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Expedition Nanga Parbat Base Camp: The Gorgeous Milky Way & How to Capture it

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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.

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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.

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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 🙂

  • Syed Roshaan

    This was definitely my favourite post so.far. you have described the whole viewing experience wonderfully. I loved the whole editing tutorial as well. One suggestion regarding setting the camera focus to infinity
    I have seen from my experience that using the view finder screen.on the DSLR to digitally max zooming in on any star, then adjusting the focus so that the star appears as small as possible , THEN the focus will be truly set to infinite and stars will appear sharp.

    • Khanum

      Thank you for reading it out and your appreciation, Roshan. I totallyunderstand your point. It’s true to some extent that viewfinder does help, but you see, zooming in is not a good move when photographing Milkyway or any star object. From my experience, I have learned that viewfinder does help in setting the sharp manual focus but only sometimes, otherwise when you need to have other objects in the perspective, LCD or viewfinder provide no help. You go with guesses and some hardwork at finding the right focus in the dark. For this I take many shots. And if am lucky, I just find the brightest star in the LCD and try to focus that until its sharp.

  • Wow nice narrative 🙂 This would qualify for Victoria cross! I think we should have our own medals of gallantry in LAST. This one would get you a Betelgeuse star award!:
    Roshaan’s comment about focus is good. You don’t have to zoom in through the lens. Just the LCD zoom to find sharp focus. The shot should be taken at the widest possible angle.
    The good thing about RAW images is that you can select the white balance in the software.
    I a amazed to see this much detail in just a thirty second exposure. I think the level of noise and light pollution is next to zero in your image.
    I took some shots of the milky way – I will share the raw images with you – check how good a processing you can do on those. The have a lot of light pollution to them.

    • Khanum

      Thank you so much and am honored to be nominated for such awards. Now please do arrange for an event where I can receive it. No joke.
      And yes, RAW images do give u that edge but White balance is still tricky in post production. I have tried to change white balance but it didnt come out as nice it would during the production phase. But over all, RAW images gives u much control over enhancements. Plus u r right, there was no light pollution.
      Yes sure, let me see the pictures and I’ll try my best.

  • Andrew Dumont

    WOOT !. I am both ,thrilled and proud of you!. Congrats on a spectacular shot!!!.

    • Khanum

      Thank you for your visit , Andrew. I’m glad you loved the picture. Its nothing compared to the celestial beauties that you share on your site, still am humbled.

  • Ahsan Khurshed

    Waoo, nice shoots. Congratulation Khanum, so ur dreams come’s true to capture the milky way. Excellent

    • Khanum

      Thank you, Mr Ahsan. Welcome to Khanumsays 🙂

  • Subhan’Allah, that is such a breathtakingly beautiful sky! You’ve captured it so well, Pervisha. I am SO proud of you. You’ve gone ahead, worked hard, and made your dream come true!

    • Khanum

      Thank you. I think of all the things Allah has made me see, made me do in this life. Adventures that I could have never imagined to live. And then I realise, Its not me. Its Him who made me work hard on it, made me go ahead and see my dream come true. God is Great 🙂 for giving us opportunities in the first place.

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