I have blogged alot on my wish to capture the night sky with all its beautiful diamonds scattered here and there. But never, in my wildest dreams, had I ever dared to believe that some day I would be actually able to witness this miracle.
On my hiking expedition to Nanga Parbat Basecamp last week, I came across this spectacular world unknown to many of us. From the giant looking mountains to the killer heights, I saw everything with my eyes, filled with awe. Every minute of this expedition was full of dangers & wonders.
A night came, The blessed night when I caught something in my camera that looked like a star cluster. It was my first night at the Fairy meadows, from where we were to start our hiking/trek to the Nanga Parbat Basecamp next morning. Another photographer interested in astrophotography made a team with me and together we found the Milky way in the sky right over the Killer Mountain. It wasn’t clear and the sky was very cloudy so I decided to wait for one more night and try my luck.
What happened a night later, was simply a breath taking experience. On my return from the spine chilling journey to the basecamp, I noticed people with their dslrs were pointing their cameras towards the night sky and screaming with sheer excitement. Unable to do anything because of the fatigue of my adventure, I retired to my camp and didn’t bother to join the crowd. My prayer that night to God was very simple.
“Please, please, make this Milky Way appear tomorrow night as well. Please God. Keep the skies clear for me. Make me capture something awesome tomorrow night.”
My prayer was heard. There came my last night at the fairy meadows, and although I was still burning with fever, but the sky was burning stronger than me with the spectacular beauty of the Milky way. I knew this was my only chance to observe it, steal it and forever be in love with this moment. And so despite my cousin brother’s scolding. I grabbed my tripod and camera and went away to catch it.
Alot of people asked me there how did I do it, some were beginners at astrophotography , some were bit off the settings. I was happy to share my camera settings with them all but in the end, each of us had different results. But there are few astronomy enthusiasts who requested that I show them how I did it. So this one is for them.
How to Capture the Milky Way
1- Locate it with the help of any application on your smartphone. If the sky is clear, you probably wouldn’t need an app because Milky way would reveal itself to you. Observe its starting point and the tail where it ends.
2- Don’t know the camera settings? Don’t be embarrassed, be brave and experiment. The only reason I am now good at capturing night sky is because of my obsession with it. Practice practice and practice. I saw alot of people making mistakes there. Some were trying to hit it with AV mode, others were simply not sure about right exposure timings because they had no experience in this field. Let me say, Astrophotography is easy but you have to be intelligent at selecting the settings according to the scene. If you don’t pick these things right, you’ll probably end up with the same results as others and nothing unique would come out of it then. For me, white balance is the key here.
3- Set your camera on Manual Mode. And never be rigid with your further settings. What I mean is, now is the time to test every ISO number. Starting from 400. I took many shots of the Milky way at different ISO but the one that appealed to me the most was at ISO 3200. It had the right amount of light and less noise as compared to the ISO 6400 image.
You need to have a bigger aperture so don’t go for a lens that allows you only 4.5 or 3. I had canon 17-55mm lens with me and am glad I had it. It allowed me 2.8 aperture value with just a bit of extra wide angle at 17mm as compared to 18mm. Set your lens to Manual focus and infinity. And as for exposure, 30 secs is the best option. Any more extraseconds may give you a star trail.
Now that the aperture and ISO is done. Let’s talk about the white balance. I took my shots with fluorescent preset. And that’s where the magic happens. If you select the daylight white balance or any other, it would give you a very regular image with warm temperature. Remember, temperature is the key here. If you want to have your nightsky picture to stand out, and those stars to look gorgeous, fluorescent lighting is your friend.
4-Take few test shots to set your camera position for the perfect view. And always remember, do not go for the Jpeg format. You need to have your images taken in RAW format for the best results in the post production phase.
Once you have your image, the rest of the magic happens at editing desk. I use Lightroom and this is one great editing software. Its neither easy nor difficult but something that demands a smart editing mind. Look how I turned this image from B to A.
I was able to capture a falling star in one of the images, too. Unfortunately, the over all result wasn’t so great. the angle was bit off but still it means alot for the astronomy lovers.
Noticed the small line at the right corner of the image ? It makes me wish there was a meteor shower that night. I would have died with happiness then am sure. Its one breathtaking view to come closer to the heavens.
May Allah make me see more of this celestial beauty and seize the moments. Ameen
P.S. Ramadan Kareem to all my Muslim readers 🙂