Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/4.0, 20 sec @ ISO 8000. After shooting those 118 photos I imported them into my Mac laptop, did some editing in Adobe Lightroom then used the free “StarStax” application to put them together into one final image.
A jewel in a thorny crown
I composed this photo to look like some sort of precious jewel in the sky, framed by twisting tree branches, almost like a glowing gem set in a royal crown. A thorny crown.
The tree branches were about five metres above where my camera was placed. The jewel framed in the shot, the Large Magellanic Cloud, was around 163,000 light-years distant, or around 308,400,000,000,000,000,000 times further away than the tree. If you go a’Googling you can find some very detailed photos of the Large Magellanic Cloud, showing many more stars and nebulae than you can see in this shot taken with my DSLR and a basic 50mm lens.
To the lower left of the Cloud is the bright green smudge of light that’s known as the Tarantula Nebula, or its technical name of 30 Doradus. This is a nebula that has at its centre a star cluster that has an estimated mass of 450,000 times that of our Sun. You don’t have to know any of those facts to enjoy its beauty, fortunately.
The photo is a single-frame shot that I captured with Canon EOS 6D Mk II, Canon 50mm @ f/2.2, 8.0 sec @ ISO 6400.
Wispy wonder over the water
The location I shot this at is Bamarang Dam, southwest of the regional city of Nowra, Australia, just over two hour’s drive from my home. The road sweeps around the eastern perimeter of the reservoir and the bushland falls away to give this view across the water.
There are a few prominent colours in this image, arising from astronomical, atmospheric & earthly causes. In the astronomical realm, stretching from left to right across the middle 1/3 of the scene is the band of our Milky Way galaxy with its billions of stars and the wispy structures known as “dust lanes”. Right in the middle of the photo is the core, the centre, of the Milky Way. Above that is the greenish atmospheric airglow that’s caused by electrons of oxygen atoms in our atmosphere changing orbits and emitting energy as light. There is also some greyish discolouration of the sky in the sky between the Milky Way and the horizon that’s caused by moisture in the air. As for earthly causes you can see the orange glow behind the trees at the centre of the middle 1/3 of the photo. That was caused by the lights of the city of Goulburn, which is about 70km (45 mi) from where the photo was shot.
This image was created by shooting and then stitching together 24 single shots, each captured with Canon EOS 6D, Canon 50mm @ f/2.2, 10 sec @ ISO 6400.
"That's been Photoshopped"
A lot of thought, effort and practice goes into how I shoot my photos and trying to make them as “natural looking" as possible. Nightscape photography isn’t only about capturing the image, though. Editing and presentation are as important as getting the shot right. That said, tonight I’m posting an image which has only been cropped Other than that I have not adjusted it in Lightroom or Photoshop.
The photo shows the Milky Way’s galactic core region rising in the eastern sky, shot from the “Grand Canyon” lookout in the Morton National Park, a couple of hours south of Sydney, Australia. There’s a deep green colour to the background sky, caused by atmospheric airglow. The tree in the image was lit up by an LED bank with a warm-light filter on it. The bright glow on the horizon at the bottom right is from the city of Kiama, about 50km (30mi) away.
Captured with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Circles on sky and water
The still waters of this man-made pond provided a great natural mirror to photograph reflections of the stars one Friday night in July of 2017. The glow from my headlamp and red-light torch also reflected their photons off the shiny surface, creating the colourful smear at the lower left of the scene.
For this shot, I took 323 photos over nearly 2.5 hours. I hadn’t visited this spot until my outing that night, noticing the location on Google Maps while at a prior stop. The satellite photo showed it to be a scar on the landscape, the remains of a road construction dig, including the pond, in a national park. Since it was the only water catchment for many kilometres around, it was worth stopping at to try to get some stellar reflections.
I made this final image from 323 single photos, each shot as follows: Canon EOS 6D camera, Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/2.4, 25-second exposure @ ISO 6400. The images were combined using the free software StarStaX.
A windmill against the starry sky
Perhaps it’s because I grew up and still live in a city that I find windmills so fascinating. Fog was starting to form in the air near this one when I visited in March of 2017. By the time I finished at the site (all of 20 minutes after I arrived), the fog was thick enough to obscure all but the brightest stars. I got off a few shots then headed back in the direction of my light-polluted city.
In the background sky you can see the distinct green colour created by atmospheric airglow. This atomic-level phenomenon is so bright that it is silhouetting the clouds, the line of the hill and the windmill itself. I managed to get a meteor in this shot, too.
A single frame photographed with a Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
A planet in the water
There are a few stars reflected in the tidal pool at the bottom of this photo, yet the brightest light on the water isn’t a star but that of the planet Saturn.
Situated at a distance of over 1.3 billion km from Earth (800 million mi) at present, this “gas giant” is the second-largest planet in our solar system. Famed for its beautiful system of rings, Saturn is also orbited by over sixty moons. Even in the smallest of telescopes Saturn is a magical sight, and I’ve never forgotten my first view of it through a friend’s ‘scope back in the late 1970s.
The Milky Way’s galactic core had cleared the horizon when this scene was captured, and was ascending the southeastern sky over the Tasman Sea off the coastal town of Gerroa, Australia.
This image is a seven-frame vertical panorama. Each shot was taken with my Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 13 sec @ ISO 6400.
Add a touch of cloud
Thin, high cloud has the effect of diffusing starlight, making the twinkling dots in the sky seems brighter and more colourful that they appear to our eyes. This photo is a great example of that phenomenon.
The white bauble-like light that seems to be hanging off the tree branch at the top left of this photo is star Alpha Centauri, the third-brightest star visible in the night skies. Down to the right of that is Beta Centauri, looking lovely and blue. These two stars form what’s known as “The Pointers” because they seem to guide your eyes to the Southern Hemisphere’s most famous star formation, the Southern Cross, in the constellation of Crux. If you imagine the classic shape of a child’s kite tipped over to the right at about 45 degrees then you should be able to see the Southern Cross hiding in the branches around the centre of my photo.
Up at the top-right of the scene is what looks like another star with its light diffused. Rather than a star, this object is actually the globular star cluster Omega Centauri. This spherical conglomeration of stars is the largest such object in the Milky Way, estimated to contain around ten million individual stars.
This single-frame image was shot with my Canon EOS 6D, Canon 50mm lens @ f/2.8, 10 sec @ ISO 6400.
Along for the ride
Sometimes in the world of rocketry and satellites things don’t go according to plan. This was the case with Cornell University’s “CUSat” nanosatellite project, launched in September of 2013. The CUSat was in fact a pair of satellites designed to launch together and then carry out manoeuvres in orbit, coming to within ten metres of each other. During testing one of the satellites was damaged and rendered nonfunctional but was sent into space anyway and is orbiting the earth while still attached to its Space X Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Although not all of the mission goals based on a pair of satellites could be met, the project has returned useful data.
Failure or not, the two satellites still make an interesting sight when they show up in photographs. I caught them making a pass one Saturday morning in April of 2017. The celestial couple appeared to move through the Milky Way and just miss the supergiant star Antares, glowing bright orange in this photo. Some very thin cloud caused the light of the stars to diffuse and look bigger and brighter than usual.
Photographed with a Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm f/2.4 lens @ f/2.4, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
A jellyfish and friends
Imagination and the night skies have gone together since man’s been on the earth, it seems. Many of the constellations that are accepted today have referred to for literally thousands of years of written history and who knows how many before that. That puts me in ancient company when I look at this photo and see the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) as some sort of stellar jellyfish.
The LMC is the prominent cloud-like object dominating the centre of this photo. High up above that is the Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC). Together these two dwarf galaxies, satellites of our Milky Way galaxy, comprise about 30 billion stars. Just above and to the right of the Small Cloud is the globular cluster 47 Tucanae, a ball containing around 10,000 stars.
The photo is a stitched image created from seven original frames, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Canon 50mm STM lens @ f/1.8, 8.0 second exposure @ ISO 6400.
Mars & the Milky Way setting over the Tuross River (Australia). Cameras are far more capable of capturing and rendering the colours that shine in the blackness of night than our human eyes.
Capturing all of that colour adds up when you put together a number of images that were shot over a period of time, as in this image. This results in the coloured curved stripes–the “star-trails”–in the sky and the even more colourful reflections of the brighter objects on the river’s surface.
The bright and wide orange reflection on the water’s surface is from the planet Mars as it set in the two-hour period over which the original frames were captured.
This image was created from 470 original photos, each shot with my Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 13 sec exposure @ ISO 6400.
A bite out of the moon
This photo of the moon and a construction crane was taken in August of 2017, at close to 4:40 am. Fortunately, the location was only a five minute drive to from my home. You can’t see much of the crane here but I did manage to use the moon to silhouette some of the crane’s structure and also get the construction company’s logo.
I shot the photo with a Canon EOS 6D, Sigma 50-500mm lens @ f/16, 1/50 sec @ ISO 400.
National park wonders
The “Grand Canyon Lookout” in the Morton National Park, located about a two-hours to drive from my home in Sydney, Australia, is very well orientated for seeing and photographing the Milky Way’s core rising.
From the same spot at this lookout you can turn ninety degrees to face the south and, if conditions are right, see the Aurora Australis. Well, so I’m told. I haven’t been lucky enough to see it from here yet but I know a couple of guys who have and they say it’s a great location.
This shot was captured with a Canon EOS 6D camera fitted with a Rokinon 24mm wide-angle lens @ f/2.4 aperture, exposed for 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Aussie night clouds
The Magellanic Clouds are certainly visible from other countries down here in the Southern Hemisphere, but so far I’ve only ever seen them from Australia. For a large portion of the Southern Hemisphere these dwarf galaxies are always above the horizon, no matter the time of year. At the South Pole they appear to travel around the sky in a perfect circle, centred straight above the viewer.
The bright and fuzzy blob to the lower left of the Large cloud, here in this photo, is the star Canopus, the second-brightest star in the Earth’s skies (well, the third if you include the Sun as the brightest). The fuzziness shown in the image is due to thin cloud that was diffusing the light from Canopus, making it seem larger than it actually appears in the night sky.
This single-frame image was captured with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Glowing, going, gone
My guess is that on your first look at this photo you saw the green trail of the meteor and imagined it moving from the top of the shot and down towards the left as it vaporised in the Earth’s atmosphere. It went the other way, actually, beginning its green flash about a third of the way down from the top and moving upward as it faded.
This meteor was from the Eta Aquariids shower, which had its peak around the 7th of May in 2017. Sometimes touted as the second-best meteor shower of the year, the Eta Aquariids results from debris shed by Halley’s Comet in a prior orbit around the sun.
As often happens, the best meteors of the night were zipping across the sky as I was setting up my tripod and camera. One lasted for nearly five seconds from first appearance until its trail disappeared. At least I got this one image before packing up and heading back home.
Captured with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 10 sec @ ISO 6400.
Waste, water and wonder
Would I be correct in guessing that most countries are like Australia, where the rural roadsides are littered with manmade waste, to some degree? I hope that you can’t see them when you’re squinting at this photo on your phone, but there are several bottles and cans visible at the bottom of the frame. How lazy, uncaring about the natural environment, or just plain reckless, can people get? At least the waste doesn’t dominate the shot, but the bottles were some of the first things my eyes went to when I was processing this image.
That’s the “waste” part of the title out of the way. The “water” that you see here is known as the Bamarang Dam, a small reservoir west of the rural town of Nowra in the state of New South Wales, Australia. It was a new nightscape photography location for me this year and I look forward to getting back there in 2018.
What’s the “wonder”, you may be wondering? What else but the majestic arch of the Milky Way that dominates the scene. Hundreds of billions of stars, plus immense clouds and “lanes” of dust and gas are responsible for the structure that marks our galaxy’s place on our night skies. Over on the left are the Magellanic Clouds, two companion Dwarf Galaxies of the Milky Way that are like astronomical hangers-on, always there as our enormous “island universe” travels through the cosmos.
This panorama was made from 30 original overlapping images. Each of the photos was captured with a Canon EOS 6D camera, fitted with a Rokinon 24mm wide-angle lens @ an aperture of f/2.4. Each shot was exposed for 15 seconds @ ISO 6400.
Eye of God
My Milky Way panoramas are almost all after the classic “arch” format, where the horizon is shown as straight, resulting in the band of stars of the Milky Way looking like a great rainbow (starbow?) arching across the night sky.
The view of the landscape is shown as a ball with the heavens surrounding it, pretty much like how the earth is in space. Since I didn’t take photos of the ground below the tripod there is a black circle in the centre, looking like a giant eye’s pupil keeping watch.
This panorama using the “Little Planet” projection was created from 150 separate images. The Photoshop PSB file was 7.7GB when exported from my panorama stitching software and took over four hours to render. That “B” in the Photoshop .PSB format means Big! Each image was captured with a Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Death and Light
The colour and beauty of the stars in the Milky Way make a lovely backdrop to show the dead tree’s twisting, failing and aged branches. A living tree with its abundance of leaves would block too much light and stop us from seeing the wonders beyond. Often in death we can find life and light.
Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.4, 25 sec @ ISO 6400.
Galactic Core Crossing
I drove a couple of hours to get to this spot so that I could line up the rising of the Milky Way’s galactic core with the Railway Crossing sign here on this rural spur line south of Goulburn, Australia. The concentration of stars in the core region looks more yellow than in a lot of my other shots, mainly due to atmospheric distortion near the horizon (just like how the moon seems yellow when it rises and sets).
A single shot taken with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
A lunar halo appears as a ring around the moon on nights when there is high, thin cloud passing between the viewer and the moon’s position in the sky. Also known as a 22-degree halo, the optical phenomenon is caused by the moon’s light being refracted (bent) by millions of hexagonal ice crystals suspended in the earth’s atmosphere.
The dead tree that I used to centre the image and hide the direct moonlight was in a graveyard belonging to a rural church in the Southern Tablelands area of my state of New South Wales, Australia. That explains the photo’s title.
This one is a single -rame shot with Canon EOS 6D, Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 6.0 sec @ ISO 800.
Highlands night freight
It was pure luck that the train passed through just as I was setting up my gear at this location in the Southern Highlands region of New South Wales, Australia. The Milky Way was climbing the eastern sky and I’d planned to photograph it and the emptry train tracks.
The mad scramble for me to turn my remote on and grab the shot was just a bit too close-cut, though. I only managed to capture the last few coal cars as they passed by, sweeping my torch back and forth to light up the otherwise dark carriages.
Shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.4, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
Laneway of lights
Agars Lane is one of those wonderful country back-roads that most people except the locals haven’t heard of. It’s a narrow rural link between two roads of the dairy farming region of Berry, New South Wales, Australia. One of its attractions for me is the way the trees almost make a fully closed canopy but leave enough room for sunlight to pass through during the day and starlight at night.
This photo was taken at around 3am on a Saturday morning in April of 2017. My reward for the long night and drowsy following-day is how much of the Milky Way’s dust lanes are are visible in this shot and others that I got through the night.
Captured with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 13 sec @ ISO 6400.
Do you think I could have found a more clichéd Australian name than the one that’s on the sign outside this farming property, “Kangaroo Hop”? Yes, I chuckled when I saw it and figured it would make a good foreground to contrast the view of the Milky Way’s core region that we get in Australia in these autumn months. The farm is located about an hour’s drive from our country’s capital city, Canberra.
This simple single-frame shot was captured with a Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm lens @ f/2.8, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Moonlight feels right
When I took the shots that make up this vertical panorama the moon–at only 12% illumination and three days from New Moon–had been in the eastern sky for a little over an hour. That was just the right brightness to light up the foreground in this scene. The moonlight felt right, you might say.
There is so much detail of the Milky Way’s dust lanes and dark nebulae visible in this image. They look like oil stains on the sky as they block out the light of the billions of stars behind them. The yellow glow at the bottom of the scene is from the lights of Australia’s capital city, Canberra, about 50km (30mi) away.
At bottom left is the St Matthias Church, an Anglican place of worship built in 1875. It was around 3:30 am when I shot this, a time of day that so often brings with it the peace and quiet that regenerates my soul.
The original vertical panorama was created from nine single shots, each captured with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Just past midnight
Apart from the occasional vehicle heading along the road it was totally quiet at this spot in the wee small hours of this morning in April, 2017. The planet Jupiter–big and bright at upper-right–was climbing up the sky towards the meridian and up to the right of that the star Spica was also dominating this area of sky. Spica is the brightest star in the constellation Virgo and the 16th-brightest star visible in the sky.
The moon was less than three hours away from setting and I managed to position my camera so that the trees obscured its direct light and appeared in silhouette in the shot. Some fine and high cloud wafting in caused there to be a "Lunar Halo” visible just above the tallest tree on the left. The clarity and purity of the moon’s white light seems to have brought up the colours of the countryside very well.
A single shot taken with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm XP AE lens @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 800.
Southern Summer Nights
This is what the summer sky looked like back January of 2017 at about 10:50pm, from a spot on the southeast coast of Australia, the Tilba Cemetery.
The dense band of the Milky Way runs diagonally across the shot, from mid-left to lower-right, where it blends into the haze of the horizon. Dark nebulae and dust clouds in space block the light of the stars behind them.
Canopus, the second-brightest star in the Earth’s skies, shines blue-white at the very top of the shot, with the Large Magellanic Cloud below it to the right, looking for all the world like a puff of cotton-wool floating on the breeze. Mid-way down the image and about one third in from the left is the crimson glow the of Eta Carinae nebula. The right-hand edge of this photo is almost on the line of due south.
Created from two single frames, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.8, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
On its way west
Down here in the Southern Hemisphere we are privileged to have the galactic core of the Milky Way pass overhead during our winter nights. At the right time of night during several months of the year the glowing strip of our galaxy looks like it is standing on one end, perpendicular to the southern horizon. Once past that point it seems to whirl overhead and down until it’s parallel with the western horizon.
In this photo that bright band of the Milky Way has started that westerly descent. The location where this was shot is about a two hour drive southwest of my home city of Sydney and is mostly free of light pollution.
The image was created by stitching together six overlapping frames, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm XP Lens @ f/2.4, 25 sec @ ISO 6400.
Out of the gap
The Milky Way’s core region was just breaking the horizon in the gap at the entrance to the inlet at Bombo Quarry, Australia, when this image was captured in February of 2017.
The moon was due to rise shortly after this and that explains the slightly orange tint starting to creep into the sky at the horizon. A stitched image created from nine single frames, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.8, 13 sec @ ISO 6400.
Over the quiet waters
The slowly moving waters of the Minnamurra River on the east coast of Australia were providing a natural mirror to reflect starlight when I stopped here for some nightscape photos on this night in May of 2017.
The green hills were lit by stray light flooding in from the industrial city of Wollongong, 20km (12mi) to the north. This was stop number three for the night, close to 11pm.
Captured with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm @ f/2.8, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
Any tripod will do
This photo of the Milky way is one I captured in August of 2017. I wasn’t sure if I was going to stop long at the location, so rather than put the camera onto its tripod I simply rested it on the roof of my car and took some test shots.
The “Galactic Kiwi” is in the centre of the image and the planet Saturn is a bright spot on what looks like the kiwi’s left leg. Trains of dark gas that seem to run down and left from the kiwi stop near the orange star Antares and the nearby Rho Ophiuchi star-forming region.
Did you notice that the background sky colour isn’t black but rather has a strong deep green tint? This is from what’s known as atmospheric airglow and this phenomenon can also appear in orange and a number of other colours.
This is a single image shot with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Slowing from light speed
Whether it be when I’m out at night shooting astro images or cycling along in the daylight hours, single-lane country roads always hold some enchantment and fascination for me. This one is named Toolijooa Road and is located just over an hour’s drive south of my home city of Sydney, Australia.
Toolijooa is an Australian Aboriginal name meaning “a place of emus”. These days it’s more a place of dairy cattle. This vertical panorama was shot in July, 2017. It shows the Milky Way stretching up from the south through the dark “Coal Sack” nebula and up into the galactic core region. Lining things up to get the Milky Way to seem to emanate from the 45 sign took a bit of moving around and a few test shots.
Created from seven single overlapping images shot with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.
Treebeard under the stars
If you're a fan of the "Lord of the Rings" books or movies you'll know who Treebeard is. In these classic stories he's described as a tree-like creature, an Ent, "the oldest living thing that still walks beneath the Sun upon this Middle-earth."
I guess you can see why I thought of Treebeard when I shot this scene in September of 2017. The location was the Orroral Valley, in the Australian Capital Territory. Glowing up from the horizon over the right-hand side of the tree is the Zodiacal Light, which was naked-eye visible for several hours. The light of the background sky comes from atmospheric airglow. This is a stitched image created from two overlapping shots.
Each shot was taken with Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/2.8, 25.0 sec @ ISO 6400.
The Moon and Mercury
I took this photo from the balcony of my apartment in suburban Sydney, Australia, in 2017. Mercury is the bright star-like dot to the upper left of the moon in my photo.
Up and to the right of Mercury is the star Regulus, the brightest in the constellation of Leo. Well, I say "star" but Regulus is actually a quaternary system, that is it's actually four stars rather than just one.
Captured with Canon EOS 6D, Sigma 50-500mm lens @ 417mm @ f/8.0, 1.0 sec @ ISO 6400.
Two and a bit galaxies
The Milky Way galaxy is always visible in the night sky, purely by way of definition. The Earth–along with the Sun and everything else in our Solar System–is inside the Milky Way, which means that when we look at the moon, planets and stars at night, we’re seeing the Milky Way.
The galactic core region of the Milky Way (“the core”, or “galactic centre”) is what nightscape photographers regard as the most photogenic section of the galaxy that we see in the heavens. In my photo the core is on the right-hand side of the image, looking like clouds of earthly dust obscuring a big blob of light low in the night sky. That is the “bit” of a galaxy I referred to in the title of today’s post. What about the other two galaxies I mentioned?
These are the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds, the bright and wispy orbs of light in the sky at the left of the photo. The Clouds are companion galaxies of the Milky Way (they’re also called “satellite galaxies”) that are travelling with us through our part of the “Local Group” of galaxies.
The phantom-like figure in blue at the bottom left is fellow nightscape addict Ian Williams.
Although this looks like a single photo, it’s a stitched image, created from sixteen individual and overlapping shots. Each shot was taken with a Canon EOS 6D camera, a Rokinon 24mm lens @ f/2.4, exposed for 15 seconds @ ISO 6400.
Up from the south
Gerroa is a popular coastal town about 110km (68mi) south of where I live in Sydney, Australia. I have made many treks there over the past four years to shoot nightscape photos like this one.
This is another image that has tested my editing abilities due to the large amount of orange airglow and airborne moisture on that night that it was capture, plus the lights of holiday townships further down the coast.
Despite those things I seem to have captured a quite an amount of detail in the dust lanes and dark nebulae in the galactic core region, something which surprised me a lot. Down at the bottom-left is the Large Magellanic Cloud, one of the Milky Way’s companion galaxies and a year-round night sky feature at my latitude.
This five-image vertical panorama was captured with my Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm XP lens @ f/3.2, 20 sec @ ISO 6400.
The house in this photo is the abandoned Orroral Homestead, which was built for grazing in the 1860's, located south of Canberra, Australia. Over the hill to the right of the house you can see the intense glow of the astronomical feature known as the Zodiacal Light.
The Milky Way looked as magnificent as it always does in rural dark skies and the green atmospheric airglow was more than evident. Just prior to this photo, the International Space Station passed over, as well as a few bright and long-lasting fireballs.
This is a stitched image made from six overlapping shots. Canon EOS 6D, Samyang 14mm XP @ f/3.2, 25 sec @ ISO 6400.
Two little trees at the end of the galaxy
Do you see the two little trees on the horizon, backlit by the glow of the city of Goulburn, Australia (33km /20mi away) and dwarfed by the glory of the Milky Way rising above them? Out of shot to the right the just-risen moon, a thin crescent and relatively dim at 12% illumination, acted as my light source to give the fields their dim glow.
I hope that you can look at this image and find something for yourself in that juxtaposition of the tiny vs the astronomical.
This vertical panorama was created from seven individual images, each shot with Canon EOS 6D, Rokinon 24mm @ f/2.4, 15 sec @ ISO 6400.