I decided to do this as a 2 part blog, as it became very long with set-up, settings, and explaining the initial shooting flow. I hope you enjoy the write up, and as always Dear Reader, please feel free to contact me with any other questions or critiques.
Before I begin on this blog, I must state that my kit is not the best kit for making images of our galaxy. For these shots, I was shooting with a Canon T3i, stock 18-55mm F3.5 lens. For best results, I'd highly recommend a wide angle, fast lens like a Rokinon 14mm f/1.8 or if you can afford it, the Sigma 20mm Art Lens provides an amazing piece of glass for taking Astrophotography images.
Firstly, the easy part: figuring out where the galactic centre was. For that I have an app on my iPhone called Sky Guide. It's a great app for finding and predicting where the Milky Way will be at any given time, on any given day. Or if you happen to already know where the constellation of Scorpio is in the sky, the galactic centre is pretty much right there. For me in Port Alberni, on the West Coast of BC Canada, it sits right on the summer horizon due south of me.
I switched the camera to live mode and zoomed into the brightest star to get the focus set properly, and put a piece of electrical tape on the focus ring so I didn't accidentally move it. Then calculating for exposure time, I use the 500 rule.
500/(focal length)/(crop factor)=EV.
Crop factor is: full frame =1; APS-C=1.5; 4/3=2. For my set up that puts me at 18/1sec. It still leaves me with slight trails, so I usually keep my shutter speed in the 15-12 second range. Except when I want the colours of the Milky Way to be really bright, then I'll leave the shutter open for up to 45 seconds. But know that it will be more work in post-editing to get rid of the star trails. One other last tidbit is to make sure the mirror lock up in your custom functions is enabled. This reduces any extra vibration inside the camera. You can find it in your camera's user manual if you don't already know where it is. On my T3i it's (C.Fn III 8); enable. There's a bit of a debate going on whether to use this feature or not, or if it makes a difference, from what I've found though, is in my particular case it does.
I have both a cable release and an IR remote, so depending on whether I'm light painting in front of the lens or static behind the lens determines which one I'll use. For these shots, both were actually used, cable for the stars and since I was the one spinning fire, I used my IR remote for those shots.
Ok enough technical speak...LETS GO SHOOT!!!
I got everything set up, took a couple shots to make sure everything was working properly. I shot the stars first, taking multiple shots with my camera set in bulb mode and the shutter speed ranging from 9 sec to 20 seconds. I believe I shot about 30 images, which because I use long exposure noise reduction in camera takes a while. I know there's programs out there that could reduce that time, but hey, I'm outside in my element doing what I love to do. So what if I have to wait a little while for each shot?' Once I figured I have enough pictures, I take more.
Now for the really fun part...playing with fire. I weave some fine steel wool through the links of small chain, rub the contacts of a 9v battery (the square ones) and that ignites the steel wool. Keeping the chain centred in my mid section, I simply spin creating that awesome orange ring with sparks flying off. I do that a few times, partly to see how it all works, partly for pure giggle factor.
I reset everything, I mark the spot that is the limit of my IR remote, and stand a log up there. Using my flashlight, I zoom in on live mode and set my focus. Now I best guess my shutter speed, kick over the log Chuck Norris style (or Bruce Lee depending on favourites), ignite the steel wool, hit the shutter, and start spinning. As soon as the wool burns out, hit the remote again. Walk back review, reload the steel wool.
Repeat..again and again and again... until I have more than enough fodder to work with in post.
Now that I have my images, it's time to put everything away, sit down with a mug of whiskey (I always take some with me when I'm camping), light a campfire, sit back and contemplate Life, the Universe, and Everything.
In part 2 I'll go through the editing of these images. From LR, to blending the two together and giving them some pop in Photoshop.
Enjoy the day, and keep your shutter clicking!