Shooting the Milky Way - My First Experience

Manistique, Michigan.  Friday, July 25th, 9:30pm.  My wife and I went to grab a quick dinner at a local pizza parlor before heading out for the shoot.  All day the skies were unpredictable.  We had storms, sunshine, high winds and everything Mother Nature could throw at us that day.  That evening, the skies cleared and we knew the time had come.  

As we finished our pizza, we decided to brush up on research one last time before heading out.  I had spent the last few months studying and researching how to set up my camera accordingly to be able to capture the Milky Way.  I knew I needed to use a low aperture.  (Or, wide open, as some say.)  I knew my ISO was going to be high, somewhere between 2000-6400.  And I knew my shutter speed was going to have to be SLOW.  Like, 15-20 seconds.  Any more than that, would produce star trails.  The lens I intended to use was a Nikon 14-24mm F/2.8.  (Nice and wide.)      

In our last minute research, we stumbled across an article by Ken Rockwell.  Buried deep in the article, is a little tip about white balance.  He suggested changing your white balance to 'Tungsten' instead of 'Auto' (which is where I leave it most of the time.)  That article can be found here.  We decided we'd try it on site.  

Once we arrived, we set up the camera on a tripod, and walked out to the beach with my red helmet light resting atop my melon.  (Which, my lovely wife made fun of me dearly for.)  BTW, little tip...if you're ever out somewhere dark, and you need to keep your eyes 'used' to seeing in the dark, use a red light.  Works like a charm.  Your eyes won't have to readjust after using it.  After we set up, we gave our eyes a few moments to get used to their surroundings and there she was.  Resting just above the horizon, reaching upward, over our heads and landing in the trees behind us.  The Milky Way shined very brightly overhead.  The brightest part of it, which we called the Nebula, was just above the horizon above Lake Michigan.  It was a surreal moment for both us.  I stood there and thought, I've been up here dozens of times and never stopped once to appreciate this beauty that shined in the UP's dark skies.  That won't happen again.  We began shooting.  

                                                  Nikon D7100;  ISO 5000;  F/2.8;  4 Sec. Shutter - Auto White Balance

                                                  Nikon D7100;  ISO 5000;  F/2.8;  4 Sec. Shutter - Auto White Balance

Right away, we saw results, and got excited.  We can really do this!  Let's take another one.  But this time, let's increase the shutter speed to 10 seconds.  

 

                                                  Nikon D7100;  ISO 5000;  F/2.8;  10 Sec. Shutter - Auto White Balance

                                                  Nikon D7100;  ISO 5000;  F/2.8;  10 Sec. Shutter - Auto White Balance

Wow!  I think we hugged each other at that point.  Yeah!  We did it!  I swear a milestone was reached, and I heard victory bells ringing.  Loud.  Now, remember our little tip we found from Ken Rockwell?  Let's try that.  We changed the white balance to 'Tungsten' and...  

                                                  Nikon D7100;  ISO 5000;  F/2.8;  10 Sec. Shutter - Tungsten White Balance

                                                  Nikon D7100;  ISO 5000;  F/2.8;  10 Sec. Shutter - Tungsten White Balance

...Bang!  Now, I did bump up the temperature on this photo in post, but as you can see it's much 'cooler' than the auto white balance setting.  The tungsten setting makes the skies very blue, and created a great effect right in camera.

    Nikon D7100;  ISO 3200;  F/2.8;  15 Sec. Shutter - Tungsten White Balance

    Nikon D7100;  ISO 3200;  F/2.8;  15 Sec. Shutter - Tungsten White Balance

We had a great time out there and just kept shooting.  Even though we didn't have a very exciting foreground (save for the sign that's dying be to cloned out), we didn't care.  We took a picture of the edge of the galaxy.  That's something that just doesn't happen to me every day.

Then, I let my wife take over the controls and she brought the heat!  She made a slight adjustment to the camera angle and fired.  

    Nikon D7100;  ISO 3200;  F/2.8;  15 Sec. Shutter - Tungsten White Balance

    Nikon D7100;  ISO 3200;  F/2.8;  15 Sec. Shutter - Tungsten White Balance

She ended up capturing part of the sunset glow.  Man!  Neither of us could see the glow with our own eyes, but the camera picked it up.  She rocked it!  I ended up leaving the camera in the same spot and just kept shooting, hoping to a grab a shooting star along the way.  And we did.

Special thanks goes out to Ken Rockwell for his tips and reviews.  That little tip about the white balance rocks!  And I would also like to thank Jesse L. Summers, David Kingham and Jennifer Wu for inspiring me to do this.  Watching and learning from you guys made this possible. so thank you all.

We had such a fantastic time out there.  I remember feeling so small in the universe and so little in a world.  Like a grain of sand on a never-ending beach.  All of the world's problems suddenly disappeared from my mind for one moment.  We are just two people from the pale blue dot taking pictures of the edge of the galaxy that's riddled with billions of stars and worlds probably much like our own;  A drop of water out of all the planet's seas, lakes and oceans;  A single star tucked inside our own acre of the Milky Way.  We share this world with the universe.  And the universe shares its galaxies with us. Never before had taking such a big photo made me feel so small.

We. Will. Be. Back.  

    Nikon D7100;  ISO 3200;  F/2.8;  15 Sec. Shutter - Tungsten White Balance

    Nikon D7100;  ISO 3200;  F/2.8;  15 Sec. Shutter - Tungsten White Balance