Pern's Ponderings

Check here periodically for my musings on photography. In this space, we'll explore how I achieved particular photographs, tips and tricks to get the most out of your camera or even just my thoughts on the world at large. 

Under the Sparkling Sky

The Milky Way and a shooting star casts its diamond reflections over the waters of the Block Island Sound off the south coast of Rhode Island. 

Summer time in New England can't be beat when it comes to the weather, and there are countless opportunities to create amazing photographs. But as the summer gives way to fall and the humidity gives way to crisp air, new opportunities arise on land, sea and sky. 

With the summer haze fading away, the skies open up and light from the stars in the deeper reaches of space become more visible to the naked eye. While enjoying some unusually warm weather out on my deck recently, I looked up and saw a dazzling display of starlight.

The crescent moon had already set and I noticed a faint wisp of cloud hovering above. As it sat motionless (at least to the naked eye), I quickly realized it was not a cloud, but rather the Sagittarius arm of the Milky Way.

I had been waiting since spring to get a clear shot of our galaxy, but hadn't had an opportunity, so I grabbed my gear and headed down to the beach.

As I walked across the sand to my shooting location, I took a moment to enjoy the peaceful solitude of the empty beach, clear sky and gentle waves lapping the shore before setting up my equipment. 

A fast lens is crucial for astrophotography, as the wider aperture allows you to capture more light in a shorter exposure and avoid star trails. A lens with an aperture of f2.8 or faster is recommended. I attached my Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 lens, which I had purchased last spring specifically for night photography, and set my gear on the tripod. 

I took a few test shots to find the best composition. I wanted the jetty to lead the viewer's eye to meet the Milky Way at the horizon, but I also had to minimize the ambient light from the nearby harbor, boats and Block Island, which was visible across the sound. 

I set the aperture wide open at f2.8 and bumped my ISO up to 3200. I could have gone higher with the ISO, but I wanted to keep the digital noise to a minimum. Shooting at 11mm (18mm with my camera's crop factor), I set the exposure to 20 seconds - long enough to capture the Milky Way, but short enough to avoid star trails. 

Using my iPhone as a remote trigger, I stepped into the water, looked up and fired the shutter. Then I just stood still, watched the sky and enjoyed the warm water on my feet. 

The summer weather may be best, but early fall isn't too shabby, either.