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Shooting the Milky Way


October 6th 2018, I set out wanting to capture the milky way galactic core before it disappears until next year from view. I’ve spent a lot of time recently learning the best way to bring out the milky way and detail that our eyes struggle to see, and most importantly for this venture, to capture it in natural colour, without the blueish processing that I have done in the past. What I did find is that after about thirty to forty-five minutes my eyes became very well adapted and my colour perception increased. I could actually begin to see the colour of the stars. I was tired of trying to shoot the milky way previously with ultra wide lenses and processing them in blue colours. Whilst I may still do that for artistic licence from time to time, I wanted to get something a little more accurate and representative of the true colours of our cosmos. The reality is there are very few blue stars out there, and what’s more, the moonless night sky is not blue, as many milky way shots are depicted online. The milky way is made up of orange and brown dust, and the stars vary from white and yellow to red, with the hottest stars being bluish in colour.

The first image below is a five shot mosaic. It is shot with a Nikon D850, and a 24mm f/1.4 lens in order to harness a much larger light gathering ability of a larger aperture, say vs an ultrawide zoom. The result? This beats anything the 14-24mm could do in terms of star detail and lower noise (better signal to noise ratio), however it becomes a more complex shot in the sense that it must be stitched after having the vignette removed from each file. I processed it in photoshop to stitch the shots together, then with curves to correct the RGB colours and bring the true colour of the skies out with some light curve work to enhance the colours captured, then finished it in lightroom. This did not take long, I want to stress that this is not a digital creation per-se. One of the most important things I learned was that using white balance to correct light pollution and air glow was inherently wrong, that it needed to be subtracted from individual red and green channels. This is why most of the shots we see of the milky way are blue or purple tinged, and there is nothing ‘wrong’ with that, but it’s not accurate. I have much work to do, but I feel I achieved something that night. I wish to give a huge shout out to www.clarkvision.com for showing me the way, I am forever grateful for all the advice. I now look forward to the next chance to do this, with slightly less fear than before.

Steve

 The milky way over Backwater Reservoir, Scotland - 24mm f/1.4 - ISO 1600, 10 seconds f/1.4

The milky way over Backwater Reservoir, Scotland - 24mm f/1.4 - ISO 1600, 10 seconds f/1.4

 The milky way over Backwater Reservoir, Scotland - same settings as above - 24mm f/1.4 - ISO 1600, 10 seconds f/1.4

The milky way over Backwater Reservoir, Scotland - same settings as above - 24mm f/1.4 - ISO 1600, 10 seconds f/1.4

 14-24mm f/2.8 - shot a few years ago. Natural colour image. The green and red colours are airglow from oxygen and hydroxyl molecules in the atmosphere respectively.

14-24mm f/2.8 - shot a few years ago. Natural colour image. The green and red colours are airglow from oxygen and hydroxyl molecules in the atmosphere respectively.

 Another old shot, re edited for colour accuracy. Red and green airglow around the milky way. 14mm f/2.8

Another old shot, re edited for colour accuracy. Red and green airglow around the milky way. 14mm f/2.8