Rocky Mountain National Park contains some of the darkest skies in the lower 48. Astrophotographers and Milky Way photographers alike flock to this area at the right time of year. This ultimate location brings dark skies and jaw-dropping photography. You can see our suggestions where to stay in below. The image of the Milky Way over the lake is right outside your door in Colorado Cabin Adventure. Most noteworthy of this location is the ability to see Moose, Elk and Milky Way here. Rocky Mountain National Park is so dark you can walk just a few steps from your cabin and easily photograph the Milky Way. While you are here be sure to check our links below to see when the best time of year to do Milky Way photography would be. Furthermore, don’t screw up on this part. The Milky Way core is only visible on certain months of the year on certain days on the month. You will also need to know what time of night the Milky Way rises above the horizon.
In conclusion, put Rocky Mountain National Park on your list of places to go to do Milky Way Photography this year.
Camera – You will need a camera that you can manually control your ISO, shutter speed and aperture.
Lens – A fast wide angle lens of 1.4 – 2.8 is ideal. If you use a 3.5 or higher (slower lens) you will have to increase the ISO. The higher the ISO the more grain or digital noise or grain that will appear in your photos. Nikon’s 28mm f/1.8G or Canon’s 28mm f/1.8 are good choices if you are going lens shopping for your night photography trip.
Tripod – A good sturdy tripod is essential for night photography. If it gets windy you will need a sturdy one and we never know what Mother Nature will bring us while we are out there. Keep that in mind when you buy one to go in your suitcase if you are going on a plane. It should be sturdy enough to withstand the wind but small enough to fit in your suitcase.
Sky Map – Sky Guide is available through the iTunes Store for $1.99. It has a 5 out of 5-star rating on both the current (3.2) version (1200+ ratings) and all previous versions (8600+ ratings). Android Version? Sky Guide is not currently available as an Android app. The closest thing I can suggest is SkySafari ($2.99).
Flashlight – Our choice is Coast brand for flashlights. The ideal flashlight will have high lumens and you will be able to zoom the in and out on the amount of light emitting from the flashlight. I like a small stream of light not a wide amount of light. That was I can be specific as to what exactly I want to paint with light. Get the HP7, PX45, or the G50. Ideally, go with the HP7 if you can.
Light Pollution and Moon Phaze Map – The best time to go is during a new moon and you want to be in the darkest area possible.
Remote Shutter Release – When painting with light and you want to go over a 30-second exposure you must have a shutter release to use your bulb mode. When exposing your pictures in general you can use the remote release so you are not using your hand to press the shutter button and make the camera move even a little bit.
Milky Way Photography
Use a Tripod – First of all you must be on a tripod. A good sturdy tripod is necessary if it is windy. If the tripod moves your picture will blur.
Focus – Use live view. When you use live view your mirror locks up and it does not drop so avoid any movement at all inside the camera. If you are new to this take a shot with regular focus. Listen to the exposure. Take the shot in live view and listen. You will not hear anything since nothing is moving.
To focus in the dark use your camera’s live view and focus on a bright star. You can also use the infinity setting on your lens but do several test shots to see if it is accurate. It can be off a little on some lenses.
ISO – Start with ISO 3200. This is just a standard starting point and you will adjust from here.
Shutter Speed – Remember the earth is rotating. If you leave the shutter open for too long you will see star trails which will not make for a crisp image. You can do star trails specifically but that’s not what we are going for here since we are starting out with milky way photography. We want crisp non-star trail images when doing this. Here is the formula to avoid star trails. The 500 rule – Divide 500 by the focal length of your lens. So, if you have a 24mm lens on a full-frame camera, you will set your shutter speed to 20 sec. (500/24 = 20.83). If you are using a crop sensor camera first do the math of the crop sensor to find the focal length. Cannon is 1.6, Nikon is 1.5. Convert to full frame focal length then use the formula. Nikon 18mm x 1.5= 27mm – 500/27 = 18.51 seconds.
Aperture – Depth of field isn’t very important on these shots but letting the light into the camera is, therefore you should shoot wide open if. If the depth of field is important to you try not to go to high.(wide open =the lowest aperture your camera will allow).
Those are all of the basic starting points for doing your milky way shots. You will want to find some interesting foreground to make your shot dynamic. Doing plain old milky way shots will not win you any awards.
White Balance – Always shoot your night photography raw so you can edit it in Lightroom. When in live view mode, you can change your white balance settings and see what it will look like. You can shoot in shade or cloud as a standard setting and adjust things later. You can shoot the sky in tungsten mode to make it bluer but if you have trees and such in the picture they will come out blue also. I sometimes add in color in my milky way to match my subject.
The Milky Way is the galaxy that contains our Solar System. The descriptive “milky” is derived from the appearance from Earth of the galaxy – a band of light seen in the night sky formed from stars that cannot be individually distinguished by the naked eye. The term Milky Way is a translation of the Latin via lactea, from the Greek γαλαξίας κύκλος (galaxías kýklos, “milky circle”).From Earth, the Milky Way appears as a band because its disk-shaped structure is viewed from within. Galileo Galilei first resolved the band of light into individual stars with his telescope in 1610. Until the early 1920s, most astronomers thought that the Milky Way contained all the stars in the Universe. Following the 1920 Great Debate between the astronomers Harlow Shapley and Heber Curtis, observations by Edwin Hubble showed that the Milky Way is just one of many galaxies.
The next step is to learn to light up the subjects under the milky way by painting them with light. This is where being an artist comes into play. The basics idea is to light up just what it is that you want to appear in the image with a good flashlight. Experimentation sometimes will lead to pretty interesting images. Remember if something is moving in your image and the light hits it, it will blur. If it is a stationary object it will not blur. Light Painting 101 is coming soon!
Shooting night sky photography is actually very simple. It may appear to be complicated at first glance but if you read our section on Dark Sky Photography you can see how it is not as overwhelming as you would think.
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