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A look at Astronomical photography - Never Seen Star Wars? (or the Milky Way) - part 6 of 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

by Mike McNamee Published 01/12/2016


As pro-photographers you might find this a little too long when you pixel peep. The dilemma is to choose between the noise of high ISO settings and the length of time to gather in light from faint stars.

For star trails many photographers choose between 14 and 24mm focal length and the Nikkor 14-24 f2.8 is the weapon of choice for it has a tremendous reputation for its sharpness and accurate drawing (distortion). A good starting exposure is to shoot Raw, set 5,000K for white balance and then 30s at f2.8 for an ISO of 3200. This will be good for a start, although on our maiden outing we found that the light pollution was such that we needed at least two stops less to prevent the light from clouds fogging the entire shot (we were on an island a mile off the coast and not in a recognised dark space).


The Bressler NT 150S complete with a tracking mount may be obtained for around £800

The number of shots you use to create a star trail and the exposure time per shot will determine the length of the arc that your trail covers. The Earth rotates once every 24 hours or 1,440 minutes so dividing 1,440 by 360° gives a degree every 4 minutes. Hence a 10° arc will be made with a 40-minute exposure. The little gaps created while each exposure is written to your card will be filled in by the stitching software if needed.

How did we do?

We have photographed the Milky Way!

In truth it was something of an anticlimax. We worked in very trying conditions on a storm-tossed island replete with flying foam and a furious gale. Salt spray was clouding the lenses over in under 30 minutes and the speed of the clouds was enough for them to pass right through a frame in 30 seconds. It was not a good start. Such was the general fight for survival we only ‘discovered’ the Milky Way during subsequent Photoshop processing, after we had identified the Summer Triangle and confirmed that the white ‘clouding’ in the image was in fact our Milky Way. Star trails were completely impossible as there was never more than a couple of minutes of clear sky. Talk about a baptism of file, but we learned an awful lot!

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1st Published 01/12/2016
last update 30/01/2018 12:09:32

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Updated 30/01/2018 12:09:32 Last Modified: Tuesday, 30 January 2018