I have always been very impressed and intrigued by some of the astrophotography shots people have been able to get with just a DSLR and a wide angle lens, so I set out to learn the art and hopefully capture that breathtaking shot of the heavens! I will go ahead and outline the process it took to get our first couple, maybe mediocre, but acceptable shots. Consider this part one in a series of posts and epic shots regarding this topic!
The Camera – Canon EOS 80D
It’s rather a common misconception that you need the latest and greatest DSLR camera to be able to get epic shots of the stars & Milky Way. Although you will probably be better off with a full frame censor like the Sony a7s or the Canon EOS 6D, we did just fine capturing the night sky with the cropped APS-C censor that the 80D provides. If you’re just starting out I would suggest to not worry too much on which DSLR to use and rather focus more on the lens.
The Lens – Rokinon 16mm F/2.0
Most my time was spent on researching the different lenses that were available out there. The goal was to find a quality, wide-angle lens, with a low aperture that would work well with the cropped sensor on the 80D. When I say “a low aperture”, I am talking about the f/number value. The lower the value, the wider the hole in the lens can open to let in as much light as possible. Basically, a lens with a lower f/number value would be better suited for low light shooting conditions, like taking pictures of the Milky Way Galaxy. During my research I found that the Rokinon lenses (8mm f/3.5, 12mm f/2.0, 14mm f/2.8, 16mm f/2.0 & the 24mm f/1.4) are some of the best and well known lenses out there for astrophotography. I decided to go with the 16mm as it was specifically designed for the APS-C sized image format.
Avoiding light pollution these days is becoming increasingly more difficult, and it was a big problem in the two shots seen in this post. I used the DarkSiteFinder.com Map to find the darkest skies near my area and as you can see Florida is pretty lit these days. The darkest area would have been about a two and a half hour drive away, I decided to save that area for when the Milky Way becomes visible and instead try my luck a few miles away from my city. I tried my best to not shoot directly over my city as the bottom portion of the picture had a good chance of being blown out & over exposed.
Planning and taking the shot
After finding a suitable location I went over to the Photographers Ephemeris to get some additional info on my chosen location. Once at the website app, enter your location and the date you plan to go out to shoot. The site can provide valuable information; in addition to sunrise, sunset, moonrise and moonset it also provides Civil, Nautical and Astronomical twighlight times. Once the Milky Way becomes easier to see in March and April I will also be using the Stellarium App. Stellarium also allows you to put in the location and it will show you exactly where the Milky Way will be in the night sky at different times which is invaluable when you’re trying to get the perfect shot.
I took several different shots at different exposures since this was my first time and I wanted to see what worked best. I always kept the exposure under 30 seconds though because I did not want the star trail effect. I kept the ISO on the high side for my first attempt so I had a lot of data to work with, even though there was a chance of introducing more noise to the shot, the results were acceptable. The two shots shown on this post were both with the ISO at 6400, and of course, I had the focus set to infinity on the Rokinon lens.
Option 1: 20s at f/4.0, ISO 2000
Option 2: 20s at f/2.8, ISO 3200
Option 3: 30s at f/2.8, ISO 6400
Stay tuned for the second attempt! I will be shooting the Milky Way and will share my results.