How to Photograph the Milky Way

Many travel and landscape photographers, including myself, try to avoid shooting scenery with a clear blue sky. As much as we like seeing puffy or stormy clouds to spice up our photographs, we have no control over what the nature provides each day. Sometimes we get lucky and capture beautiful sunrises and sunsets with blood red skies, and other times we are stuck with a clear, boring sky. When I find myself in such a situation and I know that the next morning will be clear, I sometimes explore opportunities to photograph the stars and the Milky Way at night. I am sure you have been in situations where you got out at night in a remote location and saw an incredibly beautiful night sky with millions of stars shining right at you, with patches of stars in a “cloudy” formation that are a part of the Milky Way. If you do not know how to photograph the night sky and the Milky Way, this guide might help you in understanding the basics.

Milky Way

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Nikon D4s and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4

What do you do when you have two low-light kings, the Nikon D4s and the Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4? You take them for a night shoot of course! After receiving both for some testing / reviews, I took off to photograph Denver downtown at night. It was way past the sunset time, so I knew that I would only have street lights to illuminate my subjects. Since the Zeiss Otus is an insanely sharp lens wide open, I set its aperture to f/1.4 and only changed it a couple of times during the night in order to increase depth of field and ISO. Interestingly, at such a large aperture, I found myself often shooting at pretty low ISO levels – generally under ISO 3200. So it was nice to be able to push my shutter speeds as high as 1/400 for freezing motion:

Nikon D4s and Zeiss Otus 55mm f/1.4 Image Samples (4)

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Lightning Photography Tips for Beginners

We had a very ambitious storm last night, and where there’s a storm, there’s often lightning. Nasim has a detailed article written on “How to Photograph Lightning”, so if you hear there’s a storm coming in your area and you want to grab some amazing shots of it, Nasim’s extensive article will help you be prepared from the start.

When the storm hit, I didn’t have a tripod anywhere near me, but you don’t always need one if you just want to take a spontaneous photograph through an open window or a balcony. While I’m not usually one to photograph lightnings (or landscapes, for that matter), I still grabbed my old-ish D300 (still a great camera I use at weddings) with a AF-S 17-55mm f/2.8G lens mounted, set it to its widest setting of 17mm, closed down the aperture to f/8 (the wider the aperture, the thicker the lightning will be, but you’ll need to compensate using slower ISO setting or a ND filter to block some of the incoming light from the flash) and, after setting it to manual focus only, focused at infinity. My camera was set to Auto WB, ISO 200 (base setting for my D300) and Bulb setting in manual exposure mode (M).

Photographing Lightning_1

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Total Lunar Eclipse Wallpaper

I have already received some requests to post a wallpaper version of the first photo from my “how to photograph a lunar eclipse” article, so without much wait – here it is (the link to the large version is below the photo).

Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010

Total Lunar Eclipse 1920×1200 Widescreen Wallpaper

Unfortunately, I had to use high ISO levels to be able to photograph the moon at relatively fast shutter speeds, so there is plenty of noise in the above image…

How to Photograph a Lunar Eclipse

I intentionally waited on posting this article on how to photograph a lunar eclipse until it actually took place on 12/21/2010, because I wanted to document my experience and provide information on what challenges I had during the process of photographing this rare, but stunningly beautiful phenomenon. This was not my first time trying to photograph a lunar eclipse – I tried it once back in 2008, but the weather did not cooperate back then and I did not get any good pictures. My luck was much better this time and although the sky was not completely clear, I was still fortunate enough to capture the entire process, from full moon to total lunar eclipse, then back to full moon. The next lunar eclipse will occur in the summer of next year, so if you missed it this year, definitely try to get out and take some pictures, especially when the moon turns bloody red.

Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010

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Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010

Here is what the blood red Total Lunar Eclipse of 2010 looked like last night:

Total Lunar Eclipse 2010

After taking a long break, I’m now back to posting as usual. Currently finishing up: “indoors flash photography using off-camera flash” and tomorrow will be hopefully posting two new articles – “how to take portraits indoors with a Christmas tree” and “how to photograph a lunar eclipse” (yes, info on how the above image was taken will also be posted in detail). Stay tuned!

Case Study: Exposure at Night

One of our readers, Steven Ross, was kind enough to send an image to me as a Case Study. He is wondering why his image did not come out sharp, with some light spill and overexposure. Here is what he sent me:

Case Study

San Jacinto Monument at night

And his comments:

I used the camera on aperture priority mode and on a tripod but it appears that since the monument was being lit by spotlights the shutter speed was too long and the monument seems much brighter/overexposed compared to the rest of the scene.

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July 4th Fireworks

I was not really planning on photographing the fireworks on July 4th, because I was enjoying a short vacation with my family at Glenwood Springs. When I was told that the fireworks would be fired from an open area behind the hotel where we were staying (less than several hundred feet away), I decided to take the challenge and see if I could capture anything interesting from that close of a distance. As I pointed out in my how to photograph fireworks article, it is generally not a good idea to stand too close to fireworks. I wanted to see what other challenges I would face, considering that I only had two lenses with me – Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II and Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, shooting on an FX body.

Captured with Nikon 24-70mm lens (square crop)

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How to Photograph Fireworks

Wondering about photographing fireworks on 4th of July, New Year or some other event / occasion? In this quick article, I will provide some basic tips on how to best capture fireworks, what type of equipment to use and what camera settings to use during the process. Although the process is relatively simple, there are some things that might be worth considering, as outlined below.

Fireworks 1

Fireworks, 3 second exposure

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Case Study: Night Shot

Our first case study was submitted by our regular visitor Dennis, who lives in Singapore. Here is the description of his problem:

Hi Nasim, I have tried night shots using 35mm f/1.8G. It is a landscape shot with river reflecting street lamps. I do it handheld, aperture mode, f1.8, shutter 1/5sec, ISO 1600. Strangely despite a dark black sky, the shot came out reddish sky and the center focus point have some reflected light that shouldn’t be there. I tried to shoot other night shots on sky, it appeared to have this reflected light. The pattern is random, depends on what I shoot. I don’t understand why. Do I have to take out the UV filter attached on it? I have read through these tips, but couldn’t understand what causes this to happen. Yours look sharp!

Dennis sent me the following picture as an example, which was taken in a public park in Singapore:

Case Study: Night Shot

Case Study: Night Shot

Here are my comments on the photo, along with the solution to the problem:
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