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Milky Way from Bass Lake

Shot of the Milky Way core rising above the shores of Bass Lake in California while celebrating on Memorial Day weekend.

Shot of the Milky Way core rising above the shores of Bass Lake in California while celebrating on Memorial Day weekend.
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1 Comment | Report
Remraf May 28, 2015
Great shot!

Behind The Lens

This photo was taken along the South shore Bass Lake just outside of Yosemite in California.
I took the photo around 2 am in May of 2015. In the northern hemisphere the heart of the Milky Way is best viewed during the summer months when it rises shortly after sunset and slowly makes its arc across the southern sky.
For night sky photography I typically prefer the location to be dark and with no lights nearby. However, for this photo I wasn't able to find such a location within walking distance of our campground. There was a very bright orange light next to a maintenance building off to the right of the image. I set up my camera anyway to see what I could get and I was pleasantly surprised with the result: the light brightly illuminated the nearby trees giving them an yellow-orange hue. Later on at home while processing the image I noticed a faint green airglow that can be seen in the left of the image. The green airglow and the bright orange trees gave the image an interesting contrast that I never could have planned for.
For this image I used my Nikon D750 and 20mm f/1.8 lens on my trusty Dolica tripod, a combination that I most often use for wide field astrophotography.
I have had a great fascination with space ever since I was was a kid, so it's no surprise that capturing the beauty of the night sky became a parallel interest of mine when I began taking photos. My original idea for this image was to shoot the Milky Way rising over the lake and creating a nice reflection; however, due to the shape and orientation of the lake, such a perspective wasn't within walking distance. While the image wasn't exactly what I had planned, I was very happy with the result. I have found this to be true with a lot of the photos I take. I start with a picture in my head, attempt to recreate that image with my camera, and end up with something a little different; yet I never see it as a failure, but more of a surprise.
My camera is always shooting in RAW mode. Because of this I have to post-process most of them as RAW photos usually appear rather dull and flat. I mostly use Adobe Lightroom since it makes batch processing photos a breeze. It is also excellent at handling RAW images. The adjustments I make most often are to exposure, contrast, saturation, and lens corrections. I try my best not to make my adjustments too extreme in order to keep the image from looking unnatural, especially with astrophotography. When processing night sky images, one of the most important adjustments you can make is to the temperature. In my opinion the best temperature for night sky shots is around 3000K to 4000K.
In my camera bag
I'm no professional, so I don't have dozens of lenses and several camera bodies. I have a Nikon D750, a 20mm f/1.8, a 50mm f/1.8 pancake, and a 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6. It's not much, so I am able to take it pretty much anywhere. If I wan't a very light load I'll usually take my D750 with just the 20mm or 50mm, depending on what I plan to shoot; however, my most used lens is my 28-300mm. Amongst professionals, kit lenses are often frowned upon, but I have found this lens extremely useful due to its wide focal range and I have taken some of my best images with it. While it doesn't have a wide, fixed aperture, and it has moderate barrel distortion, the vibration reduction and post processing render these issues negligible. My point is that you don't need to carry around every possible lens you might need to take great photos. In fact, I have found that I enjoy taking photos more when I have less equipment with me; it means I can focus more on taking photos than deciding what equipment to use. Here are some essential items that I always carry in my bag: 2 extra batteries (sometimes charger), comfortable strap (Peak Design Slide), microfiber cloth, infrared remote, and extra memory cards.
If you're trying to capture images of the night sky, you're going to need a decent camera. Pretty much any DSLR, even the entry-level ones, are capable of producing great images of the night sky. This is because they typically have low noise at high ISO and allow you to control everything aspect of the exposure using manual mode. They also have large sensors to capture as much light as possible as compared to a cellphone or point-and-shoot camera. Another thing you'll likely need is a tripod; once again, you don't need a super advanced lightweight carbon fiber one that costs a few hundred dollars, just something that can support the weight of your camera and keep it still while taking long exposures. In addition to something to capture your images, you'll need a place to take your images. If you live in a large city you'll quickly notice the dramatic effect that light pollution has on brightening the sky and reducing the amount of stars you can see. You can use this website to find the best place to get away from light pollution in your area: http://www.jshine.net/astronomy/dark_sky/. You can read up on everything there is to know about exposure length, aperture, ISO, white balance, and what not, but the best way to learn is to practice. So my advice to you is to just get out there and start shooting!

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