Monday, September 3, 2018

Posted by Elizabeth Alexander

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Shooting the Milky Way

You might be interested in trying a few new things photographically, maybe you want to try to shoot the Milky Way?    That was me 1 year ago, wanting to try new things - so astrophotography was one of my goals.  I tried,  tested, learned, and still have more to learn.  A lot of my learning was found in the good 'ole school of GOOGLE.

I've been shooting families and children in the Allen, Texas area for almost ten years and am absolutely enamored with  it. Personally, I wanted to be challenged photographically.

Here are a few of my failures and successes, and random tips along the way:  

Tip 1:  Focus

Figure out your camera settings to be sure the stars are in focus.  My Fuji XT2 is set it to infinity focus and please make use of focus check.  Below is my 1st attempt last summer July 2017, from my backyard.

I was so excited I had something . . . . I had star bokeh!  But uh, clearly stars are not IN FOCUS, which could be important.   See I thought I knew what I was doing, but really I didn't know exactly what I was doing right or doing wrong.

Night Sky the woodlands



Tip 2:  Star Tracker

So I keep trying, my next attempt is also in my backyard in the Woodlands, Texas.    The stars are in focus and I *think* I was pointing my Fuji with 23mm lens at the Milky Way.    It seems I might have been catching the northern portion of the Milky Way, rather than the bright core of the Milky Way.  It is this bright core that is captured by photographers in the most beautiful places in our world.

So my camera was pointing in the wrong direction as well my lens choice needed to be different.  So I purchased the Photopills app for my iPhone, and it's an amazing tool.   I use it to track the new moon, and to spot where EXACTLY the Milky Way will be in the sky.   This app is incredible and does tons of other useful stuff that I need to learn.

woodlands photographer near me


stars in my backyard The Woodlands
My Woodlands backyard


Tip 3:  Visibility

The Milky Way is only visible for 6 months of the year from March to October from our planet.  It's visibility is best during a New Moon phase, as there is no light from the moon and you'll have a dark night sky.   It also moves across the sky and is visible at different nighttime and early morning hours from March to October.   It's also best to be sure you are in a dark sky area and the light pollution for cities can hide your view of the Milky Way.   From my research, it seems if you are 1 hour south of a city you would have a better view than being 1 hour north of a city.  This is because the MW Core appears in the southern sky so you'd be viewing through the light pollution of a city.   (Don't quote me here - I'm no astrophysicist!)

Tip 4:  Safety

In March 2018, our family heads to the Park City, Utah area for a family ski trip.  It coincides with a new moon - woohooo -  and I am determined to get this universe object in the sky in an image.

Sadly, it is another fail as even though I've now purchased a wider 12mm lens, and I know I am pointing it to the proper section of the sky, I'm not seeing the MW.   I can't see it with my eye or my camera.  Locals have suggested I should drive 45 minutes to a dark sky location for the best images.   As much as I so want to, I would be a female going alone (while her family slept),  45 minutes away at night to shoot in a remote location IN THE DARK.  Then get up at 7:00 am to go skiing all day.

So please think safety in numbers, especially when shooting in the dark.  For this trip, I just had to be happy with the vision of millions upon millions of stars and getting the Big Dipper and the North Star.

Side note:  I wish I could find a female astrophotography group that meets up locally!!

Utah has some wonderful dark skies and one day I hope to get there to shoot them.

Utah night sky


Tip 5:  Setttings

2.8, 1600 ISO, 25 second exposure

I always use my 12mm on my Fuji XT2 on a tripod, and use the Fuji app on my phone to trigger the shutter.  Starting out I use infinity focus, 2.8, 1600 iso, 25 seconds and adjust from there as needed.   The Fuji phone app is amazing as I can easily change up my ISO and exposure and I always do change it to 3200 iso at 30 seconds.  Just mix it up a bit!

Tip 6:  Success Finally! Change it Up a Bit

So finally I had success in shooting the Milky Way.  You'll see below how I tried to change up my compositions quite a bit, by changing my location, adding in elements,  and rotating the camera.

Our summer family vacation in Mustang Island, Texas was planned by my hubby accidentally during a new moon phase.   I'm unable to describe the joy I felt in the breezy night air just gazing upon the incredible night sky.  I spent 3 nights out shooting the Milky Way from the boardwalk and the beach in front of our condo rental.  My family joined me one evening while night crabbing, and I was so happy to be able to share it with them!

My youngest on the beach next to a sandcastle, he had to sit still for 25 seconds while I counted out loud. He did great!

The Milky Way Texas



This one was taken from the boardwalk, and the sand dunes, boardwalk and lamp post is visible, as well as the glowing red Mars.  You can see the Milky Way is rising fairly horizontal at this time of the year.
Milky Way Beach Woodlands Texas



In August, we flew to Virginia to visit my parents, and it wasn't quite yet the new moon phase but fairly close so I decided to give it a go and see what I might get.

I'm so happy to have tried, as we had a wonderful clear evening and I changed it up by being sure to get the lake in the images so I could see the star's reflection in the lake.

Milky Way Woodlands Photographer


The sky was truly gorgeous and I just wanted to get more of the Milky Way in the frame,  so I rotated my camera to a vertical position.
You can see the Milky Way is now rising in a more vertical position as well.

Milky Way Woodlands photographer


If you have any questions, please ask I'd love to help if I can!

Happy shooting!

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More info you say?  Of course - Eliz Alex Photography (est. 2010) is a Woodlands Photographer specializing in photographing children, and families in The Woodlands, Magnolia, Tomball, Spring and North Houston areas.  Please Message me to schedule your family's photographic adventure.

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Little people call her Camera Girl. Elizabeth's little people, two boys, call her Mommy.  She calls on her Canon, enthusiasm for the outdoors, creativity as a former toy-maker, excited for discovery and addiction to Starbucks coffee to guide the littles and their families on photograph adventures.  Elizabeth's love of nature and volunteer work at a local land conservancy keep her connected to the land and always seeking new settings where she can capture the natural light, the beauty of the local faint, and the candid and magical moments of the families she guides.
 
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