Outside of Mesa, Arizona
It’s late February, and I had some excellent conditions in Arizona this weekend for viewing the stars above. Let’s talk about my first night of the season out and some Milky Way photography. I decided to take a trip about 45 minutes up the highway for some night time shooting. To catch the galactic core right now, you need to wake up pretty early! I set my alarm for 3:15 am and arrived at the desert location I selected about an hour later. It helps to get things ready the night before so you can just grab your gear and go. Of course, I also made a quick stop for some coffee on the way.
Milky Way Photography Shot Breakdown
Let’s jump right in! We will discuss the shot below and the settings I used. My final edit is up top and below that you can see my raw image out of the camera.
Exposure Time: 20 seconds. I was shooting at 14mm (Rokinon), and at that width, I could go 30 seconds and not have many worries about seeing stars starting to trail. However, every little bit, or in this case, less bit, helps. I opted to go 20 seconds simply because I could, to help ensure tack sharp stars.
Aperture: f / 2.8. Like many Milky Way photography shots you see out there, this is at 2.8. You want to allow as much light as possible into your lens, and this does the trick. To put this in perspective. f / 2.8 allows 1.5 times more light in than f / 3.5.
ISO: 5000. My ISO was on the high end for my tastes for two reasons in this shot. I used a shorter exposure time, so this helps pick up more data in the shorter 20 seconds. The other reason is I have been experimenting with shooting night time exposures with a higher ISO lately and then decreasing the exposure in post processing. It seems to give me more details in my final piece throughout my workflow. I have also been doing this with a Nikon D750, which handles noise great at the high ISO settings!
Visualize the End Result
Other Notes: There is light pollution in the shot, which there will be, even 200-300 miles away from the main cities. But it is manageable. The biggest thing I try to do is angle myself away from the city lights. Phoenix is very bright, but in this case, my back is direct to the city lights. The light you do see at the bottom is from Tucson, about 100 miles away. If you can’t face away from the lights, consider shooting with some hills, a building, or even a mountain in the foreground to block out the artificial lights.
Post Processing: I started in Lightroom and did my usual adjustments. Set tempature to my tastes, some contrast and dehaze, a little vibrance and of course blacks and whites adjustments. In Photoshop I did some targeted adjustments on the Milky Way itself and lit the cactus up in the foreground. I like to do curve adjustments and then brush the results in to specific spots within the scene.
If you are new to Milky Way Photography, I encourage you to get out there and give it a try! See some of my other night time work in my Dark Skies Portfolio.