Ever see those photos of the Milky Way with cactus or barns or lighthouses and wish you could see that? Some of the key features in all of these photos are large, open spaces, a picturesque foreground, and most importantly minimal light pollution from nearby population areas. The reality is you probably see the Milky Way all the time when you look at the night sky, but can’t visualize it due to the aforementioned light pollution or environmental conditions. If you live in a city, light pollution is definitely a problem, but if you live in more rural areas you can get some of these amazing sights from your front yard.
I am not an expert on these shots and I still have a lot to learn, but I wanted to share my experience. This was triggered the other night when I looked up and could make out the faint “star clouds” of the Milky Way and my wife could not see it. I pulled out my iPad, fired up Star Walk and showed her. She was impressed but still couldn’t see it. So last night I decided to capture the sky. Initially I thought it was a new moon because there was not a moon in sight, but it was just a late riser. The moon is a huge source of light pollution. I pulled out my camera, put on my 14-24mm lens – wide angle is important – grabbed the tripod and setoff to shoot from my yard. A confined area is not your friend so find the largest, open area you can (there is a reason the magnificent shouts are so wide). I tried a variety of ISO settings, apertures, and times. Because I live close to an area that generates some light pollution, the max time I could use was 30 seconds
This image was shot on my Nikon D850 @ ISO2000, 15mm (not sure how that happened), F5. The unedited image on the left shows what you might see when you look up. The 30 second exposure probably shows more than normal, but I think you get the point.
So why this article? Mainly to let you know that you can see these beautiful skies without having to travel far. In fact, you may even have some dark areas nearby that will allow even better images. Check the moon phases and pick nights with a new moon or late rise or early set times (depends on whether you’re a morning person or a night owl). If you have a mobile device with GPS, I do recommend an app like Star Walk just to help you get your bearings, determine if the Milky Way is in your visible sky, and identify other celestial bodies.
The featured image and the image below were taken with the Nikon D850 @ ISO 4000, f5, 14mm, 30seconds, and took a little more post work to counter light pollution on the left.