Welcome to the Complete Guide To Photograph The Milky Way – Part 2, in Part-1, I have talked about how to Identify and locate the Milky Way, now let’s move to a more detail part, on how to plan your shoot. If you miss out the Part 1, you can find it HERE. 😉
Planning Your Shoot
Finding a Milky Way can be very easy (with any APP that listed in my previous post), however, to find a good location for Milky Way especially one with a good foreground can be very challenging. First, we have to find a place with zero or minor light pollution.
Looking for Dark Sky
It might sound funny that we need to look for a “Dark Sky”, the “Dark Sky” here is referring a site with zero or at least minor light pollution, retains the sight seeing’s quality of the night sky. There are websites that will show you the light pollution level of an area in a map view, currently, my favorite is the Dark Site Finder website (http://darksitefinder.com/maps/world.html).
Above are the snapshot of the Dark Site Finder website, as you can see, it will display a world map view and mark the areas with different colors based on the light pollution level.
To check the light pollution level of an area, just drag your mouse around the map, zoom in / zoom out with your mouse scroll wheel or key in the location in the search bar at the top left corner. What you need to look for the areas that mark with at least green color or toward the black color. The lesser light pollution, the clearer the Milky Way. Notice that cities area like Kuala Lumpur is mark with serious light pollution, this is why you won’t be able to see the Milky Way in cities area.
Other than Dark Site Finder website, here is another alternative (https://www.lightpollutionmap.info).
Milky Way and the Moon
Other than light pollution, you should consider what is the phases of the Moon and the position of the Moon in the sky. Ideally, you should aim for New Moon and avoid the Full Moon, as the Full Moon will generate too much lights that will wash away most of the stars and the Milky Way. And even it is not a Full Moon, the Moon’s position will still affecting the Milky Way too.
Above photo was took in the year 2016, it is around half moon phase and the moon itself just next to the center core of the Milky Way. The Milky Way appear to be less noticeable and its color won’t show, even I have performed some basic adjustment in post-processing using Lightroom.
Here is another photo that took at the same location, 2 days after the first photo. The moon is much further from the Milky Way, with the similar basic adjustment in Lightroom, now I able to bring out the details and the colors of the Milky Way.
Of course, the photos that I show are just to give you a better idea in understanding how the Moon can affecting the Milky Way. In my own preference, I would prefer capture the shot without the Moon in the frame, the Moon is just too distracting for me. In the end, I use the photo that I took half an hour earlier before the Moon actually shows on the horizon, and I plan for it base on the Moon rise / set time.
Finding the composition
Other than location scouting before the shooting, you can do a “sneak peak” on the location itself using Google Maps. For example, you looking for a spot at Cameron Highland, Malaysia, you might not be there before but only knew it from someone’s photo. You just first search the location through the Google Map, then open the Street View mode.
Above interface is what you will see, you can move around and change the direction through mouse’s control. From the Google Street View, you will able to have a better view on how is the location itself be like and also whether the angle is good for the Milky Way in the direction that you prefer. In this case, this angle is facing East direction, I will check on the App to find out the best time Milky Way will be appearing at this angle and be there with my gears set up.
Here is the photo that I took from this angle.
You can do the same for any other location that you want, such as the famous Church of the Good Shepherd in New Zealand in above snapshot and this also works the same in finding the composition for Sunrise / Sunset.
Lastly, I would like to remind you all about your personal safety especially when you are going to the places that are totally dark. If possible, try to go in a small group and well prepare yourself with proper equipment, torch lights (you don’t want to miss place your foot in the dark), jacket if the place is cold, mat or portable chair for you to rest while waiting for the Milky Way appear in the Sky.
What coming next…
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